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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

EDITORIAL 08.02.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month febrauary 07, edition 000750, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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


































































































































1.      TIME TO TALK

















2.      THAT'S THE WAY!




1.      TALKS OKAY, BUT...  
















































2.      RULE OF LAW

3.      FOUL PLAY






























































After President Hosni Mubarak resigned from his post as chief of the National Democratic Party on Friday, several people got their hopes up that finally the Egyptian leader would do a Ben Ali, as autocrats are known these days, and take the next flight out to Saudi Arabia. Instead, the weekend only saw President Mubarak dig in his heels deeper. However,in a welcome move, his revamped administration held talks with members across the political spectrum. Mr Mubarak has clearly shown that he is no pushover — in a country of more than 80 million people, one million protesters can't force him out of office, at least not immediately. It is now a test of endurance for the protesters, who have converted Tahrir Square into a fair ground of sorts. Meanwhile, if indications are anything to go by, Mr Mubarak has decided to stay put, at least till the September presidential election. While he can afford to do so —the Army continues to remain loyal to him — the crowds chanting "Democracy now!" may run out of enthusiasm if the palace refuses to oblige the street. Folk music and revolutionary poetry may make for good TV, but they can't sustain a protest for long, especially in the absence of an organised leadership. More importantly, do they have a plan for Egypt if Mr Mubarak were to suddenly decide to call it a day and ride into the sunset tomorrow? Unfortunately, the protesters are so blinded by their frenzied demand for Mr Mubarak's removal from office that they refuse to recognise the need for a transition period. As a result, their spirited uprising is fast turning into disruptive politics driven by demands and not by solutions to Egypt's problems. That's bad for the country and could lead to ominous consequences for the region and the world. Wisdom lies in abandoning the path of confrontation and testing the limits of the Army's patience which has been admirable till now. A far better option would be to give the offer of dialogue on reforms and amendments to the Constitution a fair chance: It's not about trusting Mr Mubarak but changing the system which, frankly, cannot be done overnight.

Mr Mubarak has made some major concessions — he and his son have both resigned from the NDP and promised not to contest the September poll. He has also opened up Egypt's hitherto constricted political space by offering to talk to political groups, including the banned Islamist organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood. It must also be noted that much of the recent talks and negotiations have been conducted not by Mr Mubarak himself, but by his newly appointed Vice-President, Mr Omar Suleiman. This emerging situation would have been unimaginable a few weeks ago, but today it is a clear indicator of Mr Mubarak's decision to recede into the background and let a new generation of leaders evolve and take charge of the nation's affairs. Those who are unthinkingly cheering the protesters are interested in neither Egypt's stability nor the evolution of a sustainable political system that can replace the existing arrangement which has been around for more than six decades. Mr Mubarak did not invent autocracy, he inherited it 30 years ago. The shift to democracy would take at least three months, which is not too long a time. The alternative is political vacuum which is precisely what the Muslim Brotherhood wants but Egypt should avoid.







It is well known that Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj has behaved more like a Congress agent than a Constitutional head. But even by his low standards of propriety, his latest act of withholding an honorary degree — before he was compelled to reconsider the decision — to be conferred by the University of Bangalore on noted Kannada writer M Chidananda Murthy is shocking. Mr Bhardwaj justified his decision on the ground that the author had supported a report that dealt with the 2008 attacks on churches in the state. Apparently, to the Governor's dismay, the report by the Justice B Somsekhara Commission has not indicted the BJP-led State Government for the attacks. Mr Bhardwaj claims to be "disturbed" by the report — and he has every right to his opinion. The problem, however, is that the Governor by his own admission has not even read the report but only glanced through a synopsis. That alone is the basis for his condemnation of the findings. Moreover, his conclusion that the "entire Christian community was upset with the findings", is a blatant move to exploit religious sentiments. If the community is indeed upset, let its leaders come forward and be heard. Surely our democratic and secular system can take care of such anomalies. As a public servant, and more so as the Governor, Mr Bhardwaj should have refrained from making remarks that are beyond his call.

But such statesmanship is expecting too much from a person who has already brought much disrepute to the high position he holds. Just as he formed his grand opinion on the basis of a report he had not read, Mr Bhardwaj concluded, without checking his facts, that Mr Murthy had backed the panel report and even talked about religious conversions. The noted writer has clarified that he had never supported attacks on Christians but was opposed to forced conversions. So, where did the Governor get his distorted material? Clearly, those working overtime to destroy the State Government are working with him to feed him stuff that he may use to embarrass the regime. So what if in the process some reputable names get tarnished? Even assuming that Mr Murthy had supported the Justice Somsekhara panel report, how does that give Mr Bhardwaj the right to withhold an award? The honorary degree being conferred on the renowned author and historian is in recognition of his contribution to the field of Literature and History. It is not an endorsement of his political views. Mr Bhardwaj has sent out the despicable message that honorary degrees are tools of political patronage and have little to do with the recipient's merit. It was, therefore, in the fitness of things that litterateurs in Karnataka cutting across political ideologies condemned the Governor's pettiness which eventually forced him to rescind his decision. Unfortunately that does not end the sordid chapter which began with his appointment. For that to happen, Mr Bhardwaj has to go.









Despite piles of evidence against this Pune-based stud farm owner, the UPA regime has failed to act against his wealth in Swiss banks.

One glance at the Second Report of the Task Force appointed by the Bharatiya Janata Party to probe black money stashed away by Indians in secret bank accounts abroad and you will wonder whether the Constitution we adopted in 1950 is still in operation; whether there is anything called 'rule of law' in the country; whether we have a Government at the federal level or whether it has just withered away.

Apart from providing citizens a comprehensive view of the illegal funds parked in tax havens, the report zeroes in on some specific cases which highlight the reluctance of the United Progressive Alliance regime to go after the wrong-doers. The case of Ottavio Quattrocchi is well known. But, there are others and among them the case that constitutes a damning indictment of the Government led by Mr Manmohan Singh is that of Hasan Ali Khan, a Pune-based stud farm owner with billions of dollars in Swiss banks and deep connections with the Congress.

The extraordinary case of Khan, who has been described by a national weekly as the "Billion Dollar Bandit", gives us an idea of the rot that has set in. According to the BJP task force, Khan ventured into the hawala business in the 1990s and his bank balance grew from $1.5 million in 1982 to $8 billion in 2006. Among his associates and clients was Adnan Khashoggi, the international arms dealer who supplied weapons to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. He received $ 300 million from Khashoggi, which was identified as "funds from weapons sale" by a Swiss bank.

The big picture vis-à-vis Hasan Ali Khan emerged between January 2-7, 2007 when the Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate carried out raids on his premises. Tax officials unearthed three secret accounts held by him in Swiss banks with deposits aggregating $8 billion (Rs 36,000 crore) and documents establishing Khan's nexus with Khashoggi. They also concluded that Khan's illegitimate funds were linked to heinous crimes such as terrorism, gun-running and bribes, and suspected that he was probably fronting forsome politicians.

What happened, or to be more precise, did not happen, pursuant to these raids, raises the suspicion that Khan has some political godfathers within the Congress. The documents procured by the ED showed that on the date of the raid, Khan had liquid funds totalling $6 billion in his accounts, which he could move right away. The remaining $2.04 billion had a lock-in period until January 15, 2007 (which was just eight days from the last day of the raid). The documents also established that the Swiss Government had acted suo motu and frozen an account with $300 million held by Khan because it suspected that this money related to "funds from weapons sale".

As the task force report says, this should have resulted in the registration of an FIR immediately under the Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2004, so that India could have legitimately moved for freezing Khan's accounts soon after the raids on the ground that these monies were terror-related. This was precisely what the VP Singh Government did when it directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to register an FIR in the Bofors bribery case and sent a request for freezing the bank accounts of the recipients of the kickbacks in the field gun deal.

That was under the anti-bribery law. In Khan's case, the UPA Government ought to have acted under the anti-terrorism law. According to the authors of this report, Khan should have been arrested and taken in for custodial interrogation in regard to money laundering, arms deals and his possible links to unsavoury organisations. However, the Union Government took no action either to freeze the accounts or to prosecute him under the anti-terrorism law.

Surprisingly, the Income Tax Department, which customarily issues lakhs of notices every year to taxpayers with paltry salaried incomes, took no action at all on Khan, who had illegal funds amounting to Rs 36,000 crore. It accused him neither of tax evasion nor of money laundering. Instead, it sent a Letter Rogatory to the Swiss Government, merely complaining that Khan had not filed his tax returns in India. The Swiss Government dismissed the request for assistance and said non-filing of tax returns was no offence at all under Swiss law. This was how the Khan case was deliberately botched. Even more shocking was the Swiss Government's declaration that the documents attached to the Letter Rogatory were forged.

Further, laughable as it may seem, the ED served a "show cause notice" on Khan a good two years after the raids and "demanded" that he repatriate $8.04 billion with updated interest to India.

Needless to say, Khan had cleaned out these accounts in the meantime and this has since been confirmed by the Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee. He informed mediapersons recently that there were no funds in these accounts. Khan, like Quattrocchi, must be laughing all the way to the new bank where he has shifted his ill-gotten wealth.

Thus far, despite clear evidence of money-laundering, involvement with international arms dealers, etc, Khan has never been arrested for any of these offences. He was, however, booked in a fake passports case (he has three passports). Thereafter, he obtained bail and did the disappearing act. But, the task force says, the police have a video recording of his interrogation done later, in which he confesses that while he ducked the police, he met a key Congress leader in Ms Sonia Gandhi's establishment, the Maharastra Chief Minister, the State's Home Minister, and the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai.

The Congress may cursorily dismiss these findings on the ground that this is a BJP report. But, that will not carry conviction because the main Opposition party has carefully chosen four citizens with impeccable credentials (Mr S Gurumurthy, a chartered accountant and a crusader against corruption, Mr Ajit Doval, former Director of the Intelligence Bureau, Prof R Vaidyanathan, Professor of Finance, IIM, Bangalore, and Mr Mahesh Jethmalani, a noted lawyer) as members of this task force. As the report says, this case is the "smoking gun" and there is so much loaded in this single bullet called Hasan Ali that it has the potential to prematurely terminate the life of UPA2.

Meanwhile, we must ask Mr Manmohan Singh, the 'Mister Clean' of yesteryears, as to why he was in cahoots with India's biggest money-launderer?









' We have got to get to the root of the problem, and we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of terrorist attacks lie. That is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism.'


Today I want to focus my remarks on terrorism, but first let me address one point. Some have suggested that by holding a strategic defence and security review, Britain is somehow retreating from an activist role in the world. That is the opposite of the truth. Yes, we are dealing with our budget deficit, but we are also making sure our defences are strong. Britain will continue to meet the Nato's target for defence spending. We will still have the fourth largest military defence budget in the world. At the same time, we are putting that money to better use, focussing on conflict prevention and building a much more flexible Army. That is not retreat; it is hard headed.

Every decision we take has three aims in mind. First, to continue to support the Nato mission in Afghanistan. Second, to reinforce our actual military capability. As Chancellor Merkel's Government is showing right here in Germany, what matters is not bureaucracy, which frankly Europe needs a lot less of, but the political will to build military capability that we need as nations and allies, that we can deliver in the field. Third, we want to make sure that Britain is protected from the new and various threats that we face. That is why we are investing in a national cyber security programme that I know William Hague talked about yesterday, and we are sharpening our readiness to act on counter-proliferation.

But the biggest threat that we face comes from terrorist attacks, some of which are, sadly, carried out by our own citizens. It is important to stress that terrorism is not linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group. My country, the United Kingdom, still faces threats from dissident Republicans in Northern Ireland. Anarchist attacks have occurred recently in Greece and in Italy, and of course, yourselves in Germany were long scarred by terrorism from the Red Army Faction. Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that this threat comes in Europe overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse, warped interpretation of Islam, and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens. Last week at Davos I rang the alarm bell for the urgent need for Europe to recover its economic dynamism, and today, though the subject is complex, my message on security is equally stark. We will not defeat terrorism simply by the action we take outside our borders. Europe needs to wake up to what is happening in our own countries. Of course, that means strengthening, as Ms Angela has said, the security aspects of our response, on tracing plots, on stopping them, on counter-surveillance and intelligence gathering.


But this is just part of the answer. We have got to get to the root of the problem, and we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of these terrorist attacks lie. That is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism. We should be equally clear what we mean by this term, and we must distinguish it from Islam. Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people. Islamist extremism is a political ideology supported by a minority. At the furthest end are those who back terrorism to promote their ultimate goal: An entire Islamist realm, governed by an interpretation of Sharia'h. Move along the spectrum, and you find people who may reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist worldview, including real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values. It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand, and political ideology on the other. Time and again, people equate the two. They think whether someone is an extremist is dependent on how much they observe their religion. So, they talk about moderate Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist. This is profoundly wrong. Someone can be a devout Muslim and not be an extremist. We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing.

This highlights, I think, a significant problem when discussing the terrorist threat that we face. There is so much muddled thinking about this whole issue. On the one hand, those on the hard right ignore this distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism, and just say that Islam and the West are irreconcilable — that there is a clash of civilizations. So, it follows: We should cut ourselves off from this religion, whether that is through forced repatriation, favoured by some fascists, or the banning of new mosques, as is suggested in some parts of Europe. These people fuel Islamophobia, and I completely reject their argument. If they want an example of how Western values and Islam can be entirely compatible, they should look at what's happened in the past few weeks on the streets of Tunisia and Cairo: Hundreds of thousands of people demanding the universal right to free elections and democracy.

The point is this: The ideology of extremism is the problem; Islam emphatically is not. Picking a fight with the latter will do nothing to help us to confront the former. On the other hand, there are those on the soft left who also ignore this distinction. They lump all Muslims together, compiling a list of grievances, and argue that if only Governments addressed these grievances, the terrorism would stop. So, they point to the poverty that so many Muslims live in and say, 'get rid of this injustice and the terrorism will end'. But this ignores the fact that many of those found guilty of terrorist offences in the UK and elsewhere have been graduates and often middle class. They point to grievances about Western foreign policy and say, 'stop riding roughshod over Muslim countries and the terrorism will end'. But there are many people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who are angry about Western foreign policy, but who don't resort to acts of terrorism. They also point to the profusion of unelected leaders across the Middle East and say, 'stop propping these people up and you will stop creating the conditions for extremism to flourish'. But this raises the question: If it's the lack of democracy that is the problem, why are there so many extremists in free and open societies?

Now, I'm not saying that these issues of poverty and grievance about foreign policy are not important. Yes, of course we must tackle them. Of course we must tackle poverty. Yes, we must resolve the sources of tension, not least in Palestine, and yes, we should be on the side of openness and political reform in the Middle East. On Egypt, our position should be clear. We want to see the transition to a more broadly-based Government, with the proper building blocks of a free and democratic society. I simply don't accept that there is somehow a dead-end choice between a security state on the one hand, and an Islamist one on the other. But let us not fool ourselves. These are just contributory factors. Even if we sorted out all of the problems that I have mentioned, there would still be this terrorism. I believe the root lies in the existence of this extremist ideology. I would argue an important reason so many young Muslims are drawn to it comes down to a question of identity.

What I am about to say is drawn from the British experience, but I believe there are general lessons for us all. In the UK, some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practiced at home by their parents, whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries. But these young men also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity. Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We've failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We've even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.

So, when a White person holds objectionable views, racist views for instance, we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices come from someone who isn't white, we've been too cautious frankly — frankly, even fearful — to stand up to them. The failure, for instance, of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage, the practice where some young girls are bullied and sometimes taken abroad to marry someone when they don't want to, is a case in point. This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared. And this all leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless. And the search for something to belong to and something to believe in can lead them to this extremist ideology. Now for sure, they don't turn into terrorists overnight, but what we see — and what we see in so many European countries — is a process of radicalisation.

Internet chatrooms are virtual meeting places where attitudes are shared, strengthened and validated. In some mosques, preachers of hate can sow misinformation about the plight of Muslims elsewhere. In our communities, groups and organisations led by young, dynamic leaders promote separatism by encouraging Muslims to define themselves solely in terms of their religion. All these interactions can engender a sense of community, a substitute for what the wider society has failed to supply. Now, you might say, as long as they're not hurting anyone, what is the problem with all this?

Well, I'll tell you why. As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called 'non-violent extremists', and they then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence. And I say this is an indictment of our approach to these issues in the past. And if we are to defeat this threat, I believe it is time to turn the page on the failed policies of the past. So first, instead of ignoring this extremist ideology, we — as Governments and as societies — have got to confront it, in all its forms. And second, instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone.

Let me briefly take each in turn. First, confronting and undermining this ideology. Whether they are violent in their means or not, we must make it impossible for the extremists to succeed. Now, for Governments, there are some obvious ways we can do this. We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries. We must also proscribe organisations that incite terrorism against people at home and abroad. Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are in some cases part of the problem. We need to think much harder about who it's in the public interest to work with. Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism. As others have observed, this is like turning to a Right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement. So we should properly judge these organisations: Do they believe in universal human rights — including for women and people of other faiths? Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own Government? Do they encourage integration or separation? These are the sorts of questions we need to ask. Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations — so, no public money, no sharing of platforms with Ministers at home.

At the same time, we must stop these groups from reaching people in publicly-funded institutions like universities or even, in the British case, prisons. Now, some say, this is not compatible with free speech and intellectual inquiry. Well, I say, would you take the same view if these were Right-wing extremists recruiting on our campuses? Would you advocate inaction if Christian fundamentalists who believed that Muslims are the enemy were leading prayer groups in our prisons? And to those who say these non-violent extremists are actually helping to keep young, vulnerable men away from violence, I say nonsense.

Would you allow the far right groups a share of public funds if they promise to help you lure young white men away from fascist terrorism? Of course not. But, at root, challenging this ideology means exposing its ideas for what they are, and that is completely unjustifiable. We need to argue that terrorism is wrong in all circumstances. We need to argue that prophecies of a global war of religion pitting Muslims against the rest of the world are nonsense.

Now, Governments cannot do this alone. The extremism, we face, is a distortion of Islam, so these arguments, in part, must be made by those within Islam. So let us give voice to those followers of Islam in our own countries — the vast, often unheard majority — who despise the extremists and their worldview. Let us engage groups that share our aspirations.

Now, second, we must build stronger societies and stronger identities at home. Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism. A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values. But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality. It says to its citizens, this is what defines us as a society: To belong here is to believe in these things. Now, each of us in our own countries, I believe, must be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty.

There are practical things that we can do as well. That includes making sure that immigrants speak the language of their new home and ensuring that people are educated in the elements of a common culture and curriculum. Back home, we're introducing National Citizen Service: A two-month programme for 16-year-olds from different backgrounds to live and work together. I also believe we should encourage meaningful and active participation in society, by shifting the balance of power away from the state and towards the people. That way, common purpose can be formed as people come together and work together in their neighbourhoods. It will also help build stronger pride in local identity, so people feel free to say, 'Yes, I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am Christian, but I am also a Londonder or a Berliner too'. It's that identity, that feeling of belonging in our countries, that I believe is the key to achieving true cohesion.

So, let me end with this. This terrorism is completely indiscriminate and has been thrust upon us. It cannot be ignored or contained; we have to confront it with confidence — confront the ideology that drives it by defeating the ideas that warp so many young minds at their root, and confront the issues of identity that sustain it by standing for a much broader and generous vision of citizenship in our countries. Now, none of this will be easy. We will need stamina, patience and endurance, and it won't happen at all if we act alone. This ideology crosses not just our continent but all continents, and we are all in this together. At stake are not just lives, it is our way of life. That is why this is a challenge we cannot avoid; it is one we must rise to and overcome.

--This is the text of the speech delivered by Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at the Munish Security Conference, setting out his view on radicalisation and Islamic extremism.








ONLY the most optimistic will believe that the talks between the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries in Thimphu were a breakthrough of some kind. Indeed, the words " useful and frank" used by the Indian official to describe the discussions indicate that both sides laid out their positions on the table and there was agreement only in that the talks would now be carried forward at a later date.


The achievement, if any, was that a meeting did take place between the foreign secretaries after a long hiatus occasioned by the failure of the Foreign Minister level talks at Islamabad in July 2010.


You may recall that the outcome of the talks was torpedoed by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi by his provocative behaviour at the joint press conference following what were described as successful talks.


Despite claims to the contrary by former foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, there seems to be little change in the attitude of the Pakistan Army led by General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.


Just how much of a gap there is between New Delhi and Islamabad was evident from the attempt made by Pakistani officials to create a false equivalence between the Mumbai attack of 2008 and the Samjhauta Express blasts of 2007 in which a large number of Pakistani nationals were killed.


The facts, however, are that both terrorist incidents took place on Indian soil, and it is not just India's prerogative to investigate them, but in its vital interests as well.


But where the Indian police has made breakthroughs in ascertaining the masterminds of the case, Pakistan has refused to even provide voice samples of those in its custody for the Mumbai conspiracy, leave alone follow up on the leads provided by David Coleman Headley.



PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh has a point when he says that the power of judicial review should not be used to erode the legitimate role assigned to other branches of the state. There is no denying that judicial activism in India has led to landmark verdicts that have greatly benefitted citizens in various domains.


At the same time, it is difficult to escape the perception that the higher judiciary tends to overreach itself on occasions with its intervention in areas that rightfully fall in the jurisdiction of the executive. This, as Dr Singh has pointed out, goes against the constitutional scheme.


Take the food security issue for instance on which the Supreme Court has been issuing directives to the Union government. Few will deny that food security for the poor is a major issue but how this is to be ensured is really the bailiwick of the executive and not the judiciary.


The view that the higher judiciary should be mindful of its jurisdiction is buttressed when one considers that the institution does not display the same zealousness over problems pertaining to itself, whether it is the huge backlog of cases in our courts or the issue of corruption involving judges.


THE Congress party appears to have rescued its sinking ship in Andhra Pradesh by taking film star turned politician Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam Party into its fold.


The merger will give the Congress the numbers to ensure a stable government in Andhra Pradesh and take on challenges like the Telangana agitation with much greater assurance.


Moreover, Mr Chiranjeevi's support base — particularly among the Kapu community in coastal Andhra — will be a shot in the arm for the Congress whose support has waned with the exit of Y S Jaganmohan Reddy.


Even though the move is aimed at neutralising the ' Jagan factor', it is significant that the Congress high command has recognised the importance of promoting leaders with charisma rather than view them as threats.


On his part, Mr Chiranjeevi seems to have realised that the political vacuum in which the N T Rama Rao wave occurred in the 1980s no longer exists in the state. In fact, Andhra politics has become increasingly fragmented and the PRP on its own would have remained a marginal player.



            MAIL TODAY





PRESIDENT Mubarak has long outlived his political shelf life. Never a popular figure, much less a loved one, since he assumed power, he was not always a hated figure either. While not crediting him with charisma, many in Egypt have given him plus marks for his moderation and for providing stability.


His regime's success in curbing domestic terrorism has not been a small achievement.


However, the cost his rule has extracted in terms of freedoms has been enormous. In the thirtieth year of his interminable Presidency, public frustration has spilled over into the street with unprecedented vigour.


People want him to go, they are clamouring for change, and are revolting against political repression and economic hardships.


They want their voice to be heard, and a more representative government in power.


Significantly, the crowds haven't exhibited any animus toward the army, though it is the military that wields real power and is, as such, the progenitor of the existing despotic set- up. Implicitly, therefore, they are not mobilising for a revolution.




Mubarak has taken some steps to defuse public anger, but to no avail. After 30 years he has appointed a Vice- President, a position he himself held under Anwar Sadat, but which he left unfilled to avoid positioning a successor. This appointment has also signalled that his son Gamal, whom he has been grooming, will not succeed him. He has announced that he will step down in September this year when his present term ends, and has resigned from the leadership of the ruling National Democratic Party.


He is manoeuvring for an orderly, constitutional transition, not one forced by street pressure. This could obviate exile for him, and allow him to " die on Egyptian soil" as he desires. The nomination of his intelligence chief as Vice- President and a former Air Chief as Prime Minister suggests an intention to transfer power to the " hard core" of the state— the military and the security apparatus. This is not the kind of democratic transition that the public is agitating for.


The developments in Egypt may make exciting news, but the uncertainties surrounding them invite circumspection. The drama being enacted on the streets may not have a devoutly wished for ending.


Mubarak is so far resisting external pressure to begin the transition now, which pre- supposes his early exit. For Egypt's western backers Mubarak is expendable, but the stability of the country's polity is critical. Their quandary is how to bring about controlled change. Concerns about disorder in a country that is the political and cultural centre of the Arab world are, however, general.


American anxiety would be understandable because Eygpt has been the cornerstone of their West Asian strategy since 1979. The military neutralisation of Egypt through the Egypt- Israel peace treaty, propped by massive US aid, has protected the area from a larger conflagration even as the Israeli- Palestinian problem has incessantly smouldered. The US has interest in a rapid de- escalation of the internal situation, even as it would want the basic state apparatus to survive to ensure that the levers of power do not move into wrong hands.


Its huge stakes require it to be seen siding with the public demand for change, both to avoid being identified with political immobility in Egypt and stave off the street unrest from acquiring more pronounced anti- American tones. To be fair, the Americans have advised Mubarak for some time against squelching dissent brutally and easing political repression, but without great results.


The Europeans have been cautious in demanding frontally the immediate departure of Mubarak or early elections, conscious of the risks to regional instability that the current situation carries. The Turkish Prime Minister, however, has shown notable diplomatic boldness by overtly advising Mubarak to step down in the interest of democracy. This is consistent with his activism in carving out a new regional Turkish role under his leadership.



It seems highly improbable that Mubarak can survive in office till September.


Hectic negotiations are evidently afoot to find a viable solution that eliminates Mubarak from power, allows the military to retain control, but creates space for political parties and free elections, with some overtures to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, which, as it happens, has been participating in elections by fielding independent candidates.


So far the Muslim Brotherhood has maintained a low profile, aware that their overt involvement in the upsurge in the streets would give the authorities the excuse to use force, besides causing loss of support and sympathy for the movement abroad.


Mubarak has always argued that his autocratic rule was necessary to keep the Muslim Brotherhood at bay, and that western pressure on him on freedoms was selfdefeating.


Some analysts downplay the Brotherhood's threat, limiting its electoral support to 20 to 30 per cent, besides arguing that with moderates in its midst, it is not monochromatic in ideology. Whatever the validity of such judgments, it remains that in instances where the Arab world has held relatively free elections, the Islamists have won or emerged strongly.




This has been so in Algeria ( Islamic Salvation front), in the Palestinian territories ( Hamas), and in Lebanon ( Hezbollah). To say that the Egyptians are " moderate" may not be sufficient to guarantee the victory of " moderate" parties in elections.


Although Egypt has 24 political parties, these are inconsequential ones, barring the regime supported National Democratic Party that rigs and wins elections overwhelmingly.


These motley parties cannot become credible political players in the few months ahead, assuming major political reforms are introduced. El Baradei has no political organisation behind him for fighting an election, and creating one takes time and resources. Organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood working socially at grass roots levels for long can effectively mobilise public support behind them in an open election, capitalising also on undercurrents of anti- Israeli and anti- US feelings in society. In any case, even if the Brotherhood bides its time and lets " moderates" take control immediately, time would probably be on its side, as the politics in the region will remain very volatile so long as the Israel- Palestine conflict persists. With existing Israeli nervousness about the situation in Iran, exacerbated by the Iranian regime's provocative statements about the unrest in Egypt, and the unpredictable consequences this turmoil may have for Egypt- Israel relations and for the region as a whole, Israel may become even more entrenched in its intransigence.


India has been prudent and balanced in its statements on the Egyptian developments.


We have to view the situation not as exciting news footage, demanding highsounding statements on the virtues of democracy and ousting of unpopular regimes. Our position on Egypt has to be consistent with our position on Myanmar, and the sensitivities of the Gulf countries have to be factored in. We have to take cognisance that unrest in Egypt makes the region, where our interests are expanding, even more volatile. We have rightly said that those ruling Egypt must see the writing on the wall, and have stressed that it is in the larger interest of the region and our bilateral relationship that power is taken over by sane, rationalist and pluralistic leadership, a clear allusion to our concerns about the unpalatable prospect of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover.


The writer is a former Foreign Secretary (








The prime minister's remark last week about inflation threatening growth made the bourses bearish. The latest impressive growth projection for 2010-11 hasn't lifted the gloom much. Led by farm output's spirited show, growth's been pegged at 8.6% for the current fiscal. Manufacturing is also wind in the economy's sails, expanding by 8.8%. Clearly, periodic statistical cheer alone can't buoy investor and business confidence, flagging of late. With the budget coming up, the government has a chance to initiate big ticket reforms kept in abeyance. Correcting the economy's structural anomalies through a second wave of reforms is the game changer India needs.

There are inflationary pressures on the economy not least due to northbound international crude prices. But the real bad news on the domestic price front still concerns high food inflation. No wonder the RBI's last round of relatively modest rate hikes belied expectations of hawkish action. It signalled the limits to what monetary policy can do, and that inflation and growth both need watching. As economist Raghuram Rajan has suggested, we should focus on trimming subsidies, cut government demand, contain the size of existing social schemes and hold back on new ones. While further monetary hardening will hit business and hence economic expansion, reform coupled with belt-tightening can curb inflation through supply side innovation and fiscal consolidation.

Power, fuel or fertilisers, it's no secret India's subsidy architecture promotes fiscal recklessness, waste and corruption to a greater degree than it does social good. Artificially capped kerosene and diesel prices, for instance, enrich and embolden a politically coddled fuel mafia. They also encourage consumers who can afford petrol to use diesel, which has negative economic and environmental costs. It's imperative as well to plug leakages via which social benefits - say, NREG funds or poor-directed food - get diverted. Our focus must be on PDS's revamp, introduction of smarter delivery channels and linking of social benefits to extended UID and banking cover for better targeting.

Undeniably, developing India needs firm social sector commitments. But so-called redistributive disbursal of state largesse largely misdirects resources that are better spent on building schools, hospitals, irrigation, roads, ports, power grids and the like. State-sponsored employment guarantee compensates for neither higher farm incomes nor better-paying factory jobs. So, there's no avoiding agriculture's reform to boost productivity and supply in a country with massive and growing food needs. Ditto for framing industry-friendly labour rules. Centre-state social spending, more than doubling between 2004-05 and 2009-10, needs funding less by borrowing - which chokes credit to the private sector - than revenues efficiently mobilised. This means tax reform, price decontrols and fast-tracked disinvestment. The less government hampers or presides over economic activity, the more it can fulfil its real brief: delivering education, health, infrastructure and equal opportunities.






Speculation about a merger of the Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) with the Congress, which had been rife since actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi met Sonia Gandhi last year, has been proven right. The 30-month-old PRP, which was launched as an alternative to both the Congress and the TDP, had failed to impress voters in a significant way when it struck out on its own. The Telugu megastar, whose fan following can be easily compared with the legendary N T Rama Rao, suffered his first political blow when his party got just 18 MLAs in the 294-member assembly in the 2009 elections. It failed in every Lok Sabha seat contested. Moreover, the actor barely managed a narrow win in Tirupati, out of the two seats he contested for the assembly. Sunday's formal merger with the Congress can infuse new life into the actor's chosen career as a politician.

For Congress, the gains are both immediate and long-term. The party desperately needed an out-of-the-box solution to take on an increasingly belligerent Jagan Mohan Reddy as well as the Telangana protagonists. The merger will alter political permutations in the state that had played a crucial role in Congress's electoral fortunes in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The PRP's 16 MLAs, excluding two who are in the Jagan camp, will give breathing space to the minority Kiran Reddy government. Further, Chiranjeevi could help the party retain the Kapu community vote, a caste that's a decisive factor in many constituencies in coastal Andhra. With Chiranjeevi's entry the party also gets a young and proven campaigner with a clean image to counter Jagan, who has projected himself as a youth leader.







Oil has been making the headlines, and for the wrong reasons.

First, retail petrol prices have gone up by Rs 7 a litre since mid-December. Then, additional collector Yeshwant Sonawane paid with his life for challenging a thriving black market in kerosene. At the core of both the issues is the policy on pricing.

But first, the primary question: why are petrol prices going up?

Petrol prices were deregulated in June 2010 and linked to international crude prices, making them market-determined. However, since June, international crude prices have increased from roughly $75 a barrel to nearly $100 a barrel, resulting in rising retail petrol prices.

The last two price increases indicate firming up of crude prices internationally, a product of global economic recovery. Before international oil prices collapsed along with the financial system in the second half of 2008, crude prices had touched $147 a barrel. Now with renewed global recovery in economic growth, worldwide demand for oil is again increasing, raising international prices.

So, is there any respite?

Respite can come from three quarters - from a fall in demand, from increased supplies and from changes in the way oil is priced domestically.

Demand for energy from oil is the maximum from the transportation sector, accounting for 55% of oil used worldwide. Now, take car sales. In 2010, passenger car sales increased by 32% while commercial vehicle sales increased by 34% over 2009 in India. In the US, car sales increased 13% in 2010 over 2009. As more cars hit the roads, demand for oil only increases.

But as oil prices increase, people tend to cut back on consumption levels, for example, by driving less. The higher the price, the greater the tendency to cut back consumption. Nevertheless, due to rising prices even if demand moderates, aggregate demand is likely to scale newer peaks in 2011.

Next comes supply. After demand crashed in 2008 and 2009, oil-producing countries were quick to decrease extraction and supply. They are yet to ramp up production. Although they promised to do so on January 24, which should moderate international crude prices, beyond a certain level, supply adjustments to demand become difficult. On the back of sustained demand, there is a peak level of production possible. This is called the 'peak oil' theory. Until then, prices rise. Only after the peak is reached does the price rise trigger a fall in consumption to the level of available supply.

In conclusion, we can expect greater supplies in 2011 that should moderate prices, but these efforts will merely slow the rise in international crude prices.

Retail price of petrol also depends, significantly, on government-imposed taxes and levies.

The retail price minus all taxes is actually less than what oil marketing companies (OMCs) pay to buy, refine, transport and sell oil. The difference or loss to the OMCs, popularly called 'under recoveries', is the subsidy burden, made up (partially) by issuance of oil bonds by the Centre.

Customs duty, levied by the central government, is 5% on crude oil and 7.5% on petrol and diesel. It also levies excise duty of Rs 14.35 per litre on petrol, comprising nearly 25% of what we pay. The excise duty on diesel is Rs 4.60 a litre.

Almost 40% of the Centre's indirect tax revenue comes from the petroleum sector. Tax revenue from fuels has been three to four times the subsidy which the government had paid on them in three of the last four years. The state governments also impose sales and value added taxes. Sales tax varies from 18% in Orissa to 33% in Andhra Pradesh. There is an urgent need to rationalise and harmonise state-level taxes and levies.

The central government can substantially reduce the burden on the common man by slashing excise duty on petrol by Rs 5-6 per litre. Similarly, scrapping customs duty on crude will help. Together it can reduce petrol prices to Rs 50 per litre. This can be done in the next Union Budget. Deregulation of petrol prices removed the subsidy element to OMCs. This can be used to cut taxes on petrol.

In the long run, diesel price deregulation is inevitable, especially if the huge differential in retail prices between petrol and diesel remains. It encourages greater diesel consumption through higher sales of diesel-run vehicles which pollute more. Worldwide, this price differential does not exist. By reducing taxes on petrol and thereby reducing retail prices, the incentive for greater diesel consumption will reduce, thus helping manage the diesel subsidy bill.

As for kerosene, according to oil ministry estimates, more than 10 million tonnes of kerosene go for sale through ration shops every year, but 40% or more is siphoned off by "organised gangs of mafia proportion", who also smuggle it into neighbouring Pakistan , Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh where it fetches double the price. The illegal market is more than Rs 10,000 crore every year.

The government should effect several small price increases for kerosene and LPG, aligning them with the market rates. Kerosene and cooking gas subsidies end up benefiting semi-urban and urban consumers more (respectively), rather than the rural poor. Fuel consumption patterns in rural areas still show heavy reliance on biomass.

Besides reducing subsidies, it can also save the likes of Yeshwant Sonawane.

The writer is president of Assocham.







Salman Khan's suggestion that the popular name for the film industry based in Mumbai be changed from Bollywood to 'Hi Fi' (for Hindi Film industry) is unconvincing. It is tantamount to diluting a globally recognised brand that has become a serious force in world cinema. True, there used to be a perception that Bollywood is only good for churning out masala movies characterised by over-the-top plots and an overdose of random song and dance numbers. However, that perception has slowly changed. With better marketing strategies and greater access to international audiences, people have come to realise that Bollywood is not a monolith. Films such as Dhobi Ghat, Page 3, Everybody Says I'm Fine!, Kites and Rock On!! have helped break the stereotype.

It is a measure of how seriously the world takes Bollywood that its actors are now regular features at prestigious international film festivals such as Cannes and Venice. Even the Oxford dictionary recognises Bollywood as a euphemism for the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry. In this backdrop, it would be a mistake to replace the term with something as arbitrary and whimsical as Hi Fi. Besides, the attempt to come up with a name that encompasses the entire Hindi film industry is also not justified. Hindi films from Mumbai are but a part of the Hindi film industry, which also includes Bhojpuri films and arthouse films.

There's nothing wrong with the term Bollywood being a play on Hollywood either, as it does acknowledge the latter's patent influence on the former. Anyone with rudimentary knowledge of Bollywood trends would know this. On the other hand, the nomenclature - movies from erstwhile Bombay - helps to distinguish the film industry from others as well as throw light on its genesis. Bollywood has been universally accepted and should not be tampered with.








Though ubiquitous Bollywood is undeniably patronising and misleading because it's unable to capture the multiplicity of genres that the film industry in Mumbai contains. Nor is Bollywood good for branding, as it's associated popularly with a particular, and passe, genre. Now is the time to ditch the name. To continue would give undue precedence to one facet of today's dynamic industry.

Bollywood suggests that India's premier cinema industry is derived from America. True, Bollywood has on occasion remade Hollywood hits, but even then the originality - and genius - lay in selecting what to translate and translating something to make it resonate with a very different audience, us.

Unfortunately, Bollywood has come to denote a particular type of film replete with dancing girls, music sequences and outrageous fight scenes. This isn't what the industry is about anymore but it's what the term conjures up in the popular consciousness. The connotations are restrictive and wearing thin because the term can't be a catch-all for everything. Fantastic films continue being made but they are now supplemented by a host of other genres. Sholay no longer is Bollywood, but nor is the recent film Khosla Ka Ghosla. The latter's just one example of a break from the high emotionalism associated with Bollywood. Now films represent everyday predicaments with humour and nor are they necessarily in Hindi. Everybody Says I'm Fine! is a mix of English and Hindi. Such films demand that Bollywood be rebranded because they exceed what the name connotes.

Branding alone isn't the only consideration in changing the name of the industry. Whether the alternative should be 'Hi Fi', given the diversity of Bollywood, is open to debate. What clearly isn't is that the name's got to go.







An obscure American journalist coined the phrase: "I have seen the future, and it is here." I too have seen the future and it is definitely not here, at least not yet. Maybe not for the next 30 years and by then it will be too late because i will probably be referred to as "the late...". Here's my problem. It's going to take that long to perfect some of the medical advances that promise to change the quality of our lives in, well, life-changing ways. Like living to be a hundred, for example, which would totally eliminate the need for this rant.

We are told by healthily reliable sources that in 30 years, we will be able to merely pop a pill or three and, eureka, we will have imbibed the elixir of life. That's great news for our kids but what good is that to us senior citizens? It's one reason i hate my kids using the fashionable phrase, "It's to die for." People don't die from not owning a Prada bag or a Porsche 911; they die from things like old age, heart attacks, organ failure, AIDS and cancer, among others. Here's the good news: by 2050, medical science will have found a cure for all of the above. Here's the bad news: those of us who have more grey in our hair than the grey matter under it will not be the beneficiaries.

It really makes me ill to think of the unfairness of it all. We are the generation that have given the world such wondrous things as the internet, medical insurance, protein shakes, low-cost airlines, Viagra, Botox, the morning after pill, Facebook , reality TV and the mobile phone. Surely, we deserve something in return? Like dial an organ, a service that is promised to us by 2031, or some futuristic nano-thing called 'subatomic robots' that will enter our bloodstream and repair cellular damage, the insidious stuff that makes us age. Looking young longer is an attractive proposition but alas, not for those who have more years behind us than ahead. Here's the part that is really heady. Scientific advances have reached a stage where microchips and fiber optics can rewire our brains and expand our cognitive powers. Just think of it, but think also of the fact that it's all in the future and, hence, out of the reach of the generation that still believes the Beatles were the greatest thing since sliced bread.

One reason i dread reading medical journals is because of all the miracle stuff we can look forward to and because it's all in our future. Well, someone's future, not ours. I read all about designer drugs being created that are like designer duds: very expensive and exclusively made for the particular disease or ailment you happen to suffer from. Imagine IBM, not the company but Irritable Bowel Movement, could be behind us, as would that ailment i can never remember, amnesia or something.

The most irritating part is that they are conducting trials on such drugs and they will only be available for use when Generation Y is reaching middle age. All i can say is why? Here's the irony. Most diseases are genetic, so it's possible that our kids could inherit a medical condition along with the EMIs. But genetic engineering is winning more Nobel prizes than any other field of research so we are looking at a future where genetic conditions may not exist, but today's parents will have passed on and therefore be unable to see a world where certain diseases will no longer be passed on. I also hear that they are working on diet pills which will eliminate that guilt trip i endure when eyeing that Tiramisu or butter chicken.

I have seen the future and it is bright, and full of unlimited disease-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free promise. The problem with the future is that it's never present.








The government's Kashmir policy increasingly appears like a philharmonic orchestra where all the musicians are playing the part of the conductor. The fact that the army appears to have accidentally killed a young man in Handwara just as the tide seemed to be turning in favour of a dialogue suggests that there is little or no coordination in official thinking on the issue. Fortunately, chief minister Omar Abdullah has been quick to condemn the killing, the army has apologised and law and order seems under control.

But, this is no ground for complacency. Hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani have already got off the mark, accusing Mr Abdullah of war crimes and fomenting unrest in Sopore where two young girls were killed recently, allegedly by militants. In the fragile tinderbox of Kashmir, it would be all too easy to go back to the summer of last year where the killing of three young men in Kupwara by the security forces mutated into a conflagration in which stone-pelters made their debut in the violence. The government has been getting a few things right on Kashmir in recent times. One is the appointment of a panel of interlocutors who have been talking to all sections of Kashmiri society. The other is its mature response to revelations from within the ranks of the separatists and hardliners that the killings of some of the leaders were by their own people. This had put the likes of Mr Geelani on the backfoot. In recent times, there has been far greater acceptance of the need for dialogue and even the BJP's ill-timed attempts at hoisting the tricolour in Srinagar on Republic Day did not lead to too much damage, barring a bit of over-the-top emotion we have come to associate with such issues.

The government, clearly, lacks quick and clear lines of communications among all the actors on the ground - the security forces, the civil administration, the army and the interlocutors. If the army had been warned that it must exercise the maximum restraint, perhaps the Handwara episode could have been avoided. If the security forces' record had not been so suspect, Mr Geelani could not have tried to lay the killing of the two girls on its doorstep. The important thing now is to ensure that an impartial probe both by the army and the civil administration is undertaken and the guilty punished within a very short timeframe. Any lapse will allow separatists and their mentors across the border to exploit the situation. The discordant notes of the Kashmir symphony are beginning to grate. It is time for the government to pick up the baton decisively.






If you soon see Jamaat-ud-Dawah leader Hafiz Saeed come out in a merry mood from a house at an undisclosed location in Pakistan, chances are that he's just left a nice little party hosted by Abdul Qadeer Khan. Mr Khan, if you recall, is the Pakistani nuclear scientist credited with the tag of being the 'father of Pakistan's nuclear programme'. Yes, that's right. He's the same AQ Khan who was placed under house arrest after he confessed to selling nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea and was 'released' in February 2009 and declared a 'free citizen'.

Well, another 'free citizen' who was placed under house arrest by Pakistani authorities twice to be released twice is Mr Saeed, the 'amir' of JuD. Considering that the man alleged to have close ties with the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (he himself denies this) and involved in the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai addressed a JuD rally in Pakistan on Sunday stating that jihad should be pursued against India even if it means "nuclear war", one could surmise that there's a possibility of a demand-supply friendship involving matter 'nuclear' blooming.

The rally, marking Kashmir Solidarity Day, was curious in that subjects such as war, let along 'nuking India', don't usually come up in gatherings organised by charity organisations, something that Mr Saeed's JuD insists it is. Of course, with secretary-level talks between Indian and Pakistani authorities having taken place in Bhutan on the sides of the South Asian Association for Redundant Cooperation, all this bluster from Mr Saeed is plain bluster. Pakistani and Indian government officials can have a nice laugh over all this 'drop a nuke in India if India doesn't quit Kashmir' spiel. So long as Messrs Khan and Saeed are not seen shifting their post-house arrest house parties to a facility that is glowing in the dark near Rawalpindi.









The idea that Pakistan is the new India, at least in its output of award-winning and bestselling fiction in English in recent years, is not new. But this was bolstered last month during the Jaipur Literature Festival by the $50,000 DSC South Asian Literature Award going to 36-year-old Karachi-based Husain M Naqvi for his debut novel Home Boy.

Naqvi, together with his beautiful wife Aliya (a niece of Indian filmmaker Muzaffar Ali) who is a Harvard graduate working on a PhD on Abul Fazal, the leading light of Akbar's court, are the toast of their home town at the second Karachi Literature Festival. Naqvi is hard at work on his next novel. And given the literary noise they make, his fellow writers should have new novels out this year.

Mohammed Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, the satiric account of General Zia-ul-Haq's years in power, has just submitted the manuscript of his new novel which centres on the persecution of a Christian woman. But Daniyal Mueenuddin, the half-American, half-Pakistani author of In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, has abandoned his Pakistani novel to complete an all-American story set in New York.

A marwari's legacy in Karachi  

There's something more appealingly noise-worthy happening in Karachi (apart from occasional bombs and outbursts of street fighting). And it's the vigour and innovation of contemporary Pakistani art that is currently getting its biggest outing in the fabulous Mohatta Palace, one of the city's grand heritage buildings, now restored as a public museum.

Perched on an eminence in the city's wealthy neighbourhood of Clifton, the 1920s palace of carved sandstone, built in the Rajasthani colonial style, was once the summer residence of Seth Shiv Rattan Mohatta, a Marwari shipbuilding tycoon.

Local legend has it that in 1947, the influential Seth Mohatta stormed into Jinnah's office to protest that the new district commissioner had an eye on taking over his mansion. When Jinnah refused to intervene, Seth Mohatta left for India and his two-storeyed palace became the home of the newly-established Pakistani foreign office.

When the ministry moved to the Islamabad, Fatima Jinnah installed its vast halls and chambers with painted ceilings and elaborate tiled floors and lived there until her death in 1967. In 1995, the Sindh government bought it and handed it over to an independent board of trustees to save the building. It restored the mansion and its lush gardens to their former glory. Today, it is a major exhibition space.

Cover the whole canvas

The Rising Tide: New Directions in Art from Pakistan 1990-2010 is the name of the superbly mounted show at the Mohatta Palace, with works by 42 emerging and established artists from Pakistan and its diaspora. There are conventional canvases, post-modern miniatures, sculptural installations and video art, in photographic and other digital media. Each, in one way or another, takes the up the theme of the city as an urban landscape of migration, displacement, political, social and economic upheaval.

Among the more spectacular works is a huge mirrored cube by Rashid Rana (Pakistan's answer to Subodh Gupta) that appears to portray towering urban skyscrapers. But viewed closely, the high-rises are composed of thousands of small embedded photographs of old Lahore houses. Movingly, it is called Desperately Seeking Paradise. In fact many of the art works have poetically evocative names like Ek Shahar Jo Udaas Hai (A City That Is Sad) and Ghosts in the Turret.

Sunil Sethi is the host of Just Books on NDTV






It's a bit like getting into a country. You have to show your passport at several checkpoints. You are asked why you want to get in and frisking is a rite of passage. If there's something irregular, you may be taken to a side for more questioning. But once you are in after hours in the queue, you are cheered on with warm smiles and open arms. It's almost like a travel brochure promise. Welcome to Meidan Tahrir.

Originally a result of the designs of Ismail Pasha, the khedive (viceroy of the Ottomans) of Egypt from 1863 to 1879, to make Cairo the 'Paris of the East' in the late 19th century, Tahrir  - literally, 'liberation'; then known as Ismailiya - Square has been a centre of protests for a while now. A century ago, people marched here against the British and again in 1977, crowds congregated here protesting price rise. But it had never been a bloody battleground.

On a regular day, the office district in which Tahrir Square is located, at the crossing of eight roads in downtown Cairo in front of the Egyptian Museum, overlooks one of the busiest junctions in Egypt, with a 100-metre drive taking up to half an hour in peak traffic. Today it's a closed community of pedestrians with its own rules, facilities and even entertainment.

The thousands of anti-Mubarak protestors having been camping here since Police Day on January 25, and tens of thousands  have been joining them every day for the past two weeks. Tents and shelters made of bed covers and plastic have sprouted along the traffic islands. Cha (pronounced 'shaay') is available from dozens of vendors for an Egyptian pound (about R8) and stalls are selling kosheri, a lifeless mix of rice, macaroni and lentils. There's constant sloganeering and singing. Men and women, young and old are periodically clearing garbage from the streets. The children, some of them cradled by elders, stare around in silence in this mega-mela atmosphere.

Democratic freedom may be the grand goal, but several Tahrirites have also found a personal axe to grind against Hosni Mubarak. Behraiya, an 18-year-old girl selling tea, stubs out her cigarette and says, "I'm a beggar because of his policies." Reda, a 40-year-old jewellery maker, asks for a cigarette and says, "I haven't been able to marry because of that guy. I would have earned three times in [Anwar] Sadat's time." After three decades of pharaonic power, Mubarak is the System.

Others are here for a slice of history. Emad Osman, a 43-year-old technician who repairs air-conditioners, on being asked why he has been bringing his nine-year-old son Ahmed every day to such a potentially violent territory, replies, "I don't want him to miss these moments." Does Ahmed discuss Mubarak in school? "Yes, but not everyone thinks he's bad," says the boy.

Nearby, two large white cloths serve as screens on which news from Al Jazeera and other television channels are projected round the clock. There's also a smaller screen near a laptop on which people download and beam their personal videos every day. When not used as a makeshift stage for anti-regime rants, a carefully built pyramid of a dozen-odd large speakers blares nationalist songs.

But nobody forgets that Tahrir Square is, above everything else, a battleground. Stones and rubble are neatly cairned on walls and laid by the roadside for another possible pelting match. Charred vehicles are 'parked' on kerbs as if objects in a museum of violence. There are at least half a dozen 'clinics' - small barricaded areas near the tanks blocking all roadheads - manned by seven to 10 doctors with various specialities. "We have to stay close to the frontline. So we move when the line moves," says Dr Taufiq Ala-Iddin, a 25-year-old vascular surgeon. "We treat the bastards [pro-Mubarak 'thugs'] as well as the revolutionaries [the anti-Mubarak protestors]."

Each time there's a rumour - and there's at least one every 15 minutes - people swarm to a corner of the square to confirm it. My translator Hamdy Kenawi points to a dapper politician in the middle of one such swarm. It's Osama al Ghazali Harb, who left the ruling National Democratic Party in 2007 to form the liberal Democratic Front Party in the opposition. When he hears I'm from India, Ghazali Harb grabs me by my lapels. "We envy you. What we are fighting for here is a democracy like yours," he says dramatically in a place that is drenched with drama every day.



T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".

Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."

No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.

Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian






One of the frustrating realities in Indian healthcare is the gap between demand and supply of organs for transplant. Hundreds of thousands of patients wait for transplant of kidneys, lungs, hearts, liver, pancreas and corneas — and their wait is stretched due to a combination of institutional delay and individual prejudice. On one hand, there's still no national registry of willing organ donors; on the other, many people still baulk at the very suggestion of cadaver donation. The government's energies, until now, have been directed at coming down on the booming black market in organ transplant, and regulating who may donate to whom. Belatedly, the government is now proposing steps to increase the availability of organs for transplant.

For instance, there's a proposal to widen the scope and definition, as well as regulation, of transplants with the Transplantation of Human Organs (Amendment) Bill 2009. This will allow for the transplant of tissues, apart from organs, and will include grandparents and grandchildren in the definition of near relatives. The health ministry also plans to have a column in driving licences allocated to reflect a person's willingness to donate vital organs. Given the absence of a registry, this would be a significant step.

However, in and of themselves, these incremental steps may not be enough to address the scarcity. The driving licence reform is based on the US example, and the records show that a large percentage of American drivers have not registered as donors. Many misconceptions surrounding organ donation and transplant are familiar to us in India, and it's reported that some worry that doctors will not try hard to save their lives if they are seen to be potential donors. Therefore, greater attention is required to awareness programmes for both voluntary donations and what should be the eventual policy objective of presumed consent.






Chiranjeevi is nothing if not a director's actor. And so, it stands to sense that right after he walked into the Congress's tent, one of his first actions was to trash the YSR years, saying that the "rampant corruption" he observed then was what drove him into politics. That's a thought that only the new guy would be permitted to voice — and one that the Congress would be only too happy to see put out there, as it contends with the giant hole left by YSR's death and the trouble created by his son, Jaganmohan Reddy.

With the co-option of Chiranjeevi, the Congress thinks that it has found a measure of much-needed charisma, one that might even extend to other southern states. It's revealing of the Congress's approach to coalition-building, that it is more comfortable accommodating a high-wattage personality than melding a significant part of the opposition as YSR used to. Chiranjeevi thinks that he and his scattered party have found a stable organisation. Despite the crowds he gathered and the curiosity around him, the Praja Rajyam Party's numbers have thinned drastically since the 2009 election, with only 18 MLAs. Merging with the Congress, and its attendant benefits, is the best way for Chiranjeevi to consolidate his political career.

The merger may give the Congress an opportunity at last to cheerily change the subject, but will the merger really benefit both parties as planned? Chiranjeevi is being projected as the great hope for Kapus, one that the Congress can afford to aim for after having placated the powerful Reddy segment with its chief ministerial choice. But given the political insecurity of his predecessor, CM Kiran Kumar Reddy may be wary of Chiranjeevi taking away attention from him. Second, Chiranjeevi's loyalties are clearly with coastal Andhra, and he has been vocally anti-Telangana, which will make it yet more difficult for the Congress to continue straddling the fence. It may be too early to predict the effect of Chiranjeevi's merger on the spectrum of opposition forces, but Chandrababu Naidu too may be breathing just a little easier.






The United Liberation Front of Asom's decision to begin talks with the Union government on February 10 without preconditions is the clearest sign so far of Assam's sanguinary history of militancy nearing its end. While a full end is still in the domain of hope, Ulfa has appeared to be edging nearer to the democratic mainstream for a while. According to the statement read out to the press by the Ulfa spokesperson, the organisation has come round to "unconditional" talks because it believes that continuing to seek "a military solution" would be "suicidal", given the current political situation in

Assam. It is significant that Ulfa has dropped the "core" issue of "sovereignty" and its insistence that talks be held in a third country in the presence of a UN observer.

While announcements such as this are hardly ever spontaneous and draw from behind-the-scenes negotiations, the situation in Assam has indeed changed. Ulfa's decision not only seems to reflect that change but it is also an admission of the game having slipped out of its hands. Ulfa "chairman" Arabinda Rajkhowa's statement of intent after his release on bail on January 1 had indicated as much, although "commander-in-chief" Paresh Barua still eludes Indian authorities. The inherent difficulties of waging a prolonged armed struggle against the state, involving the murder of civilians, begin to weaken and crack open the mechanisms of terror. The process of securing the peace and mainstreaming the militants begins the minute those cracks appear. That's what the Indian state has learnt from Punjab to Mizoram, Jammu and Kashmir to Nagaland; and that's how Ulfa has been tamed. The process involves a careful calibration of armed offensives on one hand and political overtures and diplomacy on the other. Thus, over the last few years, most of Ulfa's top leaders had been caught, either in India or its neighbourhood, and jailed. And now, Ulfa's general council has agreed to unconditional talks.

But there is an equally important strand in the Ulfa story. It tells us of the possibilities that open up when relations with neighbours are substantively addressed. The Centre may not have been in a position to sit with Ulfa for unconditional talks without Bangladesh's cooperation in catching, imprisoning and handing over Ulfa leaders. It is important that these gains are not frittered away in an Indian state's internal politics. The focus of the talks and the government's priorities should therefore seek to both normalise Assam and further strengthen partnership across the Indo-Bangladesh border.










The Indian stock markets have now gone down by 12 per cent since the start of the year. Partly, investors are concerned that raging inflation will hurt growth. But it is also because the government is seen to be doing precious little to keep growth momentum intact.

While the government estimates India's GDP will grow by 8.6 per cent over the current financial year, implying a deceleration in the second half of the year, it could come in lower. The bigger concern now is that inflation, together with the continued lack of government initiative, could dampen growth in 2011-12 — already disadvantaged by a high base effect, especially where agriculture is concerned. Not that there's likely to be any serious damage; but a growth rate of closer to 8 per cent rather than 9 per cent would be disappointing, not to mention the fact that it would generate fewer employment opportunities.

High inflation is already eating into disposable incomes. With prices of commodities soaring globally and the Indian economy running at near full capacity thanks to buoyant demand, it is unlikely to subside in a hurry. The Reserve Bank of India has been forced to up its inflation forecast for March 2011 to 7 per cent from 5.5 per cent. The chances are that inflation will not taper off meaningfully, hovering at around 6.5 per cent in 2011-12.

And this projection could go completely awry should oil prices go up further, and the government decide to push up prices of auto fuels at the pump. That would have a cascading effect on the prices of almost all goods.

India Inc is already feeling the pinch. A glance at the corporate results for the three months to December 2010 shows that, for a universe of 1,615 companies (excluding banks and financials), net profits are higher by just 12 per cent year-on-year. Firms in sectors such as cement and fast-moving consumer goods have seen their margins eroded; and several of India's bigger companies have had to report a fall in profits during the quarter simply because they haven't been able to pass on the higher cost of inputs to consumers. Indeed, despite it being a fairly inflationary environment, top-line growth for the sample has come in at a just-about-satisfactory 22 per cent year-on-year.

What's certain now is that the central bank will need to keep money dear and raise interest rates by at least 75 basis points during 2011, having already upped policy rates by 175 basis points since March last year. Although investment and consumption are not too sensitive to higher interest rates, the risk this time round is that rates have already run up rather sharply even before corporates have been able to kick off investments — and, moreover, while global recovery has been delayed. And gross fixed capital formation has moved up from 7.3 per cent in 2009-10 to 8.4 per cent in 2010-11, but because of a high 15 per cent increase in the first half of the year, implying a sharp slowdown in the second half. Project delays are clearly reflected in the estimate for industrial growth — 8.1 per cent year-on-year, compared with double-digit numbers for the first six months of 2010-11.

In all this the government, bogged down by scams and pressure from opposition parties, has not been able to focus on business and so has been unable to spend its surplus of close to Rs 1 lakh crore. The five key state elections coming up could be a crucial factor in how much the government will choose to spend next year, especially since the Congress fared poorly in the recent state elections in Bihar. What is important is that public spending be directed at creating supply rather than boosting demand; in the past, the focus appears to have been aimed at supporting consumption.

How much it wants to spend will determine how much the government needs to borrow. Should it decide to borrow as much as it did in 2010-11 — a gross amount of over Rs 4 lakh crore — it could end up crowding out borrowings for the private sector at a time when the central bank wants to keep money supply in check.

Much like choosing between a rock and a hard place, too much spending could turn out to be inflationary, while not spending enough might hurt growth and, in turn, revenues. The government has seen something of a windfall in its revenue this year, thanks to spectrum auctioning; it will have to do without this next year.

Clearly, India's macroeconomic environment has deteriorated, and although there are bright spots — strong exports, robust rural incomes and a booming services sector — the government needs to make sure the headwinds go away.

The writer is Resident Editor, Mumbai, 'The Financial Express'







Debate around Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, the Surat-born maulana who was elected last month to head the Darul Uloom at Deoband, provides a great moment to look at various aspects of being Muslim in India.

There have been several such moments over the past century, many of them seminal, as they have shed light on hidden truths, unpeeled stereotypes and challenged the claims of those who hope to either understand Muslim dynamics in India or play the dynamics. Sir Syed's decision to start his Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College (later the Aligarh Muslim University) was one such. The rise of Jinnah, who challenged Indian Muslims to choose between a syncretic environment and a

"separate" one, was another. More recently, there was the Sachar Committee report. Some Muslims sneered at it: "We knew we were at the bottom of the pile." But as it zeroed in and provided numbers and statistics on the backwardness of Indian Muslims, it shifted the debate even within the community to issues like drinking water, drainage and drop-out rates, away from daadhi-topi issues, peripheral identity questions isolated from their engagement and requirements as citizens. Conversely, for those who thrive on portraying Muslims as the "other", the myth of appeasement was blown apart. Findings such as the fact that just 4 per cent of Muslims were madrasa-educated were like sunlight on the cobwebbed corners of a room full of prejudices.

Vastanvi has stirred up debate on a whole range of issues. What did he mean by the Gujarat statement, should Muslims accede to Modi in Gujarat, even vote for him? Is he right in talking pharmacology when he is expected to think of deeniyat (or theology) and not duniyadari in his new role? Is Vastanvi a dyed-in-the-wool believer in the Qasimi way of doing things (Qasimi referring to those schooled at the Deobandi madrasa)? Is the fuss only because he is a backward, a non-Ashraf, a Gujarati? Is there an old UP-led order he is challenging?

The biggest realisation for those of us who subscribe to the "Muslim monolith" argument is how rich, complex and colourful the variations within the community are. As a Gujarati, Vastanvi's orientation, his approach to business, his purpose in the world, are strikingly different. The fact that he runs engineering colleges and pharma courses has become as much as a bane for him with the purists as it is an advantage with the rest of the world. His critics went blue in the face, saying it was like offering to open a polytechnic in the Vatican.

That he is, strictly speaking, not an Ashraf is brushed aside as a non-issue by several respectable clerics who have never wanted to accept that caste divisions are prevalent amongst their community. But go down the list of the OBCs in B.P. Mandal's report — Noniya, Dhuniya, Bhishti or Nat — and then examine where and how, far from city centres, they stay in small-town India, and you will see that caste is always a question, irrespective of where you go to pray.

Rapidly altering levels of aspiration over the past two decades have impacted the minorities as much as anyone else. Old inhibitory factors have been blown away by new pulls: opportunity, hopes for a better life for younger people, the unspoken comfort provided by a fairly long spell of governance without needing to debate or fortify themselves from destructive elements on the right. There have been pushes too: for example, the collapse of traditional crafts (which Muslims have depended upon in clusters) has forced people out of old networks. Government largesse has been more innovative; scholarships, bicycles, housing loans, education opportunities and a promise of more, even in BJP-ruled states, have expanded the space for the Indian Muslim. The virtual collapse of Pakistan as an ideal Islamic state (with Shia-Sunni conflicts and Hanafi-Wahhabi strife tearing the country apart, making even offering prayers in mosques a risky proposition) has also sobered down those who may have secretly yearned for the comfort of being "there".

Of course, to many of those watching the Vastanvi debate from outside, it is a story of a modern game-changer being done in. But it is much more than that. Of course, the battles, debates and squabbles in the Urdu press, in English, on TV and in drawing rooms have helped the debate pan across these many faultlines. What Vastanvi's comment on Gujarat did was to again bring to the fore the reaction of a very small minority (7 per cent in Gujarat) telling an incredulous and large minority (18.5 per cent in UP) that they have got to "adjust", "accept" and get on with it. In states like UP, Bihar, Bengal and Assam, minorities have been able to push their interests into the political mainstream by virtue of their numbers, and they were horrified at the suggestion of a supposed direct victim being so off-key.

Navigating for the Muslim between the Hindu and the Muslim right (and others in the political spectrum happy to keep Muslims slotted) has been tight. The Modi chapter that Vastanvi opened, therefore, should be dealt with and understood.

In Gujarat, elections did not provide for any resolution. The BJP adamantly never reached out, or even did what the Congress tried after the anti-Sikh pogrom, symbolically and politically. So the oversimplified and incorrect "development versus justice" choice squeezes Muslims into a binary trap. Is saying that good roads in Gujarat help us, too, akin to saying that Modi's politics is acceptable, or that the economic environment there is not discriminatory? Is it okay to wave away the "justice" issue as boring and ideological if a Muslim wants access to better prospects? Most importantly, is it now to be expected of all "modern" Muslims (of the "moving-on" school) to, like the British Tebbit test of nationality, say they are alright with Modi?

Most of these questions will not be answered in one go. The Supreme Court is, of course, hearing several cases on the Gujarat riots. But on the 23rd of this month, some will be addressed by the 17 clerics in the Majlis-e-Shoora in Deoband. They are expected to say what they propose to do with Maulana Vastanvi.

Irrespective of what they choose to do, one good thing that Darul Uloom has done is what it is supposed to be doing — educate us. To educate us about several dimensions of what it means to be a Muslim in India in 2011. And beyond.







Beyond politics there is culture. You don't live on the same patch of land for millennia without acquiring a deep form of it. If, for Flaubert, style was "the discharge from a deeper wound", Egyptian culture is also the product of this nation's scars. Its wisdom, issued from suffering, is rooted in humanity.

Tahrir Square has become a reflection of that culture. Its spontaneous development into a tolerant mini-republic is a riposte to President Hosni Mubarak's warnings of chaos. Far from chaos, there is serendipitous order. Through necessity talent is allotted: the doctor here, the engineer there, the security guy in that corner and the IT expert in this one.

An infirmary is born. Garbage is collected, defence marshalled. Food is ferried, prayer respected. The Brotherhood coexists with a dynamic sisterhood. As my colleague David Kirkpatrick remarked of a flag-waving youth atop a lamppost: "Where is Delacroix when you need him?"

I spoke to an investment banker. He'd been talking to a guy cleaning the square. In Cairo where dust is the city's very element! Why, the banker asked, this Sisyphean sweeping? The reply: just decided to do it. "Never in a million years would that have happened before," the banker tells me.

It's startling what pride reborn will do, what a gleaming eye will see that a sullen eye was blind to.

A square, of course, is not a nation of 83 million people. Egypt has its lethargy and its pharaoh's tradition. Mubarak, this boss whose only real idea in three decades has been security and whose sole currency has been fear, now says he will go in September. That's enough for some Egyptians — and now, it seems, for Barack Obama's America.

It's a preposterous idea to imagine that this anti-democrat Mubarak, aided by his longtime henchman Omar Suleiman, can now at 82 reverse his every instinct and deliver, within seven months, a free and fair election; to believe that this man whose security forces have killed or disappeared dozens can become a disciple of the rule of law; to ask this Honecker to become Havel.

I don't buy it and I don't think the "Yes-we-can" American president should have adopted the tiptoeing "No-we-can't" that leaves Mubarak as a dead man walking.

Just three months ago, in the farcical November parliamentary elections, my colleague Robert Worth watched regime gunmen burst into a Cairo polling station firing shots into the air. Several hundred people waiting to vote were ordered to disperse: Sorry, too dangerous!

"Why would we trust them now to play it right?" Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, secretary general of the secular Wafd opposition party, asked me. The West hasn't answered that question.

The deeper problem is more cultural than political. To accept the Mubarak-or-chaos argument is a form of disrespect to the civility and capacity of Tahrir Square. It is an expression of Western failure before the exploding Arab thirst for dignity and representative government. It reflects the old conditioning which sees in an Egyptian culture that was, after all, deep enough and realistic enough to accept peace with Israel, no more than a disaster waiting to happen if the iron fist is removed.

"There is one united front calling for one single demand: Mubarak needs to go," Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel prize-winning opposition figure, told me. "People need a new beginning, and psychologically that new beginning is when Mubarak leaves — with all dignity." And, I asked, immunity? Yes, ElBaradei said, in principle — Egyptians are not seeking retribution.

The Western fiction, he said, is "that somehow Arabs are not really ready for democracy, that maybe they have horns." It is time to overcome that fiction and look at what Tahrir says about culture emerging, technology-sped, from a deep sleep.

There is a better way forward. It begins with Mubarak's departure. It involves the installation of a three-member presidential council, including a representative of the army, and a caretaker government of respected figures to oversee constitutional and other reforms needed for free elections a year from now. How can credible political parties emerge by September in Mubarak's wilderness? That investment banker talked to me about how people formed a human chain around the Egyptian Museum to protect the nation's culture. It was an act that dignified Egypt. "Look," he said. "If we're capable of doing that, surely you can give me the benefit of the doubt."

The New York Times







While there is a stand-off between Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council and the government over the extent of coverage of proposed food security legislation, the governments of Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh are going ahead with a food security programme that offers more than what the government is holding out, one largely similar to what the NAC wants. While the prime minister's panel cites subsidy burden as one of the reasons against the NAC recommendations, these states are relying on their own resources.

Here lies the message for the rights-based welfare regime that the UPA is trying to impose. Though these states are continuing with their food security schemes, they are watching the outcomes of the stand-off between the NAC and the government. And given an option, these states, irrespective of their political dispensation, would support the NAC's suggestion. They are guided by cold fiscal calculations — that the burden of running their expensive, cheap foodgrain scheme would shift from their shoulders to the Central government. A senior bureaucrat from Orissa once told me how Naveen Patnaik decided to launch this cheap foodgrain scheme less than a year before the assembly elections. He enquired about the fiscal burden on the state, and decided that he was ready to bear it, given that the Congress and BJP governments in various states have launched similar schemes, and he anticipated that they would promise something similar at the national level. Irrespective of who came to power, he expected it to be launched from the Centre, and he was right, though he may have to bear the burden for longer than he thought. Ashok Gehlot also announced a similar food security scheme anticipating that his burden would be transferred to the Centre.

Leave aside the question of whether the Rs 2/kg rice scheme in these states was guided by politics or by an appreciation of the food policy challenge — it is clear that they would like to shift the bill to the Centre, the sooner the better. But the question is: to what extent should the Centre take the financial stress of these welfare schemes? And why is it taking the burden away from state governments even when some states are willing to foot it? So, if Rajasthan was running a safety net for the drought years from its own resources, with some supplementary aid from the Centre, the Centre took on the entire burden through NREGS. Similarly, Maharashtra's employment assurance scheme has been taken over.

The one puzzling thing about this entire aam aadmi discourse is why the Centre does not consider partnering with states for these welfare measures. It may mean more untied funds to the states under finance commissions, perhaps, but it is certainly imprudent not to rely on the state at all for welfare provisions. With NREGS, states have been asked to only contribute a part of the material expenditure — with overall material expenditure ceiling at 40 per cent, states are supposed to contribute a maximum of 10 per cent.

Probing deeper, one finds that most clever states do not even take up projects under NREGS that require material expenditure. Studying the expenditure patterns of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and others suggests that these states, by and large, incur minimum expenditure on material components, avoiding even contributing 10 per cent.They live off Central funds, with little incentive to plug the leaks in money that isn't theirs anyway.

The Centre is voluntarily bearing the welfare burden — even when the state in question, like Rajasthan, needs these welfare measures created out of its own budget. India must learn from the ongoing experience of countries like France and Italy, where their centralised welfare schemes have taken away their flexibility, sinking them into a morass. As India gets to the point where these Western nations now are, it should ponder how much flexibility it wants to keep as it legislates and builds welfare provisions — before it faces the same moment of reckoning that continental Europe is now going through. Sharing welfare responsibilities with states is the best way to retain some flexibility in the system, for rainy days in the future.

The right to education act offers one such framework. Why not make the state a partner in the NAC's formulation of food security? The Centre can bear the safety net component, for BPL or priority categories and leave the welfare part, APL or general category, to be served by the states. Why not ask states to share a part of the burden of NREGS wages? It will also make states responsible in how they use the funds, plug the leaks, etc.

It is often argued that only the Centre can take an ambitious leap for welfare, states cannot be expected to. However, it is belied by experience — states have always been more innovative, be it Tamil Nadu's mid-day meal scheme, drought relief and Antyodaya from Rajasthan, the job guarantee scheme from Maharashtra or most recently, giving bicycles to girl students (Bihar) and the right to health in Assam.

It would be wrong-headed for the Centre to legislate a scheme that would take away the burden of providing bicycles to girl students away from the Nitish Kumar government, or the right to health burden away from the Tarun Gogoi administration. In the long run, it will take the national economy towards gridlock, and take it towards the same stifling conditions that now confront Italy and France.







As we go through turbulent (and need I add depressing) times, it is worth remembering heroes who we have a habit of forgetting. P.V. Narasimha Rao is largely ignored today. But one can safely bet that impartial historians of the future will give him credit for the second liberation of India. When he came to power, as an unintended outcome of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, it looked as if the country had to be written off. Emigration was the only sensible option for the middle classes. The country seemed to consciously or otherwise suffocate its best and brightest.

At one stroke, Narasimha Rao unleashed the entrepreneurial talents of Indians. The Permit-Licence Raj was a cosy arrangement where the incumbent rich held sway and ordinary Indians had to wait in queues to buy shoddy goods and shoddier services. Free and easy entry of new entrepreneurs who did not have the crutches of inherited wealth was just impossible. Rao did not satisfy himself with tinkering. He could have confined himself to easing rigid industrial licensing procedures or some other incremental reforms. Instead, he challenged not just the existing frames of mind — he challenged all who had been clamouring that only in India did we have situations where Indians could not succeed. (Remember Piloo Mody's brilliant parliamentary question addressed to Indira Gandhi: Madam Prime Minister, can you tell this august House why Indians are successful everywhere in the world except under the rule of your government?)

Rao was not to be disappointed. Indian entrepreneurs rose to the challenge and we had a tremendous growth in productive activity driven largely not by the "MRTP Business Houses" that dominated the first four decades of free India, but by a completely different set of wealth-creators who perhaps had always been there, but not allowed to flourish.

It must not be forgotten that it was in the Rao period that the Khalistan movement that engulfed Punjab and threatened India finally petered out. It was as if Rao imposed his phlegmatic personality on the problem and approached it with an almost "benign indifference" at times. He was not a polarising figure that his opponents could hate. The extremists exhausted themselves after a last round of bloodletting and the problem passed into history.

On the foreign policy front, Rao brought a breath of fresh air in his greater willingness to engage with West Asian and Southeast Asian countries. He built on Rajiv's achievements as he reached out to the Chinese and set our relations on a realistic basis. When Pakistan tried to put us on the mat for human rights abuses in Kashmir, Rao reached out to political adversaries like A.B. Vajpayee and Farooq Abdullah to present our case to the world. It is interesting to note that Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew issued a statement after Rao's electoral defeat saying that history would be kinder to Rao than the Indian electorate had been.

Many commentators, including some within his own party, have criticised Rao for the Babri Masjid demolition which certainly happened on his watch. It appears that most of them have not read Rao's cogent book on this subject. He was faced with an awkward situation where virtually nothing he could do would have been right. Here was a duly elected state government giving a solemn affidavit under pain of perjury before the Supreme Court saying that they would protect the building. This government had a valid majority and could not be dismissed. In fact, if Rao had dismissed the state government prior to the demolition, he would have been censured by the SC for having violated the precepts of the Bommai judgment.

There was a risk of resistance which could have turned violent. The critics who come at him today, would have then argued that by dismissing an elected government, Rao made martyrs of the Hindutva forces and gave them undeserved popularity and legitimacy. Rao did whatever he could within the constitutional limits imposed on him. He sent Central forces and repeatedly requested the state government to make use of them — a request that the state government ignored and even sabotaged. Rao's so-called failure on this score is in spite of his best efforts, not on account of them. We have had Hindu-Muslim riots for decades if not centuries. But over time, memories fade and some sort of healing seems to take place. The Babri destruction was not about killing but about attacking a symbol. This is a cross we have to bear and despite his well-argued defence, Rao's reputation will be subject to a "Babri caveat".

The one person who probably misses Rao the most is our current prime minister. Rao provided Manmohan Singh with the cover he needed to go ahead with bold economic and financial reform. Singh did not have to worry about the messy politics that Rao insulated him from. While the technical skills of Manmohan Singh will receive well-deserved adulation, the political achievement of Indian economic liberalisation will almost certainly be ascribed to Narasimha Rao by the historian writing in 2030 AD. For an introverted scholarly type of person with modest political beginnings and a modest career till fate suddenly thrust greatness upon him, this will be no mean achievement! Another way of paraphrasing it is to say that what Gladstone achieved for British society, Narasimha Rao achieved for the Indian economy. It is tough to think of a higher accolade.







Finally, Nepal has found a prime minister in Jhalanath Khanal-a hardcore communist backed by the far more radical Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M)-which brings the long-awaited Left unity to fruition. As an opposite, if not equal reaction, the Nepali Congress and other democratic forces are already grouping up, possibly as a force of resistance, fearing that the next step of the radical alliance which will monopolise state power will be to establish a "communist dictatorship" in which opposition will have no legitimate space.

The fear is not baseless. Khanal, who is also chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), had a series of closed-door meetings with his UCPN-M counterpart Prachanda, and the duo signed a seven-point secret deal. The two agreed that their inability to join hands would give India a decisive chance to influence Nepal's political parties and sway the choice of a new prime minister. Although India's foreign secretary Nirupama Rao had said during her visit to Kathmandu a month ago that India had no favourites in the prime ministerial race, "independent experts" from Delhi were constantly telling the media and NGO-sponsored seminars that Prachanda could not be accepted as PM as he was anti-India.

UCPN-M , the largest party in the constituent assembly, does not have absolute majority. It believes that India interferes too much in Nepal's internal affairs, and that it is time to assert Nepali nationalism. It was this assessment, in fact, that persuaded Prachanda to give up his claim and support Khanal, giving him 368 votes in a house of 597, and leaving Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress and Bijay Gachedar of the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) far behind.

Nepalis are largely conservative and traditional and their approach democratic, in the sense that various faiths, ethnic groups, castes and political entities have co-existed with mutual respect and cordiality under different political dispensations. But the political change that occurred four years ago introduced a relentless radical agenda. Any individual or group who was indifferent to or opposed that agenda was targeted as "regressive" by the political parties that drove the change — UCPN-M, CPN-UML and the Nepali Congress. Intolerance and violent retaliation are emerging as the norm in Nepal's social and cultural life.

This alliance between Khanal and Prachanda is just a logical step forward, and all it has done is to weed out those they consider "revisionists" and "reactionaries", or puppets of an "expansionist India". India, though, is not less guilty in this development, which manifests the failure of its Nepal policy. Delhi not only patronised the Maoists — when they were still underground — it also conveyed to parties like the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, which were pursuing parliamentary democracy and more moderate approaches that resonated with Nepali society, that they had no future if they did not join hands with the Maoists. That was the message Delhi delivered when it brought the two sides together under the 12-point agreement signed in November 2005, nine months after King Gyandendra had taken over. The Maoists did not keep silent with the overthrow of the monarchy, nor did they honour the commitment to pursue democracy and abandon weapons — two major promises they had made to India at the time of signing the agreement.

In May 2009, when Prachanda quit as prime minister — because the president and most other political parties opposed his sacking of General Katwal as army chief -— he put the blame for his exit solely on India. And ever since, the UCPN-M has been claiming that India is interfering with the Maoists' legitimate right to head the government. That is a perception shared by a large section in Nepal, not Maoists alone.

In 2005, India was clearly anti-monarchy and recognised the Maoists as the true representative of the people, a force that could not be ignored in Nepal's path towards peace, stability and progress. Five years down the line, it is clearly anti-Maoists, and quiet on, if not indifferent towards the possibility of the monarchy returning to power in Nepal. The people are frustrated with the growing corruption, lawlessness, political instability and external interference that mark Nepal. And India may be perceived as a decisive force for Nepal's politics, but Western countries and donors have been exerting much greater influence on the social, cultural and religious aspects of the nation, including the ethnicity-centric policies pursued by the Maoists. India is now left without any trustworthy and effective political allies in its north. Some still abide by the long historical, cultural and social connections between the two nations, but most have become critical after the India-promoted vision of radical change only made the situation far worse. These shared social, historical, cultural and religious values are clearly on the wane, under the influence of radical politics.

Khanal's election as prime minister may have been an exercise of the "sovereign parliament", but almost everyone here believes that the Prachanda-Khanal duo stonewalled the influence that the south might have had. India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, assured Khanal that India would continue as normal and extend all the cooperation required, but dispelling this Himalayan impression would take time and initiative from Nepal's south. That, unfortunately, does not guarantee Nepal's stability and the cessation of external "dictate", in one form or the other.











Given the revisions made by the CSO in the GDP numbers for FY10, which made things look better, one would tend to look at the quick estimates of FY11 with a bit of scepticism. However, since it is the official stance, one must accept the numbers and see what they tell us. Growth of 8.6% for this year is not really off the mark, notwithstanding the hardships that we have been through in the form of high inflation and interest rates. Two of these numbers stand out. The first is the growth in the manufacturing sector, which is 8.8%. This is significant because while growth up to November has been buoyant, the base year effect was to come in from December onwards and drag down the number as IIP growth had averaged 20% in each of the last four months of FY10. The fact that we still are clocking high growth means that industry is doing well. The second is the lower growth of the community and social services at 5.7% as against 11.8% last year. This officially confirms that the fiscal stimulus has slowed down, though admittedly this is what the estimates for FY10 had also said, which were reversed a few days back to indicate that the stimulus continued in FY10. The other numbers are more on expected lines, which is definitely comforting.

Against this background, two issues are provoked—the response of fiscal and monetary policy. With the Budget coming up, this number will provide solace to the government insofar as it does not have to work on the basis of a low growth. Therefore, the stimulus factor will not be high on the agenda, and it can carry on with business as usual while focusing on other aspects such as inflation. As far as RBI is concerned, it is slightly trickier. Its stance that the series of interest rate hikes would not really impact growth stands vindicated this time with this high growth rate number. It could therefore go ahead and increase rates one more in March in case inflation does not slow down or come within its target rate of 7%. But a deeper thought has to be given to whether or not there is a point of inflection where industry will respond to these rate hikes. Already we have seen a slight dip in gross fixed capital formation from 32% to 31.6%, which may not be significant today but could turn ugly in future. Hence, while there is solace that growth has not been impacted perversely by the interest rate hikes, one has to be more watchful in FY12 where the overall global environment may not be congenial—with crude prices and metals showing upward tendencies. We should now begin to see the economy and the policy options in a different light and not have static expectations of economic responses, as it may just mean stretching our good luck too far.






Does RBI seriously believe that India's largest public sector bank has become insouciant. The RBI move to make the bank increase provisioning for its teaser loans five-fold would give the impression that the regulator does believe that SBI is getting away. The rule introduced in the November review of the monetary policy does not seem to take into account the hassles India's top bank has gone through since 2008. In that year, the government, as the owner of SBI, ordered it to pick up a Rs 20,000 crore tab for debt waiver for small farmers. The bill was roughly the same for the next year, too. From 2008, the bank has ridden high cost deposits, when cash flow dried up, and then faced a surfeit of riches when investors, spooked by the stock market, poured money heavily into deposits, and yet the bank was nudged by the government to keep interest rates high. While other banks also suffered the impact of the global meltdown, due to its pre-eminent position, the SBI has come through a very tough course. It was to partly correct the impact of these adverse flows that SBI created the invitation price of low interest rates for home loans. The plan has served the bank well. Sure, none of these problems were created or aggravated by RBI. But the question mark put by RBI on the teaser portfolio actually does not take into account these hassles for SBI.

Judging by the response of SBI chief OP Bhatt, a stand-off between SBI and the banking regulator could seem round the corner. Of course, this is difficult to imagine in the highly controlled world of Indian banking. Yet, as the events narrated above show, SBI does have a strong argument in its favour. RBI obviously is not convinced and it could have equally justified reason for the move. So it will be unfair for RBI to decide on the case, which instead should be referred to a separate court. No country with a mature market offers an appellate tribunal to arbitrate on such cases. But it is not unusual for banks to go for an appeal in a higher court. India has already created a wonderful mechanism, the financial stability and development council headed by the finance minister to decide on inter-regulatory issues. This is however one such case where no inter-regulatory issues are involved, though the stakes involved are big. So, it would seem a fit case for the newly created FSDC to intervene. This will break new grounds for the new entity that has been replaced by the High Level Committee on Capital Markets. It is for Pranab Mukherjee to take a call.





The arrest of the former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura along with A Raja last week in connection with the spectrum scam has once again revived the debate over the declining standards of the Indian civil servants in recent times. Their standard in terms of integrity was quite high in the 1950s, 1960s and even the 1970s, but thereafter it has been declining rapidly and in recent times has arguably touched its nadir. Why is it so when with the passage of time the quality of people joining the civil services has only gone up, with brightest engineers from the IITs or management students from the IIMs joining the ranks?

The declining standards of principles are particularly disturbing because unlike, say the US, the Indian civil service is permanent and non-committed. The dangers of a committed bureaucracy are best illustrated by taking a peek in the times of Indira Gandhi.

Coming to recent times, every scam that has come to light had a pliant civil servant willing to crawl before his political master when asked to bend. Take the case of Behura who, within 10 days of becoming the telecom secretary, cleared 122 licences, which were held up for several months because his predecessor DS Mathur had raised strong objections regarding the procedures being adopted in their grant. In November 2010, Behura for the first time spoke to this newspaper with regard to his actions—"I merely implemented the decision of the minister, which was taken before I joined. I didn't have any other option," he said.

Quite reminiscent of the tainted CVC PJ Thomas—who's chargesheeted for import of palmolein in the early 1990s by the Kerala government—who has defended his action stating that he merely implemented the decision of the then Kerala Cabinet.

Most civil servants having a distinguished track record do not buy the theory sold out by either Behura or Thomas. Senior bureaucrats and the ones especially belonging to the Indian Administrative Service have several options to not toe the line of the political master if they do not agree with it. However, the danger they face in return of their principled stand is a transfer from a posting, which is generally seen as lucrative—not in terms of making money but in terms of importance in policy-making—not many want to get transferred from being a telecom secretary to, say, secretary, water resources. In this context, the example of EAS Sarma is quite relevant. Sarma, who was secretary, economic affairs, in the finance ministry in the NDA government, was unceremoniously moved as coal secretary over which he resigned from service. In the context of the spectrum scam, Mathur refused to sign the files relating to award of licences when Raja did not agree to formulate fair and transparent procedures and stuck to it until his retirement a couple of months later.

Some bureaucrats argue that Sarma and Mathur were lucky. The former had a few months to go before he retired so he could demonstrate his principle by resigning and similarly the latter also had a few months to superannuate so he opted for a principled stand. What if both had sufficient number of years left in service? Would they then have done the same that they otherwise did? It is difficult to come with a black and white answer.

However, what is depressing is that the structure of bureaucracy, which requires the Cabinet Secretary at the Centre and the chief secretaries at the state level to protect bureaucrats who stand up for principles, has crumbled. Increasingly, the Cabinet Secretary and most chief secretaries are keen to stick to their posts and generally don't stand up for their colleagues in a manner in which they should. This is the single most worrying factor and largely responsible for most senior officers generally going along with the decisions of their political bosses even if they don't agree with them, for the feeling is that the latter's political clout will save them.

This is best illustrated in the Mathur-Behura case. When Mathur was having problems with Raja in late 2007, he did solicit support from the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister's Principal Secretary by keeping them posted informally about all the problems and expressing his helplessness. No help came. As is known on a formal level, Raja had written to the PM also with regard to his decisions; he had earlier defied the law ministry and finance ministry's suggestions on revising the licence fee but none of them finally stopped him from doing what he wanted. In the given circumstances, if Mathur was not retiring in end-2007, Raja would have definitely had him transferred from the ministry.

Obviously, Behura knew the background and did what Raja wanted within 10 days of assuming charge for he had reasons to believe that Raja's clout was more than the Cabinet Secretary's, so if he wanted to remain telecom secretary, the faster he fell in line the better for him.

This can be aptly demonstrated through the case of another officer, JS Deepak, who was joint secretary in the DoT and refused to toe Raja's line with regard to award of a controversial BSNL tender. When Raja harassed the officer, he complained to the Cabinet Secretary and what did he do? Transfer him to commerce ministry! This is perhaps why the first task the current telecom secretary R Chandrasekhar did within days of taking charge was toe the Raja line—CAG has no powers to intervene in policy matters. Chandrasekhar is lucky, circumstances led to Raja's exit and he's happily surviving under the new minister Kapil Sibal.

Therefore the problem of integrity in the civil service today comes from the top and not below. Officials at the level of Cabinet Secretary and chief secretaries have lost character and are not able to demonstrate principle through actions, and till the time that does not come, officers down the line will either not sign files and retire or co-opt as Behura did. It's pity that he could not be as lucky as Chandrasekhar.





The new Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) was officially released by the defence minister on January 13, 2011. This bulky document—all of 281 pages, revised eight times in the last nine years—comes into effect from January 1, 2011. The defence minister, in a press release on the same day, stated that the intent of DPP-2011 was to expand the Indian defence industrial base, encourage indigenous defence production and reduce defence imports. It is to be noted that India's first defence production policy was unveiled by him on January 14, which emphasised the same objectives.

DPP-2011 contains a few changes; major ones from the previous DPPs include new guidelines for shipbuilding and enhanced product list for offsets. Other changes include enhanced validity for Request for Proposal, post accord of

Acceptance of Necessity, constitution of a Technical Oversight Committee, expanded transfer of technology (ToT) and clubbing of Performance and Warranty Bond. Thus, DPP-2011 promises to be more refined than the earlier one.

It must be mentioned that DPP is the official document that provides operational guidelines for acquisition of defence products and services for the armed forces. This does not include procurement by DRDO, production agencies and ordnance factories. If the enlarged security sector that includes internal security and other sectors indirectly contributing to the defence sector (for example, the department of atomic energy or space), then the scope of DPP in the security sector is limited. Yet, seen from another angle, if Rs 60,000 crore is being spent on capital expenses by the MoD in the current year, a figure that has seen 500% increase in the last seven years and likely to see a possible 10-12% increase in subsequent budgets, ways to spend such a huge amount necessitate a procedural accountability that the DPP ought to provide. As military procurement accounts for nearly half of the defence budget, it is necessary to evaluate the degree of DPP's effectiveness and suggest refinements, if required.

A set of six issues has been highlighted here for further consideration. First, DPP-2011 must find ways to tackle the growing trend of acquisition through fast track procedures as well as inter-government agreements that have accounted for more than 70% of major acquisitions in the last three years. If such a trend persists, it will eventually make most of the DPP provisions redundant.

Second, DPP-2011 must address the lengthy evaluation procedures, which entail 11 phases starting from services requirements till post-contract management with seven committees in between for evaluation and 13 different departmental organs to examine and vet the process. With seven of the 11 phases having scope for time extension, it is no surprise that even a normal acquisition decision takes a long time. Competing vendors' allegations and counter-allegations make the matter worse as the MoD officials tend to play safe while dealing with such situations.

Third, DPP-2011 has actually created class divisions among the industries by categorising them under many heads. At least three sets of conflictual situations are visualised—between foreign prime contractors and major Indian companies; between state-owned and large private Indian companies; and between large private Indian companies and SMEs. Similarly, ways of acquisition through 'buy', 'buy and make', 'buy and make Indian' and 'make' are too many overlapping categories that need to be simplified. Introduction of new guidelines for shipbuilding for private shipyards in DPP-2011 also needs further clarification as it might end up creating a class division instead of a healthy competition.

Fourth, a workable offsets policy still eludes both the initiator and the beneficiary. Since the offsets clause was introduced in DPP-2005, the mandarins have complicated the provisions further. A 30% direct offsets as an industrial compensation package is neither going to bring in critical technical knowledge nor help Indian system integrators—state-owned or private. At best, it can create a secondary assembly line manufacturing base, which is not what India desires. DPP-2011 seems to have created complications by expanding the scope of offsets, thanks primarily to the demands of the foreign vendors, into civil aerospace, internal security and training domains whose implementation process is likely to witness inter-departmental/ministerial conflicts of interests between the MoD, ministry of home affairs, ministry of civil aviation and ministry of commerce.

Fifth, DPP-2011 has so far failed to adequately address the issue of ToT of critical systems that lies at the heart of India's defence acquisition policy along with self-reliance. In most of the cases, the DPP complicates ToT provisions with licence production.

Lastly, DPP-2011 must address the structural aspects of defence acquisition by clearly defining the role of each organ in the process, which, in turn, requires further reforms in both participatory as well as exclusive activities within the government and outside. In the absence of a clear structure, agencies within the MoD virtually operate in silos that can only be broken if horizontal interaction takes place among various agencies, ministries as well as armed forces.

One does not need a historiographer's findings to understand the central problem that the Indian state is facing in its defence procurement in current times. It lies with intentions, structure and accountability.

The author is a senior fellow in security studies at the Observer Research Foundation. These are his personal views






Forced separations are painful; voluntary mergers tend to be congenial. In a mutually beneficial arrangement, the Praja Rajyam Party of actor-turned politician Chiranjeevi is to merge with the Congress in Andhra Pradesh. For the Congress, which suffered a debilitating split with the breakaway of the Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy faction, this development serves its political interests possibly beyond the short term. The PRP brings along 16 Members of the Legislative Assembly, not counting the two members who are seen as Jagan loyalists. This makes up for the shortfall induced by Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy, who claims the support of at least 24 Congress MLAs. For now, Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy should be able to ward off any threat to his government. Over the last two years, Andhra Pradesh was witness to a series of political crises triggered by various factors. First, the tragic death of Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy in a helicopter crash in September 2009; next, violent agitations for and against a separate State of Telangana; then the adventurous yatras of Mr Jaganmohan Reddy, which were intended to pressure the Congress into making him Chief Minister. The PRP-Congress merger should result in some measure of political stability in the troubled State, which has seen three Chief Ministers in less than two years. The ruling party — which has been without a strong leader after the death of YSR and unable to contain the fallout from his son's rebellion — could certainly do with the charisma of Mr. Chiranjeevi, who commands a sizeable following in Coastal Andhra and has a strong base within his Kapu community.

For the superstar who founded his party in 2008 with the promise of delivering an alternative to both the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party, the merger proposal was born of political compulsions. His party could win only 18 seats in the Assembly; it did not seem capable of challenging the dominance of the Congress or the TDP in the conceivable future. Joining forces with the ruling party could help Mr. Chiranjeevi fast-track his political ambitions, even if it means submitting to the hierarchies and the decision-making structures of the Congress. Although the merger decision was announced as "unconditional," Mr. Chiranjeevi took the plunge after several rounds of discussions with senior Congress leaders — and a final meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Whether this will bring immediate rewards like ministerial berths for his MLAs and a Rajya Sabha seat for himself or whether the terms imply a larger role for himself after the next Assembly election will be known soon enough. What is clear is that the latest development is a significant tactical gain for the Congress in South India's largest State.





Indonesia's reputation as a model of democratic religious pluralism and tolerance for the Muslim world is well deserved. The country has the world's largest population of Muslims — who constitute 86 per cent of its 240 million people. Efforts over the decades to create a national identity drawn from its diverse religious and ethnic heritage have largely paid off. The Indonesian Constitution enshrines the state's belief in "the one and only God" but also guarantees freedom of worship according to a person's religion. There is none of the confusion that has beset Pakistan since its founding day about the role and place of Islam in the state. Unfortunately, some recent developments in Indonesia seem to parallel those in Pakistan. In an incident ominously reminiscent of the attacks on Ahmadiyah mosques in Lahore in May 2010, activists of the extremist Islamic Defenders Front (FDI) gathered outside an Ahmadiyah mosque in Makkasar in South Sulawesi in late January, threatening to storm it. The police evacuated the congregation to safety but the mob was able to inflict some damage on the mosque. Since 2005, when the Indonesian Council of Ulemas declared Ahmadiyah as "deviant" from Islam, the community has repeatedly come under intimidation. The sect was founded in Qadian, near Gurdaspur in Punjab, in the late 19th century. Its adherents consider themselves Muslim but do not accept the finality of Prophet Mohammed. In India, they are Muslim by personal law. The attacks against Ahmadis in Indonesia increased after a 2008 government decree prohibited the sect from "spreading its beliefs" and worshipping in public. Last year, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali called for a ban on Ahmadis.

Despite his forward-looking vision for Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has shown disappointing timidity in the matter. As in Pakistan, support for religious political parties is not high but radical Muslim groups wield a disproportionate amount of street influence — and in this way succeed in shaping the responses of politicians and government officials. After all, in Pakistan it was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a 'progressive' leader, who brought in a constitutional amendment to declare the Ahmadis non-Muslim to appease religious lobbies. It is to be hoped that Indonesia, which has moved ahead politically and economically with much speed after getting rid of Suharto, will tackle the intolerance with the same determination it has shown in dealing with the Islamist terror group Jemaah Islmiyah.








Indians returning from trips to Europe usually tend to grouse about the rude rigidity of the Germans, the haughty froideur of the French, the extreme parsimony of the Dutch or the racism of the Austrians.

Italy, however, brings forth altogether different reactions: "They are friendly, garrulous, welcoming, and it is the only place in Europe that vegetarians can get a decent meal. But they are also thieves and double dealers. Given half a chance they'll take the very shirt off your back and the shoes off your feet and you won't even know how it happened, a bit like with the Bambaiya pickpockets. But then, you also somehow feel you are on familiar ground."

Most Indians say they feel at home in Italy: life is chaotic, no one obeys the rules, policemen can be paid to cancel fines, there is massive tax evasion, the mafia controls large swathes of territory, the government counts for little and for the well-heeled, life is very good indeed.

Hardly anyone, except for a few Christian charities and other NGOs, thinks of the poor. Public money hall-marked for disaster victims tends to disappear into the pockets of officials and cronyism is rampant; homes built for the poor are the first to collapse in southern Italy's earthquake-prone zones because of the poor quality of materials used ….

Sounds familiar? Well, with regard to the way politics is conducted, with corruption in public life an almost accepted universal norm, the continuing strength of family ties and how society is structured, the similarities between India and Italy are both striking and startling.

In India of course we do not have a jaded, ageing lothario like Silvio Berlusconi at the helm, whose Bunga Bunga nights — lavish parties where he surrounds himself with a bevy of often under-age nymphets — have brought Italy shame and universal opprobrium. Such behaviour would not be possible in India because of the prevailing notions of public (or for that matter) private morality. But like in Italy, hardly any politician caught for graft, blatant misuse of office, or, quite simply, theft from the public coffers has ever gone to prison.

The world might mock and the country's magistrates might well try to bring Mr. Berlusconi to book for paying under-age prostitutes, for abuse of political office (he ordered the police to free a 17-year-old Moroccan prostitute who called the Prime Minister on his private mobile number from the station where she was being held for shoplifting), or more seriously, for introducing legislation designed to protect him from the judiciary while increasing his own power and influence, but at least half the country's population continues to support him, admiring him for being a furbo, a clever clogs who has used every trick in the book to outwit the judiciary and get away with a host of alleged crimes and misdemeanours. These include fraud, tax evasion, bribing judges, consorting with the mafia, corruption, conflict of interest, impeding justice, undermining democratic institutions and exploiting them to serve his own vested interests … to name just a few. A recent poll showed that his popularity ratings continued to top 50 per cent and any Italian will tell you that Mr. Berlusconi has a strong chance of being re-elected should he stand for another term.

"In my view Italy is really a political infant, an underdeveloped polity, in a certain sense, a flash in the pan in the developed world. It is astounding, given the levels of corruption we have achieved that Italy continues to have the world's seventh-largest nominal GDP, (10th highest GDP in PPP terms) and the sixth highest government budget — hugely deficit-ridden of course. But this lack of balance between our economic prowess and the absence of political maturity is the result of history. You must not forget that Italy is a very young democracy — compared to other western powers and that the unification of Italy is barely 130 years old," Clara Fiorini, a history professor from Milan who says she has compared the situations in India and Italy told The Hindu.

"Like India, Italy was forever being invaded by the outside world. Both our countries are insular peninsulas, protected in the north by the Himalayas in your case and by the Alps in ours. India was constantly taken over, first by the Aryans, followed by the Greeks, the Muslim rulers of the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughals, the Portuguese, the British, the Dutch, the French … and the country was divided into several independent kingdoms or city states like Hyderabad, Mysore, Gwalior, etc. It was the same with us. We had very powerful city states like Venice, Florence, Genoa, Pisa or Amalfi. We were ruled by the Spanish Hapsburgs and also by the Austrians. Then came the Napoleonic wars from 1796 to 1814 when Napoleon destroyed several parts of Venice including the great Arsenale or shipbuilding docks and stole some of our best Renaissance art treasures. When you are ruled by foreign powers, the only persons you can trust are members of your own family or community. That is how Italy's nepotism began. In India of course appurtenance to caste and community have the same effect.

"Italian unification or Il Risorgimento began with Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1861 and continued until 1922. We have had three wars of independence in this struggle to unify Italy and that was finally achieved after the First World War came to an end. But then we launched into the Fascist period with Mussolini and the modern Italian Republic was born only in 1946, just one year before India became independent.

But if India benefitted, in the first years of its existence as a fledgling state from figures as towering as Nehru or Patel to seal the unity of India, the same cannot be said about Italy, where the Vatican and the influence of the Catholic Church remained very strong. Italian intellectuals like elsewhere, including France, were attracted by Marxist ideology, reviled by the Church. The Italian communist party under charismatic leaders like Enrico Berlinguer commanded as much as 25 per cent of the vote.

"It was to keep the communists out of power at all costs that the horrible power sharing formula known as the 'partitocrazia' or the reign of the parties was born. For almost 40 years thereafter until the huge 1992 bribery scandal in Milan known as Tangentopoli (Bribe City) the Christian Democrats and the Socialists with two smaller parties, ruled with governments changing every other day. Corruption was rampant. People held their noses when they went to vote — so strong was the stench of corruption — but voted for the four-party combine nevertheless, in order to keep the communists out," says Fiorini.

As a result of the Mani Puliti (Clean Hands) investigation that came in the wake of Tangentopoli, Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi fled to Tunisia where he died in exile. Giulio Andreotti, seven times Prime Minister, was charged with corruption, murder and for his links to the mafia. He escaped jail because of the statute of limitations, a trick Mr. Berlusconi has used again and again, getting trials postponed, adjourned or delayed or by transferring judges.

If Italians had hoped for a fresh start, with what many called the Second Italian Republic, they were to be disappointed. The major parties, the Christian Democrats, the Communists and the Socialists dissolved to spring up as new political formations. Silvio Berlusconi entered the breach left by the dissolution of the Christian Democratic Party to form first his Forza Italia and then House of Freedom party. His natural allies came from the right — the deeply anti-immigrant and xenophobic Northern League and the newly re-baptised Allianza Nationale (Mussolini's original fascist formation) led by Gianfranco Fini. The Left, in what has turned out to be Italy's greatest tragedy, has broken up into several small, squabbling, fractious political formations, leaderless and with no clear programme to offer. It is not surprising, that Mr. Berlusconi, who comforts the country's right-wing elites and business communities, remains as popular as he is, despite his shenanigans.

But the magistrates, who, in Italy like in India, constitute the people's bulwark against open and shameless corruption, appear determined to get him. Magistrates said they could file charges against Mr. Berlusconi "as early as next week." If convicted of buying the services of an under-age prostitute and abuse of power, Mr. Berlusconi could face a long jail term. But he is protected by an immunity law he himself passed and for the moment, remains beyond the judiciary's reach.

The noted writer of Italian origin Alexander Stille wrote in The New York Times recently: "In almost any other democracy, that would have been enough to end a politician's career. But Italians are deeply cynical about their political leaders. Believing that 'everyone does it,' it is possible to convince yourself that the exposure of Berlusconi's crimes and misdemeanours is actually a sign that he is being singled out for persecution."

This is a view, says Stille, which is reinforced by the substantial portion of the Italian media, which is controlled by Mr. Berlusconi. Even the media outlets he does not own outright are either intimidated or under his influence. Much of the evidence in the current scandal (as with those in the past) has not been aired on the principal newscast of the Italian State TV, which, together with Mr. Berlusconi's networks, enjoy a nearly 90 per cent market share in a country where 70 to 80 per cent of the public gets its news from television."







We like to berate our parliamentarians. It is true that some of them are indeed opportunist, corrupt and lazy. But it is also true that the media would selectively broadcast scenes of pandemonium in legislatures but often fail to report serious and sincere work done by parliamentarians. Who can then blame the politicians for thinking that there is no reward for hard work, and that the only way to attract attention is to turn up the volume?

Deserves credit

The journey of the much reviled Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010, in the Rajya Sabha so far is a good example of how legislators ought to perform their law-making function, and therefore deserves credit. The Bill, ostensibly designed to criminalise acts of torture by public servants, was rightly condemned as a fig-leaf, the real purpose of which was to ensure that public servants could resort to torture with impunity. Among its many defects was the impunity provision contained in Clause 6 of the Bill, which required that no court could proceed with a complaint of torture unless the government of the day permits the prosecution of the suspect public servant.

This clause duplicated a colonial-era provision that is now recited unfailingly in most of our criminal statutes: from Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 to Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Indeed, Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 (the law that constitutes and governs the functioning of the Central Bureau of Investigation) goes a step further. It sets down that the CBI cannot even conduct an enquiry or investigate, let alone prosecute, a corruption case without prior sanction from the Central government. These impunity provisions have been the main stumbling blocks to the prosecution of public servants, whether it is for corruption or for torture.

Committee's report

The government managed to use its numbers to get the Prevention of Torture Bill passed in the Lok Sabha after a brief, late-evening debate last year. By the time the Bill reached the Rajya Sabha, however, civil society had had a chance to examine its deplorable provisions. At least some Rajya Sabha MPs listened, and were convinced that the provisions of the Bill needed to be scrutinised more closely. The government wisely conceded their demand and a Select Committee was set up under the chairpersonship of Ashwani Kumar.

The December 2010 Report of the Rajya Sabha Select Committee on the Prevention of Torture Bill is remarkable for the sincerity and seriousness with which it treats the issue of torture. The committee's recommendations, if accepted, will fix most of the infirmities of the original Bill. Although the entire report is worth commenting upon, its discussion and recommendations with regard to impunity provisions are particularly noteworthy.

Adopting a sagacious approach to the problem of prior sanction requirements, the committee recognised the need to "insulate honest public servants from false, frivolous, vexatious and malicious prosecution." At the same time, it felt that such a provision should not be used to shield those officials who have, in fact, "intentionally tortured or abetted the torture of individuals." Thus, the committee captured the classic dilemma in prosecuting public servants — we want them to discharge their duties without fear and favour, but want to ensure that they are accountable for what they do (or fail to do). Impunity provisions such as Clause 6 of the original Torture Bill, or Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, only take into account the need to shield public servants. They give no consideration to the need to ensure accountability. Instead of finding a proportional solution that adequately caters to both concerns, it completely ignores the second.


The committee finds a more appropriate balance "so as to provide adequate safeguards to honest and upright officials, while at the same time ensuring that the sanction provision was not used to deny the victims ... their right to justice through speedy trial." To accomplish this nuanced goal, it recommends an amended Clause 6 (re-numbered as Clause 7 in the Bill recommended by the committee), which has the following provisions.

First, while retaining the general requirement of prior governmental sanction for prosecution of public servants, the committee recommends the inclusion of a deeming provision: if the government has not acted on a request for sanction for three months, sanction would be deemed to have been given. This will ensure that a government cannot frustrate prosecution by simply refusing to act on a request for sanction.

Second, the committee recommends that should the government refuse to sanction prosecution, it must record its reasons in writing. Under the current practice, the government has no obligation to justify publicly why it has refused to sanction the prosecution of any public servant. This opacity allows the government to use the power of sanction to settle political scores rather than to ensure accountability.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the committee recommends that an order refusing such sanction may be appealed before a High Court by an aggrieved person. Currently, a person can only file for a judicial review of a decision to refuse sanction; there is no right to appeal. The difference between an appeal and a review is significant. The powers of a review court to correct a decision are much more limited than that of an appellate court. A review court mainly ensures that certain technical rules of decision-making were followed, and that the decision was not so unreasonable that no reasonable person could have made it. An appellate court, on the other hand, can examine the issue on merits and substitute its own judgment for that of the government. In sum, the possibility that its decision may be appealed will require the government to act on judicial rather than on political grounds while granting or refusing sanction.

These recommendations strike the right balance between the need to protect honest officers and to hold public servants to account. The Rajya Sabha committee's work deserves commendation. Indeed, the formula stipulated by the committee should not be restricted to torture alone. It may well prove to be the best answer to the problem of impunity in corruption cases too. Will the government continue to use this arbitrary power as a bargaining tool to gain allies or as a punishment for its foes? Or will Parliament follow the Kumar Committee's recommendation and put in place safeguards that are necessary to check its misuse?

( Dr. Tarunabh Khaitan is Fellow in Law, Christ Church, University of Oxford.)







For all the talk in India about empowering women, it remains one of the most "gender-insensitive" societies in the world with even bodies like the National Commission for Women mostly engaged in "headline-grabbing" exercises, says Kishwar Desai, the U.K.-based Indian writer and broadcaster whose novel, Witness the Night, about female infanticide has just been awarded Britain's prestigious Costa prize (previously known as the Whitbread award) for a first book.

"Generally, we're a very cruel society and so obsessed with pursuit of 'perfection' that anyone who is even slightly different — for example, disabled or not considered 'pretty' enough — is seen as 'abnormal.' Women are the worst victims of this attitude — that's if they are allowed to be born or live at all. The fact is that we don't want girls in the first place. Forget about aborting female foetuses, we don't have any qualms about killing newly-born baby girls — and here I'm talking about supposedly modern and enlightened people who live in big metros," Ms Desai said talking to T heHindu after collecting the prize.

She cited a study according to which more than 1,000 female foetuses are aborted every day in India. Estimates of female infanticide were equally "horrifying." What she found really shocking was that women themselves were complicit in this.

"I spoke to some psychiatrists and they said women did this because they felt empowered — it gave them a sense of wielding power. It is a weird logic. My own sense is that, given the way women are treated in India, it is perhaps a perverse way of delivering baby girls from a cruel fate," she said.

How it struck her

The scale of the problem first hit her when she was running a Punjabi television channel in India in the 1990s:

"One of the things I routinely encountered were stories of female infanticide and foeticide. Once in Chandigarh, a woman, quite well known in social circles, told me how when she was young her parents tried to get rid of her by giving her an overdose of opium but she survived. After all those years she still lived with the trauma that her own parents could have been her assassins."

The story of the Chandigarh socialite was the trigger for the novel that she was to write some 20 years later.

"I kept asking myself: why do Indians behave like this towards their daughters — burying them alive, giving them poison, trying to kill them with an overdose of opium? When I started to research I was horrified by the sheer scale of the practice of female infanticide and the widespread public indifference. Almost every State in India is affected: Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. As a result, according to the most conservative estimates there are at least 30 million Indian women 'missing,' so to speak," Ms Desai said.

Even in the West

This "anti-girl child" attitude was also widespread among Asians living in the West. In Britain, she pointed, it was not uncommon for Asian men to take their pregnant wives to India for sex-selection procedures and abortions.

"I met a girl whose father openly told her that he was taking her mother, who was pregnant with a girl child, to India for an abortion. She said there were three girls in the family and he didn't want one more. Here was a man who had lived all his life in Britain and yet his cultural attitude had not changed. Really, shocking. In fact, one of the reasons that Britain banned sex-selection in 2007, I believe, was because it was being abused by Asians," Ms Desai said.

What the judges said

She hopes that her novel, published both in the U.K. and India, would provoke debate and create greater awareness.

She sees it as a measure of the difference in cultural attitudes that the book has been "appreciated" more in the U.K. than back home.

The novel was inspired by the case of a young girl in Kolkata (Calcutta at the time) who was accused of poisoning her entire family but mostly it is fiction and can be read purely as a "thriller."

"I didn't want to be didactic but raise the issue by telling a story."

Judges praised the book for lifting "the lid on the problems that simmer under the surface of modern-day India."

"Desai has pulled off a remarkable trick transplanting a country house murder to modern day India in a book that's not afraid to tackle serious themes," they said.

Ms Desai, who is married to the economist Lord Meghnad Desai, has been commissioned to do a series of novels built around the central character of Witness the Night — a "feisty, whiskey-swigging, chain-smoking social activist" from Delhi.




Cambodia called for U.N. peacekeepers to help end the fighting along its tense border with Thailand, where artillery fire echoed for a fourth day, on February 7, near an 11th century temple classified as a World Heritage Site.

The crumbling stone temple, several hundred feet from Thailand's eastern border with Cambodia, has fuelled nationalism on both sides of the disputed frontier for decades and conflict over it has sparked sporadic, brief battles in recent years. However, sustained fighting has been rare.

A one-hour clash on the morning of February 7 stopped after both sides agreed to an unofficial cease-fire. Fighting has erupted daily since February 4, leaving at least five dead.

Cambodian officials say a Thai artillery barrage on February 6 collapsed part of "a wing" at the Preah Vihear temple, a U.N. World Heritage site, but Thai officials have dismissed that account as propaganda. The extent of damage was unknown because it remained too dangerous to approach the temple, Cambodian authorities said.

Both sides blame the other for instigating each day's clashes, which have shattered a series of cease-fire agreements.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned that the fighting poses a threat to regional stability. He said the latest clash was sparked after Thai soldiers crossed the border in search of a slain comrade, and Cambodians opened fire to repel them. Hun Sen has sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council calling for an emergency meeting to help end the fighting.

Thailand's Foreign Ministry sent its own letter to the Security Council on February 7 to formally protest the "repeated and unprovoked armed attacks by Cambodian troops." In the past, Thailand has ruled out foreign involvement in its dispute with Cambodia.

In 1962, the World Court determined that the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia. Thai nationalists dispute the ruling and have seized on it as a domestic political issue.

Built between the 9th and 11th centuries, Preah Vihear is dedicated to the Hindu diety Shiva and revered partly for having one of the most stunning locations of all the temples constructed during the Khmer empire, the most famous of which is Angkor Wat. It sits atop a 1,722-foot (525m) cliff in the Dangrek Mountains about 150 miles (240 km) north of the Cambodian capital.

UNESCO calls the site "an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture." The Khmer empire, which once encompassed parts of Thailand and Vietnam, shrank to the size of present-day Cambodia. The country was plunged into civil war, and the temple then fell into disrepair. — AP




South Korea and France are set to sign an agreement on the return of Korean royal documents looted during the French invasion more than a century ago, the foreign ministry said in Seoul on February 7.

Park Heung-shin, Seoul's Ambassador to France, and Paul Jean-Oritz, Asia and Oceania director at the French Foreign Ministry, will sign the deal in Paris on the retrieval of the Oegyujanggak books from the Joseon Dynasty, Korea's last ruling monarchy (1392-1910), stolen during the French invasion in 1866. They document court protocol.

All the 297 volumes are to be returned to a museum in Seoul before the end of May on a renewable five-year lease. Technical and administrative aspects of the deal will also be discussed. The monarchy was abolished when Korea became a republic in 1897. After decades of Japanese colonial rule, it split after World War Two with the establishment of a Soviet-backed Communist state in the north.

The French navy seized the volumes from a royal library annex on the Ganghwa island northwest of the capital Seoul as it retreated from Korea following an invasion in 1866.

South Korea has sought their return after a scholar discovered them at the French national library in 1975.

The agreement by French President Nicolas Sarkozy as he met South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Seoul ends a longstanding dispute.— Xinhua







After a long interregnum, Jhalanath Khanal, leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), was elected Prime Minister in the Constituent Assembly (which now doubles as Nepal's Parliament) on Sunday, but is not hard to see that Mr Khanal will live on borrowed time. He will also not be in much of a position to offer

his country much-needed stability and a policy framework geared at coping with problems that have been piling up for the past three years. Given the parliamentary arithmetic and the political equation between the key players — the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), far and away the largest party in the House although way short of a majority, the Nepali Congress (NC), and CPN (UML) — Parliament had not been able to elect a Prime Minister since June last year although a number of farcical attempts were made.
On being elected, Mr Khanal claimed that his election was the product of consensus and that his government would seek consensus on key issues. Neither proposition derives from reality. Maoist leader Prachanda, who has been keen to become Prime Minister ever since the position fell vacant, struck a last-minute arrangement with the CPN(UML) to elevate Mr Khanal. The NC, the third leading player in Nepal which has held power countless times, was cut out of the deal. Also, some 50 Maoist MPs guided by Baburam Bhattarai, Mr Prachanda's number two, voted for Mr Khanal under protest, as they wanted the Prime Minister's position held by their own party, given its overwhelming superiority in the House. In the circumstances it is evident that Mr Prachanda is the king behind the throne and the elected Prime Minister will have little latitude, given the Maoist chief's propensities and his track record of functioning. It is also to be kept in view that the CPN(UML) and NC had together offered to make Mr Prachanda Prime Minister provided he agreed in advance on only a certain number of Maoist guerrilla fighters to be integrated into the Nepalese Army, but the Maoist supremo reportedly declined to accept such terms. In effect, the integration of all the erstwhile Maoist guerrillas into the country's Army is, for the Maoist leader, the base negotiating point and no consensus politics in the country is possible unless the democratic parties accept this. Indeed, it is this factor which has been the elephant in the room in Nepal's politics since the last election in April 2008.

That election had brought the Constituent Assembly into being. By May 2009, this body was to have drafted the Constitution of post-royal Nepal. Last year it missed an extended deadline of one year and is on course to miss the second one-year deadline in May 2011. With no agreement in sight among key political players on the nature of the Nepali state after the end of the monarchy, it is hardly feasible to be sanguine about the future. Indeed, little can be taken for granted. Will the Maoists go back to being countryside guerrillas seeking to take power by force of arms? Will the Army revolt in the hope of seizing power or bringing back the King in a bid to thwart the Maoists with whom it has an uneasy relationship? Or even if all sides will agree to a fresh election (although this looks highly civilised, politically, in the circumstances)? There are just too many open questions.
Nepal is important to India's security to the north, and this country would desire a republican solution to Nepal's political problems. Nevertheless, it will also be ready to live with any other solution the Nepali people themselves find acceptable. Prolonged uncertainty in the Himalayan nation is not only bad from the security perspective. A stalemate, which can potentially lead to anarchy, also thwarts meaningful partnership between the two close neighbours.







"Ittehad, Itmad, Qurbani" (Unity, faith, sacrifice)

— Motto of the Azad Hind Fauj (The Indian National Army)

The 114th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose — recently commemorated on January 23, 2011 — is an appropriate occasion to remember him and the Az

ad Hind Fauj. On this occasion, the government of West Bengal declared that the day would henceforth be observed as Deshprem Diwas, or Patriotism Day. The implied paradox that patriotism could be reduced to an annual one-day event seemed to escape notice. If patriotism is not to be the last refuge of the scoundrel, it has to be a full-time job, without weekends or holidays.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was a patriot, perhaps one of the greatest freedom fighters India's struggle for Independence has produced. He remains an unblemished and unchallenged icon for a cynical, disillusioned generation in search for role models. On the international stage, Netaji keeps company in the pantheon of soldier heroes like Simon Bolivar, Jose de San Martin, Giuseppe Garibaldi and Ho Chi Minh, an aspect downplayed in India, especially by the ahimsa establishment, whose votaries claimed exclusive credit for non-violence for bringing Independence to this country.

There have always been murmurings of an unspoken conspiracy of silence to keep Netaji at a profile lower than the "conformist" freedom fighters. Earlier, the Indian Left had reviled Netaji during the 1940s as an Indian Quisling, heaping opprobrium upon him for collaborating with the Axis powers against their beloved spiritual homeland, the Soviet Union. The Indian National Congress — India's Grand Old Party dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi duopoly — viewed Bose as a threat to the establishment and successfully manipulated his exit from the organisational hierarchy.

Now, over the past few years, the very same political class which had earlier denigrated him or sought to sideline him is scrambling to retrace steps and reappropriate Netaji for their political agendas, especially as the next Assembly elections in West Bengal looms closer. Those who had done their best to consign him to oblivion after Independence, have now rediscovered his electoral weightage and are strenuously attempting to reconfigure Netaji as one of their own.

Netaji's greatest achievement was the revival and revitalisation of the Indian National Army (INA) after the initial pioneering effort in 1941 by Capt. Mohan Singh failed to fructify. Under his inspirational leadership the INA became India's Mukti Bahini, seeking to confront the country's colonial overlords militarily for the first time since the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857. "Chalo Dilli" was no street slogan for political processions, but a proclamation of grand strategic intent, though achievement of the objective had all the prospects of a hard long war.

West Bengal has appropriated Netaji as its own illustrious son, though his birth place and initial education were in Orissa and the INA he created had few, if any, exclusive linkages with Bengal, except in individual capacities. The INA recruited extensively amongst the Indian diaspora in what is today Southeast Asia, but their core fighting strength was fashioned out of the wreckage of the British-Indian infantry battalions incarcerated in Japanese prison camps after debacles in Hong Kong, Malaya and the retreat from Burma. These included illustrious entities like 1/14 Punjab (now 5 Punjab of the Pakistan Army), and 2/17 Dogra and 2/18 Garhwal Rifles, both adorning the post-Independence Indian Army. These were trained professional infantry and there was thus a strong leavening of the traditional British martial classes in the INA. But they were totally intermixed into what today's class-regimentalised Indian Army would designate as "all India, all class" units, while the Bahadur Group of the INA commanded by Col. Shaukat Hayat Malik can lay strong claims to be the earliest ancestor of the special forces in the Indian Army, the Navy and the Air Force.

The initial offensive of the INA was incorporated into Operation U-Go launched by the Japanese 15th Army under Gen. Renya Mutaguchi in 1944 in the Imphal-Kohima region on the Indo-Burmese border. From this liberated zone inside India the INA planned to revert to a guerilla mode and infiltrate into the strategic depths of India's eastern region in Assam and Bengal, to build up a low-intensity campaign in the interior exploiting anti-British sentiment fanned by the Great Bengal Famine raging at the time, while the Japanese hammered down the front door. The ultimate outcome for India if Japan had emerged victorious can only be speculated on, but the history of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere which Japan sought to establish in Asia does not make for comforting reading.

The post-Independence Indian Army is the spiritual and temporal heir of two armies — the British Indian Army and the Indian National Army. From the former, it has imbibed almost every aspect of its functioning, mannerisms and attitudes; from the latter, nothing. Its principal opponent, the Pakistan Army, is a highly Islamicised military which uses terror as a weapon of state. Is there any matching military and spiritual doctrine to provide sustenance for an avowedly secular Indian Army, now mired in moral distress as well? In the 64th year of the nation's Independence, the modern Indian Army must introspect deeply upon its Azad Hind Fauj heritage which stressed patriotism as a way of life, something with far more substantial foundations than the mere regimental loyalties which have served so far. The true heritage of Netaji and the INA, which goes well beyond the mere military and into the spiritual, ethical and emotional region of military motivation, will provide succour. The teachings of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose must become required study material in its professional institutions, to motivate the Army and prepare it for the future in an increasingly turbulent environment.

Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament






With Egypt in turmoil, the Arab world abuzz with expectation, oil traders on edge and a pall of uncertainty hanging over global markets, it may seem an odd moment to talk about relaxation techniques. But a crisis hour is precisely when one taps into stress-busters. And my vote goes to the Thai message of sanuk which loosely translates to playfulness or an inherent sense of fun.

In Bangkok recently for a symposium on the global crisis caused by a shortage of health workers, I discovered sanuk's many facets. Sanuk is not just about having a good laugh. In the Thai scheme of things, everything has to have a touch of sanuk. "We view the smile as an appropriate reaction to every possible situation — happiness as well as fear, tension, embarrassment, nervousness etc. You can't let your sadness show in public. It is not polite", the girl at the travel desk of my hotel explained. Sanuk, from what I saw, is potentially the ultimate advocacy tool — whether you are in the hospitality industry, or any other area engaged in bringing change. It tosses humour at life's grimmest moments and trivialises taboos.

For a taste of sanuk, I dropped by Cabbages & Condoms, the restaurant that's the brainchild of Mechai Viravaidya, a former Thai politician and one of the main architects of Thailand's successful family planning campaign and its 1990s anti-AIDS programme. The restaurant is a brash, quirky and trademark Mechai-style attempt to make people laugh about sex and force the topic of sexuality out in the open. Contrary to popular perceptions abroad, middle-class Thai society is still traditional with socially conservative mores. It was even more so in the 1970s when Mr Mechai, a former Thai minister of health, decided to champion the cause of birth control. Through Population and Community Development Association (PDA), a non-profit he founded, Mr Mechai took up the challenge of making condoms as cheap and accessible as cabbages. The restaurant, mentioned in every tourist guidebook, offers free condoms instead of after-dinner mints. It rose to prominence when the AIDS epidemic exploded in Thailand in the 1990s. Rampant sex trade and drug abuse were blamed for the situation. But at this critical juncture, sanuk came in handy. With public health advocates like Mr Mechai, the Thai government pushed through an aggressive national campaign to promote the use of condoms. More and more brothels and sex workers started using them. The results are well-known. Thailand, at one time feared to be going the way of many countries in sub-Saharan Africa ravaged by the AIDS epidemic, turned the corner. What worked were its strong public health system and pragmatic policies along with a liberal dollop of sanuk as evidenced by many Mr Mechai promoted initiatives like condom-blowing competitions and handing out condom key rings at official dinners and functions. Thanks in part to such public messages, the HIV infection rate in Thailand came down sharply.

Today, Thailand remains an inspirational success story in public health. But the heady anti-AIDS activism of past decades which brought the condom centrestage in public discourse has given way to complacency in some quarters. Teenagers are particularly at risk from unprotected sex.

At Cabbages & Condoms, however, sanuk is alive and at its scandalous best. Last week, at the entrance to the open-air restaurant decorated with fairy lights and lampshades made up of condoms, I saw a group of Italian tourists cracking up at the sight of a giant Christmas tree made up of coloured condoms. Inside the bar, there was a reprint of Mona Lisa with two condoms stuck at the bottom. The retail store inside sells condom memorabilia like T-shirts with images of condoms and the message: "Weapons of Mass Protection".
Sanuk is even useful in giving an everyday touch to death. A field trip during the Prince Mahidol Award Conference 2011/Second Global Forum on Human Resources for Health took me to Wat Pra Baht Nam Phu, a Buddhist temple that has acted as a hospice for nearly 20 years to many people living with HIV and AIDS. Located in Lopburi province, about 120 km from Bangkok, the temple-hospice led by 53-year-old monk Phra Alongkot Dikkapanyo started at a time when stigma against the HIV-infected was very high in Thailand. The hospice, home to about 130 patients, has links with the provincial health administration which provides antiretroviral drugs to those inmates who need them.

A taste of sanuk in such a place? Surprisingly, yes. We were welcomed by hospice inmates and others dressed up as showgirls while slides of men, women and children in the terminal stages of AIDS flashed in the background. I blinked when a staffer told us that recreational activities included a relay race carrying empty coffins. And that was not all — there were bone resin sculptures — inmates sculpted artefacts out of bones of others who had died. Many who were at the terminal stages wish to have a part of them remain in the temple, a doctor attached to the hospice informed. That had probably led to the setting up of the AIDS Human Body Part Museum inside. Jars containing the remains of a heart, a liver, and even a penis lay on tables, as exhibits.
Many in our group had questions after the visit. Some were outraged. Was not death a private matter? Did the patients receive appropriate medical treatment or was the hospice running mostly on compassion and volunteerism to the detriment of science? The doctors we met assured us that the patients were regularly checked at the provincial hospital. We did not get answers to all the questions, but what lingered was the normality attached to death. "Death is normal. We discuss it at home. I tell my mother that my only concern is I should not look ugly when I die", a Thai woman working with an international foundation told me back at the conference. Her eyes glinted playfully. Was she serious? I will never know. But here was sanuk at work.
Can it work in India? We have as many policies as problems. Many of them do not have the desired impact often due to cultural mores about what we can talk about. Will sanuk help us be less squeamish about death, disease and unsafe sex — subjects that remain taboo despite so many attempts? It may be worth a try.

Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies







Mining is as old as mankind's attempts at civilisation. From hacking away at rocks to make cutting implements to digging hillsides for stones to build freestanding structures to digging pits to access ores from which metals could be extracted for weapons, mining has been as ancient an activity of man as agriculture.


Just because it has an environmental aftermath (as does any other human activity) is not reason enough to assume we can do away with it. For a country like India, with 1.2 billion persons, of whom 505 are desperately poor, the exploitation of its mineral resources is inevitable.


But India needs to evolve a policy on mining that minimises its adverse fallout. The first aspect is the fact that mineral resources are not renewable; thus, their exploitation should combine future needs and present demand to deliver maximum benefit. The country must maximise its gain by converting the mineral into the highest value finished product within the country.


Allowing the export of minerals implies three sins: (i) it lowers India to the level of a primitive state that is exploited by developed countries; (ii) it damages the environment for the benefit of the importing nations; and, (iii) it risks India's future strategic requirements.


For instance, with India's current steel demand pegged at 55 million tonnes per annum, its iron ore reserves of around 25 billion tonnes may seem vast. But this thins when we consider that steel capacity output is expected to rise to 150 million tonnes per annum by 2020 and, perhaps, 300 million tonnes per annum by 2030. Yet, India is merrily exporting iron ore. Last year, half of the 200 million tones ore mined was exported to China, which has twice our reserves but has banned exports for years now.


India must not permit mining for the purpose of export. This will result in strategic conservation and reduce the massive environmental damage and the displacement of thousands of people in areas like Bellary, Goa and the Chattisgarh-Orissa-Jharkhand belt.


The second aspect of conservation is deriving maximum value and wasting the least amount of the ore. This has not been adhered to because mining licences are fragmented into small lots that do not allow for an integrated mining plan to ensure maximum recovery. Moreover, licenses have issued to small parties, who are financially and technologically incapable of well-planned and scientific mining.


Tata Steel vice-chairman B Muthuraman had recently observed: "Mining needs to be done on a large scale to be economical and competitive. The government should encourage companies to undertake large-scale mining instead of operating small, uneconomic mines that can only succeed under opportunistic pricing conditions."


I must also add that the concessionary periods granted to mining firms should be long enough to enable them to properly explore the resource, adequately plan for maximum recovery, and implement meaningful rehabilitation of the land post-exhaustion of the mine.


Indian laws have been strengthened to put the onus of relief and rehabilitation (R&R) on the mining companies. But the practice of most mining companies, particularly the small ones, has been to exploit and scoot. To tackle this, a certain portion of the annual turnover of a mining company - depending on the environmental damage potential of the operations - should be deposited in a special fund meant for the rehabilitation of the mined area.


India's major mineral resources are located in forested areas that have been home to the country's tribal population for millennia. The government proposes to compensate displaced tribals with a part of the profits of mining companies, in addition to other measures. But profits can be uncertain and comes only after mining has commenced, whereas displacement occurs in the beginning. Profits can also be diminished by accounting legerdemain. It would be better if compensation was tied up as a percentage of the investment on the mining project.


Past experience has also shown that attention to R&R wanes once the actual operations commence. Hence, it would be better if R&R is implemented before the digging even starts. An important part of R&R should be investment in imparting relevant vocational skills to the displaced tribals, so that they can get employment benefits from the project.


Finally, the government also needs to examine the possibility of the displaced tribals benefiting from equity ownership of the project as part of the deal for giving up their land. This is practiced in some form in mines in Native American reservations in the United States.








Governor's visit to Bhadarwah and his interaction with the student community there is an event in the history of expansion of higher education to the rural sector of our state. Rarely do the Governors find time to visit remote areas and try to acquire first hand knowledge of the problems facing our rural population and student community. Villagers usually have little or no access to the sources of power. Ours is largely a mountainous state, with difficult connectivity channels which makes mobility less frequent and more cumbersome. It has been the main reason for the backwardness of the state. But times have changed and the country is on its march to progress and development. Opening a campus of Jammu University in Bhadarwah some years ago marked the beginning of an unprecedented chapter in the development of the backward areas of Bhadarwah, Doda and Kishtwar. Though the beginning was modest yet the initiation was a major step to break the barriers that deterred aspirant youth of the region from access to higher degrees up to doctorate level and thus change the educational profile of the State. Governor's interaction must have served stimulant not only to the students and scholars already admitted to higher levels but also to those who are waiting in the wings to don the crown of access to fountain-head of knowledge. It is appreciable that there is cognizance among the policy planners that the dormant potential of our youth and future generations needs to be provided avenues to blossom and flourish. Governor's sane advice to the students to explore new avenues of knowledge so that there is larger potential of employment for them is a very pragmatic approach to the disturbing issue of educated unemployed. His encouraging words also carry the untold message that the government is seized of expanding the canvas of the disciplines at the campus for the sake of diversification of the branches of knowledge. It should augur well for the far-flung area and the people inhabiting it. It would be in fitness of things that the University authorities in Jammu with the guidance from experts draw a comprehensive plan of developing university campuses for expansion under a carefully chalked out plan. Developing a university is a complex project. The Governor is now apprised of the difficulties faced by the students studying at higher levels. Since the campus is located at Bhadarwah, and there is a widespread population up in the mountains and slopes, more and more students will aspire to enter the portals of the campus. There will be pressure on authorities to provide accommodation to all outsiders in the hostels. Our experience says that by and large hostels are ill-managed by the educational institutions. This should not happen with these rural campus hostels. Separate hostels for girls will also have to be provided at one point of time. Real worth of an educational institute depends on the quality of the faculty. It has been the practice with the education department to retain better qualified and more experienced teachers and professors in premier institutions in urban areas and post fresher to colleges in rural areas. This discrimination should go once for all and a mechanism has to be evoved so that rural institutions of excellence are not deprived of quality service. Another area of educational activity is of sports. The youth all over the world are now taking keen interest in sports. The number of those who have interest in watching the games and matches is larger than those just playing on the field. As such educational institutions are the places where talent is developed. Our country is still far behind in this area and needs to have a national plan of developing sports. We are confident that caught at young age, our promising youth would make distinction in the area of sports as well.







Owing to turmoil that gripped the valley this summer, daily life was badly disrupted. Its negative impact on all walks of life caused many difficulties to ordinary people. Supply of essential commodities was paralyzed. In anger and rage mobs damaged public property including the railway line connecting South Kashmir with Sopore-Baramulla sector. Beholding the angry mood of the people, railway staff and engineers called a halt to the task of completing railway lines to its planned destination. There has been a long pause and completion has been delayed. Looking in retrospect the angry mobs that had dismantled and damaged the rails will be remorseful on something done in anger. It is an occasion of some introspection also. Bringing railway to Kashmir has been a well thought of project and lot of discussion has been held at all levels from policy planners down to the engineering staff whether the project should be taken up or not knowing the difficult topography. As a matter of principle, bringing railway to any part of the country means opening an opportunity for the people to aspire for all round development. There is no sense in vandalizing and destroying the infrastructure that is vital to the economic growth of the region. Those who have any love for Kashmir and want its progress by leaps and bounds will, in sober moments, realize that their love is misplaced if they cannot control their emotions. Northern Railways have announced that work on the north bound rail link will be resumed and damages will be repaired. But nearly six months have been wasted and to no purpose. According to a conservative estimate total loss incurred by the state owing to the long spell of summer turmoil is 80000 crores. This is the loss of an average citizen inflicted by a citizen. How can we claim to be called civilized, enlightened and patriotic if we indulge in such vandalism? Railways, buses, and other items are all public property meaning peoples' property. We need to take care of it and maintain it so that we make our lives comfortable. Bringing rail connection to Baramulla should not mean the end of major connectivity plan for the valley. Extension of railway line to Kupwara via Hamal sector is also on cards. And likewise, survey of Jammu -Poonch link has also been conducted by the Indian Railways. Given an atmosphere conducive to work culture, our state will make fast improvement with this vital infrastructure in place.








Congress could be playing big brother at the Centre, but in states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu it is being forced to play the second fiddle by its allies in the UPA.

Leading the coalition at the Centre has not much helped the Congress grow in states.

The waterloo in the recent Assembly polls in Bihar where it could secure a mere four seats in the 243-member House has shellshocked the Congress.

This has been especially so because Rahul Gandhi had virtually led the campaign in the crucial Northern state.

The setback in Bihar is being exploited by the allies of the Congress in its own way to show the grand old party its place in the changed situation.

The issue of alliances in the coming Assembly polls in five states including West Bengal and Tamil Nadu is a case in point.

In both West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the Congress is out of power for 33 years and 43 years respectively. It is the rule of the CPI-M led Left Front in West Bengal while either of the Dravidian party DMK or AIADMK ruling Tamil Nadu.

The matter has become ticklish for the Congress with the regional parties in both the states playing the 'big brother'.
Mamata Banerjee's "Didigiri" is being faced by the Congress in West Bengal as the Trinamool Congress leader, who sees hereself as the next Chief Minister of the state, wants the Congress in the alliance on her own terms.

Congress played a second fiddle to Trinamool Congress in West Bengal in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, and there have been heated exchanges between the two sides at the state level on the issue of alliance.
Mamata had on more than one occasion even targeted Rahul, who had been frequently touring the state that time to make the organisation strong. Trinamool Congress has also frowned upon state Congress plans to demand 98 of the total 294 seats for forging an alliance for assembly elections expected to be held by May.
A senior Trinamool leader, who declined to be identified, has ridiculed the idea warning that Congress would be playing into the hands of CPI(M) if it pitched for seats higher than its strength. Mamata met the Congress President Sonia Gandhi last week but there have been no details from either side about the parleys between the two top leaders, their first interaction in the new year with West Bengal polls just a few months away.
In Tamil Nadu, it is no different story for Congress which is all set to go with the DMK.

This is inspite of the fact that DMK has quite an uphill task in the wake of the 2G spectrum scam.
Congress leaders say that they have no other option but be a part of the DMK-led alliance in the southern state.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had recently declared in Chennai that the Congress-DMK alliance was strong.
Privately, Tamil Nadu Congress leaders are singing a different tune. They say that since DMK is the third largest constituent of the UPA at the Centre, the Congress cannot think about any other ally in the state.
They are also cut up with Karunanidhi for not giving the party a share in power despite dependent on Congress support.

"The leadership wants the Centre to be safe and therefore we have to go along with the DMK in the state knowing pretty well that it was on the backfoot in the wake of the 2G spectrum scam," is the refrain of the state leaders.

With the UPA-II facing turbulence in the wake of a variety of scams including the Adarsh housing scandal and Commonwealth games mess, the Congress does not want to do anything that would antagonise any of its allies.
It wants to keep the UPA constituents in good humour at a time when the opposition has become aggressive. Trinamool Congress is the second largest constituent of the UPA after Congress while DMK third largest.
Besides Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, Assembly polls are also being held in Kerala, Assam and Puducherry.
Congress is leading the United Democratic Front of "like-minded" parties in Kerala for the past few decades and this time the Front is in an upbeat mood after a good showing in the last Lok Sabha elections.

The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) is its traditional rival in the state.

In Puducherry, the Congress is in power on its own while in Assam, it is ruling with the support of a Bodo party.

Congress general Secretary Digvijay Singh, in charge of party's affairs in Assam, has said that no decision has been taken so far about going in for alliance in the state, indicating it could go alone.

Party President Sonia Gandhi as well as Rahul Gandhi had remained silent on the issue of alliances at the party's plenary held here recently. The political resolution adopted at the plenary had also skirted the issue.
Gandhi had only acknowledged the shock the Congress received in the Bihar polls where it had contested on its own and had much expectations to put up a good show.

Talking in generalities, the political resolution had merely said the necessity of coalition politics at the central level does not prevent party's statelevel workers from hoping and dreaming of a larger political space wherever they may be and "we as a party must be cognisant and supportive of their aspirations."

May it be so, the fact of the matter is that Congress is not in the driver's seat during alliances in the key states. (PTI)









Article 370 is a temporary and transient proviso in the Constitution of India, which evokes not only huge emotionalism but has also given rise to multiple confusions among the people. More often the emotional outburst, on both sides of the opinion over the article, is misplaced. As it is, the article 370 is a temporary proviso of the Constitution included in the Part XXI of the Constitution of India which itself is titled "Temporary, Transient and Special Powers". Nor are the provisos regarding Jammu and Kashmir state anything unique here. The first article in the part is about the 'temporary powers of the parliament (article 369) and the last one is about the temporary powers conferred on the President (article 392). While many of the provisos have been repealed over time, others have been added to it. Articles 379-391 were repealed as early as 1956 while articles 371G-I were added as late as 1986-87.

Again, J&K is not the only state to have been invested with special powers under this part of the Constitution. Articles 371A-I and articles 372-378 carry special provisos with regards to states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Nagaland, Assam, Goa, Sikkim, Mizoram, Andhra Pradesh etc., as well as special powers for the constitutional authorities and institutions like CAG, Judges of high courts, Public service commissions, even the supreme court of India. The powers, their extent and application vary from state to state, case to case depending upon the contingent need. The articles 379-91, which were repealed by the 7th Amendment Act had outlived this need and were no longer required. An article deserves to be upon the statute book only so long as it serves a need of the nation and the people. Thereafter it is a redundancy which is better removed.

Besides, neither Part XXI nor any of the articles contained in it constitute the basic framework of the Constitution, which the courts have declared to be unalterable. It is not even one of the articles which are regarded as hard to amend. As such there is nothing sacrosanct about article 370. At the same time it must be pointed out that article 370 has nothing whatsoever to do with the state of Jammu and Kashmir being or not being an integral part of the union of India. There is nothing in the article 370 which can be called a 'link' , 'connection' or condition of the state of Jammu and Kashmir continuing to be a part of India. That position is already cleared by the article 1 of the Constitution. Jammu and Kashmir shall continue to be a part of India that is Bharat, with or without the article 370 continuing in the Constitution. Article 1 of the Constitution is included in what has been called the basic framework of the Constitution, which even parliament cannot change.
That said, it may be pointed out that the article 370 contains provisos within itself which guarantee that it shall not be changed without the consent of the state. Hence the high emotionalism that is whipped about the article 370 is primarily unwarranted. The only question there is the need, utility and desire for the continuance of the article in the Constitution. That desire, need and utility of the article 370 is a matter of public opinion. It is something that deserves an open debate and discussion. Today public opinion both in the state and the wider nation, may favour its continuance. And, that opinion may change tomorrow. So will the position of the article 370 or any other part of the Constitution of India change as per the needs, except of course what has been called the basic framework.

But politics being the game of tricking people, needless confusions have been piled upon this article. Take the provision regarding the permanent residents in the state. It comes from the State Subject Law promulgated by the erstwhile maharaja way back in 1927. Ironically the promulgation of this law was vehemently opposed by the then Muslim politicos of the state in both provinces. That law defines the classes of citizens who qualify as subjects of the state. Tomorrow the state legislature may be enlightened enough to alter it or repeal this law altogether or, may alternatively seek to make it still more stringent. The public confusion about the loss of government jobs going away with the removal of article 370 are misplaced worries born of the propaganda. In any case, where are the jobs? There has been little recruitment over the last so many years. Successive governments of NC, PDP, Congress, PP have found that there is very little scope for new recruitments. So they are announcing 'job plans' not jobs.

A new confusion has been sought to be created about the article 370 with respect to the article 238 which was repealed in 1956. As it is, the very first sub clause of the clause (1) of the article 370 states that 'the provisions of the article 238 shall not apply in relation to the state of Jammu and Kashmir'. That was very apt, since the article 238 dealt with the powers of the erstwhile office of Rajpramukh, which existed in certain states before the uniform scheme of the Constitution came into force. Accordingly there were provisos defining the powers of the Rajpramukhs, their relationship to the state legislature and other government agencies in those state and other related matters. The article became redundant with the Constitution coming into force and the article was repealed. It could not and did not apply to the state of Jammu and Kashmir which did not have the office of Rajpramukh. Hence the clarification in the article 370. That the sub clause (1) of article 370 has not been repealed after the repeal of the article 238 shows that there has been little change in the wording of the article since its introduction as well as the fact that there is need for a revision.

In fact, there has been more disinformation about the article 370 than an understanding of its position, provisos, pros and cons. Often this disinformation is compounded by emotionalism and politicking. There the good of the state, the interest of the people and the desirability of the article 370 becomes a harangue instead of an informed debate and discussion. And, that verily is the pity!








According to Indian Institute of Public Opinion, Delhi, which conducted a nation-wide survey of 300000 middle class households, in January 2011, it was observed that 98 per cent households have cut down their expenditures on edibles due to high rate of inflation in the country. The major cuts are in use of lentils ( Dal ), vegetables, eggs and meat. Even poor man's onion has been discarded by majority of households. The government or the RBI has no answers how to tame the monster of inflation except tempering here and there in monetary policies.

The choice before the government/ RBI is to undertake the right policies of crushing inflation irrespective of the criticism they would have to face, or be condemned by history for inflicting inflation on the masses.
Take a look at the data. NCAER-CMCR has divided the country into five income quintiles based on the National Survey of Household Income and Expenditure. The top quintile (20 per cent or about 45 million households) accounts for almost 52 per cent of aggregate income and 39 per cent of consumption. However, they account for an even larger 45 per cent of aggregate non-food consumption. This is the upper class that has driven a bulk of the incremental consumption in India. They have adopted a whole set of new categories and their consumption baskets have widened dramatically. This set of consumers epitomises the surging confidence of India having arrived. Considering that this quintile contributes almost 93 per cent of aggregate savings, food inflation will have no impact on it.

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

The most transformative impact, however, is felt by households that fall in the middle two quintiles (40 per cent

or 90 million households). These households account for almost 34 per cent of aggregate income and 39 per cent of aggregate consumption. They spend about 54 per cent of their income on food and about 5-7 per cent each on housing, education, clothing, durables, health, transport and other non-food items. Their spending on food has now spiralled up to 65-67 per cent of their income. To cope with this, they are the ones that are likely to cut back consumption where possible, buy cheaper products given alternatives, postpone the purchase of little indulgences and cut out discretionary spend altogether. With food sucking up more of their incomes their saving is likely to disappear altogether.

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

However, what is even more significant is the impact on consumer confidence. After all, the Indian consumption story is not just based on what happens today but the confidence and the hope of a better tomorrow. Middle India today accounts for only 15 per cent of aggregate household savings. With burgeoning spend on food, savings will evaporate. Tragically, this drop in savings will be invisible at the aggregate level given the relatively low contribution of this consumer class to overall household savings.
While consumption attitudes may be severely affected in middle India, life will continue as usual for the top quintile of households. Their attitudes will continue to remain positive since they will see little or no impact on their disposable incomes due to inflation.

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

This volatility and structural shift in consumption will have consequences for both companies and policy-making. Companies will need to be far more flexible in understanding and navigating this new reality. The need for clarity on which consumer to target, how to play the product portfolio, clarity on what will drive growth, the role of pricing and innovation, and the need to weed out all unwarranted costs will be ever more important.
From a policy perspective, however, it is clear that food inflation is a national crisis of economic, social and emotional well-being that will affect not just the poor but also middle India. If this is not addressed with urgency, there could be a slow down in consumption. But the real damage will be to confidence, well-being and social disparity. (INAV)







Going a step forward on tight money policy to somehow make a try to curb inflation, Reserve bank of India (RBI), announced its quarterly monetary policy and declared hiking of its key lending rates by 0.25 percent. But RBI itself is not confident of containing inflation by these measures. In fact these measures look more customary in nature.

For the last three years prices have been constantly rising. In December 2010 the inflation rate stood at 8.43 percent. But the common man has been facing much higher rate of inflation than what the government has been reporting. The reason is that the government makes use of Wholesale Price Index to measure the inflation, whereas the common man faces the heat of rising consumer prices. A cursory look at the data for the last five years from 2004-05 to 2009-10 shows that there has been a fairly big difference between the rate of price rise shown by wholesale Price Index and that shown by Consumer Price Indices, as the average rate of inflation shown by the government in the past five years has been 5.4 percent annually, average inflation rate based on Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers stood at 7.8 percent annually. Further, it has been observed that within this consumer price index, price rise has been more in case of food products. During December 2010, whereas the measured inflation rate was 8.43, inflation in food products was recorded at 17 percent. That is, twice more than declared rate of inflation. In recent times the food inflation even reached 30 percent. In fact the very poor class which constitutes about 78 percent of the population, with daily income less than Rs. 20 a day, is affected neither by wholesale price index, nor even by consumer price index but by the inflation in food prices. Price rise in wheat flour, pulses, rice, edible oil, sugar, etc. have a greater influence on them, because that reduces food in their plate.

Factors Causing Inflation

Major factor causing food inflation in country is the constantly declining per capita availability of agricultural products. In the past 10 years our population has increased nearly 20 percent while in these 10 years the production of food products like food grains, edible oils, sugar cane, pulses, etc. have either stagnated or have increased very slowly. Shrinking per capita production of food items on the one hand and rising incomes in the non agricultural sector on the other, cause increased demand for agricultural products. As a result whereas average rate of inflation has been around 4 percent in industrial products, food inflation stood at average 8.2 percent per annum.
We find that prices of cars, LCD TVs, air conditioners, and other luxury goods have come down or have increased very little. These products though included in the calculation of price index, do not matter much for poorer strata of our population. In the past couple of months government seems to be worried about politically sensitive price of onions, but it is trying to tackle the same in the most orthodox way by way of raids on traders. It seems the government is trying to comfort the minds of the people reeling under inflation.
There is a classical but appropriate theory in economics, according to which there is a direct relationship between increase in money supply and the price level in the economy. When production does not increase and money supply keeps increasing, inflation is inevitable. When too much money is chasing too little things, commodity prices are bound to go up. In the last about 3 years, government has tore its own resolution in the form of FRBM Act, into pieces and its Fiscal Deficit reached 7 percent of GDP last year. FRBM Act had put a ceiling of 2.5 percent on Fiscal Deficit of the central government. To somehow fill this huge fiscal deficit, RBI is asked to monetise this deficit and extra currency is printed in the process. It is astonishing to note that currency held with public has increased from 336528 crore to 713415 crore between 2004-05 and 2009-10.As a result of this, money supply has been increasing at the rate of 17.1 percent during this period. The rate of growth in production of industrial goods has stood at average 8.3 percent per year. The rate of growth in agriculture sector has been less than 2 percent. As a result of fast growth in industrial products and also the service sector, inflation was less in industrial goods and services. But in case of agricultural products, especially foods products, the countrymen are facing the brunt of unprecedented high prices.

Money Supply and the role of RBI

The efforts made by Reserve Bank of India in the recent past to stop inflation, are both inadequate and inappropriate. We understand that increase in money supply is an important factor leading to inflation and curbing the same offers a solution to the problem. But we should also understand that remedy provided by RBI is capable of complicating the problem.

Firstly the efforts made by RBI are inadequate as it has only a limited power to curb money supply because major chunk of increase in money supply namely, currency with the public is increasing at a very fast rate, at the behest of the central government on which it does not have any control.

Secondly, the Reserve Bank's endeavour to reduce the supply of credit, by curbing liquidity with the banking system on the one hand and increase the cost of credit by raising interest rates on the other, is inappropriate too, as this my derail our growth process. In any case this measure is unlikely to bring any reduction in demand for agri products and ive any reprieve to the poor.

Government's role in the current situation looks suspicious. Government of the day continually talks of accelerating growth. According to recent statements from the government, country's economic growth rate this year is estimated to be 9 percent. Obsessed with the idea of increasing growth at any cost is costing the countrymen, especially poor very high. In fact the entire focus of government has been on sectors with high growth potentials, such as industry and -agricultural sectors. As a result capital formation and thus growth in agricultural sector have suffered a setback.

Now even the actual production of agricultural products, particularly food grains, pulses and oilseeds has started declining. Nation self sufficient in food grains a few years back is forced to import food grains. Adding fuel to the fire, most fertile agricultural land is being diverted to non-agricultural usage in the name of industrialisation, Special Economic Zones and others. Pictures taken from the space clearly show that green land is declining continuously and is being converted into concrete jungle. But our policy makers do not appear ready to deal with the emergent situation.

The Government must realize that hoarding or black marketing occurring in grains, onions or sugar is due to their low production. Orthodox tactics of the government such as raids on traders look immature. If at all the government is serious about finding a permanent solution for inflation, it should end neglect of agriculture and curb its expenditure to ultimately curb fiscal deficit

(The author is a Associate Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi)




******************************************************************************************THE TRIBUNE





Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a pertinent point at the Commonwealth Law Conference in Hyderabad on Sunday when he observed that "while the power of judicial review must be used to enforce accountability, it must never be used to erode the legitimate growth assigned to the other branches of the government". He obviously meant to point out that the three pillars of democracy — the legislature, the executive and the judiciary — have their clearly defined and separate functions as given in the Constitution. This constitutional scheme of things should never be disturbed in the interest of growth of each of these institutions. Each institution may have its failings, but under all circumstances "it has to be ensured that the basic structure of our Constitution is not subordinated to the political impulses of the moment or to the will of the transient majorities", as Dr Manmohan Singh pointed out.


He made these meaningful observations after Justice A. K. Ganguly of the Supreme Court described as "shameless" behaviour of the government in allowing Rural Development Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to remain in the Union Cabinet despite the apex court having passed strictures on him when he was the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. But this is not the only provocation that might have prompted the Prime Minister to remind the judiciary of how far it can go to exercise its right of judicial review. The government has been taken to task by the court while handling cases relating to the 2G spectrum allocation, the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the Niira Radia tapes, the food security issue, etc.


It is true that the government's failures on various fronts have been responsible for judicial overreach, resulting in the situation in which the constitutional scheme of things is getting threatened. If the executive had played its role as responsibly as possible, what we find today would not have been there. But this argument can be given in the case of every key institution forming the bedrock of our democracy. There is need to discuss the issue threadbare so that our constitutional democracy continues to acquire more and more strength with its unwavering commitment to the rule of law.









THE merger of the 18-member Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) with the Congress in Andhra Pradesh on Sunday is expected to save the Kiran Kumar Reddy government in the event of a split in the Congress Legislature Party. In the past few weeks, speculation has been rife that about 24 MLAs belonging to the Jagan Mohan Reddy camp might ditch the Congress when Jagan decides to float a new party in the state. It is common knowledge that Jagan has been bullying the Congress leadership ever since he was denied chief ministership following his father, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy's demise in a plane crash. Though he and his mother have finally left the Congress, Jagan continues to claim that the Chief Minister is able to survive purely "at his mercy". The PRP led by matinee idol Chiranjeevi, popularly called Chiru, has a sizeable vote bank in coastal Andhra. That he is from the 1.5-crore-strong Kapu community, which supports Jagan, would have weighed on the Congress leadership's mind while finalising the merger. More important, as Chiru wants a united Andhra Pradesh, his voice is being seen as a counter to the demand for formation of a separate Telangana state.


In the 294-member State Assembly, the Congress has 156 members (eight more than the half-way mark), the Telugu Desam Party 91, the PRP 18, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen seven, the BJP two, the CPI four, the CPM one and Independents three. It is expected that in addition to the PRP's 18 members, the seven Majlis members will also lend a helping hand to the Kiran Kumar Reddy government in case the Jagan camp walks out of the government with 24 MLAs. When Jagan floats a new party in a few weeks, Chiru's flock will come in handy for the Congress.


Significantly, Chiru has declared that his party's merger with the Congress is "unconditional". However, there is speculation that he may be inducted into the Union Cabinet with a membership from the Rajya Sabha and that four of his MLAs will also be accommodated in the Andhra Pradesh Cabinet. Despite his charisma, mass appeal and capacity to draw mammoth crowds, Chiru understands his limitations, particularly after his party's poor performance in the last State Assembly elections. As his slogan for social justice had very few takers, coupled with the exit of many leaders from his party, Chiru was desperately in need of the Congress platform. Sunday's development will not only give a boost to his political career but also provide stability to the state government.
















THE fiscal deterioration in Punjab State Power Corporation Ltd (PSPCL) is hardly surprising. Surprise, if any, is at the pace at which it has slipped into the red so soon after the bifurcation of the Punjab State Electricity Board. The electricity board was unbundled as part of the half-hearted power reforms which the state government was forced to undertake after the Centre had refused any further extension for the implementation of the Electricity Act, 2003. Since the state government did not write off the accumulated losses of the two entities formed after the board's split, the two were handicapped right from the start. Their future was doomed.


Last season a good monsoon came to people's rescue as power consumption was less and the outgo on power purchases was manageable. The situation has worsened since then. If power cuts could happen in a lean season like winter, imagine what the summer would be like when demand is at its peak! And there is not enough cash to buy power. An in-house document of the corporation has painted a grim picture of its finances and warned of a default on the committed expenditure. The government's depleted treasury does not inspire any hope of a bailout. Bank loans too have been exhausted to the maximum limit.


What is worse, instead of launching a state-wide drive to realise arrears from the defaulters, especially farmers, the Badal government reintroduced free power with an eye on the coming assembly elections. The government itself avoids paying in cash the subsidy for free power given to farmers and sections of the poor. It often adjusts its dues against the loans it had advanced to PSPCL. As a result, the revenue-expenditure gap has widened to alarming levels. The management is non-assertive and the political leadership is non-visionary. The in-house stock-taking does not touch core issues like free power, greater operational autonomy, non-payment of dues by influential customers and government departments.









THE fourth Eelam war ended some time back. But how is India placed vis-à-vis Sri Lanka today after all the diplomatic and material support given by it to the Colombo government during and after the vanquishing of the LTTE? President Rajapakse of Sri Lanka has made a number of scheduled as well as unpublicised visits to India. Bilateral relations are good and apparently friendly. However, Chinese presence in various spheres of Sri Lankan activities has become more visible and penetrating and looms large over India-Sri Lanka relations.


It is time the Government of India put in place a well-conceived long-term policy in respect of Sri Lanka. It is necessary to ensure that our basic interests are not compromised while Sri Lanka works out its bilateral policies with other nations, particularly China.


China has developed a multipronged approach to Sri Lanka involving assistance in the latter's developmental activities, strengthening of bilateral trade and military cooperation. Examples include the construction of Hambantota port on the west coast of Sri Lanka, improving and expanding the island's rail network and strengthening the Sri Lankan naval base at Trincomalee on the east coast of the island. China is expected to be authorised to use the port facilities in both Triconmalee and Hambantota apart from those at Colombo harbour.


The Indian Navy will definitely find itself under pressure because of the Chinese presence through men and material at various ports and harbours of Sri Lanka. The island country is strategically placed astride the sea routes passing through the northern and equatorial region of the Indian Ocean. By virtue of the enabling facilities made available to China in Sri Lanka, the India Navy's ability to dominate the sea-lanes within at least 1000 nautical mile radius of Kanyakumari will be affected. Surveillance on Indian military establishments like INS can be mounted by Chinese personnel on their naval platforms in the Bay of Bengal when docked at Sri Lankan ports as well as during crises in Sri Lankan territorial waters. During times of conflict either with China or even with Pakistan, extra efforts will be required by the Indian Navy to counter the surveillance threat or interference with our strategic communication facilities.


Indian defence forces have a significant level of interaction with their Sri Lankan counterparts. This is by virtue of the training imparted to Sri Lankan officers in our establishments like National Defence College, New Delhi, Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Vairengte, Mizoram, and the training establishments at MHOW, Dcolali, Belgaum, etc. Such interactions could be suitably leveraged to ensure that it is India which is looked up to for strengthening Sri Lankan military facilities rather than China. More than the Sri Lankan military, it is the political leadership of the brother of the President, Defence Secretary Basil Rajapakse, and a politico-administrative clique which have decidedly embarked upon the Chinese-supported route. Therefore, India has a difficult task at hand.


India and Sri Lanka both need each other, not only in times of political crisis but also on a continuous basis. They as neighbours have a shared past. The Sri Lankan polity has a framework to an extent similar to ours. Both are constitutional republics, have a civil service-based administrative structure and, above all, social, cultural and religious strands and multiplicity which can co-exist. While the Indian polity has given space to diversity in respect of various elements, Sri Lanka has not been able to do so for various reasons.


While there is a similar or near-similar milieu in India and Sri Lanka, there is no such compatibility between Sri Lanka and China. It is cold political calculations which appear to have driven President Rajapakse to China for assistance. The Sri Lankan President wants to extract more in every sphere from India. Colombo wants New Delhi to provide lethal arms to the Sri Lankan military, make its trade balance with India less adverse and provide more concessional assistance in respect of its northern and eastern war-ravaged provinces. The China factor is always made to loom large, to pressurise India to provide more resources and aid to Sri Lanka. The reality, however, is that Sri Lanka will always like to have an external major power trying to negate India's influence on Colombo.


While attempts may be made through trade and commerce and by providing outsourced services and expertise from India, to develop a Sri Lankan stake in India, there should be no compromise on our basic security interests. The Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar should be emphasised as an exclusive zone to be secured by the Sri Lankan and Indian forces on agreed terms and conditions. Concluding an appropriate treaty without violating international conventions on maritime jurisdictions could be explored. This will automatically exclude hostile forces and may be achievable in the near or long term.


India-Sri Lanka relations cannot be on a totally stable footing for all times to come. The Lankan scenario also affects Tamil Nadu politics. The recent incidents of the Sri Lankan Navy's firing on Indian fishermen will have an impact on the coastal districts such Cuddalore, Ramanthapuram, Pudukottai and Tuticorin, and may influence the fishermen's votes in the forthcoming Tamil Nadu Assembly polls.


Unless the basic issue of devolution of power to the Lankan Tamils is sorted out, there can be no lasting peace in the island. Thus, India-Sri Lanka bilateral ties will also have periodic ups and downs unlike what the urbanised elitist leaders like Srimavo Bandaranaike, Junius Jayavardene, Gamini Dissanayake and Chandrika Kumaratunga think. Mahindra Rajapakse is truly a son of the Sinhala soil. He hails from the Sinhala heartland, the southern Galle area of Sri Lanka. He could effectively mobilise the Sri Lankan peasantry, the rural folk and the lower class Sinhalas to a very high patriotic fervour and commitment to raise the morale and support to the Sri Lankan Army in its campaign against the LTTE in the last phase of the Eelam war and obtain a decisive military victory over the LTTE. The very nature of his support does not leave any scope to President Rajapakse to concede substantial devolution of powers to the Tamil-inhabited areas. Thus, a stable framework of India-Sri Lankan relations is unlikely to be achieved in the near future.


Nonetheless, India's security has to be maintained. A high level of military deployment of floating platforms by India around Sri Lanka appears to be unavoidable. This will also serve as a signal of deterrence to China. The option of acquiring military staging and usage facilities both in ports like Kankesanturai in the North and Trincomalee and Galle should also not be ruled out. The level of engagement with Sri Lanka has to be maintained by New Delhi at a high level covering different areas, making it suitably nuanced and responsive to the dynamics of Sri Lankan politics.


The writer was the Financial Adviser to India's High Commissioner in Colombo during the IPKF deployment.








I AM not a Peeping Jane but whenever I visit someone's house, I love to look at the washrooms. This is because bathroom is one area that reflects the owner's personality. At least that's the way I like to justify my action. This fetish of mine is, perhaps, rooted in a chance peeping into the bathroom of the owner of Wild Grass, a tourist resort near Kaziranga National Park on Guwahati-Dibrugarh highway.


Lined with well-stocked bookshelves, the bathroom was more of a library than anything else. Why did a man, who owns such a huge property, not make a personal library anywhere else? Is reading while lying in a couch any less comfortable than sitting in the loo and reading?


I found an answer when my sister followed suit and fixed a bookshelf next to her bath-tub. She might have found the combination of a bubble bath and a racy book, indeed, a heady one.


My peeping act took me to many a private bathroom and some of them made a lasting impact on me. For instance, a prominent city resident's guest bathroom in which one needs the help of a navigator's compass to find the loo amidst the antiques and family portraits or the one where one can be in touch with nature while enjoying jet stream massage in an oval jacuzzi.


But nothing, I repeat nothing, had prepared me for the surprise I had in a private loo in one of the resorts where I had stopped during my recent trip to Delhi.


The resort, which falls between Karnal and Panipat, offers a washroom area to its visitors in which the door of each cubicle has an LCD screen showing the latest Bollywood hits. My mouth was agape and I forgot the reason why I was there as I watched Sanjay Dutt and Akshay Kumar singing to their heart's content.


As I couldn't enter the men's section, I asked my son to do the peeping for me. Yes, there was no gender bias there. Each cubicle had a flat screen TV.


It got me thinking again. Did I miss some research that established the relationship between a person's bonding with the loo to that of his or her spending intensity? Why else would one encourage people to sit longer in the loo, rather than make them spend on food or buying stuff in their shopping arcade?


I still have to find an answer to this one. Or maybe, at times it is wise to accept things as they come. For, there are things, which are logical and then there are things, which are dillogical!









IT'S well known that across India jails are nobody's priority. Rajasthan is no exception. Prisoners, of course, suffer the consequences. But what is less well known is how badly this long neglect affects the men and women who make up the prison administration.


About 108 facilities house over 17,500 prisoners the larger number of them awaiting trial. But in 2010 there are effectively less staff manning prisons than there were 20 years ago while the prison population has gone up four fold.


Ideally, the general consensus is the guards to prisoner ratio should be one guard for every 24 prisoners. But at present the capacity is actually of one guard for every 54 prisoners or more which puts an enormous pressure on the prison establishment.


Overall vacancies of security staff run at around 25 per cent of sanctioned staff which is less than the numbers really needed. But this is only half the story. At the Central Jail Jodhpur, the posting of prison security staff has most times been less than 50 per cent of the sanctioned strength and vacancies in sub-jails sometimes may even more.


A couple of years ago, 250 security personnel were recruited after seven years. The government has sanctioned another 550 security warders now when their number has run into less than two-third of the sanctioned strength.


Vacancies for the jailor's post perpetuate because of stringent rules that require an assistant jailor to have five years' experience before being promoted to the post of deputy jailor and a further five years to become jailor. Things are hardly better at the supervisory levels.


Despite the heavily centralised decision making design of the department, the headquarters runs on two men - a Director-General of Prisons and his IG who push mounds of paper around, liaise with the ministry, supervise all categories, administer and oversee the budget, review the situation in each prison, administer budgets, scrutinise purchases, attend to the myriad complaints and concerns of prisoners and staff and must take the flack if anything goes wrong.


Lack of personnel able to move up the ladder has led to a strange situation: the higher levels of the jail service are now almost inevitably manned by people drawn from the police (and not prison) service. The posts of DG, IG and DIG of Prisons and now both the DIGs at Jaipur and Jodhpur are drawn from the police department. This lack of any opportunity to rise to the top of one's profession demoralises an already demotivated service which is then easily tempted into time serving short cuts and corruption. Charge-sheet for small and big transgressions abound and that ensures that many are either not eligible for promotion or promotions have to be delayed.


Given the work load and the need to be on site all the time, the present pre-1990 cadre has little exposure to new trends, in-career training and few technological skills or psychological training required to run an efficient correctional service. Pay parity of warders in the prison service and police constables was lost in the mid-90s when the police got a pay hike but inexplicably the prison staff did not. Despite recommendations from various high-powered committees, the situation has not changed and prison staff is deeply disgruntled by the unfairness of it all.


Small wonder, the staff regularly asks for premature retirement as soon as their pension rights have become assured. The hardened ones can't be bothered with too much nicety and have even been known to court suspension for small misdemeanours because it means suspension at half pay for six months and then at three-quarter pay till reinstatement - all of which can augment other 'business activities' while off work. The strain and stress of the hellish environment in prison takes its toll on prisoner and jailer alike and the number of people dying young of natural causes in the prisons service may be three times that of the police.


When a sensational jail break or gruesome custodial violence takes place, sudden largess gets thrown at a traditionally under-resourced department. Throwing money to solve a security problem or spurts of recruitment and repair may ameliorate the problem in the very short term but does little to improve the root causes that ensure that such incidents don't proliferate. For instance, it is useless to make hue and cry about avoidable deaths in prison when there are no really practical arrangements to take prisoners to hospitals in timely fashion or pay attention to them on a regular basis and diagnose an illness before it becomes acute.


Short staffing means prisoners can't have some of the freedoms they could enjoy if there were more staff to supervise their recreation, family and lawyer's visits, and to run jail industry. Instead the only solution seems to be to lock up prisoners earlier and earlier in the day thereby leading to, disciplinary problems, simmering discontent and other darker problems that no one likes to talk about.


Short staffing means security is always compromised. Unarmed jailors have been attacked and killed and prison staff becomes naturally risk averse. Inquiries then cite staff for not doing all they could to control a situation which, given the prevailing conditions, was near inevitable in the first place. It also means that convict prisoners in charge of a ward has a special power and play which is much more than should be tolerated. Induction of home guards and other untrained temporary manpower may seem to swell the numbers but hardly impact the wretched situation and in fact create more risk, as to augment meager salaries, ill-paid, ill-trained and ill-supervised staff, stray down avenues of complicity with prisoners to bring them in small necessities like smokes and mobile chips or more dangerous contraband like drugs and flick knives.


Opportunities to collude without much risk means that money greases every wheel from how much food will come your way to whether you will get to court for a hearing that day or are left behind. Undoubtedly, conscientious administrators try to do the best they can in difficult circumstances but individual endeavor is no substitute for sustained attention to the system as a whole.


Sudden raids to clean up this or that prison may cause some momentary setback to well established patterns of rent seeking but are double-edged in that the actions are ad hoc, and the discovery of every sort of contraband inevitably throws the deeper malaise into sharp relief, embarrasses the government, and leads to awkward questions for which no one has really worked through a long term plan. It is not that solutions have not been worked through by committee after committee or that money is so short that prisons must be denied their share. It is simply that prisons have no space in the public mind, are not going to change any election result and are places for the forgotten - be they the prisoner or his custodian.


The writer is Director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi








JAILS in India may portray a picture of being a social burden and an institution making no contribution for the country. However, an in-depth analysis shows that Indian prisons are institutions which can promote economic welfare. Of course, the very idea of making prisons revenue-earning centres generates resistance and obstacles.


According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), in the United States, a jail industry is defined as one that uses inmate labour to create a product or provide a service that has value for a public or private client and that compensates inmates with pay, privileges, or other benefits. If this definition is to be aptly interpreted, the prison industry must have a strong vocational training orientation going hand in hand with sustainability with profit a secondary motive.


This will focus mostly on reform of prison inmates making them self-sufficient and ready for the outside world. India's comparatively small convict population can nevertheless be a viable workforce able to contribute to the economic progress of the nation. Ideally, industries in prison could be both profit making and socially useful in providing folks returning into society with a skill that will offer them a chance to earn a living and reintegrate.


However, not-for-profit-not-for-loss models that merely break even or perhaps cost the state relatively small amounts are still most valuable given that training and production centres prevent recidivism, utilise hidden skills and unrealised talents and help in the maintenance of prison discipline. These are intangible but significant benefits.


Of course, there are obstacles: space is limited or non-existent in our overcrowded prisons, paucity of funds, severe staff shortages, inexperience of supervisory staff and willing specialists to connect product to markets are just some. But the greatest spur to making new beginnings must surely lie in the possibility of making some money which can be ploughed back into the prisons themselves to make the dreary drudgery of life their a tiny bit better.


A beginning can be made by re-assessing the available manpower, space and financial resources and rationalising its use. A bigger jail like Delhi's Tihar Jail having more inmates can generate an annual turnover of Rs 16 crore. However, though the same cannot be expected from small Central Jails as in Udaipur or Jaipur for less labour intensive quality goods production or piecework for some of the popular items like Rajasthani quilts and carpets, pottery, and glass look like possibilities worth exploring for bored and depressed inmates.


The money generated from the prison industry can also be re-circulated into the prison industry instead of being deposited with the government in case additional funds are not available. Maharashtra's Yerwada prison earns a profit of almost Rs 55 lakh.


A US-based study makes the argument that a 1-per cent increase in the proportion of inmates who work six hours or more daily would produce more than 11 million additional labour hours annually and if so there is a great deal of potential to be tapped.


Across the country about 2 lakh convicts constitute a potentially large workforce. Today the majority are idle or non-productive. But there are good practice models which with a little effort and innovation could multiply. Many prisons in India engage inmates in bakeries, textile making, construction, wine making and clothing. Jail authorities also allow low security inmates do outdoor jobs like sweeping, loading and the like.


Inmates in Amravati jails make rakhis. In Ludhiana, they are into the knitwear industry. In Tamil Nadu, they grow vegetables and learn horticulture in the bargain. Earnings are small for the individual inmate but it does make for some savings. Since a large percentage of the prison population is young, productive skills create an incentive to do better outside.


True, captive labour can be exploited too easily. But this is no reason to abjure all the social and economic benefits that can flow from developing jail industry. This can only happen if certain parameters are established and if instead of just incorporating them in the prison manuals, jail authorities and others using prison labour work within well regulated parameters.


Prison populations may be far from the everyday concern of the ordinary person on the street but prisons affect our lives in many ways. Unhygienic ill-kempt prisons release disease into local communities. Young bodies with idle minds and little to occupy them are easily lured into criminal apprenticeships on the inside which are soon practiced on the outside. Accumulated frustration, seething anger, and their own hopelessness and desperation often turn into street violence in our cities.


Making the lives of the prisoners more meaningful and giving them an opportunity of rehabilitation negates all this and creates instead social assets for folk who in the Indian context are all too often caught in the administration of justice for no reason than their poverty, the inefficiencies of the system and lack of knowledge of law.


Prisoners have every right to a second change and should not be deprived of this right to protect society from the consequences of not doing anything to assist them onto a better path.


The writer is associated with the Prison Reforms Programme of CHRI








India & Pakistan lack decisive leadership to grapple with hard issues hindering bilateral relationship 
Perhaps nothing could explain better the net productivity of periodic bilateral diplomatic engagement between India and Pakistan than parrot-like repetition that both the countries agreed upon the 'need for exploring' further engagement to resolve outstanding issues between them. Its latest edition came after the two foreign secretaries, Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir, met at Thimpu, capital of Bhutan, on the sidelines of the meeting of the standing committee of the South Asian Association of Regional Co-operation (SAARC) on Sunday. It was in April, 2010 that Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani had met, apparently, to agree upon continuation of the dialogue process. Foreign ministers SM Krishna and Shah Mehmood Qureshi then met in Islamabad in July last year but only to cause more bitterness as a result of the latter's undiplomatic statement after the meeting. Quite evidently, nothing tangible was discussed and all that was agreed upon was that Qureshi would be visiting New Delhi some time by January 2011. More or less same is true of the meeting held by the foreign secretaries at Thimpu on Sunday. Ironically, both sides made identical noise about their shared desire to keep talking in pursuit of finding solution to the host of mutual problems affecting their bilateral relationship.

Even so, it was relatively less abrasive tone of their statements which indicated possibility of early resumption of regular process of dialogue. This process, snapped abruptly after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, continues to remain in the limbo. India's flat refusal to re-engage on the ground that Pakistan was not doing enough to punish those accused in the Mumbai attacks posed the biggest hurdle towards resuming the composite dialogue. That format appears to have been all but given up. Instead, the officials on the two sides have been working an alternate road map to resumption of the dialogue process. Meanwhile, Pakistan discovered a useful tactical weapon to replicate India's negative approach. Pakistan quickly pounced upon the leeway offered by unearthing of organised 'saffron' terror network within India in relation to various incidents including the dastardly attack on the Samjhuta Express train. Since then it has been more or less hurling back each and every demand made by India in connection with 26/11. On both sides there appears to be almost equal resistance to breaking any new ground. Net result is that the resumption of purposeful substantive dialogue has become a hostage to this one-upmanship.

To what extent this course is determined or influenced by compulsions of domestic politics in India and Pakistan is not so easy to determine although the fact remains that this has always been and is likely to remain as a major stumbling block. Observance of 'Kashmir solidarity day' on February 5 across Pakistan-administered Kashmir, not so long after BJP's Ekta Yatra (to Lal Chowk) on January 26, provides a measure of the rising political temperature over 'Kashmir' as well as over the larger issue of India-Pakistan relationship. Political and numerical fragility of the regimes in New Delhi and Islamabad tends to aggravate this phenomenon. That is the main reason why the decision taken by the two prime ministers in April last year to resume substantive dialogue has vanished into the thin air. Back channel engagements held in the intervening period have so far not helped either.

India-Pakistan engagement has become absolutely imperative in the context of the tenuous situation prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir. New Delhi appears to be convinced that status quo can no longer serve its purpose and that some fresh initiative was called for to assuage anger and alienation in J&K. But its attempt at going solo and seeking a way out does not seem to be making any headway because Pakistan happens to be a key factor in achieving even a minimum level of stability and normalcy. On the other side too the PPP regime has been piling up its load of problems many of which could be tackled by engaging with India. Significantly, though the present regime has disowned Musharraf legacy it has chosen not to jettison all that was achieved as a result of that between 2004 and 2008.

Until and unless both the countries realise the folly of continued animosity and appreciate need for purposeful engagement meetings like the one held at Thimpu on Sunday are unlikely to produce any result. 







The sealing of 17 small and medium factories by Jammu and Kashmir Pollution Control Board (JKPCB) for violating pollution norms is a step in right earnest yet is not a solution in itself. Even in the past, many a time the Board has cracked down on the industrial units creating high degree of pollution yet this failed to create a deterrent impact and after some time many among such factories started functioning as usual. In the recent case, the Board claimed that it had issued notices under Pollution Control Act to these units asking them to install pollution devices. However the erring units ignored the repeated directives of PCB thus leaving no option for Board but to seal them. However this is yet to be seen as how far this step would help checking the ailment. This is not a secret that majority of the factories across the state are flouting all the norms put in place to check the pollution under the very nose of concerned authorities. The residential colonies situated near the industrial areas in major cities and towns are facing the brunt of the pollutants emitted by these units which don't adhere to the safety norms to check the harmful impact of air and water pollution. Generally the violation to rule book by big industrial units is conveniently ignored by those who shoulder the responsibility to ensure adherence to the norms put in place for the obvious reasons. Given this lackadaisical approach, the pollutants find their way to the water bodies and put the life of citizens at risk. Similarly there is no fool proof mechanism put in place to check the emission of harmful gases by these erring industrial units. For sluggish approach of the department vis-à-vis ensuring adherence to safety norms or at least fulfilling the minimal requirement of installation of pollution devices, the department alone is not culpable. The undue political influence too is a major obstruction in the way of strict implementation of existing laws for the reasons that in a number of cases these units are being run by the politicians themselves or the persons with their patronage. Thus the steps will continue to be cosmetic in nature if they fail to create a deterrent impact for want of sincere political and administrative will for follow-up action.









'The Arab world is on fire," al-Jazeera reported last week, 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 it 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 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 a successor regime will not veer far from the approved path. The current hope appears to be Mubarak loyalist General 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. 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 favorite, 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, a former Jordanian official and now director of Middle East 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. So said 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, where Gideon Rachman writes: "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 "conspiracy theorists" who question the noble motives Washington 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 $12m in military aid to Tunisia. As it happens, Tunisia was one of only five foreign beneficiaries: Israel (routinely); the two Middle East 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%. In contrast, they regard the US and Israel as the major threats (77%; 88%).

Arab opinion is so hostile to Washington's policies that a majority (57%) think regional security would be nhanced if Iran had nuclear weapons. Still, "there is nothing wrong, everything is under control" (as 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, U.S. ambassador to Honduras, informed Washington of an embassy investigation of "legal and constitutional issues surrounding the 28 June 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 28 June 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 toward disaster.

(Courtesy: Guardian, UK)






"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as swee"." Shakespeare
Very often I come across people who hide behind their names. "My name is a high caste name," says the unemployed fellow standing in front of me. "I guess your name is going to help you get a job!" I tell him sarcastically, and a few days later find him still loafing around aimlessly.

In America many of the slaves of old took the names or rather were given the names of their employers, some even gave themselves the names of famous American heroes and so there were many 'Washingtons' and Lincolns and high sounding white names, but did that help them a bit?

No it didn't.

Finally an African-American with a strange sounding name like Barack Obama became the first black President of the United States.

Obama did not come from royal lineage, he did not descend from a famous family, all he had was a brilliant brain, ambition and the determination to do what no other black man had ever dared to do.

Maybe it's time we followed his example.

"I'm a Brahmin!" says a person I met today in the park.

"Are you?" I ask him.

"Of course I am, my father…"

"I'm not bothered what your father was or is," I tell him, "But do you live like a Brahmin? Are your thoughts pure?"
I see him walking away, and I see also in his face a feeling of puzzlement, because till now, he'd been thinking that what his father handed down to him, was enough to get him by, ah no it isn't!

'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," says Juliet in Shakespeare's famous tragedy; yes a man who has the purity which a Brahmin should have can be as Brahmin as the Brahmin is!

But we hide behind our caste and names.

"Do you know whose son I am?" asks the youngster as his car is being towed away from a no parking zone.
"Does it matter?" asks the policeman.

No it doesn't.

We are what we make of ourselves.

Obama didn't need a name like Washington, and he made it, so why should we hide behind caste or name, or wish we had another? Instead dear friend, make a name for yourself, that will be carved in the minds of men, remembered for what you were..!












It's 11 days to go for the World Cup, and, admit it, you're bored already. Of the quadrennial comments from the '83 winners; the attempts to sell anything remotely connected with cricket; the contention that Harbhajan, and not Saqlain Mushtaq, invented the doosra; and the 100-day countdowns packed with numbers that are coming out of your ears instead of staying between them.


But in the middle of all this mush, like the serendipitous piece of vegetable that doesn't dissolve into the rest of your oily office dabba, was a delightful quote from Greg Chappell about why he turned down Sachin Tendulkar's appeal that he be allowed to open the innings in the 2007 World Cup. In a soon-to-be-released book, Sach, Chappell said that Tendulkar "felt his reputation demanded two places higher in the order" and that he did not "understand the scenario in the prevailing context". Chappell went on to say that he stood by his decision, but would have, if given another chance, explained to Sachin more clearly what the team needed, and eventually let the player decide what he wanted to do.


So, if I understand him correctly, if Tendulkar had still asked to open (instead of Robin Uthappa) an older, wiser Chappell would've said okay.


Does it also mean that a more evolved Chappell wouldn't have told an Australian crew shooting a documentary, on camera, that he was going to Sachin's room to tell him he'd have to bat at No 4? Or that he would not have shouted at the entire India team in Ahmedabad while wearing a microphone to ensure that they got great bytes for the film?


Still, in a muted way, Chappell's latest comment is the first time he's admitted to having made any mistake during his illusory two-year stint as India's national coach; a fascinating period in our cricket history when the 'process' was more important than the outcome.


As an affirmed Chappell critic, I had in 2006 described his theories with a line borrowed from Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges, writing that though the process did not admit the slightest refutation, nor did it cause the slightest conviction; that while it seemed logical at one level, you knew there was something not right with it.


With time and clarity the need for refutation grew, and reasons for any conviction diminished altogether. But there was hardly anybody asking the Australian uncomfortable questions. In victory, we celebrated the success of 'Chappell way'; in defeat, we saw the silver lining and ignored the dark cloud in front of it.


When India finally reached the World Cup, with a Vision 2007 that had been revised many times, the team was disjointed, and so rickety that a gust of wind could've brought the whole house down. It was a time for immediate fortification, and the denial of Sachin's request, not Bangladesh paceman Mashrafe Mortaza's opening spell, proved to be the last straw.


When your best player comes to you on the eve of the World Cup and tells you that he wants to change the batting order, there is only one thing to say. Tendulkar had gone to Sourav Ganguly and John Wright with a similar request in 2003, and his wish was granted immediately. "I'd have been mad to say no to Sachin, knowing that he could single-handedly win us the trophy," Ganguly had said later, when asked why he had agreed to drop himself down the order. It was a move that defined India's campaign. Sachin ended up as the top scorer, and India beat every team except an Australian one-day unit which was the finest ever assembled. But Chappell was too obstinate, too selfindulgent, too much of a politician, to see things that way.


Still, the one place where he truly contributed was in making the run-up to the 2007 edition exciting. Since there can be no spice without turmoil, given the backdrop, his changing expression in the weeks leading to the tournament was enough to keep us engrossed. As a marketing gimmick, Chappell worked perfectly; we kind of miss him. If only India hadn't paid such a heavy price for having him around.



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One year ago, this newspaper titled its pre-Budget editorial comment "Last call for Mr Mukherjee". The suggestion was that if Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee wished to leave a lasting policy legacy behind, the Budget for 2010-11 was the opportunity to be used. In the event, he crafted a rather pedestrian Budget in policy terms, with a lot of 1970s-type exemptions and exceptions in tax policy. Few can now recall what Budget 2010 was all about. Mr Mukherjee missed that last call, but Indian politics is as accommodative as an Indian airport. There is always a second announcement, a last and final call! Is Mr Mukherjee ready to fly? As someone who has himself said on more than one occasion that he is ready for retirement, Mr Mukherjee must make the best use of the opportunity at hand. What can Mr Mukherjee do in Budget 2011 to make a difference? In terms of fiscal housekeeping, he must summon all his political authority to ensure credible fiscal consolidation. An unnerved Congress party may be tempted to opt for a hefty dose of populism with new spending commitments. The politically astute Mr Mukherjee should remind his party that in at least three out of the four assembly elections due this year, the final result will be more a state-level anti-incumbency vote, favouring the Congress, rather than a vote against the government at the Centre. Hence, there is no point throwing good money after bad politics.

Battling inflation is the biggest macroeconomic challenge today. It is also the best pro-poor step to take. It requires prudent fiscal management, not fiscal populism. Moreover, the global economic environment remains uncertain. Commodity prices are rising and anything from an uprising in Cairo to a cyclone in Australia is able to push global inflation up. Getting better control on domestic sources of inflation and current account deficit is, therefore, a must. Equally, reducing public debt and ensuring sustainability of capital flows and stability of the currency are vital to medium-term economic stability. Within this overall macroeconomic environment, taking decisive steps forward on economic and fiscal reform would be advisable. It is, therefore, encouraging to see that Mr Mukherjee is still trying to organise required political consensus to go ahead with the eventual introduction of a goods and services tax (GST). Apart from a GST rollout, Mr Mukherjee can clean up the tax system, eliminating exemptions (reversing last year's bad habit), and also bring Indian tariffs closer to, if not entirely in line with, East Asian levels. He can also take the next steps in retail trade liberalisation aimed at helping reduce the margin between wholesale and retail food prices. Indian manufacturing needs a boost and using the budget speech to make a pitch for import-substituting industrialisation in defence and strategic industries would be a good idea. Reducing avenues for corruption in tax administration and in government clearances would be hugely popular with the middle class. A Budget that meets these objectives will ensure a decent place for Mr Mukherjee in the history books.






The decade-old struggle to breathe life into the moribund corporate bond market in India continues. The policy, apparently being considered by the Union finance ministry, to allow banks to offer bank guarantees for domestic debt issues, seems eminently sensible in theory. Bank guarantees help improve the risk profile of a company and enable it to access the market at cheaper rates. However, this is not the first time that the government has tried to kick-start the corporate debt market. The aggregate limit for foreign investors, to take an example, was raised by $5 billion to $10 billion in November. Yet, if the track record of these earlier initiatives is anything to go by, there appears to be little reason to be too optimistic about the efficacy of another attempt to expand this market.

What ails the Indian corporate bond market? Why does it refuse so resolutely to rise from its sick-bed? At a fundamental level, the absence of a well-defined, risk-free yield curve that typically underpins all debt issues is perhaps the biggest constraint. Central government bonds define this "risk-free" rate. The irony is that while the large fiscal deficit ensures a large supply of sovereign paper and large trading volumes, they are confined to select tenors and "on the run" bonds. For other tenors and papers, volumes are pitiably small and thus a representative yield curve with adequate volumes at each tenor has failed to evolve. Why? For one, there has been little effort to dovetail the government's borrowing programme to the objective of building a comprehensive yield curve. RBI has preferred not to extinguish illiquid bonds and re-issue the more liquid ones to consolidate the yield curve. The government, on the other hand, has used its position as monopoly-issuer to offer bonds only for the tenors that it has found attractive. These have not necessarily been the ones that would help deepen the market. Besides, the lack of a diverse investor base has also held this market back. Insurance and pension funds usually provide the bulk of the demand for long-term debt raised for things like infrastructure projects. Yet insurance companies or provident funds are restricted to investing only in debt that is of the highest investment grade. (For insurance companies only debt instruments rated AA and above are eligible for investment under the "Infrastructure and Social Sector").


 Some dilution of these norms is imperative if indeed the government is serious about this market. Banks could also potentially be big players in this market. However the heavy draft through the statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) that forces banks to hold 24 per cent of their deposits in central government debt. Unless this changes (AAA corporate bonds could be given SLR status), banks simply do not have the kind of spare cash they need to make significant investments in corporate paper. In short, the institutional changes needed to foster a healthy corporate debt market are significant. Yet the policy approach to this market has been piecemeal and timid. Unless the government and the central bank are prepared for a serious overhaul of India's debt market as a whole, relatively minor steps like allowing bank guarantees are likely to have only minimal impact.







Articles by Indira Rajaraman and T N Ninan on last Saturday's edit page (Business Standard, February 5, 2011) each addressed short-term aspects of commodity price volatility. Ninan urged the Indian monetary authorities to shift their focus from headline to core inflation, a view that has been repeatedly rejected in the past. Rajaraman argued that recent supply shocks emanating from the perishables sector could have been anticipated, but were ignored on account of unclear accountability, leading to real, avoidable distress.

These domestic macroeconomic dimensions are important aspects of what one might call the "commodities problem". Without attention they are quite likely to intensify in an environment of fast growth and structural change. But they are far from being the only aspects. By way of illustration, there have been increasingly frequent reports in the press of proposals for India to provide special funds to support overseas investments by public sector resource firms so as to ensure security of supply for key minerals and fuels. These initiatives have undoubtedly been prompted by China's international resource diplomacy. The Chinese thrust has been aggressive and state-funded, although so far insignificant in its contribution to China's vast requirements, which are still largely supplied through the international markets.


 Security in the supply of such traded commodities is a related concern. China rattled the markets last year by imposing curbs on exports of rare earths where it is the dominant supplier. It is not clear whether this move was designed as diplomatic retaliation against Japan, or was a manifestation of resource nationalism. There remains significant confusion in our own domestic policies toward the export of raw iron ore, for which China is an important customer, with repeated calls from the domestic steel industry to reserve these resources for domestic processors. India itself has been guilty of exacerbating volatility in global food markets (to the detriment of its own farmers) by imposing export bans from time to time, reducing its reliability as a supplier.

The issue of commodity price volatility, particularly for fuels and food, has now become an issue on the international agenda, with the French Presidency of the G20 formally putting this issue on the agenda for this year. While I personally was initially opposed to this further expansion of the G20 agenda, I am now more persuaded that it does at least in principle belong on the menu of efforts designed to ensure "balanced, sustainable and equitable growth". I have reached this conclusion in light of increasingly persuasive evidence of the links between global liquidity conditions, international exchange rates and commodity prices, and the emergence of commodities as an important internationally traded asset class.

At the same time, it is important both not to over-react, as well as to encourage the price mechanisms that would evoke additional supply, both domestic and international. Research presented at a recent conference in Paris indicated that food price volatility today is no greater than two decades ago. Those of us of a certain age remember a body called the Club of Rome which in the 1970s warned of a resource apocalypse not unlike the mood of today. Finally, in contrast to China, and in common with the advanced countries, notably the United States, India has a sophisticated and adventurous private sector which has become increasingly skilled at sniffing out value in resource transactions across the globe, without requiring risk capital from a fiscally overstretched state.

The current preparation of the Approach Paper to the Twelfth Five-Year Plan offers an opportunity to define a general stance to issues of resource security. It is possible that this already features as one of the cross-cutting themes being considered by the innumerable task forces currently at work. It is also useful that the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission participates at the Leaders level in the G20 deliberations. Insights and approaches being developed globally can be infused into the development of a policy framework for ensuring resource security in food, fuels and minerals, and dealing as well as mechanisms for dealing with unavoidable price volatility.

As already signalled above, certain general principles should underpin such a cross-sectoral policy. These should include the acceptance of international sources as an inevitable, even desirable element in security of supply. This should go together with the conviction that the private sector, whether domestic or foreign-owned, can be relied on to ensure security of supply with lower risk once a clear and stable policy framework is guaranteed. In sum, we need to commit to similar principles of specialisation, comparative advantage and risk management in the resources area that have become commonplace in our view of industrial strategy. A market-dependent strategy implies placing considerable faith in the efficiency and transparency of international commodity markets, and this trust may not always be warranted. This is where India, as both a major commodity producer and an increasingly important consumer, needs to engage with the G20 initiative, both on underlying conditions of supply, and on structures for intermediation and price discovery, such as commodity exchanges and derivatives markets.

As regards reliable, stable and competitive conditions of supply, the World Trade Organisation would remain the principal forum, despite its limited effectiveness so far. India has so far concerned itself largely with supply distortions arising from rich country subsidies, particularly in agricultural products such as cotton. We perhaps need to start paying more interest to codes that affect reliability of supply, of the kind that have typically concerned large food importers.

This said, any G20 work programme on commodities is likely to focus on the role of financial intermediaries involved in the process of price discovery, price stabilisation and price hedging. History is littered with examples of failed attempts to stabilise the spot prices of a range of commodities from tin to cocoa. There is a persistent belief that speculation in spot and derivative markets is a material influence both on volatility and the level of the spot price. Yet every time these issues are professionally investigated, the conclusion seems to be that speculators cannot make money unless they help reduce rather than exacerbate underlying volatility.

To conclude, we are far from a professional consensus on the causes and consequences of volatility in commodity prices. It would be most helpful if the French Presidency could aim to reach a clear, professional, research-based consensus on the role of financial markets in generating such volatility. Relevant action could then follow.

The author is director-general, National Council of Applied Economic Research. The views expressed are personal








Defence Minister A K Antony's apparent probity is set to naught by his dismal lack of judgement. In a heated internal debate on offsets that has polarised his ministry, Antony has backed a group of bureaucrats who argue exactly what foreign arms vendors have lobbied for since offsets were instituted in 2005. They agree that India's nascent defence industry is incapable of executing the offset projects that would arise from our weapons purchases. Consequently, the 30 per cent plough back that foreign vendors were required to make into the Indian defence industry, on all contracts above Rs 300 crore, has now been permitted in civil aviation, internal security and aviation.


 The foreign investment that offsets were to direct into the indigenous development and fabrication of high-tech radars, night-vision devices and missile seekers now seems headed for airliner seat upholstery and carpets; rubber panels for baggage claim conveyer belts; cabin crew training; and passenger management systems. All these are permissible under the MoD's "liberalised" offset policy, promulgated last month.

Murdering the offset policy has not satisfied global arms vendors; they want it killed with retrospective effect. Currently, offsets relating to tenders that predate the neutered offset policy of 2011 must still be discharged within the defence industry. These include the multi-billion offset liabilities connected with the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA); the C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft; and the P8I Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA). Now this coterie of MoD officials is pushing for the new policy to be applied with retrospective effect.

Also on their tables is another proposal that will delight foreign vendors: permitting transfer of technology (ToT) as an offset. This would be a true freebie, since India's leverage as a massive arms buyer can ensure that ToT forms part of any deal. Besides, as the MoD knows well, an arbitrary price can be placed on most technologies.

The blinding illogic of these MoD decisions will surely be investigated someday, with questions raised over motivations, just as the 2G telecom scam is being probed today. So let us document how the MoD votes on the dilution of offsets. Supporting foreign vendors, and pooh-poohing CII's and Ficci's documented insistence that Indian Defence Inc can absorb offsets in full, are the officials who spend the defence capital budget on overseas procurements: the defence secretary and his acquisitions chief. Backing them firmly is the Indian Air Force — the biggest buyer of foreign weaponry. This group regards offsets as an inconvenient obstacle to overseas procurement, a perspective shared and warmly encouraged by global arms vendors.

Opposing this coterie, and urging that offsets be implemented within the defence industry, is a group with professional stakes in building up the Indian defence industry. This includes the department of defence production, backed by the indigenisation-conscious Indian Navy that has traditionally built its ships in India. The army watches and waits, realising the benefits of indigenous industry.

Highlighting the impatience of the IAF and the acquisitions wing with offsets is the indefensible clearance, in violation of multiple MoD rules, of Lockheed Martin's $275 million offset proposal relating to its billion-dollar sale of C-130J Super Hercules aircraft. In what most investigators would consider a conspiracy, the IAF left out a C-130J training simulator from their list of requirements; well knowing that this would be required for mission training. Smartly exploiting that gap, Lockheed Martin offered, as an offset, a simulator at an exorbitantly inflated price. The acquisitions wing illegally granted them offset credit for doing so.

French company Thales is getting away with an equally farcical offset proposal relating to its supply of radars to the IAF. While sourcing the radar equipment from France, Thales is discharging its offset obligations by buying accommodation tents (including toilets, kitchens, air-conditioners and microwaves) from a Gurgaon-based company; and by purchasing motorcycles and vehicles for the radar crews. This is a travesty of what offsets were intended to be: a stimulant for domestic defence industry.

This is happening because Antony — normally an astute guardian of his reputation, but severely endangering it here — has failed to create within his ministry an organisation to evaluate and manage offsets. In the resulting vacuum, the acquisitions wing and the department of defence production have each tried to palm off to the other the responsibility for handling offsets. To bypass this passing-the-parcel within the ministry, Antony has been persuaded to pass on the parcel to civil aviation.

The logic at the heart of defence offsets is the use of buyers' leverage to arm-twist vendors into building up what they rightly see as potential competition. But despite their protests, commercial logic would bring the vendors in line. This newspaper has reported in detail how global arms vendors have, over years, systematically protested India's offset policy even while tying up local partnerships for implementing it. The MoD's offset dilution of 2011 is an appalling example of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Was this mere incompetence or a rigged game? Some day, not far away, an investigation will decide.








That climate change will impact Indian agriculture is a foregone conclusion. In what way precisely is not clear, though some clues are emerging through various research projects to capture these signals and assess their impact on crops, livestock, fisheries and other fields.

The most widely trusted estimate indicates that crop yields may drop 4.5 to 9.0 per cent as a result of climate change in the next three decades, depending on how much temperatures rise and the impact of extreme climate in different parts of the world. A dent of this level in crop productivity translates into an overall cut of around 1.5 per cent in India's gross domestic product (GDP), given that agriculture accounts for 15 per cent of total GDP.


Business as usual will put the country's food security in jeopardy and cause widespread distress among farmers by threatening their livelihood security. Strategies to mitigate global warming by slashing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions alone will not help much. That's because India contributes just 4 per cent to the world's total harmful emissions. Its domestic efforts to reduce it further may, therefore, make little difference to overall global warming. The real need is for strategies to adapt agriculture to impending climate change.

Fortunately, the country's farm scientists are unlikely to be caught unawares on this count. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), which runs the country's national agricultural research system, has recently augmented its efforts to combat climate change by launching a new research-cum-technology demonstration project called "National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture" (NICRA). This project received Cabinet approval on December 15, 2010, with an outlay of Rs 350 crore for the remaining two years of the current plan. The project will probably continue in the 12th plan (2012-17).

"The project will concentrate on creating research and capacity-building infrastructure and on conducting on-farm demonstrations of available climate-resilient technologies," says ICAR director-general S Ayyappan. A significant aspect of this project is that it is entirely India-centred and focuses on finding location-specific solutions to climate change challenges.

Infrastructure to carry out basic and strategic research will help create capacity for developing technologies for medium- to long-term challenges. In the shorter run, the project aims to transfer to farmers climate adaptation technologies that are already available.

Significantly, about 100 of the most vulnerable districts in 27 states will be selected for field demonstrations of climate-resilient technologies. About 100,000 farmers are expected to benefit directly from this exercise. Millions of others will gain in the long run with the dissemination of these technologies and evolution of new ones.

It is critical to recognise that the consequences of global warming will vary from region to region. The mean temperature in India has risen by 0.6 degrees centigrade in the past 100 years. It is not certain whether the rate rise in warming will accelerate or decelerate, though most fear the former case. Evidence also suggests that weather extremes, such as drought, unusually heavy downpours, flash floods, intense heat and cold waves and the like may steadily exacerbate. All this bodes ill for agriculture, livestock and fisheries. Even more worrisome is the projection that though the overall amount of annual rainfall in India will increase, the number of rainy days will shrink.

This will increase uncertainties about crop yields, increasing the risk element in farming.

While many of these challenges can be tackled through technological interventions, some others may need policy support in addition to science-induced resilience. Agricultural scientists, on their part, can develop new crop varieties capable of withstanding stresses caused by heat, cold or water related factors. They can also conceive other kinds of technologies and cultivation practices to create tolerance to climate extremes. But the government, on its part, will need to revamp and expand arrangements for crop insurance and other means of hedging the heightened risks posed by climate change.

Ultimately, what we need is the ability to convert the challenge posed by climate change into an opportunity to mitigate the vulnerability of Indian agriculture.  






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

The body: The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee

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


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

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

The mind: The Mind's Eye, Oliver Sacks

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

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

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

Consciousness: The Tell-Tale Brain, Vilayanur Ramachandran

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

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

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










WHAT is sauce for the goose might be sauce for the male bird as well, but what is strong growth for a tiger economy like India's is not what would be sterling growth for less feral markets. The 8.6% that has officially been estimated as India's growth rate for the current fiscal would be spectacular for most countries, but for India, which had grown in excess of 9% for three years prior to the crisis of 2008, the inability to get back to 9% for at least till after 2011-12 is, indeed, galling. In the 9%-plus years, fixed capital formation, the biggest chunk of investment, had grown about 15% a year. The slowdown saw it come all the way down to 2% and it remains 8.4% even in the current fiscal, according to the Central Statistical Organisation. What is needed to increase the pace of investment is sound policy, which depends on sound politics. India needs clear policy to release land for urbanisation, industrialisation, building roads, opening mines and so on. Without such policy, investment cannot grow and growth will stall. Creating policy that will make people willingly release land calls for innovation to make land-losers stakeholders in the prosperity that comes up on their alienated land. We need firm clarity on not patronising power theft, so that investment in power is not held up. We need clarity on public-private partnership contracts so that we have competitively priced infrastructure and not get-richquick scams. If we have such policy clarity, growth will rev up again, all the way to proper tigerish levels.
    Agriculture has come to the rescue this fiscal, growing at 5.4%, thanks to recovery from last year's drought. This will fall next year, unless new, focused initiatives are taken to boost the untapped potential of eastern India. Economy-wide inflation is put at 9.7%, higher than the RBI's estimate for year-end inflation. This will make monetary policy tighter, financing costlier and growth, tougher. A counterbalancing positive would be likely stronger global growth. But the net result is unlikely to be a growth rate higher than the current fiscal's. Unless the government gets its act together to focus on governance and policy clarity without squandering the fiscal bounty, fast growth is bound to yield.







THOSE who can, do, those who can't, teach. And in Indian business schools at least, those who teach don't seem to do research. That's the outcome of a study on research produced in India's business schools over a 20-year period by Nirmalya Kumar and Phanish Puranam, published in this paper on Monday. From 1990 to 2009, Kumar and Puranam found that Indians had written a measly 108 research papers in 40 key academic journals, at an average of five papers a year. Compare that number to the fact that economist Paul Samuelson had written more than 25 papers by the time he was 25 years old, and would go on to write hundreds more. Not everybody can be as productive as Samuelson, but even by relatively modest standards, a five-paper annual output across an entire discipline is pathetic. The lack of academic research is worrying for at least two reasons. First, at a pedagogical level, it encourages woolly ideas and case studies to proliferate in place of rigorous theory and empirical analysis.


Second, without solid research, it will be hard to formulate strategy or business plans for a rapidly evolving country like India. A lot of theoretical and empirical work, based on American data, suggests that large mergers and acquisitions work against the interest of shareholders of the acquiring company. Should we blindly assume that the same thing holds true for India? Or should someone go out, look at the numbers and give us an answer we can rely on? Research matters. India's business schools should make publication and the number of times each paper is cited by peers one of the most important considerations while hiring faculty. In America, academics are told to 'publish or perish'. The pressure to publish creates mountains of dreary, mediocre work but also increases the chances of discovering gems. This is the model Indian business schools should adopt as well.








HAT-TRICK is a rather British word that American speakers of the language that they both coincidentally call English actually understand, though they would contest the claim that its origins lay in cricket rather than ice hockey. Yet, at a time when the American avatar of the language is causing a kerfuffle in Old Blighty — with more and more Britons pronouncing schedule with a 'k' sound and rhyming garage with barrage rather than porridge according to a recent survey by the British Library — the US appears to have missed out on a significant battle won by its former colonial master. All three major American superheroes are now British, or at least the actors cast in those roles are. The Americans will now presumably have a new villain for their outsourcing nightmare — their own superheroes. Though Christian Bale has been Batman for a while, newbies Andrew Garfield as Spiderman and Henry Cavill as Superman in the next installments of these supersagas will make it a triple crown for British thoroughbreds, to borrow a common phrase from the two countries' horse-racing circuits. It would be sweet revenge for a former colonial power that is currently smarting from the Stateside linguistic invasion of the internet and the peremptory Americanisations of spellcheck applications that thoughtlessly turn centre into center, speciality into specialty, jewellery into jewelry and so on. There's even a controversy over the pronunciation of the word controversy back in Britain, with apparently irreconcilable trans-Altantic differences over which syllable dominates.


Whether a Briton will be able, in truth, to do justice to the American way (with apologies to the original motto of the Man of Steel) or indeed whether all of them will realise that "with great power comes great responsibility" (as Spidey learnt at great cost), ultimately "it's not who he is underneath but what he does that (will) define him" as Batman began by saying....





AN empirical analysis of the microfinance industry shows that the recommendations of the Malegam committee would have significantly more detrimental consequences than have been anticipated in the report. The microfinance exchange ( is the most comprehensive data source for MFIs across the world. Table 1 displays the information on several parameters of Indian MFI performance for 2009. Column 2 displays the average values of performance parameters across 88 Indian MFIs. I classify MFIs into four separate quartiles based on their assets. Columns 3 to 6 report the average value of the performance parameters for the smallest, small, large and largest MFIs, which correspond to the four quartiles sorted by the increasing order of their size.


The most important fact revealed by these numbers is that MFI profitability, as seen in the return on assets and return on equity, ramps up with increase in the MFI size. While the smallest MFIs are bleeding red, the largest MFIs are quite profitable as seen in their return on equity.


As witnessed in the capital/assets ratio, we find that the smaller MFIs employ greater capital for every rupee of asset they create. The smallest MFIs take on considerably more debt and are, therefore, exposed to considerably more risk than their larger counterparts. These differences in capital employed and the risk profile translate into greater financial expenses as seen in the higher ratio of financial expense/assets for the smallest MFIs.


Each four categories of MFIs lends about the same amount to the average borrower. The financial revenue generated by an MFI per rupee of asset is almost identical across the four categories of MFIs. Furthermore, the nominal yield on the loan portfolio is also similar. However, the smallest MFIs have almost double the operating expense per rupee of asset when compared to the largest MFIs. The operating expenseto-asset ratio decreases primarily due to the benefits of economies of scale.


One recommendation is to cap MFI lending rates at 24%. The average loan rate charged by MFIs has been around 29-30%. The cap would push down the interest revenue generated by MFIs by about 20% compared to the actual for 2009.


Second, the recommendations will push up operating expenses. An MFI will have to verify/ensure: (i) the borrower's household income is below . 50,000 per annum, (ii) the borrower is a member of only one SHG or JLG, (iii) the borrower has a loan from, at most, only one MFI, (iv) after the second MFI's loan, the total amount outstanding will not exceed . 25,000, (v) the borrower will not use more than 25% of the loan amount for non-income generation purposes, and sanction and disburse this loan under the supervision of senior staff, and collect repayments only at a designated central place in a village/slum. Each requirement will increase the operating expenses for MFIs by at least 20%. In case the borrower does not come to repay, the MFI cannot send anyone to the borrower because such a practice would be treated as coercion, hurting the chances of repayment.

Since the source of funds would be the same, the financial expense-to-asset ratios would not change. Ditto for other expenses/assets. Using these projections, we find that the average MFI will generate a return on asset of -6.15% compared with the 0.25% in 2009. All categories of MFIs are likely to become unprofitable. Even the largest MFIs will generate a return on assets of about -2.26%, with the other lower-sized MFIs being even more unprofitable. The impact on the entire population of MFIs will only be worse than what has been projected here because the MFIs who do not report their data are likely to fare worse than the ones that do.
    Since operating costs constitute the bulk of an MFI's costs, their survival will depend on their ability to follow the onerous requirements while keeping operating costs down simultaneously. It is possible that the largest MFIs would survive. However, it is amply clear that the smallest, small and even the large MFIs will find it exceedingly difficult to operate viably in the altered scenario.


(The author is assistant professor of finance, Indian School of Business)








THE DMK has vowed support for A Raja even after his arrest. But this Chennai bravado clearly doesn't extend to Delhi. None of the DMK MPs, including Kanimozhi and T R Balu, who were in Delhi after Raja's arrest, dared to makde a solidarity visit to their so-called "innocent victim" in CBI custody. In fact, the real point of discussion between the Congress brass and M Karunanidhi when they met at 10 Janpath on the eve of Raja's arrest was making the DMK chief accept the inevitability of his colleague's arrest. But party spin doctors demonstrated their relative skills by successfully pegging the delicate 10, Janpath meeting merely as a 'seat-sharing talks'. Imagine, an ailing Karunanidhi coming all the way to meet Sonia Gandhi only "to set up aCongress-DMK panel" for "further seat-sharing talks"! No wonder, there is no take, as of yet, on the real political formula that finally clinched Raja's arrest. Shifting sands


OCTOGENARIAN Congress leader G Venkataswamy's outburst against Sonia Gandhi is seen as a typical case of the frustration of a party veteran finding himself on the way out in this Congress transition phase. Yet, his lament that traditional AP Congressmen are being neglected' by the high command struck a chord with what the Jaganmohan Reddy camp has been whispering. It's the examples of the "steady rise of converted AP Congress persons" like D Purandeswari (daughter of N T Rama Rao), "back-in-favour" Renuka Chowdhury (a Chandrababu Naidu loyalist-turned Congress lady, who was cut down to size by the late YSR), and the new Congress flavour Chiranjeevi, that are being cited to insinuate that dyed-in-the-wool AP Congressmen have no future in their party. But AICC managers claim that with the Congress-Chiranjeevi counter-punch against the Jagan/Telangana challenge, the 20-odd party rebels will be the ones who have to now decide which side of the fence is greener. Back in action


SEASONED Congress fire-fighter Ghulam Nabi Azad is clearly bouncing back to the centre of AICC's political operations after a cool-off period since his return from J&K politics. Though the health minister is also the official AICC in-charge of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka party affairs, 10, Janpath hand-picked him for a parallel operation in AP when Jaganmohan Reddy revolted. It was this discreet Kashmiri who scripted Kiran Reddy's takeover from Rosaiah and then Chiranjeevi's Congress hug before Veerappa Moily and A K Antony were asked to perform the public rituals. Azad also made asecret visit to top CPI(M) and CPI leaders to try and break the JPC political deadlock. The return of Sonia Gandhi's acknowledged "lucky mascot" could herald new equations on the Congress chessboard. Parlour games


IT IS the time of 'scandal politics' in poll-bound Kerala. The re-emergence of the "ice cream parlour scam" has again put Muslim League strongman Kunhalikutty and the Congress-led UDF on the backfoot. The wounded Kutty is now entertaining Kerala galleries with cries of conspiracy theories. Heightening expectations is CPI(M) MP-turned Congress MLA Abdullakutty's vow to expose a cassette reportedly containing dope on the "notorious ways" of Marxist leader P Sasi, a wily player in the Pinarayi Vijayan faction. Sasi had to be sent on 'sick leave' after the party received in-house complaints about his conduct with some women. The Marxist chief minister V S Achuthanandan has already sought Sasi's summary expulsion from the party.








THE 'final order' of the ministry of environment and forests concerning the much-discussed mega project of Pohang Steel Company (Posco) in costal Orissa may well lead to a frustrating, Catch-22 like situation. For one, the order is anything but final. The key issue of diversion of about 1,253 hectares of forest land for the proposed 12 million tonnes plant remains to be decided, pending pointed assurances by the state government that the Forest Rights Act, 2006 has been implemented in letter and spirit. For another, the governmental okay that forest rights have been duly taken into account could well be heavily contested. It has certainly taken place in the past.


It is nobody's case that the genuine rights of forest-dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest-dwellers need to be glossed over or even compromised in the process of industrialisation. But the policy establishment and civil society generally surely ought to be forward-looking in rightfully implementing forest rights on the ground. The point is the pressing need for balance. Forest rights or its alleged non-implementation at Paradip in Jagatsinghpur district, which is far removed from the state's hinterland, must not be used as an instrument of protest, simply to purposefully delay or even stall the project.


Note that there is much scope for wide, open-ended interpretation of forest rights as per extant legislation. The ministry's order does mention that the phrase primarily resident in and who depend on forested land includes persons 'who are not necessarily residing in the forest' but depend on the forest for their bona fide livelihood needs. And it is supposed to include persons 'who are working on such patches of land in such areas irrespective of whether their dwelling houses are outside the forest or forest land'. Further, bona fide connection to forest land, as per the Act, would include collecting firewood, fodder, non-timber produce, fish, etc., apart from cultivation of forest patches.


So, it is possible for virtually anyone in villages adjoining the project site, say Dhinkia or Nuagaon, to claim to have been aggrieved by the Posco proposal, with income and livelihood threatened. And there have indeed been much protest to date, since the massive investment proposal was announced circa 2005. The Posco Prathirodha Sangram Samiti seems to be spearheading the attack.


Posco has announced a package to rehabilitate and resettle, which would be as low as . 1,500 per month for two years. It is a related matter that the project itself has been something of a public relations disaster, with arguable lack of ground work by way of political mobilisation and the building up of public opinion for the massive investment in the pipeline. It has all meant delays in approvals.


And despite the fact that the state has well over 60% forest cover, which is twice the national average, with substantial deposits of iron ore and is industrially backward to boot. Going forward, what's desirable is a proactive policy to overcome the extant rigidities in land acquisition. One-off compensation for the project evacuees would not quite be enough and more important, not be perceived as such, despite the promise of reasonable 'settlement' in the works.


To factor in the practicalities of land acquisition, the compensation for land does need to have three clear-cut components. The market value plus an attractive premium over the going rates, given the general proclivity to under-report such transactions, is essential no doubt. But it would not be quite sufficient. What's required is an institutional mechanism to recompense for loss of current income from fishing, betel-leaf farming and the like. A separate element in the package needs to cover the hidden costs and bother of shifting over to a different field of activity, never mind that it is all for the greater good and would boost overall productivity of economic life and add to incomes.Additionally, what's required is suitable compensation for the likely capital gains surrendered in giving up land or cultivation rights well before market value has peaked, as it can be expected post-facto after project development.


The point remains that the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (as amended in the mid-1980s) does not really foresee the multiple dimensions of compensation now necessary for adequate allowance for land assets or attendant rights. The modified Land Act does have provisions for compensation over and above land value, but merely in a superficial sense. For instance, there's scope for additional monetary reward for damage to standing crop. And, extra relief is envisaged for the land owner if the land acquisition "injuriously" affects "his other property," both movable and immovable.


Further, recompense for "reasonable expenses" incidental to change of residence or place of work is also purportedly covered in the Land Act. Which is why out-of-the-box thinking and follow-through action are required both by Posco and the Orissa government, so as to provide ample compensation for loss of income, including to those merely dependent on the land under consideration.








NEARLY a twelfth of the human race got their collective cosmic uplink recently when astronomers added a 13th Zodiac sign called Ophiuchus between Scorpio and Sagittarius — from November 29 to December 17. It's because the Earth's changing orbit means the planet is not aligned any more with the stars in the same position as when the Zodiac was created and, therefore, the astrological signs are no longer in sync with the constellations. The date readjustment which reverberated through the rest of the Zodiac suddenly saw millions of people being shunted out of their Sun sign to an adjacent one — presumably to rebuild their shattered lives with brand new traits.


So, who's Ophiuchus? Well, the Greeks knew him as Asclepius, the god of medicine and the son of Apollo and Coronis who, as we'll see in a moment, had his own uplifting moment at the end of his life. According to legend, Coronis was an unfaithful wife and slept with a mortal, Ischys, while she was pregnant by Apollo. A crow brought Apollo the unwelcome news, but instead of being rewarded, the raven which until then had been snow-white, was cursed by Apollo and turned black and lost his voice. This bird is also immortalised in the sky as the constellation Corvus.


Anyway, Apollo shot Coronis with an arrow but rather than see his unborn child perish with her, he snatched him from his mother's womb just as the funeral flames engulfed her, and took the infant to Chiron, the wise centaur who's also represented in the sky by the constellation Centaurus. Chiron raised Asclepius as his own, teaching him the arts of healing and hunting till Asclepius became so skilled in medicine that not only could he save lives, he could raise the dead. Unfortunately, this went to his head because soon he was raising the dead left and right all over the place wherever he spotted them.


This, legend also has it, pretty much cheesed off Hades, the ruler of the Underworld, who thought that no more dead spirits would come to him. So, he asked his brother Zeus to remove him and Zeus immediately obliged with a deadly thunderbolt. But that angered Apollo who, in turn, murdered the cyclops who had made the thunderbolt for Zeus, who got so mad that he banned Apollo from the night sky. Here the madness apparently stopped and many years later, Zeus had a total change of heart: he placed Asclepius among the stars as the constellation Ophiuchus. His cosmic uplink.








The Government needs to create a well-regulated market for spectrum which will ensure accurate price discovery.

The report carried in this newspaper yesterday about the peculiarly one-sided contract between the Indian Space Research Organisation and a private entity called Devas, wherein satellite transponders and, by implication, a wide swathe of frequency spectrum were leased out for a fraction of the latter's current commercial value, once again brings into sharp focus the need to constitute an entity that will oversee the allocation/leasing of spectrum. The Comptroller and Auditor General is asking questions of the Department of Space in this regard. It believes that, on a presumptive basis, more than Rs 2 lakh crore may have been foregone by the exchequer as a result of the contract. Even if this is not a realistic figure, the fact of revenue lost cannot be overlooked. Such losses must be prevented in the future. After all, in purely economic terms, wireless spectrum is no different from an oil or gas field or a coal mine, or even just plain government land. The common feature is government ownership and constantly changing commercial value. In the instant case, for example, the S-band frequency used to have some value, which dropped to almost nothing when the technology changed but, with another change in technology, has once again acquired value. That no one can really predict how valuable a particular bit of the spectrum — or land or mine — may become cannot be an argument for not doing anything about setting up an agency with oversight powers.

Indeed, it was partly in recognition of this that the Government constituted a committee to advise it on spectrum pricing two years ago. It will be argued by some that such committees don't serve the purpose for which they were intended. While there is some truth in that, going by the principle of something is better than nothing, the time has surely come to dilute the absolute power of the Government in such matters — be it a resource under the land, over it or above it — by introducing a system of checks. Who knows, for example, what's been going on in the Defence sector, which is squatting on huge amounts of spectrum? Who would have thought that the Department of Space, which is directly under the Prime Minister, would have been so careless? Under any shroud of secrecy, costly mistakes can be made, even when there is no mala fide. Secrecy can and does protect both fools and knaves. The last 60 years bear ample testimony to this.

In a sense, what needs to be done is to introduce a well-regulated market for spectrum which is the composite name for a range of frequencies that are put to different uses. Such a market will ensure reasonably accurate price discovery and it will be superior to the current system where private information, ministerial discretion and plain negligence can and do lead to thoroughly undesirable outcomes.







For the US to try and pump some oxygen into the beleaguered Mubarak regime by raising the bogey of Islamists is a disservice to the cause of democracy.

As one watched the unfolding saga in Egypt, where millions of anti-Mubarak protestors have launched a movement for the removal of their long-lasting President Hosni Mubarak, and end his 30-year old repressive rule, it was an amusing and educative experience to watch comments of the western media, particularly the CNN.

"Exit Mubarak, enter terror", said one segment of the programme. Another one worried about how the vacuum created by Mr Mubarak's exit would be filled up quickly by the banned Muslim Brotherhood and how quite a few Islamists from Egypt, including Ayman al Zawahiri, are close confidantes of the dreaded al Qaeda head, Osama bin Laden.

Christiane Amanpour, who is now with the ABC, got a couple of interviews with the Egyptian President, but not on camera, and she quoted him saying that he would gladly bow down to popular demand and resign but for fear of the Muslim Brotherhood moving in to grab the political space he vacates! How very convenient… the man most Egyptians want out for reasons of repression, corruption, social inequity and the like, expresses concern about the possible chaos after him.

Also, in the western media, along with concern for the future of Egypt, there was considerable comment and analysis on how the end of the Mubarak regime would make Israel vulnerable.

While there is no denying that the Muslim Brotherhood has been quick to jump on to the anti-Mubarak protest bandwagon, a close observation of the huge groups thronging Cairo's Tahrir Square shows that Islamists with their trademark beards, shorter trousers and a particular kind of headwear are not there in great numbers. The people thronging Egypt's streets are mostly beardless youngsters.

Of course, no well-wisher of Egypt would wish a Sharia-law regime on this Muslim nation which has managed to keep fanaticism at bay for long years. The outcome of some modern and one-time progressive Muslim nations such as Iran and Afghanistan having been pushed backward — Afghanistan more by the greed of external forces than internal — is there for all to see.

But, for a superpower such as the United States, or a section of the Western media, to try and organise some oxygen for the beleaguered Mubarak regime by raising the bogey of Islamists or the Muslim Brotherhood, when there is as yet no evidence to suggest Egypt's youth prefers the latter, is to do disservice to the cause of democracy. It is well-known, however, that the Americans are past-masters at using the democracy card as and when it suits them.

Lip service to democracy

So, for the George W. Bush administration, Saddam Hussain, the dictator, had to be toppled so that those oppressed during his rule could move to a democratic regime. The devastation and misery heaped on Iraq and its people by the dismantling of the Saddam regime through the might of the US-led war on Iraq is there for the world to see.

It is eight years since the bombing of Iraq stopped in March 2003, but there is no sign of any meaningful democracy benefiting the people. If anything, the nation is in the grip of a civil war and, as the Shias and Sunnis fight each other and chaos reigns supreme, Iraq is being plunged deeper into a gloom from where no light is visible at the moment. The Egyptians' aspiration for a democratic regime has to be weighed delicately in the balance of what is good for the Western powers and, of course, Israel's interest has to be always kept in mind. So, such dictators as Hosni Mubarak, and Tunisia's ousted President Ben Ali were allies of the West; they kept the fundamentalist elements at bay. Western tourists could safely bask in the Mediterranean sun of Tunisia and get acquainted with the historical treasures of Egypt. Till the Tunisians threw out Mr Ali, and the Egyptians rose in revolt against Mr Mubarak, that is.

The Obama regime is, of course, seen as putting "pressure" on Mr Mubarak to put in place a "transition plan". At first, the Egyptian President promised to step down in September and thought the protestors would bite the bait.

What transition?

But who is to tell in what manner a repressive regime can swoop down on the leaders of such a movement, once the protestors have moved out of Tahrir Square and other streets and gone back to their day-to-day lives? The attempt by the Egyptian regime to send out a rival group of Mubarak supporters, riding horses and camels — it surely felt like Lawrence of Arabia — and the war of stones that followed, was a crude and futile attempt to crush the popular uprising.

And then there was this fantastic policy initiative from the US State Department — sending Mr Frank Wisner, a former Ambassador to Egypt and India, as an envoy to Egypt. He came out with an even more fantastic statement that President Mubarak's "continued leadership is critical to Egypt". Mr Wisner's touching faith in the Egyptian President's leadership became evident enough when it was found that he actually works for an American law firm (Patton Boggs) that serves Mr Mubarak's government! Later, of course, Washington tried to paper over this goof-up by saying that Mr Wisner's comments were made in a "personal capacity". What a strange time and place for an official US envoy to express his personal opinions!

Little surprise, then, that Muslims around the world, Islamists or otherwise, have little faith in American initiatives when it concerns their countries or lives. The pity is that, for long years, the Muslim nations have been at each other's throats; it is the internecine quarrels within the Arab world that have prevented the Arab community speaking in one authoritative voice that could have pressured Israel to give Palestinians justice instead of making them refugees in their own land, and then condemning them as terrorists.









Even as Kerala is facing serious challenges on food security with a rapidly widening  gap between the requirement and production, the area under food crops has been falling sharply giving way to highly lucrative crops such as rubber, coconut and cocoa.

The State with an annual requirement of an estimated 38 - 40 lakh tonnes produces only around six lakh tonnes.

The highest ever production of rice was in 1971-72 — 13,76,370 tonnes of rice from 8,75,160 hectares. Since then there has been a regular drop in area and output, with the total area coming down to nearly one-fourth, 2,34,265 hectares in 2008 -09 and output 5,90,240 tonnes.

Shift to other crops

During the same time, the area under rubber has soared to 5,17,475 hectares (output of 7,83,485 tonnes) from 2,09,720 hectares (1,39,350 tonnes).

Following rise in the prices of cocoa, Kerala revived its cultivation and now contributes 78 per cent to national output.

More than two-thirds of the total cropped area of 27.02 lakh hectare were occupied by rice, coconut, tapioca, rubber, pepper, banana and cashew together in the beginning of the 80s, Dr K. Satheesh Babu, Professor and CCPI, Agricultural Marketing Intelligence Centre, Kerala Agriculture University told Business Line. Since then, the acreage under rice, tapioca and cashew has been declining continuously during the period, while that under coconut, rubber and banana is on the rise. The trend indicates the relative profitability of these crops brought about by the changing cost of cultivation . The wage structure coupled with non-availability of labour at critical farm operations compelled many farmers to switch over to less-labour intensive, perennial crops.

"The trend does not augur well from the food security point of view for Kerala, which has been chronically food deficit from the sixties onwards", he said. "It is disheartening to note that paddy crop has lost acreage from 27.79 per cent to 8.69 per cent of the total cropped area, while tapioca has lost from 8.49 per cent to 3.24 per cent of total cropped area.

The public distribution system and the unrestricted inter-State food movement had helped it to meet the deficit in the past.

The drastic loss in acreage ratio of food crops may have long-term implications ", Dr Satheesh said. The last State Economic Review also says that the areas used for cultivating paddy and other food crops have given way to highly lucrative crops such as rubber, coconut, cocoa etc. .

Over 85 per cent of the requirement of all the foodgrains/cereals, pulses, vegetables and other food items have to come from outside. Rising transportation cost coupled with demand push had raised their prices in the state substantially.

Tapioca (tuber crop) which was once a cheap staple food available at Rs 2 a kg and below is now sold at Rs 15 to 20 a kg.

Price of rice which was almost stagnant at Rs 13.42 a kg during the period 1999–2005 increased to Rs 19.76 a kg in 2008 and Rs 20.43 in 2009, Rs 22.83 in January 2010 and Rs 24 - 27 in January 2011.

In fact, there was a 44 per cent increase in rice price during 2007 – 2009. Rise in the prices of rubber, cardamom, cocoa, tea and coffee had raised the income of farmers substantially, especially rubber and cardamom growers.

Natural rubber prices had shot up to Rs 231 a kg at present from less than Rs 50 a few years ago. Average cardamom prices have been ruling above Rs 1,000 a kg for over year.

High income has pushed up the land prices also. One acre of rubber plantation in the remote areas is offered at Rs 40 lakh and above at present. In good accessible areas it is much higher, an estate owner in Pathanamthitta district claimed.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




We're in the midst of a global food crisis — the second in three years. World food prices hit a record in January, driven by huge increases in the prices of wheat, corn, sugar and oils. These soaring prices have had only a modest effect on US inflation, which is still low by historical standards, but they're having a brutal impact on the world's poor, who spend much if not most of their income on basic foodstuffs.

The consequences of this food crisis go far beyond economics. After all, the big question about uprisings against corrupt and oppressive regimes in West Asia isn't so much why they're happening as why they're happening now. And there's little question that sky-high food prices have been an important trigger for popular rage.

So what's behind the price spike? American Right-wingers (and the Chinese) blame easy-money policies at the Federal Reserve, with at least one commentator declaring that there is "blood on Bernanke's hands". Meanwhile, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France blames speculators, accusing them of "extortion and pillaging".

But the evidence tells a different, much more ominous story. While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we'd expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate — which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning.

Now, to some extent soaring food prices are part of a general commodity boom: the prices of many raw materials, running the gamut from aluminum to zinc, have been rising rapidly since early 2009, mainly thanks to rapid industrial growth in emerging markets.

But the link between industrial growth and demand is a lot clearer for, say, copper than it is for food. Except in very poor countries, rising incomes don't have much effect on how much people eat.

It's true that growth in emerging nations like China leads to rising meat consumption, and hence rising demand for animal feed. It's also true that agricultural raw materials, especially cotton, compete for land and other resources with food crops — as does the subsidised production of ethanol, which consumes a lot of corn. So both economic growth and bad energy policy have played some role in the food price surge.

Still, food prices lagged behind the prices of other commodities until last summer. Then the weather struck.

Consider the case of wheat, whose price has almost doubled since the summer. The immediate cause of the wheat price spike is obvious: world production is down sharply. The bulk of that production decline, according to US department of agriculture data, reflects a sharp plunge in the former Soviet Union. And we know what that's about: a record heat wave and drought, which pushed Moscow temperatures above 100 degrees for the first time ever.

The Russian heat wave was only one of many recent extreme weather events, from dry weather in Brazil to biblical-proportion flooding in Australia, that have damaged world food production.

The question then becomes, what's behind all this extreme weather?

To some extent we're seeing the results of a natural phenomenon, La Niña — a periodic event in which water in the equatorial Pacific becomes cooler than normal. And La Niña events have historically been associated with global food crises, including the crisis of 2007-2008.

But that's not the whole story. Don't let the snow fool you: globally, 2010 was tied with 2005 for warmest year on record, even though we were at a solar minimum and La Niña was a cooling factor in the second half of the year. Temperature records were set not just in Russia but in no fewer than 19 countries, covering a fifth of the world's land area. And both droughts and floods are natural consequences of a warming world: droughts because it's hotter, floods because warm oceans release more water vapour.

As always, you can't attribute any one weather event to greenhouse gases. But the pattern we're seeing, with extreme highs and extreme weather in general becoming much more common, is just what you'd expect from climate change.

The usual suspects will, of course, go wild over suggestions that global warming has something to do with the food crisis; those who insist that Ben Bernanke has blood on his hands tend to be more or less the same people who insist that the scientific consensus on climate reflects a vast leftist conspiracy.

But the evidence does, in fact, suggest that what we're getting now is a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we'll face in a warming world. And given our failure to act on greenhouse gases, there will be much more, and much worse, to come.






 "Ittehad, Itmad, Qurbani" (Unity, faith, sacrifice)

— Motto of the Azad Hind Fauj (The Indian National Army)

The 114th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose — recently commemorated on January 23, 2011 — is an appropriate occasion to remember him and the Azad Hind Fauj. On this occasion, the government of West Bengal declared that the day would henceforth be observed as Deshprem Diwas, or Patriotism Day. The implied paradox that patriotism could be reduced to an annual one-day event seemed to escape notice. If patriotism is not to be the last refuge of the scoundrel, it has to be a full-time job, without weekends or holidays.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was a patriot, perhaps one of the greatest freedom fighters India's struggle for Independence has produced. He remains an unblemished and unchallenged icon for a cynical, disillusioned generation in search for role models. On the international stage, Netaji keeps company in the pantheon of soldier heroes like Simon Bolivar, Jose de San Martin, Giuseppe Garibaldi and Ho Chi Minh, an aspect downplayed in India, especially by the ahimsa establishment, whose votaries claimed exclusive credit for non-violence for bringing Independence to this country.

There have always been murmurings of an unspoken conspiracy of silence to keep Netaji at a profile lower than the "conformist" freedom fighters. Earlier, the Indian Left had reviled Netaji during the 1940s as an Indian Quisling, heaping opprobrium upon him for collaborating with the Axis powers against their beloved spiritual homeland, the Soviet Union. The Indian National Congress — India's Grand Old Party dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi duopoly — viewed Bose as a threat to the establishment and successfully manipulated his exit from the organisational hierarchy.

Now, over the past few years, the very same political class which had earlier denigrated him or sought to sideline him is scrambling to retrace steps and reappropriate Netaji for their political agendas, especially as the next Assembly elections in West Bengal looms closer. Those who had done their best to consign him to oblivion after Independence, have now rediscovered his electoral weightage and are strenuously attempting to reconfigure Netaji as one of their own.

Netaji's greatest achievement was the revival and revitalisation of the Indian National Army (INA) after the initial pioneering effort in 1941 by Capt. Mohan Singh failed to fructify. Under his inspirational leadership the INA became India's Mukti Bahini, seeking to confront the country's colonial overlords militarily for the first time since the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857. "Chalo Dilli" was no street slogan for political processions, but a proclamation of grand strategic intent, though achievement of the objective had all the prospects of a hard long war.

West Bengal has appropriated Netaji as its own illustrious son, though his birth place and initial education were in Orissa and the INA he created had few, if any, exclusive linkages with Bengal, except in individual capacities. The INA recruited extensively amongst the Indian diaspora in what is today Southeast Asia, but their core fighting strength was fashioned out of the wreckage of the British-Indian infantry battalions incarcerated in Japanese prison camps after debacles in Hong Kong, Malaya and the retreat from Burma. These included illustrious entities like 1/14 Punjab (now 5 Punjab of the Pakistan Army), and 2/17 Dogra and 2/18 Garhwal Rifles, both adorning the post-Independence Indian Army. These were trained professional infantry and there was thus a strong leavening of the traditional British martial classes in the INA. But they were totally intermixed into what today's class-regimentalised Indian Army would designate as "all India, all class" units, while the Bahadur Group of the INA commanded by Col. Shaukat Hayat Malik can lay strong claims to be the earliest ancestor of the special forces in the Indian Army, the Navy and the Air Force.

The initial offensive of the INA was incorporated into Operation U-Go launched by the Japanese 15th Army under Gen. Renya Mutaguchi in 1944 in the Imphal-Kohima region on the Indo-Burmese border. From this liberated zone inside India the INA planned to revert to a guerrilla mode and infiltrate into the strategic depths of India's eastern region in Assam and Bengal, to build up a low-intensity campaign in the interior exploiting anti-British sentiment fanned by the Great Bengal Famine raging at the time, while the Japanese hammered down the front door. The ultimate outcome for India if Japan had emerged victorious can only be speculated on, but the history of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere which Japan sought to establish in Asia does not make for comforting reading.

The post-Independence Indian Army is the spiritual and temporal heir of two armies — the British Indian Army and the Indian National Army. From the former, it has imbibed almost every aspect of its functioning, mannerisms and attitudes; from the latter, nothing. Its principal opponent, the Pakistan Army, is a highly Islamicised military which uses terror as a weapon of state. Is there any matching military and spiritual doctrine to provide sustenance for an avowedly secular Indian Army, now mired in moral distress as well? In the 64th year of the nation's Independence, the modern Indian Army must introspect deeply upon its Azad Hind Fauj heritage which stressed patriotism as a way of life, something with far more substantial foundations than the mere regimental loyalties which have served so far. The true heritage of Netaji and the INA, which goes well beyond the mere military and into the spiritual, ethical and emotional region of military motivation, will provide succour. The teachings of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose must become required study material in its professional institutions, to motivate the Army and prepare it for the future in an increasingly turbulent environment.

- Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament





After a long interregnum, Jhalanath Khanal, leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), was elected Prime Minister in the Constituent Assembly (which now doubles as Nepal's Parliament) on Sunday, but is not hard to see that Mr Khanal will live on borrowed time. He will also not be in much of a position to offer his country much-needed stability and a policy framework geared at coping with problems that have been piling up for the past three years. Given the parliamentary arithmetic and the political equation between the key players — the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), far and away the largest party in the House although way short of a majority, the Nepali Congress (NC), and CPN (UML) — Parliament had not been able to elect a Prime Minister since June last year although a number of farcical attempts were made. On being elected, Mr Khanal claimed that his election was the product of consensus and that his government would seek consensus on key issues. Neither proposition derives from reality. Maoist leader Prachanda, who has been keen to become Prime Minister ever since the position fell vacant, struck a last-minute arrangement with the CPN(UML) to elevate Mr Khanal. The NC, the third leading player in Nepal which has held power countless times, was cut out of the deal. Also, some 50 Maoist MPs guided by Baburam Bhattarai, Mr Prachanda's number two, voted for Mr Khanal under protest, as they wanted the Prime Minister's position held by their own party, given its overwhelming superiority in the House. In the circumstances it is evident that Mr Prachanda is the king behind the throne and the elected Prime Minister will have little latitude, given the Maoist chief's propensities and his track record of functioning. It is also to be kept in view that the CPN(UML) and NC had together offered to make Mr Prachanda Prime Minister provided he agreed in advance on only a certain number of Maoist guerrilla fighters to be integrated into the Nepalese Army, but the Maoist supremo reportedly declined to accept such terms. In effect, the integration of all the erstwhile Maoist guerrillas into the country's Army is, for the Maoist leader, the base negotiating point and no consensus politics in the country is possible unless the democratic parties accept this. Indeed, it is this factor which has been the elephant in the room in Nepal's politics since the last election in April 2008. That election had brought the Constituent Assembly into being. By May 2009, this body was to have drafted the Constitution of post-royal Nepal. Last year it missed an extended deadline of one year and is on course to miss the second one-year deadline in May 2011. With no agreement in sight among key political players on the nature of the Nepali state after the end of the monarchy, it is hardly feasible to be sanguine about the future.

Indeed, little can be taken for granted.

Will the Maoists go back to being countryside guerrillas seeking to take power by force of arms? Will the Army revolt in the hope of seizing power or bringing back the King in a bid to thwart the Maoists with whom it has an uneasy relationship? Or even if all sides will agree to a fresh election (although this looks highly civilised, politically, in the circumstances)? There are just too many open questions.

Nepal is important to India's security to the north, and this country would desire a republican solution to Nepal's political problems. Nevertheless, it will also be ready to live with any other solution the Nepali people themselves find acceptable. Prolonged uncertainty in the Himalayan nation is not only bad from the security perspective. A stalemate, which can potentially lead to anarchy, also thwarts meaningful partnership between the two close neighbours.







Robbie Vorhaus is a favourite blogger of a popular online American newspaper, the Huffington Post. He is a communications adviser to leaders, chief executives, government officials and entrepreneurs. While working with his clients he found that everyone is stressed in today's world. The stress is created by the mind but it has a negative effect on their body and the quality of their life. He has floated a new idea to de-stress his clients which can become a lifestyle. It is simply a change of the gestalt, how you look at things, how you respond to the events in your life. More often than not we resist, we don't allow life to take its own course because we have preset notions of how things should be.

Mr Vorhaus uses two key words to practice this lifestyle: resisting and allowing. They are diametrically opposite to each other but that's how life moves — through polar opposites. He teaches his clients to stop fighting and resisting life and start enthusiastically allowing all of life to flow through them. And how do they discover their true purpose and move in that direction? Through the ageless wisdom of conscious, intentional change. Commit yourself to one less negative action and one more positive action daily, resulting in almost immediate joy, exuberant style of living, harmony, peace and personal success. It is called: "One less, One more". Mr Vorhaus has trademarked this phrase.

Most people do just the opposite. They resist the events and do not allow whatever happens in their life. Not that they succeed, for who can succeed against the vast forces of existence that construct and deconstruct each moment? But their ego tries to obstruct things and they suffer badly because of it. What you think is bad may not be that bad in the wider perspective. There is no need to sulk. Osho often jokes about it. "What is your worry?" he asks, "Your worry is, what has happened should not happen and what is not happening should happen." This is exactly what everyone is doing. They don't count their blessings, they just go on complaining about things they could not get.

For example, when you wake up in the morning and start preparing for the day, decide to have one less complaint and try to have one more gratitude. If the road is jammed with vehicles, don't start swearing or complaining, be grateful that in spite of this jam you reach safely to your office.

— Amrit Sadhana is in the managementteam of Osho International Meditation Resort,Pune. She facilitates meditation workshopsaround the country and abroad.






Tel Aviv

IN the Western study of medieval Islamic history, the institution of iqta — land grants from the sovereign to his soldiers — once loomed large, because scholars searched for reasons behind the Muslim failure to develop feudalism, and with it the contractual relationships that eventually led to constitutional government. But looking for parallels between the West and Islam — especially the classical Islamic heartland from North Africa to Iran — has always been politically a sad endeavour, since the region seemed so resistant to the ideas and institutions that made representative government possible.

President George W. Bush's decision to build democracy in Iraq seemed so lame to many people because it appeared, at best, to be another example of American idealism run amok — the forceful implantation of a complex Western idea into infertile authoritarian soil. But Mr Bush, whose faith in self-government mirrors that of a frontiersman in Tocqueville's Democracy in America, saw truths that more worldly men missed: the idea of democracy had become a potent force among Muslims, and authoritarianism had become the midwife to Islamic extremism.

One of the great under-reported stories of the end of the 20th century was the enormous penetration of the West's better political ideas — democracy and individual liberty — into the Muslim consciousness. For those of us who speak and read Persian, the startling evolution was easier to see. Theocracy versus democracy has been a defining theme of the Islamic Republic of Iran since the revolution, which harnessed both Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's religious charisma and the secular intelligentsia's democratic aspirations. Over the last three decades, clerical Iran has nurtured an intense intellectual discourse about the duties that man owes to God.

When the legitimacy of theocracy started to unravel amid the regime's corruption and brutality in the late 1980s, democratic ideas, including powerful democratic interpretations of the Islamic faith, roared forth. The explosion on the streets after the fraudulent presidential elections of June 2009 was just the most visible eruption of the enormous democratic pressures that had built up underneath the republic's autocracy. More regime-threatening moments are surely coming.

Today's Arab societies — less intellectually vibrant than Iran, in great part because their regimes have been more effective in shutting down internal debate — have become increasingly schizophrenic. Long before the tumult in Tunisia and Egypt, Arab liberal secular intellectuals had divided. Except for the fearless, who went to prison, liberals who didn't flee their homelands usually became "court liberals", whose views never seriously challenged the rulers. The secular intellectuals in exile more forcefully embraced the democratic cause. Yes, some mixed their message of liberty with other "Arab" priorities: anti-Zionism, anti-Americanism and anti-imperialism. But their support of democracy was clear, and became more acute after the 9/11 attacks.

Understandably, the Western foreign ministries and press paid a lot more attention to the court liberals. A revulsion against the Iraq war and a distaste for President Bush helped to blind people to the spread of democratic sentiments in the region.

Most important, Mr Bush's distastefulness helped to blind Westerners to the momentous marriage of Islamism and democratic ideas. Men and women of devout faith, who cherish (if not always rigorously follow) Sharia law increasingly embraced the convulsive idea that only elected political leadership was legitimate. Islam puts extraordinary emphasis upon the idea of justice — the earthbound quid pro quo that a man can expect in a righteous life. This sense of justice, which Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani expressed so forcefully in 2004 against an American occupation fearful of letting Iraqis vote, has been irreversibly welded to the ballot box. Democracy for the faithful has become a means for society to affirm its most cherished Islamic values.

The Egyptian revolt against President Hosni Mubarak and his regime has caused many in the West to foresee a calamitous, unstoppable rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother ship of Sunni fundamentalism. The Brotherhood is frightening. Prominent members have sanctified suicide-bombing against Israeli women and children, espoused the vilest anti-Semitism and affirmed the holiness of killing those who would slight the Prophet Mohammad.

But the Brotherhood, like everyone else, is evolving. It would be a serious error to believe that it has not sincerely wrestled with the seductive challenge of democracy, with the fact that the Egyptian faithful like the idea of voting for their leaders.

In 2007, members of the Brotherhood released, withdrew and unofficially re-released a political platform — the first ever for the organisation — in which an outsider can see the Brothers' philosophical struggle with the idea of parliamentary supremacy and the certainty that faithful Muslims may legislatively transgress Holy Law.

The Brotherhood is trying to come to terms with the idea of hurriya, "freedom". In the past, for the Muslim devout, hurriya had denoted the freedom of a believer to worship God; for the Arab nationalist, the word was the battle cry against European imperialism. Today, in Egypt and elsewhere, hurriya cannot be understood without reference to free men and women voting. The Brothers are trying to figure out how to integrate two civilisations and thereby revive their own. This evolution isn't pretty. But it is real.

It's also important that Egyptian Muslims are Sunnis. Unlike Iran's Shias, whose history revolves around charismatic men, Egyptians have no Ayatollah Khomeini. The Brotherhood is an organisation of laymen. It has always had a tense relationship with Al Azhar, the great Sunni seminary of Cairo.

Once President Mubarak is gone, and if his minions don't try to maintain the military dictatorship, a quick transition to democracy is likely to produce a plethora of parties, with a few in position to form a coalition. The Brotherhood will undoubtedly be one of the big players, but it will have to compete for votes. And, as the Brotherhood's aborted platform clearly reveals, the organisation is going to have to do better than chanting, "Islam has all the answers", the easy retort of men who know they don't have to compete for power.

What we are likely to see in Egypt is not a repeat of Iran, where fundamentalists took undisputed power, but a repeat of Iraq, where Sunni religious parties did well initially but started to fade, divide and evolve as the powerful Sunni preference for laymen of no particular religious distinction comes to the foreground. Sunni Islam has no clerical hierarchy of the holy — it's tailor-made for nasty arguments among men who dispute one another's authority to know the righteous path. If the Brotherhood can be corralled by a democratic system, the global effect may not be insignificant.

- Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies and a former West Asian specialist in the CIA's clandestine service, is the author of the forthcoming book The Wave: Man, God and the Ballot Box in the Middle East





What a plan

The Planning Commission appears to be behaving like the French queen who said during the pre-revolution era, "If people don't have bread, let them have cakes."

The commission, which is supposed to plan the economic well-being of millions (60 per cent of India's population live in villages) who either have no or very little access to basic amenities of life, has registered itself on the social networking website Facebook to ensure people's participation in finalising the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17).

This urbane and elitist move of the plan panel has been questioned by many, who would want to know how this will allow the country's aam aadmi to get involved in the process of determining their own destiny. Does the commission expect a daily wage labourer to log into Facebook?

Modi's makeover

When the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, flew a kite with a national flag this Makar Sankranti, the buzz began that he is eyeing a national role. Adding further grist to the mill, he also made a speech in Delhi touching upon national and international issues ranging from money in Swiss banks to defence deals and criticised the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, for his statement on Maoists. Mr Modi also asked the Centre to blacklist Germany and Austria as the two countries had refused to supply weapons. Funnily, though he spoke about everything else, Mr Modi did not say a word about Gujarat. Whether it is the deadly Congo virus that has appeared in his state or the spate of illegal constructions and urban migration, he simply does not want to speak on Gujarat. Perhaps he wants to reinvent his image by speaking only on national and international issues. Surely, Mr Modi is dreaming big and Gujarat is now too small a stage for his ambitions.

Guru's political yoga

Yoga keeps one cool. But yoga guru Baba Ramdev puzzled his disciples when he got irritated after performing "certain postures" during his recent visit to Bilashpur, nearly 130 km from Chhattisgarh's capital Raipur.

The bearded guru was in Chhattisgarh as part of his nationwide campaign against corruption and stashing of ill-gotten money in foreign banks by unscrupulous people. The campaign in each place began with his usual yoga classes to his thousands of disciples and ended with a short but fiery speech highlighting how corruption is robbing the country of lakhs of crore of rupees and depriving poor of basic needs. At Bilashpur, however, he was confronted by a few enterprising scribes, who queried him why he is mixing yoga with politics.

Baba Ramdev suddenly got furious and replied mimicking yoga postures, "Do you expect me to tell the corrupt politicians — close your eyes, breath slowly and loot, loot, loot…?"

A curious disciple, who was watching his interaction with the press from a distance, wanted to know from one of the mediamen what Ramdev was doing. "Political yoga", the young scribe replied.

Slipping on Simi

The Bharatiya Janata Party government in Madhya Pradesh led by the Chief Minister, Mr Shivraj Singh Chouhan, has egg on its face. As part of the amnesty on Republic Day, it released five activists of the banned Students' Islamic Movement of India (Simi) from Khachrod sub-jail in Ujjain district within days of being convicted.

While the main Opposition Congress is breathing fire and has sought a probe into the release of Simi activists, the saffron activists belonging to the VHP and Bajrang Dal have also come out on the streets lodging a strong protest.

Stunned by all this, the state government woke up and in an attempt to douse the fire removed the director general of prisons, obviously holding him responsible for the "Simi" slip.

Mundra machinations

Gujarat-based industrialist Gautam Adani's much-hyped Mundra port is in trouble. The ministry of environment and forests has served a showcause notice to Mundra Port and Special Economic Zone Ltd for alleged violation of coastal zone regulations.This is the latest in a slew of actions taken by the Union minister for environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh, for suspected breach of environmental rules. However, Mr Adani is the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi's blue-eyed boy. Both Mr Modi and Mr Adani have been spreading tales of how they are being targeted because Gujarat is in a non-Congress state. However, there is hope now with Mr Ramesh relenting on Posco. With Mr Adani's excellent contacts in the Prime Minister's Office which he flaunts every time, he is hoping that Mundra too will get Mr Jairam's green signal before long.

Sibal the speechless

THE Union HRD and telecom minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, has an opinion on almost everything and every issue that faces the nation.

And he has often been criticised by his partymen and Opposition alike for his comments. However, on the day his predecessor, Mr A. Raja, was arrested, Mr Sibal was found wanting for words. The minister, who is generally easily accessible to the media, almost went incommunicado on the day of the arrest. However, a few scribes finally cornered Mr Sibal when he was boarding an elevator to leave the office. The minister flatly refused to comment on the developments when dozens of microphones were shoved into the elevator.

The personal security officer of the minister had to literally push everyone out to get the elevator unstuck and help Mr Sibal escape.

No surprise in surprise

the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati's much-publicised "surprise" visits to various districts in the state to assess development and law and order lack the crucial element — surprise.

She embarked on her mission from February 1 but even before she had landed in Gorakhpur, newspapers in the state capital were filled with full page advertisements welcoming the chief minister to the district.

Since everyone in the district had prior information about Ms Mayawati's "surprise" visit, concerned officials had adequately spruced up schools, hospitals and other places that were on her itinerary.

Children in schools and patients in hospitals spoke well-rehearsed lines about how well they were being taken care of. All this left Ms Mayawati happy.

Sources say that it was the officers in the CMO who had leaked information about her surprise visit to Gorakhpur since they were keen to save their blue-eyed boys in the district form Maya's wrath. That is no surprise either.








THE current census operations have verged on a fiasco from the start. While the rarefied discourse over caste and census had hobbled enumeration in the initial stages, the count in West Bengal can be thoroughly misleading, as exposed by this newspaper. The enumeration has been as unprofessional as irregular. The density of population both in Kolkata and the state as a whole is much too visible; if the data gleaned thus far indicates a substantial decline, the decennial exercise could well have been trashed as ludicrous were it not for its profound implications. The figures point to a 28 per cent population decline in certain district towns and a ten per cent fall in Kolkata where the population burgeons by the day ~ both naturally and from the exodus from other states and from across the border. It would be a gross understatement to describe the findings as absurd; the city's head-count is said to have dropped from 45,72,876 (2001 census) to 40,93,060 in 2011.
  Within the municipal area, the work has been shoddy in the extreme, to the extent that the state government has had to put the KMC on notice. It is a measure of the magnitude of the lapse that the latter is contemplating FIRs against enumerators who have either shirked their duties or have skipped the mandatory training programmes. For once, the CPI-M government and KMC's Trinamul board appear to be on the same wavelength. The civic body's tradition of ghost employment appears to have afflicted the enumerators as well. The truant census staff have reportedly been bribing field workers to get themselves marked as present. Overall, it  has been a half-baked, quick-fix exercise with scarcely an effort to abide by the parameters, let alone undertake an accurate head-count.

To blame it on a dearth of enumerators is only to obfuscate the core issue; it doesn't account for the almost incredible drop in numbers even in the border districts that bear witness to a demographic change. If the figures are unacceptable as they must be, the impact is bound to be deleterious in terms of the state's development index. Notably, Plan allocations are based on the census figures and it has been officially acknowledged that Bengal is likely to lose out over the next decade. Nay more, the risk of Kolkata losing its status as an A-1 city is substantial.  Neither the city nor the state has been covered incisively enough. Maybe a prod from the central census authorities might compel the local enumerators to pull up their socks.




APOLOGIES, inquiries, excuses and alibis add up to little more than insult when a life has been needlessly snuffed out. Much as we may understand the complexities and tensions of the Army's task in Jammu and Kashmir, there can be no pulling punches over yet another rash killing of a "suspected" militant in Handwara ~ suspicions do not suffice to kill. It is too early to tell if the fire-fighting mission the chief minister quickly undertook will avert the kind of flare-up the Machhil killings ignited last year;  Mr Omar Abdullah is certainly entitled to be livid that the local army commanders are yet to accept the death of a single innocent civilian negates the gains of a string of anti-militant successes. The widening of the trust-deficit and further alienation of the local populace ~ without whose support militancy cannot be contained ~ are not the only negatives. The killing provides ammunition to both "legitimate" opposition parties as well as the separatists to project the Valley as being under an oppressive regime, adds weight to the argument that it is imperative to withdraw the protection trigger-happy troops receive from the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The interlocutors" may have little to show for their jaw-jaw, but they may lament that their efforts have been stymied by the gunning-down of 22-year-old Manzoor Ahmed Magray. Far from comforting is the comment of the Army chief that it was ordering its own probe "although we are quite sure as to what has happened": it reinforces the impression that the army is interested in protecting rather than punishing wrong-doers. The series of such killings indicate inept leadership, another manifestation of the poor "inner health" that General VK Singh has had the guts to highlight.

The grapevine has it that the suggestions which Mr Abdullah says were ignored included drastically curbing operations at night, initially using non-lethal weaponry. Risky perhaps, but necessary. The chief minister must also admit a failure of successive state governments to so upgrade the J&K police as to reduce the army requirement ~ police outfits are better suited to exercising soft options. Yet that does not exonerate the army of the charge of being insensitive. It has been deployed in J&K for over 50 years, has still to endear itself to the people. And experience gained in the twenty-odd years of insurgency ought to have enlightened it to rework its definition of dushman.




THE flogging to death of a 14-year-old girl in Bangladesh is of a piece with the medieval barbarity that masquerades as justice in parts of the Islamic world. In death, Mossamet Hena, accused of an illicit affair by a shariah court, has ripped the veil of "secularism" in the  Awami League's Bangladesh. Despite the re-insertion of that agreeable expression in the Constitution and the abrogation of the Fifth Amendment, indubitable is the fact that shariah courts do still exist and barely 35 km from Dhaka in Shariatpur.  There is an uncanny ring in the name of the village so close to the seat of authority. Indeed, there are areas across the country where the writ of the State is overshadowed by the fatwa of the Islamic court whose idea of justice is embedded in calculated malevolence. To prosecute Hena, the court is said to have chewed over three options ~ buried alive, stoned to death and public flogging ~ reminiscent of feudal justice. The punishment that was meted out with mortal effect was deemed to be the mildest of the three.

The government, that flaunts its secular credentials as a diplomatic gambit in its dealings with India, now has its back to the wall.  The Bangladesh High Court has stepped in decisively with a suo motu notice to the Hasina government. It has demanded an explanation from the administration for its failure to save Hena. No less crucially, the government has been impervious to the existence of religious courts despite a judicial ban that has declared fatwas illegal. Clearly, these courts have mushroomed even after the eclipse of the pro-fundamentalist BNP dispensation of Begum Khaleda. Central to such perversion of justice is the fundamental disconnect in Begum Hasina's Bangladesh. Her balancing act after taking over as Prime Minister has tragically misfired. While her government appears to be secular on the face of it, it has stopped short of banning the Islamist outfits that had thrived under her predecessor. That skewed mindset is institutionalised in the religious courts. From one Begum to another, the sinister aberrations might persist for a long while yet.









There is a raging debate over the phenomenon called "media trial". Is it something new or has it existed since the inception of the Fourth Estate? It is rooted in the perceived failure of various institutions whose working has not benefited civil society ~ the clientele that the media caters to. The media ~ almost in the manner of the judiciary ~ often over-asserts itself to fill the vacuum as it were. This explains the phenomena of  'judicial activism' or 'media trial'. And the latter is not exactly a new trend. It bears recall that in the wake of all major movements, including our very own freedom struggle, the media had championed myriad causes. The press had played a proactive role during the Emergency.

Media trial exists in parallel with the classical justice mechanism and such other champions of public causes as the civil society, NGOs, various pressure groups and vested interests. The media often works in association with some or many such institutions. Media trial is a way to give expression to public opinion. The media often comes forward to support or oppose the dominant view in a particular judicial trial or to support/ oppose a particular decision by the executive in keeping with the popular mood. The media just throws its weight in support or in opposition to a popular stance in light of available evidence or perceived public interest.
Many of the recent judicial cases or instances of corruption were brought to public notice after exposure by the media. The cases relating to the deaths of Jessica Lal, Priyadarshini Mattoo, Rizwanur Rehman and Shivani Bhatnagar, the 2G Spectrum and CWG scams, the Ruchira Girhotra molestation case, the Sukna land and Adarsh Society scams, the IPL fiddle and the historic Nanawati case are but few instances that readily come to mind. In its coverage of these cases, the media has been able to sway public opinion.

By and large, the media seems to be on the right side of justice. There are instances too in which it has been accused of being partisan, often buttressing the interests of the corporate house it belongs to. There is also an element of competitive commercialism. Often, certain stories are deliberately planted to suit the corporate entity. They may even reflect the journalist's connections with interest groups. This makes it difficult for the unsuspecting readers and viewers to ascertain the truth, to separate the chaff from the grain.

It is shocking that the media often misses the wood for the trees. Instead of judging an incident on merit, it occasionally tends to be carried away. As evident in the reportage of the plight of cyclone-affected people in a particular state or the manhandling of an Opposition legislator. The government was criticised in both instances.
In keeping with the spirit of professional journalism, the media ought to assess situations in a dispassionate manner. It must maintain its neutrality without distorting the freedom of expression.
Rightly did Lord Acton observe: "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely". If one has a licence to own a gun, it is expected that he will know whom to shoot, when to shoot and how to shoot. When one shoots indiscriminately, then it verges on derangement and needs to be regulated. Similarly, the media needs to conduct itself with greater responsibility while exercising its power to report and analyse. Unfettered power without accountability needs to be checked and used with caution.

A person, who has spent considerable time in the media, does know whether to carry a particular story or not to carry it or the angle to take with due regard to the sensitivities of the vested interests, the owners and the management. Quite often, a media house desists from carrying a story because the entity concerned may be a major advertiser. A nexus between the media and various vested interests can endanger the classical neutrality. L'affaire Barkha Dutt is a case in point. One major problem of media trial is the fact that it generally focuses on high-profile cases. There are hundreds of other cases that are barely reported.

All said and done, media trial is a positive development. If carried out judiciously, it can serve the interest of society. In today's age of "sting operations" and Right to Information, those who take crucial decisions are definitely on their toes. They are acutely aware that their functioning is being monitored. They  reflect twice before acting hastily, ever so wary of a proactive and snoopy media. The political class, the bureaucracy and the police are definitely more responsible today than ever before.

Earlier, it was virtually impossible to imagine that a minister could be jailed, an IAS/IPS officer  arrested or a powerful politician convicted. All three developments have taken place in the recent past. The conviction of Manu Sharma, Santosh Singh, the former IGP of Haryana, RK Sharma, the ex-DGP of Haryana, HKS Rathore, the arrest and imprisonment of  prominent politicians or the resignations of high-profile party office-bearers prove the efficacy and effectiveness of media trial. There is little doubt that the process of justice has been speedier in comparison to the conventional justice system.

Hopefully, the media will exercise its powers with greater discretion and responsibility. This will facilitate the conventional system of justice and decision-making rather than replace the same lock, stock and barrel.

The writer, an IAS officer, is District Magistrate, Birbhum in West Bengal. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Government






SHE was Pelagea Nilovna, the mother of Pavel Mikhailovich, in Maxim Gorky's Mother; the poor mother in Grazia Deledda's La Madre, brought out in 1926; or the mother in a poor Chinese peasant household of the early 1930s, portrayed by Pearl Sydenstricker Buck in The Mother. Although Gorky (real name, Aleksey Maximovich Peshkov) did not get the Nobel Prize for literature, he set the pace for the literary portrayal of mothers as a revolutionary synonym for social conscience and connoisseurs gave his creation collinear status with those of Deledda and Buck. Deledda's protagonist makes many a sacrifice to help her son Paolo become a priest, but he is split between his love for her and clerical celibacy. Buck's "mother" is a poor woman whose ecstasies and agonies intersperse.

Anusua Sen, mother of Dr Binayak Sen who is literally a prisoner of conscience, is a real-life mother. Hers is laudable courage and sobriety in the defence of justice ~ not only for her son who has honoured his Hippocratic commitment to treat patients and the medically distressed, especially the "wretched of the earth" ~ but for co-accused Narayan Sanyal and Pijush Guha, who has never been involved in Maoist politics and hundreds of others dumped in the jails of Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and even Bengal. She resembles Gorky's Pelagea Nilovna, mother to not only Pavel but also his Ukrainian friend Andrei Nakhodka who fondly called her "Nenko". She refused to let the struggle for existence stop her from being part of the protest against Tsarist oppression let loose on the Russian proletariat. Her illiteracy notwithstanding, she went around factories distributing Bolshevik leaflets when Pavel was imprisoned for taking up arms on behalf of ill-paid workers.
Well-educated (a former teacher) and politically conscious, Anusua Sen finds the roots of miscarriage of justice in the idioms of "corporate globalisation" while upholding the  primacy of motherly affection for all paying dearly for their commitment to social equity. "I am not just the mother of Binayak or the rest of my children but all those behind bars without a proper trial. My worries are not limited to Binayak or his co-accused but others jailed in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere in the country," she told me at her residence in Kalyani, Nadia district.
Asked to comment on the accusation by the Chattisgarh DGP against Dr Sen for treating Maoists, she recalled an episode in the life of her late husband, Dr Debaprasasd Sen, formerly a senior officer in the Indian Army Medical Corps. "It was during the Indo-Pakistani War. My husband was on his way to a barracks in the war arena.

He saw a bleeding jawan and ordered his subordinate to pick the man up. The junior said, 'Sir, he belongs to the enemy camp.' My husband said, 'If you don't obey my orders, I will shoot you.' The wounded soldier was picked up, treated by my husband and remained a prisoner of war. Doctors are committed to treat men and women in distress. Binayak did just that.

"He received the Paul Harrison Award for a lifetime of service to the rural poor when he was an alumni of the Christian Medical College in Vellore; the RR Keithan Gold Medal from  the Indian Academy of Social Sciences, which described him as 'one of the most eminent scientists' for his outstanding contribution to improving the quality of life of the poor, the downtrodden and the oppressed people of Chhattisgarh; and the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights." Dr Sen's feats, indeed, speak volumes for what can be achieved in very poor areas when health practitioners are also committed community leaders.
"I am nowhere near Binayak, the second of my three sons, by any reckoning. At times I have felt I should bow down to him."

One remembers watching Helene Wigel's portrayal in the tile role of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children (Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder), and recalling what Gorky so succinctly wrote, "Mothers are hardly ever pitied." Anusua Sen's heart bleeds for all victims of the miscarriage of justice, unlike those ~ mostly late-joiners ~ who want only Binayak Sen to be free so as to reap short-term political gains. "My son," she has often said, "was inspired by Gandhian ideas and stands for wounded humanity."

The writer is a freelance contributor






AN examination of the Muslim Brotherhood suggests Sunday's events in Cairo are a logical extension of its history. It was founded in the 1920s by schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna. By the end of the 1940s, its numbers had swollen to more than 500,000 on the back of its three major causes: battling British colonialism, resistance to a new Jewish state and fighting corruption in Egypt. Now it is Egypt's most powerful opposition movement and has inspired Islamist movements worldwide.

Even though it was supposed to be apolitical and religious, in the 1930s al-Banna established a paramilitary wing. It carried out multiple operations against prominent Jews and targeted political leaders and judges in Egypt. In 1948, one of the Brothers assassinated the Prime Minister. As a result, the security services killed al-Banna, creating in the Muslim Brotherhood a chasm between the political and paramilitary wings. The target for the Brotherhood remained the British-backed monarchy and it backed the three army officers, including Gamal Abdel Nasser, who led the Egyptian revolution. The tactical alliance did not last more than a few months. They had divergent political goals: the Muslim Brotherhood believed in the establishment of a Koranic state and the officers a nationalist, secularist one. An attempted assassination of Nasser himself led to the brutal suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and the imprisonment of Sayyid Qutb, one of its leading ideologues.
When Nasser sent Qutb to the gallows in 1966, it led to the jihadist movement. A year after Qutb's death, 16-year-old Ayman al-Zawahiri set up a jihadist cell at his school and invited a few friends to join. He became, and remains, one of al-Qaida's most prominent leaders.

The birth of the jihadist movement cannot be understood without reference to this great clash between the Muslim Brotherhood and Nasser's forces. Hosni Mubarak's regime is an extension of this. Since the 1970s, the Brotherhood has tried to position itself as a centrist religious mainstream political movement. It entered the last elkection against the wishes of other members of the opposition and now has also entered talks with the regime. This is all part of a goal to enter mainstream politics, as the ban remains in place. It is seen by many other members of the opposition as opportunistic and capable of backdoor deals. Even with the hated Mubarak regime.

The writer is director of the London School of Economics' West Asia centre






ALFRED Hitchcock's film, The Birds, based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, portrayed a most unusual theme ~ supposedly gentle birds massing together and viciously attacking humans. Recently, I found myself in a much more subdued version of the same kind of drama. I live in a suburban area that is rich in greenery and fauna, but among the birds that frequent the area that I live in crows are hardly ever seen. My attention was drawn to this fact by a relative who was visiting me from a metropolitan city where people have a problem trying to keep these pests away.


My reasoning was that this particular anomaly might be related to the fact that I do not live in an urban jungle where crumbs of food are available in plenty, which is a natural attraction for crows. Bungalows with compounds are the norm where I am based, and remnants of food are not so easy to come by.
But the other day, a host of these black-winged creatures suddenly materialised en masse from nowhere, their raucous cawing filling the air. There was a reason for this. One of the members of their tribe was lying injured under the mango tree in front of my house. How it got injured, I have no idea, but mishap to one of their own brought a regular army of these birds in protest, almost to my doorstep. After a while their cawing stopped and the crows perched themselves in a row on the boundary wall of my house ~ on guard, as it were.
Thinking it was now safe for me to approach the injured crow, I tried to help it by strewing some breadcrumbs near it, but it was too weak to eat. Mistaking my kindness for an intrusion into their world and, possibly, further injury to one of their kind, the crows suddenly left their perch and swooped over my head. I just about managed to save whatever hair I have by rushing indoors.


Thereafter, I had only to venture outside my house for this winged tribe to materialise from nowhere and raise their voices in protest, flapping their wings dangerously close to my head. I decided to stay indoors till normality was restored. A day or two later, the injured crow died, and I asked my maid to take it out of the gate and put it into a shallow grave beside the road. In deference to the dead bird, she covered the grave with some leaves.

With the bird out of my compound, I felt it was now safe for me to venture outdoors. But no sooner had I stepped out of my gate than a flock of crows descended threateningly over me. I realised that the dead crow was somewhere nearby and I was still the enemy as far as these birds were concerned.

Finally, the dead crow was removed by the street cleaners. I thought my ordeal was over, but then another injured crow landed almost on my doorstep, and the drama of the past was repeated. I had a suspicion that the two unfortunate crows might have been attacked by members of their own tribe as a sort of vendetta for something or the other (who knows what thoughts fill the diminutive brains of these birds).

This time I did not try to be a Good Samaritan and go to its help. And the crows kept away from me. A couple of days later, this crow also died and was disposed of like its predecessor. But for a few days after its demise the silence around me continued to be broken by the occasional cawing of crows while I sat in the safety of my verandah.

I found myself thinking of Hitchcock's film, which I had once thought rather far-fetched. Now it seemed much closer to reality than was the case when I had seen it years ago.







Making peace can be a tougher test for a rebel group than waging a war. The United Liberation Front of Asom faces such a test during its forthcoming peace talks with New Delhi. The only way the Ulfa can seriously engage in the peace process is by accepting the futility of violence as both a means and an end. Few would doubt that the Ulfa today is completely alienated from the people in whose name it had begun its rebellion 30 years ago. The overwhelming majority of the Assamese accept that democracy, with all its flaws, can best address their grievances. The decline in the Ulfa's popularity also came hand in hand with the divisions within its ranks. Its training camps and shelters in the neighbouring countries, especially in Bangladesh, could not have sustained a movement that had lost its political legitimacy among the Assamese. All these led to the weakening of the Ulfa as an insurgent group. But the group's leaders would be utterly wrong to see their participation in the peace process as a tactical retreat. They have to decide once and for all that democracy offers the only civilized way of discussing issues related to governance and the people's rights. Once this fundamental principle is accepted, peace initiatives can be meaningful and realistic.

Even the Ulfa leaders themselves must have always known how unrealistic their demand for a "sovereign" Assam was. Other ethnic rebels in the Northeast who had once raised the issue of "sovereignty" subsequently saw the absurdity of it. The Ulfa is also showing signs of maturity by hinting that "autonomy" for Assam, rather than sovereignty, would be their main concern during the peace talks. Demands for more autonomy for states or regions within them are not new. New Delhi has often accepted such demands, thereby creating new administrative set-ups. If the Ulfa had seen the merit of the democratic argument earlier, Assam could have been spared 30 years of bloodshed. Its leaders have now called the killings in Assam a "mistake". It would have been more honest for them to admit that the ideology that prompted the killings was actually a bigger mistake. The Indian Constitution has enough "flexibility", as the prime minister put it, to address the divergent aspirations of the people in different parts of the country. The peace talks are the Ulfa's best chance to redeem its past and take its place in the making of Assam's future.






Rescuing people in distress may be an occupational hazard for reel heroes, but in the South, it has long become a virtue, used to the hilt by canny cinestars-turned-politicians. The latest to display such an act of heroism is K. Chiranjeevi, the founding leader of the Praja Rajyam Party, whose benefaction is likely to save an entire political organization in Andhra Pradesh. There can be little doubt that by deciding to merge the PRP with the Congress, Mr Chiranjeevi has thrown a lifeline to the Congress, his one-time foe. Faced with the threat from Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, who had dared to carry his battle against the Congress to the capital recently, and the danger of losing more legislators to the lure of Mr Reddy, the Congress needed the support of the PRP to survive the tumult of the forthcoming budget session in the assembly where a resurgent Telugu Desam Party is likely to give it a hard time. With the PRP's 18 legislators now obliged to vote as the Congress decides for its party members, and the support of seven more legislators from the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, the Congress is in a position to not only stare Mr Reddy in the face, but also to keep its own legislators under a tighter leash. For the Congress, therefore, it is a coup of sorts, since a merger gives it way more political confidence than an alliance would have. For Mr Chiranjeevi, it is no less profitable. Apart from saving him from political oblivion, the move is bound to fetch him rewards in ministerial berths, which would have otherwise been impossible for his party to obtain under the present circumstances.

The path ahead, however, may not be as rosy as the two new bedfellows imagine it to be. By merging with the PRP, the ruling party in Andhra Pradesh has given up its ability to fracture the anti-Congress vote-bank, a factor that had powerfully contributed to its victory and to the TDP's failure in the last assembly elections. With 'one political rival less', the TDP, as the major opposition party, is likely to make the most of the anti-incumbency factor. There is another hitch. By identifying itself with the PRP and the MIS, both anti-Telangana parties, the Congress has made it vulnerable to misinterpretations on the Telangana issue even before it casts its die. This, together with dissensions within the PRP and the Congress over the merger, could make the political scene in Andhra Pradesh more unsettled than before.






The recent figures of the index of industrial production have caused some consternation, not least amongst the government's professional cheerleaders. The monthly manufacturing growth rate has dipped down sharply in some months, suggesting that growth was slowing down. But it has fluctuated wildly, making it difficult to read the trend. One rather shallow reaction to the figures is that they are not reliable — that the Central Statistical Organisation does not know how to measure industrial production. However, it would be dangerous to trust journalists as judges of statistics. Government statisticians can be bad, but surely, journalists posing as statistical experts can only be worse. So let us for a moment assume that the figures of industrial production are not hogwash, and take them seriously.

The first conclusion that emerges from a slightly deeper analysis is that the decline in industrial growth has much to do with base effect. Industrial growth rose about 10 per cent in June 2009, and then remained high for a whole year. So base effect would have acted to bring down the growth rate after June 2009. It is no wonder that the year-on-year growth rate slumped to seven per cent in August and four per cent in September. If we remove the base effect, growth is seen to be pretty steady around 10 per cent. It comes down if we smooth the series over even longer periods; which means that 2008 was an even better year. The best general conclusion would be that industrial growth is holding up close to 10 per cent.

Inflation in manufacturing has also tended to decline in recent months, suggesting that the industrial slowdown is demand-driven. From over six per cent in the early part of 2010, it has come down to about four per cent. If, however, there is doubt about the slowdown itself, the role of demand also must be questioned. The trend over a slightly longer period is even more strongly downward. So it is possible that in some industries, rapid growth has tended to race ahead of demand and prices have come under pressure.

The index of industrial production is a weighted average of indices for different industries, so output in at least some industries must have behaved similarly to the general index. These are chemicals, metals, metal goods and machinery — broadly speaking, capital goods industries. They do not include food, textiles and vehicles. The last industry is important. Car and truck production has been growing at phenomenal rates, and one would expect that its growth must slow down at some point — 30, 40 and 50 per cent growth cannot continue for long. But however much we analyse the figures, whatever the period we calculate them for, the industry simply does not show any slowing.

Inflation also is pretty low — close to three to four per cent. The two product groups in which inflation is high are textiles and hydrocarbons. In textiles, the collapse of Pakistan has brought its customers to India; as they chased Indian manufacturers, capacity constraints emerged, and producers started raising prices. The other is hydrocarbons. The government prevented the refineries from raising prices when crude prices went up in 2007 and 2008. It has recently allowed some rise in prices; that has sent up year-on-year inflation. But this is in State-determined prices, and tells us nothing about more general trends.

While the ostensible industrial slowdown upset the professional optimists, it did nothing to shake their faith in the bigger story. In their view, it is the destiny of India to go on growing at eight per cent, nine per cent, and more, and doubts about it were blasphemy. Here, the overall figures support their view. There has been a step-up in growth, from somewhere near six per cent in early 2006 to over eight per cent in recent quarters. The acceleration comes from manufacturing, trade and construction; the only sectors which do not show acceleration are agriculture, finance and government. The manufacturing acceleration is inconsistent with the slowdown shown by the figures of the IIP. But since gross domestic product figures come out only once a quarter, we have fewer observations, so we do not yet know whether to take the contradiction seriously. We may as well for the moment assume that the IIP figures are fluctuating around the trend shown by GDP figures.

Taking an expenditure-oriented view, the acceleration can be traced to capital formation and exports; it is an investment-led boom. Acquisitions of gold and jewellery also continue to grow fast; this is another indication against the view that the economy is slowing down. Gross domestic product figures show a definite rise in inflation, from about four per cent in the second half of 2009 to close to 10 per cent in recent quarters.

This would suggest that the economy was heating up. But the sharp rise has been in agricultural prices, from about eight per cent in early 2009 to over 15 per cent in recent quarters. Non-agricultural sectors show no significant rise in inflation. On the expenditure side, capital formation, which we saw is leading the growth, shows no rise in inflation. All other sectors show some.

Taking all these figures together, we get two pictures. First, the economy shows high growth led by the capital goods sector. Second, it shows accelerating inflation. The two pictures have nothing to do with each other. The booming capital goods show very modest inflation, and the inflation is mostly due to agriculture.

Government spokesmen, especially the chief economic adviser, have taken the view that the inflation was not demand-driven and had microeconomic roots. Subir Gokarn propagated the novel view that the inflation was due to prosperity — as people got richer, they had been eating more protein, and that had led to inflation in protein products like meat, fish and eggs. This has led to the general official stand that the inflation was to be explained by what was happening in some isolated product markets and was not a general phenomenon. I myself was sceptical about this stance. High growth and high inflation seemed naturally connected. On that assumption I had argued that the government must bring down its high level of fiscal deficit.

Now I think that there is an argument for bringing it down, but it is not based on macroeconomic analysis, but just on grounds of fiscal soundness and probity; the government is highly indebted and must bring down its level of indebtedness. It makes banks finance its borrowings. The more they lend to the government, the less they lend to productive enterprises. So government borrowing is inimical to growth; if the government were to balance its budget, that might possibly add a couple of per cent to growth — and take it up to the Chinese level. So if anything prevents us from matching the Chinese, it is our profligate governments. The ruling party is focused on the short term, and on winning elections; to that end, it has set up expensive schemes of boosting consumption, such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and subsidized food distribution, which enrich corrupt politicians and bureaucrats instead of subsidizing the poor. It is its short-sighted populism that has led us to fall behind China.






Sonia Gandhi is alleged to have said that men and women in the Congress who have slipped into the second half of their sixties need to retire gracefully. She is bang on target here. The weak and insufficient argument that the young members have not shown their mettle or efficiency in ideas or in practice is faulty, to say the least. Rather, it would be appropriate to reinforce the truth that the so-called experienced leaders have, in fact, betrayed India, exploited it and reduced it to a corrupt and failed State. The inability to rewrite inherited colonial and repressive laws, the disregard for the desperate need for administrative reforms across the board, and inept, weak governance have damaged India's entrepreneurial growth. They have maimed the possibilities of real and substantial development.

A cleansing can only begin with the passing-on of the baton, without all the nonsensical, subjective innuendoes. If this process is not triggered off now, a majority of Indians may well take to the streets and demand dignity and integrity. To be personally clean and to condone the corrupt are not being perceived as positive governance by the larger citizenry. Indians are increasingly looking for a systemic change that will ease their working lives as well as their community living. This is true for rural, middle class and metropolitan India, cutting across all cultural and economic differences. Those in power, with a few exceptions, are in denial, finding rationales that are meaningless in the changed environment of today. Having divided India and Bharat in a mad effort to hold on to power at all cost, they believe that the situation remains the same for them to continue manipulating. They are mistaken and will have to face the brewing crisis sooner or later.

New life

It is shameful that Indian leaders — both in the government and in the political parties — treat their younger colleagues with scorn, dismissing them as inexperienced. They themselves are intellectually inexperienced and hugely lacking when compared to a new generation which is educated and far more methodical. The latter has a future and, therefore, an aspiration to create a better, cleaner society. Those in their sixties, seventies and eighties have lived their lives and are out of sync with a fast changing world.

Senior leaders should hand over charge before they are forced out. That would be dignified, and in the best traditions of probity and good politics. Is there a leader who has the wherewithal to do so and lead? Or are they all clinging to the comfort of living off the land, on top of the pile?

Predictable ideas, predictable 'models' taken from alien cultures, predictable arguments, predictable positions and defences — all these come together to make a stale and tasteless khichdi. Ham-handed administration, pathetic political rhetoric, and old men and women posturing about the future of India make for an unsavoury and unpleasant reality. Faith and trust in the government and the system have got diluted. The abuse of democratic institutions and Parliament has been nauseating. Our progressive civilization is being compelled to regress. This is wholly unwarranted.

Why does the present dispensation in Delhi not take on the challenge and actively address and redress the horrors that rule our exploited and frayed everyday lives? Are the leaders not energized and excited by the great potential for an overhaul that could result in India becoming a 'real' power? Are they not intellectually equipped to devise new approaches, solutions and models that will ensure a deviation from the downhill slide that we are witnessing? Has Sonia Gandhi's statement let the cat loose amongst the pigeons? Will this spring bring new life to our diseased political class?






It was exactly a decade ago that Hanan Ashrawi, sitting in her office in Beit Hanina in the outskirts of Jerusalem, told me: "If the Arab world does not change by its own will, it will be changed. If there is no peaceful transition to democracy it will take place violently and I believe that there is a public opinion in the Arab world that is simmering... there is a demand for serious reform and serious democratization... it will not happen by default or by itself, there has to be an active movement. The Arab world has to be part of the contemporary world; it cannot keep falling short, falling behind. There is no room in history for all those who fall by the wayside."

Ashrawi had then just assumed the role of spokesperson of the Arab League, something unique in a region where women do not enjoy great political or economic participation, and was expounding the failure of the Arab League in solving the Palestinian issue. Not surprisingly, she resigned soon after. Her words, however, seem to be coming true a decade later in the events that have unfolded first in Tunisia, and now, in Egypt. The Arab world is not a homogeneous one. North Africa or the Maghreb is as distinct from the countries of the Levant as the latter are from the oil producing Gulf states. But it is fitting that this churning in the Arab world began in Tunisia — a modern, secular state, with an educated middle class which has distinguished itself from the other countries in the region, taking advantage of its colonial past. And it is not surprising that this unrest has spilt over into Egypt.

Egypt is the unofficial capital of the Arab world. There is an Arab saying: Cairo writes, Beirut prints and Baghdad reads. Egyptians dominate the Arab intellectual scene. The country is home to the hallowed Al-Azhar University, where Muslims from all over the globe study to perfect their knowledge of the juridical aspects of Islam, but whose alumni also include the late Houari Boumedienne, former president of Algeria and leader of the 1954 anti-colonial revolution against the French, and the late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of Hamas. All Arab Nobel laureates, except for Yasser Arafat, are Egyptians. The Egyptian film and music industry sets the cultural trends in the region. Democratic leanings have made themselves felt here from time to time.

I was in Cairo in 2005 when Egyptians went to the polls to elect their president. The Opposition was brutally crushed, with candidates challenging President Hosni Mubarak's rule being thrown into prison. But Egyptians did not take it lightly. The Kefaya movement — kefaya means enough — was launched, challenging Mubarak's 25-year-old rule, which he had kept in place with the emergency law since 1981. Its activists were an odd mix of Islamists, Christians, leftists, students, Arab nationalists, intellectuals, with a great number of women in its fold. Their main demands were: transparency in the funding of political parties, multi-candidate presidential elections, and placing a term limit on the presidency. On May 25, 2005, a referendum was held to amend the 76th constitutional clause whereby more than one candidate could stand for the presidential polls. The change was felt to be merely cosmetic — the conditions for contesting the elections virtually negates the possibility of any independent candidate from contesting, while making it impossible for any candidate to win except for Mubarak himself, who was then standing for the fifth term. The Kefaya and the Opposition parties gave a nationwide call to boycott the referendum and held demonstrations in central Cairo. Less than 30 per cent of the electorate voted, though the State-controlled media announced that there was a 75 per cent turnout. I watched how demonstrators suffered police brutalities, the women among them sexually assaulted. Since then, women turned up every Wednesday, dressed in black, calling for the resignation of the minister of interior, on whose orders they had been assaulted.

To show up the sham, the main opposition parties then — the Al Ghad and Tagammu — and two independent candidates — the activist, Saad Eddin Ibrahim and the feminist and novelist, Nawal El Saadawi — announced their intention of standing for the presidential polls (this, too, was a first in the Arab world). But repression followed soon after. The candidate for the Al Ghad party, Ayman Nour, was arrested on charges of forging signatures, while others were barred from campaigning, holding meetings, travelling, or appearing on the State-controlled media. Most of the major opposition parties decided to boycott the polls and Mubarak went on to become president for the fifth time.

But Egyptians had not taken it lying down. Neither was there much sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood, who later went on to occupy one-fifth of the Opposition seats in parliament. An impetus for the anti-government movement had then actually been the second Palestinian intifada. Egyptians watched how disillusioned Palestinians rose up against the Israeli occupation, as also against their own corrupt Palestinian Authority. A year later, Egyptians were demonstrating against the Iraq war, and part of their ire was directed against their own government for its inability, or rather unwillingness, to do anything about it. Anti-American and anti-Israel sentiments were perceived to be safer alternatives to exhibiting displeasure with the Egyptian government, which was one of the two Arab countries to maintain diplomatic ties with Israel, and was being paid for it by the United States of America. Yet, the aid never percolated down to the masses, while unemployment and poverty levels increased. Like most autocratic Arab governments, Egypt found it convenient to deflect the people's angst from itself towards Israel and the US, the countries the Arabs love to hate but long to visit. But Egyptians are also aware of the role that Egypt has played since 2005 in turning Gaza into the prison that it is.

What transpired in 2005 was unprecedented for the Arab street. Six years later, it is only to be expected that an uprising would be of a greater magnitude. Mubarak is now in the 31st year of his rule, the emergency law is still in place, the parliamentary elections held two months ago were totally rigged. Commentators around the world are sceptical that any political vacuum now maybe filled in by the Muslim Brotherhood. This may be true, but it may also be that the popularity enjoyed by the Brotherhood is being exaggerated. After all, in the Palestinian territories it was the Palestinians who were most uneasy with the idea of Hamas coming to power. If the Brotherhood does come to power, it will not have the support of any of the Arab states, just as Hamas did not. Even Salafist Saudis are against the idea of a religious radical group seizing power in any Arab country. And the churning in Egypt may not even stimulate a similar churning in any other Arab state for now.

However, the old order changeth, and it is doubtful that any amount of platitudes by Mubarak will redeem him, even temporarily, in the eyes of those he has treated as his subjects. The first day of demonstrations resulted in four dead, 500 arrested, and angry protests flaring up in every corner of the country. It has got worse now. The overthrow of the Mubarak regime will not signal the immediate democratization of Egypt's polity. The path ahead is a painful one, but the best start would be to have Mubarak gracefully yield the reins of government to Mohamed ElBaradei, who can then head an interim government till truly free and fair presidential elections, scheduled for September 2011, are held.






The last G-20 summit was held in Seoul in November 2010, and the next one will be in Paris in June 2011. France will chair the meet. For all practical purposes, the agenda of the Seoul summit boiled down to persuading China to revalue the yuan. But China refused to budge. So nothing concrete was achieved. In the process, a more important issue — the instability of the market — got pushed back. France has already announced that limiting extreme currency market fluctuations and speculations in commodity prices would be its priority.

It is in this context that the proposal made by Gordon Brown, the then prime minister of Britain, at the G-20 summit of 2009 becomes pertinent. He proposed a small tax on all financial transactions to reduce speculations worldwide. The tax would mean a trivial expense for long-term investors, but it would deter much of the activities of the restless financial markets. The Europeans supported the idea but the United States of America vetoed it.

There are two arguments against the tax. First, it would be unworkable because traders would find ways to evade it. Second, it is difficult to get international consensus on such a tax. But modern trading is a highly centralized affair. For instance, 84 per cent of the gross currency transactions take place only in nine countries. So tracking and taxing them cannot be very difficult. Further, there are international agreements on very complex matters of finance. The G-20 has already initiated concerted action over the last year on tax havens and non-compliant jurisdictions. Therefore, it should be possible to work on such a tax through an international agreement backed by national legislation.

It is also claimed that a transactions tax would not stop lenders from advancing bad loans or gullible investors from buying toxic assets backed by such loans. While this is true, it is also true that the tax would be a deterrent to short-term financing, and that would be achieving a lot.

Bad investments were only half the story in the 2008 crisis. What had turned the bad investments into a calamity was the excessive reliance of the US financial system on short-term funding. By 2007, the US banking system had become crucially dependent on 'repo' transactions, in which financial institutions sell assets to investors while promising to buy them back within a short period. Losses in sub-prime and other assets triggered a banking crisis, because they undermined this system.

The proposed tax would make such a crisis less likely by discouraging reliance on ultra short-term financing. After all, the traders can indulge in currency speculations only because the sovereign nations have allowed free mobility of capital among the countries, thanks to capital account opening (CAC). For some countries, this was a condition for the loans from the International Monetary Fund while others had opted for it. In any case, this is a prerogative of the sovereign nations, which can exercise their right to do away with the CAC or go for partial CAC and impose a tax on foreign capital, even unilaterally.

This would considerably reduce the colossal international flow of speculative funds, thereby curtailing volatility in the financial markets. Such a tax, even at nominal rates, would be advisable, so that the investors are aware of the instrument at the command of the authorities and of their willingness to use it.




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




The Congress party in Andhra Pradesh has insured itself against any destabilising impact of the revolt by former chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy's son Jaganmohan Reddy with the merger of superstar Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) with itself.

Ever since Jaganmohan Reddy's rebellion started and after the Congress realised that he could not be pacified, the party had begun looking out for outside support. The PRP was amenable to the overtures and it was clear that the two parties were coming together.

There was much public bonhomie and they were seen working together in the state Assembly too. The Congress finally decided to go for the merger and acquisition route to strengthen itself, as the organic depletion caused by the Jagan party was becoming a matter of concern in a state where its stakes are very high.

The deal has worked out well for the PRP also which has failed to make any serious impact in over two years of existence. It won 18 seats in the last elections but fell far short of expectations of becoming a major political force. The Congress has now increased its strength in the assembly from 155 to 173.

It needs the support of 148 MLAs in the House to stay in power and with over 20 MLAs supposed to be backing Jaganmohan Reddy, the Kiran Kumar Reddy government was not very safe. With no immediate threat to the government, the party can now even hope to wean back some of Jagan's supporters to its side. Though the PRP merger is claimed to be unconditional, there is no doubt that there are unpublicised terms and offers by way of ministerial berths and other positions. But the Congress could not grudge them to stave off the danger it was facing.

Chiranjeevi's presence in the party might also be useful to the Congress as he is from the numerically strong Kapu community. The Congress base among the powerful Reddy community was being eroded by Jaganmohan Reddy's campaign.

The superstar is also a crowd-puller and can be an asset to the party which cannot claim any popular leader after the death of YSR. Chiranjeevi has lost some following in the Telangana region after he came out as a staunch supporter of a united Andhra but he still commands wide support  which can help the Congress. The challenge for the party is to make the merger real and intact in the months to come.







The thrashing taken by India's stock markets may not compare with some well-known and wealth-destroying crashes of the past but the unrelenting decline has unnerved investors.

Last weekend's precipitous fall took the indices to their six-month lows and erased a good part of the gains they had made last year. There is no indication that the bleeding has been stanched and there are warnings of further declines in the days to come. The comments of the prime minister, the finance minister and others about the serious threat posed by inflation to economic growth have been cited as contributing to the despair of the market.

But this is not the only element in a confluence of factors that have damaged the markets. There is fear that the stimulus measures for the economy announced in the wake of the 2008 slowdown may soon be withdrawn or scaled down. It is also possible that there will be further rate hikes by the RBI.

The markets had already taken into consideration the risks posed by high inflation, increasing interest rates and costlier crude to the economy and to the profitability of companies. There are other countries too that face the same set of problems. But there is reasonable optimism that even then the growth target of 8.5 per cent may be achieved. What the market pessimism shows is that the prospect of good growth is not enough to keep the indices stable or rising.

The pervading negative sentiment in the country arising from corruption scandals was a significant dampener for the markets. It has even cast a shadow on political stability. Markets need not only the numbers from the economy to flourish but also an environment in which there is assurance of the enforcement of the rule of law in all fields.

All emerging markets are in a bad shape, but India is among the worst hit. Foreign financial institutions have withdrawn large chunks of their investments from them. The main reason is that developed markets, especially the US, are better bets for them now.

This  underlines the dangers of unregulated inflow of hot and short term international money into emerging markets. It is difficult to check these flows and the temporary gains made from them are very tempting. But they also inflict pain by destabilising markets.








Minister of environment and forests Jairam Ramesh has finally given conditional clearance to the mega Posco steel-mine-port project in Orissa that he vetoed last August after much palaver. This is good news but is something that could have been done long back without the prodding and pushing it entailed. There is nothing in the order, including stipulating action in consonance with the Forests Rights Act, that could not have been said or sought earlier from the project authorities and the state government.

Precious time has been lost considering that initial clearance for this 12 million tonne, $12 billion project was given in July 2007, after a MoU was signed with the South Korean Pohang Steel Company in 2005. The subsequent Forest Rights Act, retrospectively applied, was to undo earlier approvals as in the case of the Vedanta aluminum project.

One clear lesson is that piecemeal, stop-go clearances and incremental approvals, subject to revision in the context of future legislation, constitute an appallingly clumsy and muddled way of doing business. This inspires no confidence and can only undermine the credibility of governance.

No surprise if investors, Indian and international, should pause before staking too much in an uncertain future. The contretemps over coal mining caused by the ministry of environment and forest's 'go and no-go' classification of forests for mining approvals brought a word of caution from the Planning Commission deputy chairman in December that this could retard infrastructural and industrial development.

The Reserve Bank followed, lamenting the decline in inward FDI flows resulting in delays and stop-gos in relation to environmental clearances for a wide range of projects on account of procedural and land acquisition hassles and (the consequent) paucity of quality infrastructure which lies at the heart of government's growth and poverty alleviation strategy.

The coal minister has now assessed that as a result of MoEF embargoes on mining, the country faces a possible shortfall of 142 million tonnes in coal production next year with implications for prices and industrial production. With oil prices rising, the foreign exchange burden will also increase.

The prime minister has upheld environmental conservation as a matter of prudence and inter-generational equity but has expressed concern that we should not return to the permit-license raj. Ramesh has countered by stating that most coal mining applications have been cleared and that he is seeking to maintain a delicate balance between conservation and growth.

The notion that growth caters solely to corporate greed is fallacious. A sustained high rate of growth is necessary not merely to generate incomes and employment to absorb the net 12 million annual addition to the labour force as a result of given demographic factors but to mitigate if not obviate the 30 million annual distress migration of Malthusian refugees seeking life-saving opportunities.

Inclusive growth

It also helps support inclusive growth by generating the revenue surpluses that make possible the funding of large rights-based programmes such as the Employment Guarantee Act, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and so forth.

A sustained 8-9 per cent rate of growth over the next decade should enable the country to overcome destitution by 2020. High growth is therefore more essential for the poor than it is for the well off. However, widening disparities between different classes and regions must also be countered in the interests of social and political stability.

The government's new line on Posco has not unexpectedly aroused the opposition of sundry activist groups that have opposed not only this but a whole series of large projects across the board in every part of the country. Relevant conditionalities are in order; but any set of ideological red lines can only harm the welfare of the tribals and other disadvantaged groups who are being falsely instigated to forego opportunities of transforming their lives and their environment.

The land can no longer sustain the numbers still scratching a marginal livelihood from it. Mega industry is obviously not the sole answer and must be buttressed by the development of off-farm, rural based small and medium enterprises in food and by-product processing and a range of services.

Energy represents another vital sector that required impetus. After virtually banning any new hydro projects in the higher reaches of Uttarakhand and Himachal, there has reportedly been a welcome relaxation — at least for survey and investigation — in North Sikkim though not in Arunachal.

As far as nuclear plant at Jaitapur is concerned, issues concerning public hearings, land acquisition, fisheries, the temperature of return coolant water flows, seismicity, radiation and green cover have all been gone over and answered. Some of the objections to the Jaitapur project would appear to be ideologically driven on account of positions taken on the merits of the civil-nuclear deal.

Nuclear power is not the sole option and there can be no disagreement about going forward with solar and other forms of non-conventional sources of energy. Nor is it sufficient to argue that nuclear power is currently high cost and that its immediate contribution over the next decade or two will be limited in relation to India's total energy budget.

The underlying national strategy is to move on to a second and third stage of nuclear power generation, graduating from uranium-based to cheaper and more efficient breeder reactors operating on the plutonium-thorium cycle. That the country has gone slow in developing nuclear power for a variety of reasons is every reason to expedite rather than further retard the process today. Yesterday's people fear tomorrow, which is where the future lies.






A lower jobless rate would be cause for celebration, but in Germany it is the sign of a critical lack of workers.
Dana Russow longs for the day when she will not have to worry about staffing problems. "It's not easy finding qualified staff to take care of the elderly," said Dana, 41, director of Residenz Zehlendorf, a private nursing home in southwest Berlin. "This profession has such a low status in Germany."

The low pay does not help, either: Staff earn the minimum wage of $11.60 an hour. Dana is not alone. Employers in many sectors of the German economy are facing labour shortages, under the dual pressures of an aging population and inflation-fighting measures that have kept wages low in comparison with its neighbours.

The problem was thrown into sharp relief last Tuesday with the release of official figures showing that Germany's unemployment rate was the lowest in 18 years. While a jobless rate in single digits would be cause for celebration in many countries, in Germany it is the sign of a critical lack of workers.

For German employers like Dana, help should be on the way. As of May 1, the restrictions that Germany and Austria imposed in 2004 on east Europeans wanting to work in the two countries will be lifted. In theory, a flood of workers should be able and willing to pour into Germany, to take advantage of its booming economy and generous social benefits.


In practice, however, economists say that many workers who wanted to emigrate from the eight east European countries that joined the European Union in 2005 have already done so — to countries like Britain, Ireland and Sweden that kept their borders open.

And even though the economy is faltering in some of those countries, like Britain and Ireland, employers are concerned that workers who have made a new home outside their native countries are unlikely to want to move again. It all adds up to a murky picture for German companies, whose need for workers is evident now and likely to grow more acute.

McKinsey, the consulting firm, published a report last year that concluded that by 2020 Germany would have a shortfall of two million qualified people to fill open jobs. The engineering sector, crucial to Germany's export boom, says it is short of thousands of engineers.

The high-tech industry, telecommunications, manufacturing and services already need people. The Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media, Germany's leading high-tech industry organisation, says its members are short 28,000 qualified workers.

Health care is another sector in trouble. The number of people 65 and older will increase by about half until the end of the 2030s, to around 24 million from nearly 16 million now, according to the Federal Statistics Office. The population older than 80 will grow to 10 million in 2050 from nearly 4.5 million today.

In retrospect, the immigrant-worker restrictions must have looked like a good idea at the time. Fearing a huge influx of workers that would destabilise their labour markets by pushing down wages or taking jobs away from locals, Berlin and Vienna set strict conditions for any east Europeans wanting to work in their countries.

As a result, though, hundreds of thousands of young people from Poland and the Baltic States, from the Czech Republic and Slovakia packed their bags and found jobs elsewhere.

"Many have settled in other countries and learned the language," said Joachim Moeller, director of the Labour Market Institute at the Federal Labour office. "Even though the German economy is now strong again and in need of workers, I can't see people just moving around like that."

Nevertheless, Moeller figures that 1,00,000 east Europeans will come to Germany after next May, drawn by perceptions that Germany is a well-run, wealthy and well-paying country with a very good social welfare system. Those qualities still attract a flexible, well-educated and skilled work force. But jobs in the services sector are not particularly attractive anymore because wages are low in comparison to other countries in the European Union.


According to Peter Verhoeven, chief operating officer of Accor Germany, which is part of one of the world's biggest hotel groups, incentives are not sufficient to persuade young people to move lock, stock and barrel from home to another country.

It has left German industry, the services sector and the government scrambling for solutions out of concern that whatever new arrivals come after May 1 will not be enough to plug the labour gap.










I am at a loss sometimes to know if I have to lose or loose something.


Language is the most imperfect and expensive means yet discovered for communicating thought, opined William James. I am not sure about the expense part but he's right about imperfection. Take, for example, the pronunciation of letter 'u' in words like cut and put and the imperfection stares at you.

Many like me are confused by lose and loose. I am at a loss sometimes to know if I have to lose or loose something. Is it fine to pay a fine? Do you need to be trained to travel by train? And trainees are not passengers. Please rise (or, is it raise) to eat some rice.

Repair can be totally different in different contexts. Why do we have both judgement and judgment? In my judgement one judgment is enough. But which one? Thieves can steal steel, too.

If tree can be trees why should knife be knives not knifes? And why is there no plural for aircraft and/or furniture? And we chide those who write childs for children. Why are there no mediums/stadiums but only media/stadia? Take pronunciation.

Knowledge is to be pronounced as just noledge, that's all; then why include k and w at all? If 's' has no role to play in island, then why should it be there, like a non-playing captain? By the way what is 'k' doing in know, do you know? If you are not tying the knot is the marriage off; or is it the wedding?

To pronounce rendezvous correctly I had to wait till I joined a newspaper office. It is just rendavoo. So why the extra baggage of e, z, o, u, s? If 'fire' is a difficult word, replace it with 'conflagration'. How is panel different from committee? Play can be enacted both on the field and the stage but the two are totally different. So why not two totally different words?

'Go' becomes 'went' and then comes back as 'gone'; 'run' is first 'ran' and then 'run' again. But why is 'cut' cut and cut; bid bid and bid? If good can be better and then best why is small, smaller and smallest? Why do we need two 'c's but one 's' in occasion?

Either you are dead or serious. Sure? No. You can be dead serious, as I am now about its imperfection.

Let me end this with a quote as I began, "I know there are professors who 'ligate' arteries. Other surgeons only tie them, and it stops the bleeding just as well."







Prices of vegetables are soaring all over the country. But in Goa, they are even higher than elsewhere. That is because our vegetables are not grown at home, but come from Belgaum. It is not just the vegetables that are grown outside. Most of Goa's vegetable sellers are also from neighbouring Karnataka. Goan vegetable sellers are completely marginalised; they mostly sit outside markets with their limited wares.

There appears to be a cartel of wholesale vegetable traders in this state. These people buy veggies by the truckload in Belgaum and re-sell them to traders in Goa. They have a very tight link with big vegetable merchants in Belgaum. Those who try to enter the vegetable business in Goa quickly get isolated; the big suppliers simply refuse to deal with them. The complete monopoly of the vegetable trade by this cartel ensures that vegetable prices in Goa are kept very high.

A cartel that uses such extra-legal means to keep out competition is no different from a mafia.
When the Goa Horticulture Corporation began to set up outlets selling vegetables at reasonable prices, people in Goa heaved a sigh of relief. It appears that the Horticulture Corporation's fair trade in vegetables, which it has now extended to fruits, has begun to hit the super-profits of Goa's vegetable mafia. Corporation Chairman Sankalp Amonkar has complained that Belgaum-based wholesale vegetable traders in Karnataka have begun a non-cooperation drive with his Horticulture Corporation.

Mr Amonkar says he is determined that regardless of the attitude of the Belgaum wholesale traders, he will not allow the supply of vegetables to the corporation's outlets to get affected. That is the right kind of attitude to take. Why shouldn't Goans get vegetables at reasonable rates? Except for the subsidised onions sold during the ongoing crisis – which has cost the state government over Rs2 crore – the Corporation's other vegetables are not sold at a loss.

The actual problem is that Goa's vegetable traders can no longer make the windfall profits they used to, thanks to the corporation's outlets. And if Belgaum's traders want to throw in their lot with the profiteers by blacklisting the Goa Horticulture Corporation, it is time the corporation showed them that they are not the only possible source of vegetables for this state, and that other traders in other wholesale markets would be more than happy to sell to Goa.

Kudos to the Indian Navy and Coast Guard for leading the global fight against piracy. Over the past six months and more, Somali pirates have widened their areas of operation, targeting the busy shipping lanes of the Arabian Sea off Goa and the Lakshadweep islands. A number of ships have come under attack just a few hundred miles off the Indian coast in the past few months.

But aggressive action by the Navy and the Coast Guard has now all but broken the back of the pirates, who have been using three Thai deep sea fishing trawlers that they hijacked off Somalia's coast in April 2010. All named 'Prantalay', they were being used as 'mother ships', while the fast skiffs that they carried were used to attack passing ships.
'Prantalay 14' was sunk by the Goa-based Navy jet boat INS Cankarso off the Lakshadweep islands just over a week ago. A few days later, 'Prantalay 11' was captured, pirates, hostages and all. That leaves only 'Prantalay 12', if it hasn't already decided that discretion is the better part of valour. Taking the fight to the pirates is the way to do it!






The question of policing the police is as old as history. In the Second Century A.D. Juvenal, the Roman writer had queried "quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" The problem of the guards becoming a law unto themselves has plagued civilised society for as long as humankind can remember. When entrusted with the task of enforcing the law, the custodians of the law ought (ideally) to be very discerning that they are, in fact, implementing the law, and not using their powers arbitrarily or vindictively. Democratic societies have long been confronted with the phenomenon of law enforcers themselves violating the law. The common man in India is all too familiar with the beat policeman who turns a blind eye to the encroachment of the footpath (in big cities) by petty shopkeepers or sellers of items without proper licences. As long as he gets his regular bribe (hafta) he allows the encroachment to continue. He sets his own terms as to the rate of the hafta and the period for which it is valid. The petty seller simply has no recourse to any higher authority simply because he is aware that he himself is in violation of the law. This extra-curricular violation of the law moves upward even in the bureaucracy and is clearly visible in the manner in which all levels of bureaucrats perform their tasks. The corruption in the system is so deeply ingrained now that a citizen does not even have to go to the government office to get his work done. He simply meets the petty clerk or the superintendent of the department in his house and makes his payment for the "favour" to be done.

Att higher levels of the bureaucracy, the system has taken on its own elaborate rituals.  A Public Relations Officer of a large corporate house or a business establishment is paid handsomely to cultivate particular bureaucrats to keep them in good humour and in generous spirits (pun intended). Expensive dinners or parties are the normal ways of 'winning friends and influencing bureaucrats.' In addition, there are also the generous gifts coming along at the times of special festivals such as Diwali and Christmas. Many a bureaucrat enjoys a lifestyle which is clearly beyond his financial capacity to sustain. At even higher levels, it is known that some "key" officers of the government(s) even have their children educated abroad at the cost of their generous clients. The expression "greasing the palms of officers" has taken on even wider connotations. Now the entire system is greased to make it pliable to the preferences of the business establishments and confederations of business and industry.

The subtle manner in which the government is influenced to serve the interests of business and industry becomes evident on occasions like the formulation of the Regional Plan for Goa with the perspective of 2021. The government goes through an elaborate façade of appointing a "high level" task force to formulate the plan, but when the draft of the report is submitted to the government, it is secretly whetted by representatives of industry, who have their own preferences with regard to what is good for the state and who seek to ensure that their own interests are safeguarded – not the interest of the common man. What is then officially "notified" by the government surprises even the members of the task force who promptly proceed to register their protests at the 'unauthorised' changes made in their report. Public outcry then results at the fact that the government has manipulated the report and introduced elements which were not even considered by the task force. So the government (with an eye to the forthcoming elections) forms another "high level" state level committee to re-study the report of the task force and to submit another report to the government. In effect, the original work of the task force has been nullified and the hard work put in by the members, the elaborate research conducted and the careful formulation of the report, has been rendered useless even before the citizens have had a chance to study the report of the task force. The newly constituted state level committee has simply replaced the task force, which, in effect, has been rendered toothless. It is no wonder that the citizens are furious at the duplicity of the government which claims that it 'represents' the common man. The common man is acutely aware that the notified report simply does not represent the views expressed during the original process of submission of views by the people. Is this simply a maladroit bungling by the government, or is it a deliberate attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the citizenry?

Another example of the duplicity of the government is the manner in which it is processing the Goa Police Bill, 2008. The insincerity of the government and its utter failure to follow the participative process of formulating important legislation is clearly evident in the way it has progressed so far. Ideally, the first draft of the proposed legislation should have been widely published in the media and the opinions of the citizens should have been solicited on the draft. Since the power of the police force is felt most by the citizens, it is imperative that their views should be taken into consideration. It has also to be borne in mind that the police force is not meant to be used as an instrument of coercion in the hands of politicians, especially the Minister for Home Affairs, under whose control it is usually placed. The maintenance of the "Rule of Law" is not the exclusive concern of the Police Force; nor is it the prerogative of the administration. The rule of law is the concern of every citizen to whom both the police administration and the government should be accountable.

This is the reason why the Goa Police Bill, in particular, should be widely debated by the citizens, and the government should not move ahead without ensuring that there has been the widest participation of the citizens in the formulation of the bill. The Council for Social Justice and Peace has made a very reasonable demand that the provisions of the Bill be open for debate by the citizens of Goa, who are supposed to benefit from this piece of legislation. The reluctance of the government to have such an open debate is indicative of mala fide intentions. The ministers and some powerful members of the legislative assembly have shown an unhealthy interest in the functioning of the Goa police force. Each member wants that the officers and men of the police force to do his/her bidding. They even interfere in the admission process to ensure that only "their" men and women are recruited, even if these persons do not meet the minimum standards stipulated for induction into the police.

Of late, the police force in Goa has covered itself in dishonour and disrepute. The blame rests not only with the police administration alone but also with the political establishment. It is not easy to reach the healthy balance between obedience to the lawfully constituted authority of the State and the inviolable rights of the citizens. The police force is placed in the unenviable position of balancing the rights of the citizens against the maintenance of law and order in society. In this difficult task the wholesome participation of the citizens can be a great asset. The government has a serious responsibility to ensure that the citizens are comfortable with a piece of legislation which affects them closely.







T he killers have now apologized and so they should be forgiven because they are initiating a peace process after presiding over an industry of terrorism that has not spared even school students. One must remember Dhemaji, August 15, 2004, when innocent schoolchildren were blasted away by an ULFA cowardly explosive in the name of 'revolution'. One must then also go back to that Lakhipathar mass grave unearthed during Operation Bajrang. Who were those butchered? All people who the ULFA thought were fit to be butchered! What was the fault of the Russian coal engineer Sergie Gretchenko, who was abducted from Margherita and killed in 1991? What was the fault of acclaimed social activist Sanjoy Ghose, who was abducted and killed six years later — by the ULFA in the name of 'freedom struggle' for the people of Assam? And now we hear the outfit's 'foreign secretary' Sasha Choudhury say that ''all the killings'' that the outfit had carried out ''were a mistake''. Wonderful. So now that there will be peace talks between the outfit and the Centre to resolve the so-called Assam-India conflict, the ULFA would have us forget all the dastardly crimes it has committed to 'emancipate' us! Should the expedient be so easy and hassle-free?

Assam has long been bled by the ULFA and other insurgent-turned-terror outfits. Its development potential was sought to be killed. These self-styled revolutionaries have long deprived the State of its dues. Therefore, it deserves peace; more so because the Assamese people in general are such a peace-loving people. And therefore, this newspaper supports the peace process between the ULFA and the government. But this support to the peace process does not, and will never, blind us as to the crimes the ULFA has committed; the kind of terrorism it has unleashed on innocent men, women and children; and the kind of impediment it has turned out to be to the State's development road map. Just because the ULFA leadership (that too sans the main person, outfit 'c-in-c' Paresh Baruah) has been compelled to talk peace, should their crimes be forgotten or forgiven?

The ULFA was not — and let it be repeated, was not — a product of any popular Assamese will. The outfit, formed in 1979, was not a consequence of any mass mandate. How many people (before the ULFA was banned) had hit the streets championing the same cause that the ULFA would espouse? Whose was any mandate that an outfit like ULFA must be formed to 'liberate' Assam; to kill the very people of Assam to 'liberate' it; to destroy its economy for the sake of a 'sovereign' economy?

There is another problem too. There is this precedent that any fine day you can pick a gun, be a so-called people's revolutionary, kill people in your own whims and fancies, and then once you realize that your so-called movement is futile, you return to the mainstream like a hero! What kind of example are we setting before the younger generation? How can a hero of that sort happen when there was no mandate at all for such cowardice dressed up as heroism? What is the message to the younger generation? Who should they follow?

But that is not all. By admitting that all the killings were a mistake, the ULFA leadership seems to be telling us that we should simply ignore the agony of the families of its victims — those men, women and children who lost their lives just because the ULFA had to prove its 'revolutionary valour' thus. How, say, ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa would face these families? Would he have them forget all the pain and forgive the crimes? Just because the ULFA has now realized the futility of armed struggle — after killing innocent people — should the families in question forgive the cowards who have killed their kith and kin? In a just and democratic society, all criminals must face trial and be given exemplary punishment. Let there be no discrimination.





It is not without reason that Mahatma Gandhi should top the list of Time icons. According to the magazine, ''though the country (India) was later divided (and Gandhi assassinated), his role in the bloodless revolution... paved the way for other social  movements including America's struggle for civil rights''. That Time has paid tribute to the Gandhi legacy is not any surprise. What is surprising is that despite such tributes — and we had one from US President Barack Obama too as he addressed the joint session of Parliament in November last year — the number of Gandhi detractors is only increasing by the day, thanks of course to the 'culture' of violence and the fact that there are so many perpetrators of violence who have gone scot-free and been heroized as well. As Gandhi rightly said, it takes a lot of courage to tread the path of non-violence; that ahimsa is not for cowards. This age of violence has reflected so wondrously on sheer cowardice!






S o virtually a race is on and a number of figures are being placed before us as regards India's likely growth performance in 2011. The matter should not confuse the ordinary people like this writer. Every calculation must highlight the process followed, the realistic assumptions and the like.

It is well known a fact that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is perhaps the most widely used indicator of economic growth and well being. The World Bank has called it "the main criterion for classifying economies." According to conventional wisdom, what is good for the GDP is good for the nation; as the GDP rises, so do our fortunes. But what does it actually measure?

In India the Central Statistical Organization has been formulating national income. However some economists have felt that GNP as a measure of national income has its limitations since it excludes poverty, literacy, public health, gender equity and other measures of human prosperity. Instead it is formulated on the basis of other measures of welfare like Human Development Index (HDI).

The cause for concern would be that this rapid growth has not been inclusive in nature, in the sense it has not been accompanied by a just and equitable distribution of wealth among all sections of the population. This economic growth has been location specific and sector specific. It has not percolated to sectors were labour is intensive (agriculture) and in States were poverty is acute (Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh).

Though India has the second highest growth rate in the world, its rank in terms of human development index (which is broadly used has a measure of life expectancy, adult literacy and standard of living) has gone down to 128 among 177 countries in 2007 compared to 126 in 2006. Financial inclusion drive is definitely a welcome move but in the absence of coordination among the participating institutions a little can be expected. Not only in India, inflation has become a serious issue in a number of emerging markets, requiring policy makers to try to slow the flows of capital rushing into their economies – steps that could sharply curb growth and demand for commodities if they're not implemented carefully.

It has been a fact that India after independence has had a more stable record with respect to inflation than most other developing countries. Since 1950, the inflation in Indian economy has been in single digits for most of the years — between 1950-1960 inflation on an average was at 2.00 per cent; while between 1960-1970 it was on an average at 7.2 per cent and then between 1970-1980 it hovered at around 8.5 per cent. What is to be mentioned here is the fact that inflation in India, that acted as a menace, was also at a 30 year low — inflation ended at a low of 0.61 per cent in the week ending May 9, 2009 after reaching a 16 year high of 12.91 per cent in August 2008, bringing in a temporary sigh of relief to policymakers.

The RBI paused its cycle of rate hikes over the last two months, but recent rhetoric has been increasingly hawkish, with Governor Dr Duvvuri Subbarao warning that India faces a 'surge in inflation,' and the government also expressing clear support for more aggressive action to get inflation lower. Whatever be the experienced efficacy/strength of the weapons – tinkering around well known laid down formulae — cautiously avoiding the open secret (existence of black money paving the path for parallel economy) — it is clear that the outlook doesn't suggest a pullback anytime soon.

The old problem looms large – a poor pace of farm growth. Agricultural output will need to double by 2050 to feed a growing world. Produce more, conserve more and improve farmers' lives and that is sustainable agriculture! Given the pattern and trends in land use, the time is ripe to seriously think over intensive farm practices so that the demand and supply forces get treated simultaneously. The farm sector is still to go a long way before a satisfactory position is arrived at.

If the current trends are of any indication, the food and agricultural policy system itself is in disarray. The symptoms of such a disarray are not difficult to locate – incoherent/inadequate response to exploding food prices; slowdown in agricultural  productivity growth; water problems; a disorderly response to continuously disturbing energy prices; rapid concentration in multinational agri-business corporations without adequate institutional innovation aiming at properly guiding them; lack of progress in addressing scarcity; widespread nutritional problems (hunger/obesity/chronic diseases) plus agriculture related health hazards [avian influenza, etc.) and adverse impacts of climatic fluctuations. Under investment in areas related to food, nutrition/agriculture (research/infrastructure/rural institutions) invite spill over effect/global impacts, among others.

Positive signals also should not be lost sight of. So far fast emerging economies like India, China are concerned, the fact remains that the ongoing trend is steadily moving in terms of registering quicker growth in agricultural productivity. Good going — growth and modern farm practices and inclusive technologies are being implemented in order to foster the rural growth process. It is also a fact that cellular technologies, wireless communication networks as well as GIS based agro-software technologies are reaching in regions like rural Asia to disseminate vital information and updates on weather, farming technologies, fertilizers, livestock, commodity prices as well as stock markets. Still, a huge number of villages do not have access to advanced farming technologies and interactive communication networks, not to speak of the pace of rural electrification and clean drinking water availability. Is it not the appropriate time to broaden the sight and look at vital aspects – re-identifying policy dimensions and initiatives; capacity building through PPP, individual initiatives and joint ventures; boosting agri-business and agri-marketing; GIS mapping and harvesting trends; mitigating climatic change hazards; precision farming – optimum utilization of resources; leaning heavily on most modern agri-practises; micro-finance and micro credit and attaching top importance to food security? Needless to say the responsibilities are to be shouldered not only by banks but also Government Departments, NGOs, Commodity Exchanges, agri-marketing and State Marketing Boards and of course the Extension Departments of various States.

Time is, thus, ripe for more well-knitted coordinated actions so as to initiate inter-sectoral-linkages, progressive decision making, information sharing and performance improvement, capacity building, creating more opportunities for partnership building, development reorganization and capacity enhancement for the rural stakeholders.

Finally, all is not well on the oil front. For the first time since the last two years, oil prices went beyond $90 per barrel — derived from a surge in consumption in the third quarter of 2010-11 when demand grew by 3.3 million bpd. As per projection made by the IEA (International Energy Agency – an adviser to 28 industrialized countries) global oil demand is estimated to be higher than that expected next year and the trend will continue till 2015. The oil demand would grow (between 2009 and 2015) by an annual average of 1.4 million bpd. Rising consumption will boost demand for OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) crude to 32.35 million bpd in 2015. The need for crude will be more from the OPEC producers' group. It is clear that OPEC, which has been restraining supplies since January 2009, are not likely to change official output targets in the near future. Demand for OPEC crude in 2011 would be, as per IEA forecast by 100,000 bpd to 29.5 million bpd because of the higher demand outlook. For our economy this sector and the ongoing trends are not going to be a simple affair and the Government has to tread very cautiously so as to ensure that oil prices in the domestic front does not upset the growth engine.

Very correctly, "Downside risks to the recovery remain elevated," as the IMF observed, points to the need for financial reform in advanced economies, action on euro zone troubles, and policies to keep inflation in check in key emerging economies like ours.

Dr BK Mukhopadhyay

(The writer, a management economist, is an Associate Professor, NERIM, Guwahati )








In an address at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke out against Islamic extremism and his country's failed "doctrine of state multiculturalism."

The speech unleashed a wave of criticism. Mehdi Hasan, writing in the New Statesman, took the prime minister to task for, among other things, lacking sensitivity to the diversities of Muslim immigrant communities. And the Daily Telegraph, not traditionally inclined to undermine Conservative prime ministers, reflected this purported lack of nuance via a notably misleading headline – "Muslims must embrace our British values, says Cameron" – as if the prime minister had charged the entire Muslim community with a refusal to integrate. The Guardian, meanwhile, lambasted Cameron for using "a mix of cliches, tired thinking and some downright offensive terminology" and blamed him for mixing up multiculturalism with terrorism.

The timing of the speech provided additional fodder for critics: On the very same day, a march was organized by the fascist English Defense League on Luton, a town with a large Muslim population. EDL members who shouted, "Muslim bombers off our streets," and, "Allah, Allah, who the f*** is Allah?" cheered when they heard news of Cameron's address, creating the false impression that the two events were connected.

Cameron, in fact, took pains to make the very distinctions he was accused of ignoring. Unlike those on the far Right, he recognized the difference between "Islam and Islamist extremism," and specifically rejected the claim that "Islam and the West are irreconcilable – that there is a clash of civilizations." He added that "the extremism we face is a distortion of Islam," and called on "these arguments [against extremism]... to be made by those within Islam... Let us give voice to those followers of Islam in our own countries – the vast, often unheard majority – who despise the extremists and their worldview."

 Significantly, Cameron placed part of the blame for the failure on British society: "Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream," he said. "We've failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong." Nor did he ignore the crippling poverty in which many immigrants suffer.

It is hard to deny, as Cameron pointed out, that there is a serious problem of extremism with minority groups within Muslim communities. Nor can it be denied, despite the Guardian's claims, that many Brits, except perhaps for the socially mobile urban elite, live in culturally homogeneous enclaves, hostile to those around them.

And the fact remains that radicalized young Muslims, born, raised and/or studying in Britain – including Mohammed Siddique Khan, the ringleader and one of the four suicide bombers in the July 2005 attack in London that killed 52, and Asif Muhammad Hanif, one of two British suicide bombers who participated in the April 2003 attack at Mike's Place in Tel Aviv – are responsible for many terrorist acts.

If Cameron's speech was fair, then, what explains the broadside against him?

WHILE BRITAIN'S hard Right has deteriorated toward crude fascism, large swathes of the Left seem to have adopted a policy of cultural masochism that advocates what Christopher Hitchens has called a "one-way multiculturalism."

Amidst a hypersensitive desire not to offend, coupled with an embarrassing, terribly self-defeating willingness to relinquish Western values, all manner of antisocial practices – such as the wearing of veils, forced marriages, even genital mutilation – are rationalized, and sometimes validated, in the name of religion, even when none of these practices is necessarily dictated by the Koran. Even honor killings, in some marginal circles, can be regarded as something less than murder because of an ostensible religious imperative. At the same time, the demand that Muslims respect British cultural norms is sometimes presented as an untenable intrusion.

Cameron was trying to articulate a sensible middle ground. The attack on him from some on the Left represents the kind of response that has thus far prevented the formation of a broad non-partisan coalition in Britain, dedicated to reasserting the values at the heart of the country's illustrious history of democracy and liberalism.

This does not bode well, and demographics are only further complicating the cultural conundrum. The Muslim population in the UK will almost double to 5.5 million – or 10 percent of the national total – within 20 years, according to a recent Pew Research Center forecast. The Islamists' threat itself may be crude, but fighting it entails adopting intricate cultural and political distinctions, bolstered by the firm conviction that Western ideals of freedom and liberty truly are superior. The climate of response to David Cameron's speech suggests that many in Britain are not convinced.








The legal fraternity decided to move in and teach us all an abject lesson about the state of Israeli democracy as new military threats multiply by the day.

Talkbacks (9)


As the threats against Israel mount from all directions, the job of the IDF Chief of General Staff is becoming more challenging by the day.

First on the list of threats is Iran. While it is apparently true that the Stuxnet computer virus continues to wreak havoc on Iran's nuclear program, it is also true that Iran remains dedicated to moving forward, despite all obstacles.

Experts agree that within anywhere from a year to four years, if Iran is not stopped, it will become a nuclear power.

In addition to its nuclear weapons program, Iran continues to expand its web of influence and control over the region. Its newest colonial acquisition – Lebanon has now joined Gaza and Syria as an Iranian puppet.

Then there is Egypt. Iran's dictator-in-chief Ali Khamenei has spent the two weeks since the anti-regime protests began in Egypt bragging that the unrest shows Iran's star is rising. The "Islamic awakening" hearkened by the 1979 Iranian revolution is unfolding before our eyes, he says.

And there is a body of evidence which suggests that Khamenei is on to something. In an interview on the BBC's Persian service Sunday night, Kamal al-Halbavi, a senior member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, expressed hope that Egypt will have "a good government, like the Iranian government, and a good president like Mr. [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, who is very brave."

On Sunday, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman conducted talks with representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. Thanks to the Obama administration's support for the Brotherhood, the outlawed Islamic totalitarian movement is now seen as a legitimate political force in the post- Mubarak Egypt.

The Obama administration's support for the group against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak points to the third great security challenge facing Israel today. The IDF will now have to develop a fighting doctrine that takes account of the US's apparent abandonment of strategic reason.

POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS in Egypt, as well as the sabotage of the natural gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel at el-Arish, show that the southern front is active again after 30 years. The IDF needs to prepare for the possibility of a conventional war in the south and the north. It will have to relearn how to fight a war in the desert. New weapons systems will have to be developed and procured. Troops will have to receive expanded training.

The regular army will have to be vastly expanded. The military budget will have to increase massively. Intelligence assets, already stretched, will have to be significantly augmented and adapted to meet new challenges.

In short, the ways the IDF thinks about war, plans for war, arms for war, trains for war and wages war are all going to have to change.

In light of these awesome challenges, the IDF's next chief of general staff will have to have the attitude of a revolutionary as he guides the IDF through massive change, and commands it in complex and perhaps existential battles.

Unfortunately, chances that such a commander will arise received a blow last week when Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided to force the government to cancel its decision to appoint Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant to replace outgoing Chief of Gen. Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi next Tuesday.

Galant was the commander that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak wished to see lead the IDF at this time. With his reputation for fearlessness, innovation and determination to win wars, Galant's appointment seemed like a reasonable one.

This was particularly true in the face of Ashkenazi's obvious aversion to the use of force. Ashkenazi has taken great pride in his consistent refusal to prepare the IDF to launch a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities against the expressed wishes of Netanyahu and Barak.

Ashkenazi upholds his command of the IDF during Operation Cast Lead as a textbook case of the effective use of limited force. The veracity of this claim is an open question. In the event, Ashkenazi sent half the army into Gaza and when they left, they left without Gilad Schalit. Moreover, they left with Hamas still firmly in charge of the international border with Egypt.

The depth of Ashkenazi's involvement in the campaign to discredit Galant and torpedo his appointment is unknown although it is clear that he did play a role in galvanizing the campaign against Galant at least initially. People close to the General Staff insist that Ashkenazi's determination to scupper Galant's appointment, like Barak's decision to shorten Ashkenazi's tenure, was motivated by personal rivalries and animosity. Strategic issues played at best a secondary role.

The case against Galant has nothing to do with his military talents. Galant apparently took control of state land around his homestead on Moshav Amikam without authorization. To be sure, this was wrong.

But his actions apparently were not criminal acts. Like anyone else, he could have been expected to pay an administrative fine and perhaps be ordered to return the lands to the state in the condition in which he found them.

When Barak chose Galant as the next IDF commander, he assumed that the appointment would go through despite Ashkenazi's opposition and the media campaign to discredit Galant. It is the prerogative of the defense minister to select the chief of general staff. Netanyahu accepted Barak's choice and the government approved it. The Turkel Commission, empowered to ensure that senior civil servants are eligible for their offices, found that Galant's misappropriation of state lands was not a disqualifying act and approved his appointment.

But then the legal fraternity decided to move in and teach us all an abject lesson about the state of Israeli democracy as new military threats multiply by the day. The legal fraternity decided to remind us of the legacy of retired Supreme Court president and former attorney general Aharon Barak.

And it isn't pretty.

IN 1986, then associate justice Barak agreed to have the High Court of Justice rule on a petition submitted by one Yehuda Ressler demanding that the court cancel the exemptions from military service the government provides to yeshiva students. The petitioner had no personal stake in the case. And as a result, he had no standing before the court. Indeed, throughout the 1970s, Ressler had repeatedly petitioned the court and been denied a hearing due to his lack of standing.

Yet Barak agreed to hear the case. Since Barak ruled in favor of the state, upholding the draft exemption for yeshiva students, Barak's move went largely unremarked. But the precedent he set was revolutionary.

From then on, anyone could petition the court on anything. Everyone had standing. Everything was judiciable. The Court was suddenly empowered to strike down governmental appointments and decisions, IDF orders, and laws of the Knesset.

Since the Supreme Court gets to decide which cases it will hear, and since Supreme Court justices have largely uniform worldviews, it has used its usurped power to shape the political and social direction of Israel, to cow the Knesset into subservience, to constrain the powers of the government to lead the country and to limit the ability of the IDF to defend the country.

This state of affairs is what enabled the Green Movement – an environmental political party with no direct interest in Galant's homestead on Moshav Amikam – to petition the Supreme Court demanding that his appointment be cancelled due to his apparent misappropriation of state land. The very fact that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the petition in the first place was an assault on governmental power.

Still, since the issue at hand is administrative, not criminal, it is far from clear that the Supreme Court would have ruled against Galant's appointment.

But then Weinstein decided that he didn't feel like defending the appointment before the Court and that was that.

UNTIL THE era of Aharon Barak, the attorney general's job was to provide legal counsel to the government and represent its decisions before the courts. After Barak's legal revolution, however, the job of the attorney general became the equivalent of an imperial high commissioner. Rather than provide counsel to the government, the attorney general today tells the government what it is allowed to do. Instead of providing the prime minister with legal support for his decisions, the attorney general now defines the law to accord with his own preferences and personal convenience and so wrongly limits the government's power to govern.

Weinstein forced the government to cancel Galant's appointment last week not by claiming that Galant's misuse of government land was illegal. Weinstein refused to defend Galant against the Green Movement's petition because he said he had "ethical problems," with representing the case.

Before Barak's legal revolution, Weinstein would never have considered acting as an ethical arbiter of governmental power. And like the Supreme Court's decision to hear the Green Movement's case, Weinstein's decision not to defend Galant's appointment was a direct assault at the foundation of Israel's democratic system.

The abuse of power inherent to Weinstein's action was exposed in all its ugly irony on Sunday when the media revealed that Weinstein himself is under criminal investigation for illegally employing a foreign worker in his home. Like Galant's misuse of state land, Weinstein's decision to hire a foreign worker to clean his house does not make him a criminal.

It makes him human. Everyone makes mistakes.

Weinstein's belief that he has a right to serve as attorney general despite his ethical lapse while Galant should be denied his right to serve as chief of general staff due to his ethical lapse tells us that, like his colleagues in the legal fraternity, Weinstein has engaged in deeply prejudicial behavior. If everyone is guilty of something, then by finding Galant unfit to serve, Weinstein employed an unfair double standard.

It is this basic unfairness and discrimination that is the foundation of Barak's legal revolution. Because if everyone has standing, and everything is judiciable, then by definition, deciding who gets a hearing and what will be judged involves the use of prejudicial double standards. Only clear criteria for judicial standing and judicial writ prevent the rule of law from deteriorating into the rule of lawyers.

In what should be viewed as a disgraceful display of cowardice, Netanyahu and Barak meekly accepted Weinstein's decision and dumped Galant. In his place they appointed Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz as the next Chief of General Staff. Gantz is reputed to be an unimaginative commander with an aversion to risk.

In the meantime, Gantz's appointment is also being challenged in the Supreme Court. The family of fallen IDF soldier Mahdat Youssef who died in Nablus in 2000 while under Gantz's command claims that Gantz behaved wrongly during the battle and should be disqualified from serving as chief of staff. The legal issues involved are, well, frankly unknown. But trust the justices. If they think it serves their interests to bar Ganz from serving, they'll hear the petition.

Somewhere out there, Israel's enemies are laughing.








Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and it ought be the region's foremost champion of human rights.


Israel is missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to support Arab freedom. While others cheer Hosni Mubarak's fall, Israel grows apprehensive.

Yes, I know. The Egyptian dictator kept the peace for 30 years. But it was a mighty cold peace.

But that's all beside the point.

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and it ought be the region's foremost champion of human rights. It's also the homeland of a people who gave the world the earliest foundation of democracy, namely the Bible's declaration that every human is equally created in the image of God. The Hebrew Bible also gave the world the first story of a nation challenging an autocrat and being set free from bondage, a story set in Egypt. To now see Israel squander an historic opportunity to publicly champion Arab freedom out of fear for radicals like the Muslim Brotherhood or a repeat of Hamas's election in Gaza is deeply regrettable and counterproductive.

With its essential neutrality on the question of Arab freedom, Israel risks the moral neutrality that has characterized the presidency of Barack Obama, a man who is ostensibly the leader of the free world but refuses to lead those who wish to be free. When the people of Iran rose against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the people of Egypt rose against Mubarak, Obama offered meaningless inanities until events overtook him and then he was suddenly a great champion of freedom.

But for Israel the stakes are much higher.


For five decades Israel has argued that the real problem in the Middle East is not its conflict with the Palestinians, but the absence of democracy in Arab lands. In 1992, I hosted Binyamin Netanyahu at the University of Oxford where he gave a mesmerizing speech arguing that no two democracies had ever gone to war against each other. The students attempted to refute him but could not. He explained that in a tyranny a dictator sends other people's sons to die in his wars, but in a democracy it is the people who make the decision to go to war and they therefore pressure their leaders to exhaust ever possibility before resorting to armed conflict. Democracies prevent senseless slaughter.

It's easy to see the truth of this argument in today's Middle East.

Islamist demagogues call for Arabs low on their food chain to blow themselves up, while sparing their own children. There was no one named Bin Laden on United Flight 93. The million people who died in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 were sent by tyrants and mullahs, while the upper crust watched safely from the sidelines. The absence of democracy in the Arab world is the source of its major conflicts with thugs like Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad and the brutal House of Saud suppressing their people's most basic rights and then using the Jews as scapegoats for their subjects miserable lives.

So why would Israel now retreat from this most basic truth by refusing to support the legitimate rights of the Egyptian people to be free?

Yes, I know. Better the enemy you know than the enemy you don't.

DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS in Gaza brought Hamas terrorists to power and even Hitler was elected by democratic means. But the argument is illusory. Insisting on democracy doesn't mean sanctioning a mob to run a nation. Rather, Israel, the US and the Western powers should support what president George W. Bush created in Iraq, a constitutional democracy, one that enshrines protections of minorities and guarantees of fundamental human rights into its basic charter of existence. In the case of Egypt I even believe the US ought to insist that a constitutional clause guaranteeing the peace treaty with Israel be inserted, not unlike how in Germany today Holocaust denial is a crime.

But Israel championing Arab aspirations to democracy, though a must in its own right, is vital to its image and biblical mandate. Israel is not another country, but one built on the dream of an ancient people being allowed to live freely in its land. It must therefore speak out for those who yearn for the same.

The international community supports the Dalai Lama's struggle against the Chinese, even though they are the world's second largest economy, because they see Tibet's survival as fundamental to their own spiritual well-being. The Dalai Lama is revered in the West as a great teacher who helps free Westerners from corrosive materialism.

A similar act of world illumination should be central to the Jewish people and the Jewish state. We should be the world's foremost spokespeople for human dignity in general, and Israel should champion Arab dignity in particular. Arabs deserve the same standard of living as Israelis. They deserve to read the truth in a newspaper. They deserve to choose their own leaders. Their daughters deserve to live without being cut down in honor killings. An Arab gay man or woman deserves to walk the streets safely without fear of brutal murder. And Christian Arabs deserve to live safely in countries that guarantee religious pluralism.

The real story behind the Arab uprisings is Israel. Arabs who see Israelis living in freedom wonder why they don't. They see Israelis becoming doctors and Internet entrepreneurs and wonder why they can't.

Had Israel not existed, Arab dictators could simply say that an open society simply can't work in their neighborhood. And that's the principal reason they hate Israel. Because it takes away the facile excuses they continue to use to brutally suppress any legitimate opposition.

The writer is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. His newest book is Honoring the Child Spirit. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.










The US is facing a dilemma on how to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. On one hand, accepting it means accepting an Islamist system that will certainly have an anti-American and anti-Israeli agenda. On the other hand, rejecting and delegitimizing this group can turn some of its members to the use of violence.

The group has very strong anti-American and anti- Israeli views, and hence defeating it requires wisdom similar to playing chess rather than direct confrontations, especially in the current volatile situation.

This approach is possible because we know that the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, unlike other jihadi groups, can sit at a table and negotiate. In chess, one may win the game by executing a proper gambit, or a well-calculated sacrifice. Direct confrontations with the Muslim Brotherhood may be much less effective than well-planned gambits.

THE CURRENT reality in Egypt is that despite being officially banned, the Muslim Brotherhood very much exists. For nearly 30 years, the Mubarak regime has been unable to suppress the spread of its ideology. For example, the Brotherhood managed during the rule of President Hosni Mubarak to increase the Islamic-based hatred of Israel, and both anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism have reached very high levels in the country.

In addition, it managed to Islamize a significant portion of the society. Currently, most Muslim women are wearing the hijab, Islamic jargon is used in mainstream media and the support of Shari'a is prevalent among the population. During the time of Anwar Sadat, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism were declining, and during Gamal Abdel Nasser's time, signs of Islamization of the society were virtually nonexistent. This indicates that the Muslim Brotherhood thrived during the Mubarak regime.

The reliance of Israel and the US on one person in power in Egypt without pressuring him to change the educational system and the government-controlled media to actively fight anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism was a short-sighted approach that was doomed to fail. It was much better that the US – instead of pressuring Mubarak on democracy – should have used its relation with him to make changes in education and to implement effective strategies to weaken Islamism. This would have guaranteed a much better long-term relationship between Egypt and the US and Israel.

Mubarak's approach that allowed anti-Semitism to flourish while pretending to be a friend to Israel was schizophrenic and indicates that he was not a true ally. His refusal to visit Israel even once during his 30 years of presidency is another indication of the lack of sincerity in his relationship – despite receiving billions of dollars in aid from the US.

A man who truly believes in peace would not have allowed anti-Semitism to flourish to such pathological levels in his country. For example, Sadat, who believed in peace, took many active steps to change Egyptian society and used religion effectively to fight rather than promote anti-Semitism. Sadat's approach was to a great extent successful in decreasing anti-Semitism – despite his being assassinated by extremists who deemed him an "apostate."

WHILE THE Muslim Brotherhood flourished over the last few decades, it lost a significant amount of its popularity in the last few years due to several reasons: • The emergence of open criticism of Islam and the exposure of radical teachings that contradict human conscience. The Internet and modern media allowed a level of debate and discussion that weakened the appeal of political Islam to many people. This was evident by the refusal of the protesters in Egypt to use the flag of the Muslim Brotherhood.

• The failure of Shari'a-inspired Islamic groups in Somalia, Afghanistan (Taliban) and Gaza (Hamas) to provide a better life for their people contradicted the basic slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood that "Islam is the solution." Furthermore, the failure of the Islamic solution proved to many that the wealth in Saudi Arabia was not necessarily because it implement Shari'a.

• The refusal of the Muslim Brotherhood to join the demonstrations at the beginning (it only joined them when they started to succeed!). This led many to perceive it as a group of political opportunists. The Muslim Brotherhood had no other option but to arrange a few separate insignificant parallel demonstrations. It is important to note that the prayers that were held during the protests represented a common ritual level of Islam rather than an ideological movement belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.

IN THE current volatile and exploding situation dealing with the Brotherhood has become a very sensitive issue. The following are a few – but essential – recommendations on how to handle the current situation with the Muslim Brotherhood in a way to avoid the complete collapse of the country.

• Try to "contain" or "accommodate" the group to some extent as direct confrontations in this situation can turn some of its members to become violent or support other more violent Islamic groups to do terrorist acts. Stability at this stage is vital to defeat this group in the long run.


• Allow some of the members to have limited roles in the next government in areas that do not allow them to control strategic policies, education or the sensitive security and military apparatus. One could assign more technical ministries to them to test their competence – such as the ministries related to environmental affairs, or water and irrigation or housing and utilities. This offer to the Muslim Brotherhood must be conditioned by its approval of the international treaties of Egypt, including the peace with Israel.

• Fight the group ideologically – putting its members in prison without fighting its ideology has been ineffective and failed to stop its proliferation.

• Use religion to fight the Muslim Brotherhood and embarrass it. For example the secular government can declare that it must respect the peace treaty with Israel and ask the group to agree with this. The Koran states clearly: Fulfill [every] promise and treaty, 17:34; O ye who believe! Fulfill [all] obligations. 5:1; Those who fulfill their oath and never break their treaties [the context is praising them], 13:20.

• Provide humanitarian aid from non-Islamic organizations to compete with the Muslim Brotherhood in using this tactic to win the hearts and minds of people.

This gambit of accepting a limited and controllable role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the next stage of Egypt's political future, while using effective approaches to defeat it at the ideological level, will be vital to avoiding further instability that can breed uncontrollable radicalism.

The writer is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri, who later became the second in command of al-Qaida. He is currently a senior fellow and chairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.









Just two years ago, the government system was one of the main issues on the agenda during the elections for the 18th Knesset. Most of the parties, including those in the coalition, repeatedly stated the need for a change. But no serious, comprehensive proposal has yet been put forth.

Not only that, but ever since the current government was formed, the need for this change has only intensified. The passing of the biennial budget, the splitting and establishing of new governmental offices for specific political needs, the weakening of the Knesset as the legislative authority, the paralysis of the Knesset's status as the critical authority of the government since a fourth of MKs serve in it, the reduction of the number of members on Knesset committees, the changing of the ground rules for temporary political needs – all these are just a few examples of some of the moves undertaken by the current Knesset which illustrate the pressing need for changing the problematic government system and legislating a better, more appropriate one.

Signs of destructive influence are not only prevalent in the Knesset. Just recently, we all saw the consequences of years of neglect of the fire fighting service – neglect which manifested itself in the inability to control the Carmel fires.

The lack of governmental stability and the failure to plan long-term were some of the factors that contributed to the fact that, despite the writing on the wall, not a thing was done to rehabilitate the fire fighting service.

We needn't be surprised. Just as no business would function properly for 20 years should its manager be replaced 20 times, the Interior Ministry was unable to solve the challenges facing the fire fighting services when 20 different ministers served at its head over the past two decades. And this is just one office out of many.

The problems did not start during the current government. The electoral system was always believed to be the main cause of the instability of different governments and their lack of freedom to operate. But so far, we have been unsuccessful in finding and promoting a better system. There was some experimentation. Twice a prime minister was elected directly, but the experiment failed and we quickly reverted back to the old system.

THOSE WHO oppose change argue that if we tried and failed, we needn't try again. But not only do the reasons we had for seeking a change still exist, it's now become even more urgent.

Contrary to what we hear from those who support it, the current electoral system encourages polarization and radicalization. The reality derived from the current system is one of extremism and segregation, in which only governmental instability emerges.

We are told that we need to "let all sectors have a voice," but in practice we lead the representatives of these sectors and subsectors to resort to extremism to win the support of their electorates, because the emphasis is on highlighting the differences and not on searching for unity.

There are ways to give representation to different sectors in the framework of a system based on two or three big political parties. In the US, they find representations in the two main parties and in three parties in Britain, and it works. Major parties are a melting pot in which sector representatives may not only aspire to represent, but also to lead the country.

There are several proposals for change, from a presidential system to raising the threshold of regional elections. Either way, the worst solution would be the status quo.

Not all the ills of the country originated in the electoral system, but if we were to effect change, some of them would disappear. And we cannot afford to miss that opportunity.

A special committee with representatives from the bigger parties should be formed as soon as possible; it would formulate and submit during the next Knesset session a comprehensive proposal to change the government system.

We must understand that every method has its shortcomings, and we must search not for the best method, but the one with the least amount of disadvantages.

If we fail to do so, the current system and its ills will lead the state to a dead end.

The author is a member of Knesset and chairwoman of the Kadima faction.








The Herzliya conference has become an important int'l event; one central issue is absent – the debilitating economic concentration in this country.


"It is possible that we are sitting on a powder keg in the social sphere," Prof. Rafi Melnick announced dramatically on the eve of the Herzliya Conference which is taking place this week.

But looking at the themes of the conference's sessions – that were partly changed in the last minute to deal with the uprising in Egypt – you will not find even a hint of the central factor that is behind the threat defined by one of the conference's leaders.

This is disappointing. It is expected that the Herzliya Conference, justly considered a central platform for security issues in the broader sense, including social and economic factors that impact on them, will not overlook or disregard a major economic issue, arguably the issue that will shape the future growth of the economy.

But despite the difficult economic situation of most people, who can barely make ends meet on the less than NIS 6,000 a month they earn, it seems that for the conference organizers and the well-heeled elites, it's all quiet on the economic front.

Could it be that these people who pride themselves on their social consciousness and solidarity don't really care? What other explanation do we have for the embarrassing silence of the conference and its participants when it comes to the shameful condition of millions of workers, who, for decades now, cannot make it on their salaries. How can we explain that at such an important conference there is no discussion of the central factor responsible for this situation – the excessive economic and political concentration that prevents our economy from fulfilling its potential, exacerbates social tension, corrupts both the economy and politics and impoverishes so many?

If it were possible to turn a whole conference around in the last minute to deal with the events in Egypt, why was it not possible, as the organizers claimed, to add even a roundtable discussion to deal with this major issue?

ALL THIS when concentration – as was asserted recently by most of the speakers at the Ne'eman Center (affiliated with the Technion) Conference – is the chief cause for lack of competition and lack of efficiency in the economy. These two factors are the reasons for the relatively low productivity of our capable workers – only two-thirds of American workers and for their low wages.

Concentration is also behind the ability of the tycoon-owned monopolies to highly inflate the price of all consumer goods and services. The worker is caught in a vice between low wages and high prices, and is simply strangled by them.

Under the brilliant leadership of Dr. Uzi Arad, his consultants and aides, the Herzliya Conference became an important international event devoted to national security. Arad and his associates became convinced that economics plays a major role in national strength. I was privileged to direct the economic section of the Herzliya Conference in its first three years, and there was always a tension with those who wanted all of the time to be devoted to security and not to economics and education. Still, in the past the conference never missed a major economic issue as it did now.

Under the chairmanship of Danny Rothschild the conference made additional strides forward, though it is difficult to judge what is its contribution to the decision-making process. Governance (to be discussed in one of the sessions) is even more problematic here than elsewhere because of the wider involvement of government in everyday life. It causes more problems than it pretends to solve.

One important innovation is the introduction of roundtable discussions. They will facilitate a wider and deeper discussion of issues by more participants. In the past there was a lack of opportunity for participants who were not on panels, some of whom were people of great substance and achievement, to get a hearing. Now it should be easier.

This makes the disappointment with the lack of any mention of a crucial issue even greater. Just by forming another roundtable, easily done at the last minute, the problem could have been solved. But the organizers chose instead to present two sessions devoted to the global economy, another on trade with the East, a session on employment in the Arab sector (why not employment generally, is it not as important though perhaps less politically correct?), one on the economic ramifications of the regional turmoil, one on women's leadership and a last on the digital environment in education.

All these are certainly important topics. But they pale in significance when compared with the major issue of concentration, which was not included on the agenda, the organizers explained, "after prolonged and deep deliberation."

The struggle against debilitating concentration may turn to be historic, with enormous ramification for the economy and its well-being. It would be interesting to know why it was deliberately excluded.

The writer is director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress.









Whoever lies with dogs should not be surprised if he wakes up with fleas. It is not that bad; but whoever goes to bed with snakes, should not be surprised if he wakes up with a painful bite. This is the lesson learned this week by Yuval Steinitz, who was bit once more by the Ofer Eini and Shraga Brosh pair.

During the past two years Steinitz nurtured them and showered them with praise. He placed them in the decision-making circle (the "Round Table" ) and gave them veto power on the government's economic decisions. But after the two used him for their needs and made significant gains, they discovered that Steinitz ceased to meet their whims; thus they decided to destroy him. Just so everyone would know who is really running the economy: the head of the Histadrut labor federation and the president of the Manufacturers' Association - not the Finance Minister.

At the press conference held by the two at the begining of the week, they presented themselves as great protectors of society. Eini said that the price of water, fuel and bread should be lowered and that the minimum wage must be raised. "The exploitation of the public must cease ... make this country a little more social," he cried out.

His Sancho Panza, Brosh, became an angry social warrior. He too favors lowering prices, cutting taxes, raising the minimum wage (like the masses in Egypt ). This lovely couple is always in favor of the good things: in favor of increasing subsidies, in favor of greater grants, in favor of bigger budgets. But where will the money for this come from? That does not really interest them. That, they leave to Steinitz. They are responsible only for the populist expenditures.

This week the Round Table that Steinitz established two years ago broke apart. In place of Steinitz they brought in Shlomo Buhbut, chairman of the Union of Local Authorities. Buhbut too spoke at the press conference about a bad government that is causing terrible poverty and rising prices. The fact that the consumer price index increased last year only by 2.7 percent when real wages increased by 2 percent, at a time when the economy is rising fast and unemployment is dropping, does not seem to be making an impression on the three. They do not care about the facts.

Buhbut is fighting to break up the water corporations and restore the handling of the matter to the local authorities; in other words, to the control of Buhbut and his friends. Buhbut has been spreading for some time now the slogan that the reason for the rising cost of water is the establishment of the water corporations. This is simply untrue. The reason for the rise in costs is the government decision to cease subsidizing water, because it is a product in short supply. The price went up because desalination plants began operating, and they are producing more expensive water than the water being drawn from the Kinneret.

Another reason for the rising cost of water is the fact that 50 water corporations were established instead of 12. This happened because every mayor wanted his "own" corporation, without partnership with nearby cities. And there is another reason for the high prices: The water corporations were required to invest large sums in handling sewage and replacing leaking pipes - important work which the mayors neglected for years.

The local authorities also lied to the public when they charged them too high prices for water, and used the NIS 500 million per year for other purposes, such as shows at the park and building extravagant squares in order to appeal to the residents.

Eini is now behaving like a thug: He is trying to strike the economy for reasons that have nothing to do with labor relations. He is doing it because he lost his influence over Benjamin Netanyahu. After all, before Labor left the government, it was he who kept it in the coalition.

Eini is convinced (and so is Brosh ) that they are better capable of managing the matters of the economy and society than those elected to the Knesset and the government. They are also convinced that they are allowed to milk the state treasury for their purposes. The problem is that there is no "responsible adult" facing up to their blatant assault, shouting: "Idiots, get off the roof." Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer says nothing, the prime minister is looking for compromises and the finance minister does not want to be the "evil treasurer."

Therefore it is not surprising that they bite Steinitz and press Netanyahu. They are convinced that this time too, Netanyahu will not stand up to the pressure and they will once more reap the fruit of populism.






The upheaval in Egypt is sowing anxiety in Israel. President Hosni Mubarak's government adhered strictly to the peace treaty, functioned as a stabilizing force in the region and supported expanding the circle of peace agreements to the Palestinians and neighboring states. The eight Israeli prime ministers who served over the course of Mubarak's 30-year reign could depend on him for strategic support, even when they waged wars on other fronts and deepened the occupation and the settlement enterprise.

The demonstrations in Egypt and the anticipated end of Mubarak's tenure raise fears in Jerusalem that his successor will be less friendly, if not downright hostile, to Israel. These fears are based on the positions of the new actors on Egypt's political stage: public opinion, which deplores Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, along with the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups that opposed the peace treaty. Saturday's explosion near El-Arish, which suspended the supply of natural gas from Egypt to Israeli power plants, further heightened concern about the future of bilateral relations if the current regime in Cairo collapses.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who fears the emergence of a "second Iran" across the border, has called on the United States and other Western countries to take action to dampen the shocks reverberating through Egypt and support a smooth transfer of power. He is urging the preservation of the peace with Egypt, which is an important element of Israel's security, and demanding guarantees from both Mubarak's successors and Western states that the 1979 treaty will be honored.

Netanyahu is right: Maintaining the peace is indeed vital to Israel and to regional stability. But he cannot stop at making demands on others; he must ask himself what Israel needs to do to preserve and even strengthen the peace.

The answer is obvious: Instead of barricading himself behind his fears and trading accusations with the Palestinian Authority over responsibility for the paralysis in the peace process, he must demonstrate that Israel is not indifferent to the regional mood and is genuinely willing to solve the conflict with the Palestinians and to grasp the outstretched hand of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Instead of clinging to yesterday, Netanyahu must support the Arab League peace initiative, which he has so far ignored. That would be Israel's contribution to creating a new Middle East, one that is democratic and stable.







I hope at least some American leaders have realized that democracy is not a commodity that can be exported, like cars, planes, weapons, medicines or food products. Those who haven't learned will have to memorize this painful truth in the future.

For in our world, as in that of the young (about 250 years old ) United States, excellent instructors have preached this truth to anyone who wanted to listen. See the lessons from Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Egypt as well - lessons that growing numbers of sober Americans are learning firsthand in view of the mincemeat being made of their good intentions, which have disappointed them so ungratefully (if one may indulge in a bit of irony ).

Even a junior history student ought to know that democracy is likely to develop only in a country that has paid the full price for its mistakes. Even recognizing those mistakes requires a lot of time, and it generally happens only after autocracy has failed - whether in the form or a particular tyrant, or a humiliating military defeat, or some religion that renounces the attempt to force itself on people, or a minority that refuses to obey it.

After all, quite a few wars in human history have been waged for religious causes - certainly no fewer than the number that erupted due to a lust for conquering territory by means of superior military force. Who among us would dare say, along with that great Jew Sigmund Freud, that religion may be nothing less than a kind of "all-embracing obsessive neurosis?" I quote from the autobiographical essay of the "inventor" of psychoanalysis.

As for the time it takes a nation ruled by a despotic tyrant to recognize the democratic principle of equal civil rights and duties for all its citizens, regardless of their beliefs, culture, history or ethnic descent, we have the former Soviet Union as a guide. Did modern-day Russia really turn into a democratic state under Vladimir Putin's rule? What about Chechnya, or equal rights for all citizens?

Let us not hasten, then, to pass judgment on what is happening in Egypt and the entire region, which is ruled either by tyrants or by Islam. It will take Islam decades, and perhaps much longer, until it reaches the stage that England reached for the first time only after beheading a king and a Cromwellian transition period, or that France reached only after a bloody revolution and Napoleon's final defeat, or that Germany reached after two world wars that resulted in the death of some 40 million German civilians and soldiers, as well as the loss of a considerable part of their country.

Obviously, the solution does not lie in time alone. And this is where culture comes in. This is the most important and most difficult function of a culture that rejects the rule of one man over another, be his religion, language and skin color what they may.

Therefore, as already mentioned, it takes time, but no less than that, it takes education, education, education. And of course, it is preferable to learn from the good examples rather than the worst ones.






At the start of the Herzliya Conference, after urging Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks ("History has lost patience, it gallops along, and either we gallop with it or it gallops without us" ), President Shimon Peres noted that over the weekend, he had received a call from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who asked what he thought of events in Egypt and what the right response to the crisis there was.

"I suggested to him," Peres said, "that alongside the diplomatic Quartet [of Middle East peacemakers], there should be an economic Quartet that would bring the global business community to invest in troubled countries."

Peres' Herzliya speech, the latest Quartet announcement - which said no to unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state - and the preoccupation with the crisis in Egypt all bring news to the Netanyahu government: good news and bad news.

We'll start with the good news. Who remembers U.S. President Barack Obama's Cairo speech or Netanyahu's address at Bar-Ilan University, the back-and-forth over a settlement freeze, the sour Obama-Netanyahu relationship, or even the mission of the man responsible for getting the negotiations started, George Mitchell?

Netanyahu's promise to Obama to go the extra mile in generosity toward the Palestinians evaporated. Congress is more Republican and Obama is more focused on domestic American issues. The turmoil in Tunisia and Egypt and the ferment in Jordan have nothing to do with us. The government will soon have been in office for two years and it can now breathe easier. No pressure.

But the other news is that if no real steps are taken, history will "gallop without us." Then, the Churchillian Netanyahu will not ride it, nor, alas, will he be recorded in its pages. This is bad news for someone for whom the call of history has been the soundtrack of his life, whose aides claimed until recently that he was about to surprise everyone with a far-reaching diplomatic initiative.

It appears that even the greatest optimists, who believe that an agreement with the Palestinians is there in one of the drafts already prepared and is thus within reach, have drifted further from their hope. I spoke with a few this week.

"There is no Israeli partner to take the lead," said one former negotiator with the Palestinians. "Even the little bit of pragmatism that Netanyahu is trying to generate is far from what is necessary to reach an agreement."

"No instruction has been given to the relevant staffers to prepare a working plan to advance the negotiations," said another person deeply immersed in the matter. "Passivity is the name of the game. No one cares about this issue."

Last week, at the height of the riots in Cairo, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman quoted senior Israeli officials as saying that "the events in Egypt prove that Israel can't make a lasting peace with the Palestinians." Friedman called that "wrong and dangerous," adding that while he had previously suggested that Obama walk away from trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he was now urging him to put his own peace plan on the table.

"There is a huge storm coming, Israel. Get out of the way," Friedman wrote. But Jerusalem isn't answering.

Friedman, say Israeli Americanologists, was ostensibly addressing the president in Washington but was really aiming at Jerusalem, which is bemoaning the withdrawal of American support for Mubarak. "Everything we thought for the last 30 years is no longer relevant," Friedman quoted a retired Israeli general as saying about the events in Egypt.

The problem is that with more and more Americans thinking about Israel like that, the question is which will happen first: Friedman's wish of a plan presented by President Obama, or Israel getting the bill for its rejectionism. No one is expecting an Israeli initiative.







The defense establishment isn't wasting precious time. Even though it is still unclear where the turmoil in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria is leading, defense officials have already made it clear that there is no alternative to increasing the defense budget.

After all, a substitute for the Iranian threat had to be found quickly. Otherwise, someone might wonder whether former Mossad chief Meir Dagan wasn't right in saying an Iranian nuclear bomb isn't imminent, and therefore think the defense budget should be reduced a bit.

And of course, the more fear we spread, the better. If we assert authoritatively enough that the Egyptian threat will increase immeasurably following regime change in Cairo, then not only will there be no criticism of the size of the defense budget, but no one will be able to oppose increasing it.

But the truth is that the Egyptian threat will not increase, even if President Hosni Mubarak's regime is toppled. And if the Moslem Brotherhood seizes power in Egypt, it will actually decrease significantly.

In the coming days, we will almost certainly hear quite a lot about how the Egyptian army is strengthening itself with advanced Western arms and about the exercises it carries out in which Israel is the enemy. That is true, but it doesn't change the existing picture: The balance of forces with the Israel Defense Forces, the region's geostrategic conditions and Egyptian interests all make launching a war against Israel completely illogical.

True, the Egyptian air force is equipped with about 220 F-16 fighters. But a study by the U.S. Defense Department asserts that there has been no change in the training level of the Egyptian air force since it transitioned from Russian to American arms. What that means is that an Egyptian pilot cannot utilize the full potential of the F-16's weapons systems.

The gap between the Israeli and Egyptian air forces is also maintained by the fact that in addition to the F-16s (and even those are models inferior to those the Israeli air force receives ), the Egyptian air force is equipped with older fighter planes, including MiG-21 and Phantom jets.

Egypt has also built up its armored corps, which now has about 700 advanced American Abrams tanks. But if the Egyptians want to go to war against Israel, these tanks will have to cross the Sinai peninsula, a buffer zone 200 to 300 kilometers wide. Since Sinai is a desert, sparsely populated and with almost no vegetation, it is an ideal killing zone. Should the Egyptian army dare to cross the Suez Canal and enter Sinai, it would find itself in a trap in which the IDF, with its precision armaments and air superiority, has an absolute advantage.

A seizure of power by the Muslim Brotherhood would lead to an immediate halt of American military aid, joint exercises and the supply of spare parts, which are critical to maintaining the fighter planes. In that case, the Egyptian army's strength would be quickly eroded.

And as for the fighting ability and modernization of the Egyptian army, the U.S. study said that while the army seeks to modernize its weaponry, it has evinced no urgency about changing its military doctrine.

It also true that the Egyptian army trains for war against Israel. But this stems mainly from the fact that Egypt perceives Israel as a real threat.

In the eyes of the Egyptian regime, Israel is an unstable country that tends to use force to resolve political problems. Egypt believes there are extreme elements in Israel whose rise to power could lead to aggression against it. A case in point is the 2001 warning by then-MK (and now Foreign Minister ) Avigdor Lieberman that the IDF could destroy the Aswan Dam.

It would therefore be better for the defense establishment not to magnify the Egyptian threat in order to justify unnecessary budgetary demands. But in any case, it's worth realizing that its anticipated fear-mongering has no real basis.




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES



After months in a defensive crouch, Democrats are arising to challenge the severe budget cuts planned by House Republicans, which would almost certainly make unemployment worse. And it is not a moment too soon because when the stopgap resolution that is financing the government expires on March 4, the House will have significant leverage to get its way. Without a new spending bill, the government will shut down — a prospect that seems to delight many newly elected Republicans.

A few days ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began running radio ads criticizing members of the Republican Study Committee, a group of House members that wants to cut $2.5 trillion out of the budget in the next decade, including $100 million from now through September. In case voters don't know what the actual impact of these drastic reductions would be, the ads are there to remind them:

"Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle supports a plan in Congress that would cut education by 40 percent," said one of the ads, directed against a newly elected Republican from upstate New York. "And her plan would cut science and technology research by 40 percent, too. Research and development is how we get the new products that create new jobs. How does cutting that help us compete with China and India? It doesn't make sense." Ms. Buerkle, like other subjects of ads, represents a district won by President Obama in 2008.

The ads seem to be having some effect. Robert Hurt, a Republican freshman from Virginia featured in one, protested that he didn't necessarily support all the cuts proposed by the committee, which is made up of some of the most conservative House members, even though he joined up immediately after being elected.

But even those House leaders who are trying to position themselves as more moderate in comparison with the Study Committee are proposing extreme cuts. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, released the leadership's official budget targets last week, which would have the effect of cutting $41 billion below current levels of nonsecurity spending through September.

That means unimaginably steep reductions of 26 percent to transportation and housing, 14 percent to the environment and interior, and 13 percent to diplomatic and foreign operations.

Even the United States Chamber of Commerce applauded Monday when President Obama proposed greater investment in the nation's infrastructure. But Republican lawmakers, many of whom were elected with the help of the chamber, consider the word "investment" a euphemism for the spending they want to cut.

The details and the debate on these proposals probably won't happen for another two weeks, leaving only a few short days for the House and Senate to reach agreement before the money runs out on March 4.

House Republican leaders have refused to rule out a government shutdown if they do not get their way, and Senate Democrats were explicit in a recent news conference about how dangerous a game they are playing. As Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said, that possibly is highly unsettling to the bond market, not to mention the elderly recipients of government checks or veterans in need of health benefits.

There will be some kind of compromise on cuts, and the White House may have to step in to negotiate it. But to get there, Republicans should do a nervous country a favor and take the threat of a shutdown off the table.





In the last decade, crime rates and the prison population have declined significantly in New York State. Yet prison costs have soared. As part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's search for ways to cut spending, his new budget proposes two sensible steps toward the long overdue goal of closing down unnecessary prisons.

First, he promises to create a task force to identify which prisons could most efficiently be shut down. If the commission fails to act — and it will certainly come under strong political pressure not to from local politicians and unions — the decision would fall to the commissioner of corrections.

Second, he asks the Legislature to repeal a law that requires the state to provide a 12-month notice before closing a prison. Until that happens, the state will be required to keep empty prisons staffed for as long as a year before shuttering them.

The case for closures is clearly laid out in the governor's executive budget. It notes that the inmate population has dropped from a peak of about 71,600 in 1999 to about 56,000 today. Nevertheless, the corrections budget has risen from $2.3 billion in 2000 to $2.8 billion today.

Given the decline in the number of inmates, the state should find it easy to close or downsize several of its 67 prison units without compromising its ability to handle an unanticipated increase in the population.

An analysis by the corrections department shows a particularly large number of vacancies in minimum- and medium-security prisons for women, with occupancy rates of 57 percent and 66 percent, respectively. These prisons, too, could be expeditiously consolidated, saving hundreds of millions of dollars throughout the decade.

The state should also look closely at maximum-security prisons, which tend to be larger, more intensively staffed and, thus, more expensive. Though some of these facilities have high-occupancy rates, the evidence suggests that low-risk offenders who were assigned to them could be safely and less-expensively housed in lower-security institutions.

Local lawmakers traditionally have opposed closing or downsizing prisons because they fear a loss of jobs. To ease those fears, Mr. Cuomo proposes a $100 million economic redevelopment fund that, among other things, could be invested in retrofitting empty prisons for commercial use. The administration will face resistance from the prison workers' unions that have great power in the State Legislature. Mr. Cuomo's goals are worthy, but he'll have to press hard to reach them.






Efrosini Katanakis is a mother of two who fought four years in the courts to win her heart's desire — the $44-an-hour job of painting New York City's bridges and towers in all kinds of weather, high above the city's less adventurous throngs.

She, and three other women, finally won in September when Judge William Pauley III of Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled that the city ran bridge painting as a "de facto boys' club" that turned away ambitious women in "unvarnished sex discrimination." He ordered that painters be chosen based on a civil service exam.

Hooray for Ms. Katanakis, but now comes the hard part. Applications are being accepted for the new, unbiased — and hugely challenging — civil service test in April. Applicants must climb 50-foot-plus towers, calmly amble across scaffolded aeries, lug paint pails of up to 65 pounds, rig lines and tackles for gravity-defying boatswain chairs and clamber atop swooping bridge cables. And mix and apply the right colors of zinc paint.

If that sounds too daunting, the private sector already has about 30 outdoor female painters experienced in high-wire challenges, and Ms. Katanakis is one of them. When Judge Pauley found the city engaged in "intentional appeasement" of its bridge-painting fraternity and their lewdly plastered lockers, he awarded $125,000 to each of the offended women.

Three of them moved on to other endeavors, but not Ms. Katanakis. At last report, she was aiming to ace all tests and be up this summer scraping and painting the Brooklyn Bridge. "O harp and altar, of the fury fused," is the way Hart Crane described the bridge, as if anticipating her ascent.








The Ronald Reagan crowd loved to talk about morning in America. For millions of individuals and families, perhaps the majority, it's more like twilight — with nighttime coming on fast.

Look out the window. More and more Americans are being left behind in an economy that is being divided ever more starkly between the haves and the have-nots. Not only are millions of people jobless and millions more underemployed, but more and more of the so-called fringe benefits and public services that help make life livable, or even bearable, in a modern society are being put to the torch.

Employer-based pensions, paid vacations, health benefits and the like are going the way of phone booths and VCRs. As poverty increases and reliable employment becomes less and less the norm, the dwindling number of workers with any sort of job security or guaranteed pensions (think teachers and other modestly compensated public employees) are being viewed with increasing contempt. How dare they enjoy a modicum of economic comfort?

It turns out that a lot of those jobs were never so secure, after all. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities tells us:

"At least 44 states and the District of Columbia have reduced overall wages paid to state workers by laying off workers, requiring them to take unpaid leave (furloughs), freezing hew hires, or similar actions. State and local governments have eliminated 407,000 jobs since August 2008, federal data show."

We have not faced up to the scale of the economic crisis that still confronts the United States.

Standards of living for the people on the wrong side of the economic divide are being ratcheted lower and will remain that way for many years to come. Forget the fairy tales being spun by politicians in both parties — that somehow they can impose service cuts that are drastic enough to bring federal and local budgets into balance while at the same time developing economic growth strong enough to support a robust middle class. It would take a Bernie Madoff to do that.

In the real world, schools and libraries are being closed and other educational services are being curtailed. Police officers are being fired. Access to health services for poor families is being restricted. "At least 29 states and the District of Columbia," according to the budget center, "are cutting medical, rehabilitative, home care, or other services needed by low-income people who are elderly or have disabilities, or are significantly increasing the cost of these services."

For a variety of reasons, there are not enough tax revenues being generated to pay for the basic public services that one would expect in an advanced country like the United States. The rich are not shouldering their fair share of the tax burden. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to consume an insane amount of revenue. And there are not enough jobs available at decent enough pay to ease some of the demand for public services while at the same time increasing the amount of taxes paid by ordinary workers.

The U.S. cannot cut its way out of this crisis. Instead of trying to figure out how to keep 4-year-olds out of pre-kindergarten classes, or how to withhold life-saving treatments from Medicaid recipients, or how to cheat the elderly out of their Social Security, the nation's leaders should be trying seriously to figure out what to do about the future of the American work force.

Enormous numbers of workers are in grave danger of being left behind permanently. Businesses have figured out how to prosper without putting the unemployed back to work in jobs that pay well and offer decent benefits.

Corporate profits and the stock markets are way up. Businesses are sitting atop mountains of cash. Put people back to work? Forget about it. Has anyone bothered to notice that much of those profits are the result of aggressive payroll-cutting — companies making do with fewer, less well-paid and harder-working employees?

For American corporations, the action is increasingly elsewhere. Their interests are not the same as those of workers, or the country as a whole. As Harold Meyerson put it in The American Prospect: "Our corporations don't need us anymore. Half their revenues come from abroad. Their products, increasingly, come from abroad as well."

American workers are in a world of hurt. Anyone who thinks that politicians can improve this sorry state of affairs by hacking away at Social Security, Medicare and the public schools are great candidates for involuntary commitment.

New ideas on a grand scale are needed. The United States can't thrive with so many of its citizens condemned to shrunken standards of living because they can't find adequate employment. Long-term joblessness is a recipe for societal destabilization. It should not be tolerated in a country with as much wealth as the United States. It's destructive, and it's wrong.







The people who run the federal government spend almost no time outdoors. They get driven from home to work and move through corridors from meeting to meeting. So it was a little odd after all those times interviewing Rahm Emanuel when he was the White House chief of staff to be chasing him, outside, down an icy Chicago street.

He was underdressed for the weather, as all politicians feel compelled to be, in a leather jacket and jeans, and he was knocking on doors as part of a campaign for mayor. Emanuel was a colorful figure in Washington, but back home he's off the leash.

He's clearly a much happier person — glowing, bouncing, reminiscing and hugging. Gone are all the death-grip battles with Republicans and the Washington interest groups. Now startled people in sweatpants greet him when he shows up at their doorway, sometimes wrapping him in an embrace and sometimes bringing their kids out to pose for pictures. Nearly every single person he meets gets an ebullient high-five, though the cause for each celebration is not always clear.

I was struck by how many voters wanted to talk to him about education. Chicagoans have clearly internalized the fact that their city can't prosper so long as so many public school students are dropping out. So Emanuel rips through his school reform agenda, which is like Obama's national agenda, except on steroids.

He's got a Chicago version of the Race to the Top in which schools that reform the fastest get a pot of money. He's for school performance contracts in which school leaders vow to meet certain goals or risk losing control of their schools. He's for sending school report cards out to parents so they can measure how well their own schools are performing.

As people come and talk to him, everything has a marvelous concreteness. In Washington, it's sometimes hard to connect the abstract laws that are being passed to the actual effects on neighborhoods or families. But in a mayoral race, people talk about this specific playground or that recycling center or the police precinct over there. Many of us are drawn to the big power politics of Washington, but city politics is better than national politics because the problems are more tangible and the communication is more face to face.

This is a point Edward Glaeser fleshes out in his terrific new book, "Triumph of the City." Glaeser points out that far from withering in the age of instant global information flows, cities have only become more important.

That's because humans communicate best when they are physically brought together. Two University of Michigan researchers brought groups of people together face to face and asked them to play a difficult cooperation game. Then they organized other groups and had them communicate electronically. The face-to-face groups thrived. The electronic groups fractured and struggled.

Cities magnify people's strengths, Glaeser argues, because ideas spread more easily in dense environments. If you want to compete in a global marketplace it really helps to be near a downtown. Companies that are near the geographic center of their industry are more productive. Year by year, workers in cities see their wages grow faster than workers outside of cities because their skills grow faster. Inventors disproportionately cite ideas from others who live physically close to them.

For years, cities like Detroit built fancy towers and development projects in the hopes that this would revive the downtown core. But cities thrive because they host quality conversations, not because they have new buildings and convention centers.

The cities that have thrived over the past few decades tend to have high median temperatures in January (people like warm winters and other amenities). But even cold cities like Chicago can thrive if they attract college grads. As the number of college graduates in a metropolitan area increases by 10 percent, individuals' earnings increase by 7.7. This applies even to the high school grads in the city because their productivity rises, too.

When you clump together different sorts of skilled people and force them to rub against one another, they create friction and instability, which leads to tension and creativity, which leads to small business growth. As Glaeser notes, cities that rely on big businesses wither. Those that incubate small ones grow.

Recently, Emanuel visited Valois: See Your Food, a South Side institution that gives new meaning to the phrase "greasy spoon." As he made his way from table to table — from cops to middle-class families, graduate students, the unemployed and single moms — he fell into a dozen intense and divergent conversations.

Chicago has its problems: it suffers under one of the biggest debt loads in the country. But it has thrived because it has had good leadership, a constantly updated housing stock, a good business environment and an ethos that attracts talent and celebrates blunt conversation.







I'm in Tahrir Square, and of all the amazing things one sees here the one that strikes me most is a bearded man who is galloping up and down, literally screaming himself hoarse, saying: "I feel free! I feel free!" Gathered around him are Egyptians of all ages, including a woman so veiled that she has only a slit for her eyes, and they're all holding up cellphones taking pictures and video of this man, determined to capture the moment in case it never comes again.

Aren't we all? In 40 years of writing about the Middle East, I have never seen anything like what is happening in Tahrir Square. In a region where the truth and truth-tellers have so long been smothered under the crushing weight of oil, autocracy and religious obscurantism, suddenly the Arab world has a truly free space — a space that Egyptians themselves, not a foreign army, have liberated — and the truth is now gushing out of here like a torrent from a broken hydrant.

What one hears while strolling around are all the pent-up hopes, aspirations and frustrations of Egyptians for the last 50 years. I know the "realist" experts believe this will all be shut down soon. Maybe it will. But for one brief shining moment, forget the experts and just listen. You have not heard this before. It is the sound of a people so long kept voiceless, finally finding, testing and celebrating their own voices.

"We got a message from Tunis," Hosam Khalaf, a 50-year-old engineer stopped me to say. "And the message was: Don't burn yourself up; burn up the fear that is inside you. That is what happened here. This was a society in fear, and the fear has been burned." Khalaf added that he came here with his wife and daughter for one reason: "When we meet God, we will at least be able to say: 'We tried to do something.' "

This is not a religious event here, and the Muslim Brotherhood is not running the show. This is an Egyptian event. That is its strength and its weakness — no one is in charge and everyone in the society is here. You see secular girls in fashionable dress sitting with veiled women. You see parents pushing their babies wearing "Mubarak must leave" signs. You see students in jeans and peasants in robes. What unites all of them is a fierce desire to gain control of their future.

"This is the first time in my life I get to say what I think in public," said Remon Shenoda, a software engineer. "And what is common here is that everyone wants to say something."

Indeed, there is a powerful sense of theft here, that this regime and its cronies not only stole wealth, but they stole something so much more precious: the future of an entire generation of Egyptians, whom they refused to empower or offer any inspiring vision worthy of this great civilization.

"All Egyptian people believe that their country is a great country with very deep roots in history, but the Mubarak regime broke our dignity in the Arab world and in the whole world," said Mohamed Serag, a professor at Cairo University. By the way, everyone here wants to give you their name and make sure you spell it right. Yes, the fear is gone.

Referring to Egypt's backward public education system that depends so much on repetition, one young girl was wearing a sign urging Mubarak to leave quickly. It said: "Make it short. This is history, and we will have to memorize it at school."

Grievances abound. An elderly woman in a veil is shouting that she has three daughters who graduated from the college of commerce and none of them can find jobs. There are signs everywhere asking about Mubarak, a former Air Force chief. Questions such as: "Hey Mr. Pilot, where did you get that $17 billion?"

You almost never hear the word "Israel," and the pictures of "martyrs" plastered around the square are something rarely seen in the Arab world — Egyptians who died fighting for their own freedom not against Israel.

When you enter the square now, one row of volunteers checks your ID, another frisks you for weapons and then you walk through a long gauntlet of men clapping and singing an Egyptian welcome song.

I confess, as I walked through, my head had a wrestling match going on inside. My brain was telling me: "Sober up — remember, this is not a neighborhood with happy endings. Only bad guys win here." And my eyes were telling me: "Just watch and take notes. This is something totally new."

And the this is a titanic struggle and negotiation between the tired but still powerful, top-down 1952 Egyptian Army-led revolution and a vibrant, new, but chaotic, 2011, people-led revolution from the bottom-up — which has no guns but enormous legitimacy. I hope the Tahrir Square protesters can get organized enough to negotiate a new constitution with the army. There will be setbacks. But whatever happens, they have changed Egypt.

After we walked from Tahrir Square across the Nile bridge, Professor Mamoun Fandy remarked to me that there is an old Egyptian poem that says: " 'The Nile can bend and turn, but what is impossible is that it would ever dry up.' The same is true of the river of freedom that is loose here now. Maybe you can bend it for a while, or turn it, but it is not going to dry up."






Cambridge, Mass.

THE lawsuits challenging the individual mandate in the health care law, including one in which a federal district judge last week called the law unconstitutional, will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court, and pundits are already making bets on how the justices will vote.

But the predictions of a partisan 5-4 split rest on a misunderstanding of the court and the Constitution. The constitutionality of the health care law is not one of those novel, one-off issues, like the outcome of the 2000 presidential election, that have at times created the impression of Supreme Court justices as political actors rather than legal analysts.

Since the New Deal, the court has consistently held that Congress has broad constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. This includes authority over not just goods moving across state lines, but also the economic choices of individuals within states that have significant effects on interstate markets. By that standard, this law's constitutionality is open and shut. Does anyone doubt that the multitrillion-dollar health insurance industry is an interstate market that Congress has the power to regulate?

Many new provisions in the law, like the ban on discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, are also undeniably permissible. But they would be undermined if healthy or risk-prone individuals could opt out of insurance, which could lead to unacceptably high premiums for those remaining in the pool. For the system to work, all individuals — healthy and sick, risk-prone and risk-averse — must participate to the extent of their economic ability.

In this regard, the health care law is little different from Social Security. The court unanimously recognized in 1982 that it would be "difficult, if not impossible" to maintain the financial soundness of a Social Security system from which people could opt out. The same analysis holds here: by restricting certain economic choices of individuals, we ensure the vitality of a regulatory regime clearly within Congress's power to establish.

The justices aren't likely to be misled by the reasoning that prompted two of the four federal courts that have ruled on this legislation to invalidate it on the theory that Congress is entitled to regulate only economic "activity," not "inactivity," like the decision not to purchase insurance. This distinction is illusory. Individuals who don't purchase insurance they can afford have made a choice to take a free ride on the health care system. They know that if they need emergency-room care that they can't pay for, the public will pick up the tab. This conscious choice carries serious economic consequences for the national health care market, which makes it a proper subject for federal regulation.

Even if the interstate commerce clause did not suffice to uphold mandatory insurance, the even broader power of Congress to impose taxes would surely do so. After all, the individual mandate is enforced through taxation, even if supporters have been reluctant to point that out.

Given the clear case for the law's constitutionality, it's distressing that many assume its fate will be decided by a partisan, closely divided Supreme Court. Justice Antonin Scalia, whom some count as a certain vote against the law, upheld in 2005 Congress's power to punish those growing marijuana for their own medical use; a ban on homegrown marijuana, he reasoned, might be deemed "necessary and proper" to effectively enforce broader federal regulation of nationwide drug markets. To imagine Justice Scalia would abandon that fundamental understanding of the Constitution's necessary and proper clause because he was appointed by a Republican president is to insult both his intellect and his integrity.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom many unfairly caricature as the "swing vote," deserves better as well. Yes, his opinion in the 5-4 decision invalidating the federal ban on possession of guns near schools is frequently cited by opponents of the health care law. But that decision in 1995 drew a bright line between commercial choices, all of which Congress has presumptive power to regulate, and conduct like gun possession that is not in itself "commercial" or "economic," however likely it might be to set off a cascade of economic effects. The decision about how to pay for health care is a quintessentially commercial choice in itself, not merely a decision that might have economic consequences.

Only a crude prediction that justices will vote based on politics rather than principle would lead anybody to imagine that Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Samuel Alito would agree with the judges in Florida and Virginia who have ruled against the health care law. Those judges made the confused assertion that what is at stake here is a matter of personal liberty — the right not to purchase what one wishes not to purchase — rather than the reach of national legislative power in a world where no man is an island.

It would be asking a lot to expect conservative jurists to smuggle into the commerce clause an unenumerated federal "right" to opt out of the social contract. If Justice Clarence Thomas can be counted a nearly sure vote against the health care law, the only reason is that he alone has publicly and repeatedly stressed his principled disagreement with the whole line of post-1937 cases that interpret Congress's commerce power broadly.

There is every reason to believe that a strong, nonpartisan majority of justices will do their constitutional duty, set aside how they might have voted had they been members of Congress and treat this constitutional challenge for what it is — a political objection in legal garb.

Laurence H. Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School, is the author of "The Invisible Constitution."








Who were the big winners on Super Bowl Sunday?


We all know the Green Bay Packers topped the Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 31-25.


But many local viewers may understandably believe the long-term big winners will be Chattanoogans.


That's because more than 100 million Super Bowl TV viewers saw an imaginative advertisement promoting the Volkswagen Passat model -- which thousands of Chattanooga VW employees soon will be rolling off local production lines.


The commercials cost a hefty $3 million for 30 seconds. But with the eyes of so many people glued to their TV screens, the effective ad designed to sell Chattanooga-made Passats could pour millions of dollars into this area!


The Super Bowl is over. But Chattanooga VW production and worldwide sales are still ahead. We are confident that Chattanooga Volkswagens will be "high scorers," winning for our whole community.







Some public officials -- from presidents and members of Congress on down -- seem to think there is no limit to the money government should collect in taxes (or borrow) and then spend. Of course, most taxpayers know that's wrong.


It should be appreciated, therefore, that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam acknowledges the need for further state budget cuts. He says there is no more "easy money" available to cut but that reductions are necessary nonetheless.


Tennessee has cut $1.5 billion from its budgets over the past three years, but he sees a necessity to make more cuts to avoid a $185 million deficit, while meeting real needs.


It's "fun" to spend for "good things" -- but hard to cut realistically to avoid red ink and high taxes.


Just think, candidates run for public office to face those hard decisions -- or to ignore financial reality.


We are fortunate Haslam is taking a realistic and responsible view.







A news story on the front page Monday reported some local officials' views of whether there should be term limits for members of the Chattanooga City Council.


Should candidates be eligible to run again and again, with no limit on the number of terms? Or should every elected official be limited to just two terms, or some other number?


Elected officials at the local, state and federal levels serve terms of varying lengths -- with some facing term limits and some not.


Our view is that we are fortunate to have the opportunity to re-elect good local officials time after time -- but that even one term is too long for a bad official.


George Washington established a voluntary two-term limit for our presidents. No one was elected to a third term until Franklin D. Roosevelt came along. He was first elected in 1932. He enjoyed his power so much that he ran and was re-elected to a second term, then a third -- then a fourth! He died in office in 1945.


Presidential power is so great that it can be difficult to defeat even a bad incumbent president. So we believe it was good to amend the U.S. Constitution in 1951 so that no one can be elected to more than two terms as president. The idea was to prevent dictatorial power from being exercised by a president.


But in local offices, while incumbency may be an advantage for re-election, it doesn't usually involve enough power to guarantee too many terms if most area residents really want change.


So for local officials, our periodic elections established by law are an adequate safeguard.


If you like the way any local official performs, re-elect him or her. If not, a change at the next regular election should be possible. Incumbency may be an advantage for a good local official, but it is less likely to become an overwhelming advantage for a bad one.


But whatever your view, we surely should choose our local officials carefully during each election.







It has been cynically assumed that everybody who may get medical coverage under ObamaCare "reforms" will naturally give wholehearted support to the law. But it was encouraging to read in The Tennessean newspaper that that's not the case.


The Nashville paper highlighted a 19-year-old Nashville resident and college student, Alè Dalton, who does not currently have medical insurance. "If anyone would seem a likely supporter of last year's federal health care reform, it's Ale Dalton," the newspaper reported, declaring that she "fits the profile of Americans that federal health care reform laws are designed to help."


But Dalton opposes ObamaCare, or at least its most oppressive provision: the requirement that almost everyone buy government-approved medical insurance or be punished for not doing so. She said that whether or not she would personally benefit from ObamaCare, "I don't agree with the unconstitutionality of it. It's not just my opinion, but it is unconstitutional for Congress to mandate people buy something from a private institution."


Her views echo overwhelming Tennessee opposition to ObamaCare. Vanderbilt University's Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions surveyed more than 700 Tennesseans and found more than three-fifths want ObamaCare completely or partially repealed. Not even a third want the law to stay on the books as it is or to expand.


Like the student in Nashville, many who oppose ObamaCare object to the mandate that everyone buy government-approved insurance.


It is refreshing when individuals reject a bad law on principle, not complacently accepting it in the hope of "getting something."







Most of us, the young especially but many of us who are older, too, love animals. We enjoy our pets and want to take good care of them.


We like nature programs on TV, on which we see the wonders of live animals roaming in free ranges, in our own country, in the wilds of Africa or elsewhere.


Many of us also like to visit a zoo, to see exotic animals that typically are well cared for. Some people lament the animals' lack of freedom, even though they are well fed and medicated, and get loving attention.


We are upset, however, if we hear stories of neglect or mistreatment of animals, or even when unfortunate but natural events occur.


Hank, a chimpanzee popular at the Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park, was found dead at the age of 42 recently. Heart problems may have been to blame. Whatever the cause, it was reported that 200 people attended Hank's memorial last Saturday! He was clearly popular.


Several other animals have also died at the zoo in a relatively short period of time, and a federal inspection found some problems at the zoo that might have contributed to a few of the deaths. Zoo officials have acknowledged some problems and challenged some of the other findings.


We should strive to ensure that all animals under human care get the proper, humane attention they need.








We believe it is well and good to heat our homes. But we don't believe it should be done by burning the furniture. And so it is with our environmental resources. We need to wisely develop our economy, improve employment, add to overall prosperity. But we should not be acting in ways that devastate the underlying source of our wealth in the broadest sense.

The case in point is Turkey's wetlands, the estuarine bogs and marshes under threat worldwide and that sustain 40 percent of the world's species and 12 percent of all animal species. In the past 40 years, Turkey has devastated more than half its wetlands, some 1.3 million hectares. This destruction of ecological and economic value is truly the equivalent of heating the house by burning the furniture.

The environmental case to prevent this destruction is clear. As many as 50,000 plant and animal species disappear every year because of encroaching development and pollution in the many ecosystems that qualify as wetlands, from tropical forest to coastal marshes. This destruction of oxygen-producing, carbon dioxide-consuming plant life is a significant contributor to climate change. The case for wetlands preservation can soundly be made on environmental criteria and biodiversity protection alone.

And to be fair, the World Wildlife Fund study on which we reported yesterday, did not mention the strides the State Waterworks Authority, or DSİ, has made in the past decade to move from a policy of wetlands drainage to wetlands preservation. In cooperation with the Netherlands' Wageningen University, for example, DSİ is close to establishing a national wetland center in Turkey. This would be welcome progress.

But this is not strictly a discussion to be focused on the virtues of environmental protection – as important as that is. Because the debate is often falsely predicated on an economic growth vs. idle parkland polemic. A more thoughtful examination yields the fact that yes, draining a wetland can make way for cotton production. But this occurs at a cost to fishermen in coastal areas who see their catches decline along with spawning grounds and food systems of the fish themselves. Yes, a golf course created out of marsh has economic value. But so does the water purification that is a byproduct of that marsh, and whose costs need to added to the ledger.

New York City, for example, discovered a decade ago that $1.5 billion in wetlands protection in reservoir watersheds yielded savings in deferred construction of wastewater treatment facilities of $8 billion.

One study in 1997, crude as it may have been, estimated the economic value of the world's wetlands at $4.8 trillion.

Turkey needs to move beyond the attitudes of old that saw rivers as wasted hydroelectricity, lakes as unconsumed urban drinking supplies and wetlands as unrealized landfills or golf courses.






News from the Middle East has raised concerns about the future of almost all countries outside the western world. It might not seem logical to include some leading emerging countries into this category. However, there are some signs of trouble also in those countries – maybe not political now and mainly economic. From their past experience, Western politicians know well how economic troubles suddenly turn into political turmoil.

Dr. Klaus Schwab is a wise businessman. This year he made emerging economies the new stars of his Davos summit. When the bright performances of the emerging economies are compared with the difficulties some key Western countries experienced last year, that was a logical decision. However, what might happen in those emerging economies in the long run must also be discussed. It is not reasonable to guarantee a bright future for a nation only by miraculous economic performance, being a nuclear power or putting a man on the moon.

There are some other elements that are more important, such as democracy, human rights, justice and equality.

During the Davos sessions, EU leaders defended the importance of the common currency when a considerable part of Europeans have doubts about the virtues of using it. However, they have no doubts about the future of their democracies. Maybe for that reason, the VIPs from emerging economies, in spite of their superior positions, preferred to be modest. They were wise enough to see the difference between short-term success and the probable troubles waiting in the long run. As The Economist puts it: Indians and Chinese have their tycoons, however only in democracies do the elites serve the masses.

It is not reasonable to think that when some scholars and even politicians talk about the future of emerging economies, it is because they are jealous about their successful performances. They are uneasy about the probable negative impacts on their economies and on their political positions if all these success stories turn into failure scenarios in the future. Is this possible? If the leaders of these nations insist that they will continue their bright economic performances without caring for more freedom, more just income distribution, more human rights and at the end more democracy, the probability of failure in the long run is quite high.

These concerns might seem fantasies for those leaders. However, besides social and political matters, economies already have begun to give some alarming signals. In leading emerging economies, inflation has jumped to surprise levels and magnificent (!) growth rates began to move to more modest figures. This is normal even for rich and developed countries of the Western world, especially when the negative impacts of the recent crisis on economic activity and employment are considered. Crises come and go, giving some damages to economies but not to political systems.

However, the case might be different in emerging countries. When the base of social and political structure is not strong, building a sound economic system is quite difficult. And if the economic system is not sound, it is almost impossible to escape not only from economic disasters, but also social and political disintegration in the end. The experience of the last two centuries has proven this.

Especially during the recent crisis, high growth rates, brilliant export performances, steady inflow of foreign investments, huge foreign exchange reserves, negligible unemployment and big and important financial institutions in some emerging economies have made even some western countries who faced economic troubles jealous. And maybe because of these troubles, the social and political conditions behind those success stories have never been discussed.

After the recent political turmoil in the Middle East, it is time to discuss the future of successful emerging economies. Some economists already have begun to talk about the negative impacts of the political turmoil in the region on financial markets. Even if the probability seems small today, it is better to think about what could happen to the markets if a serious political problem appears in the new stars of the world economy.








Tunisia has fought tooth and claw as Egypt is burning. Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have their hearts in their boots. Syria, Jordan and Yemen are on pins and needles. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is dead silent.

The foreign minister is certainly hyperactive, but we need strong evidence that he is proactive.

As the minister confuses being "hyper" and "pro," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan goes for "post-active."

After everyone was convinced that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should step down, Erdoğan said to Mubarak, "You must leave."

"Good morning after breakfast!"

"Why shouldn't Turkey rebuild its leadership in former Ottoman lands in the Balkans, Middle East and Central Asia?" Davutoğlu asked just two months ago during an interview with Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post, on Dec. 5. But as the "ideals" and "reality" have tangled, Davutoğlu has fallen into silence. It seems his holy book, "Strategic Depth," has nothing to say about it.

The United States has raised its voiced across the Atlantic. The United Kingdom has spoken from across a continent, as well as Israel, but Turkey has been stuck in a tight situation.

Turkey could not speak because it has no analysis or information about the happenings in these countries. Moreover it is dangerous to make comments before the chaos comes to an end. A catch-22, it is!

I beg Davuoğlu to stop using rhetoric just for a while, stop uttering words like "proactive" or "game-setter."

With all due respect to his academic expertise, I will ask Professor Davutoğlu about something that I don't know.

We call the political fires that have started in the Middle East and Northern Africa one by one a "domino effect." The nations that are in difficult times are taking after each other and raging against their autocratic rulers.

Does foreign policy doctrine take the "domino effect" seriously?

Do nations get outraged automatically just by looking at each other?

Could the masses revolt in different countries concurrently without a "mastermind" behind them?

When and in what circumstances does rage turn into a social uprising?

Or could there be a "game-setter" behind this?

When it comes to conspiracy theories, the U.S. or Britain, Germany, France come to mind, but could such a game-setter be Iran, which is a brilliant chess player?

For the moment, Islam remains politically behind the unrest, but could the real motivating "ideology" be political Islam (the Muslim Brothers and the like)?

I really don't know answers to these questions. So, I want to consult with an expert.

Therefore, my questions are for Davutoğlu, not the foreign minister but the academic.






We had the opportunity to fly with Prime Minister Erdoğan to Hatay and Aleppo this weekend to attend the ground breaking ceremony for the "Friendship Dam" to be built jointly by the two countries on the historic Asi (Orontes) river.

No doubt this is going to raise eyebrows in Israel again, given that that there is serious unease in that increasingly isolated country over the fast pace of positive developments in Turkish-Syrian ties.

This is of course combined with an increasingly obsessive hatred for Erdoğan among Israelis and Jews across the globe because of his strong and effective support of the Palestinians besieged in Gaza. Israelis have been watching with deep frustration as this stance of Erdoğan's has turned him a hero in the eyes of the masses in the Middle East.

Remarks Erdoğan made to us on the plane as we were returning from Syria, however, are bound to increase the animosity felt towards him among Israelis even further. Answering questions for the small group of journalists accompanying him Erdoğan said – when referring to what must not happen in Egypt – that Israel must under no circumstance interfere in that country.

What is more, he said that he had underscored the importance of this point in his conversations with President Obama and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, indicating in this way that they should intervene to stop Israel if it is inclined to meddle in Egypt in a last-ditch effort to try and turn the tide against the anti-Mubarak demonstrators.

It was interesting to note Erdoğan referring to Mr. Papandreou in this context, of course. This could be taken as an indication that Ankara has already factored into its policy calculations the distinct possibility that Israel and Greece are likely to cozy up to each other in an effort to give the appearance that they are standing together against Turkey.

Meanwhile the assumption among many regional observers – whether justified or not – is that Israel is in a state of panic over the prospect of losing yet another ally after Turkey and is trying by whatever underhanded means available to ensure that either Hosni Mubarak or a crony or stooge of his stays at the helm of Egypt, instead of the Muslim Brotherhood getting hold of it.

But it is more than evident at this stage that this is a futile exercise and that it is unlikely Israel will have its way in this case, given the anti-Mubarak masses that have taken to the streets, among which supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood represent only one element.

As an aside it must be pointed out that for all the "Arabists" Israel is supposed to have and with all its intelligence capabilities, it had no notion of what was brewing in Egypt.

This suggests that these so called "Arab experts" were more involved in trying to formulate rationalizations for what they wanted to see in that country, rather than focusing on what was really happening there.

Mr. Erdoğan for his part seems to sense, like many in the region, that if Israel were seen to be interfering in Egypt now, this would be tantamount to throwing a can of petrol on a raging fire. Given that the overall picture shows an Israel which is rapidly losing political ground in the Middle East, some analysts suggest this is will make that country "adventurous," and hence "dangerous" in terms of regional stability in the coming period as it tries to influence the course of events.

Put another way, Israel is seen as a "destabilizing" factor in the face of the latest developments, just like Iran, which is trying to manipulate these developments to its own advantage, as seen by the latest remarks from the "chief mullah" in that country on Friday.

Of course one might question justifiably what it is that makes "Turkey's interference" in Egypt "good" while Israel and Iran's interference is "bad." Erdoğan was after all the first one to say in so many words that it was time Mubarak went, a development that gained him a reprimand from the remnants of the Mubarak regime who warned him not to meddle in Egypt.

On-the-spot coverage by Turkish networks from Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt, however, showed that Erdoğan commands wide respect among the Egyptian people, whatever their oppressive Israeli- and U.S.-supported administrators may say. All the talk among Egyptian analysts and opposition politicians about "the AKP and the Turkish model," on the other hand, demonstrates the kind of standing Turkey has in the region.

At any rate Erdoğan was quick to point out that Turkey did not intend to interfere actively in Egypt, even if it has opinions about what is happening there, unless, that is, it is called on to provide advice by members of the opposition, and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood – which has become a bogey for the West and Israel.

As to what Turkey wants to see happening in Egypt at this stage, Erdoğan said it was important for that country to hold elections as soon as possible, to amend its constitution to make it more democratic and to modernize its laws on elections and political parties.

While this is not what Israel wants, since it is unlikely that any democratically elected government in Egypt will be as friendly towards Israel as the Mubarak regime has been, it is interesting to note that Washington and Ankara are increasingly on the same page on this score.

On the other hand Erdoğan did tell us that Turkey was prepared to intervene for humanitarian purposes should the systemic breakdown in Egypt result in hunger and disease spreading among the people. Erdoğan said he had instructed the relevant Turkish organizations to ready themselves to send immediate help should such an eventuality come about.

In the meantime he said his government would be calling on an international donor's conference for Egypt and would also call on the Security Council to meet urgently to discuss the developments in that country.

None of this is likely to be pleasing for Israel, while Washington watches with a more open mind given that Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, can play a moderating role over the Muslim Brotherhood.

Put another way, it is increasingly evident that the Israeli axe has hit a hard rock this time in confronting Turkey. None of this would have happened, of course, if ties between the two countries were as they were in the past.

Whether the latest developments in the region will force Israel to think strategically and apologize to Turkey for killing nine unarmed Turkish pro-Palestinian activist on the Mavi Marmara and pay compensation for them – thus paving the way for normalization of ties with Ankara – remains to be seen.

While no one is too hopeful on this score it is clear that Israel's, and not Turkey's, quandary is growing.






There is an extraordinary disconnect between what the experts write about oil prices, and what is likely to happen out in the real world. The pundits inhabit an economist's perfect dream world, where oil prices respond to changes in supply and demand that are driven mainly by production costs and economic conditions. In the real world, it's a lot more complex.

The question of price is back on the table, because oil just broke through the $100-per-barrel level for the second time in history. (The first time was July 2008, when it briefly reached $147 per barrel before falling back to a low of $33 the following December.) But the experts have concluded that this time, cheap oil is never coming back.

A typical offering was a document published by oil industry giant BP a couple of weeks ago. "BP Energy Outlook 2030" forecast that fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – will still account for 80 percent of primary energy worldwide in 2030.

Moreover, total world energy consumption will grow very fast. Demand in the developed countries will not grow by much, if at all, in the next 20 years, but it will rise by almost two-thirds in the larger economies of the developing world, notably China's and India's.

If 80 percent of the energy mix is still fossil fuels in 20 years' time, then the amount that the world burns will have to rise, too. Oil currently accounts for 35 percent of primary energy in the world, and if that ratio persists then we're going to need a lot more of the stuff. That means the price will go up and stay up.

Finding new oil will get more expensive, for the cheap, "sweet" oil in easy-to-reach places was developed first. Most of the new oil will be found under the sea, or in the Arctic, or trapped in tar sands in Canada and Venezuela, or it will be "sour" oil with a high sulfur content. The price per barrel has to be high to make it worthwhile to develop those resources – but it WILL stay high, because the demand for oil is going to rise so steeply.

Or so it says in "BP Energy Outlook 2030." Well, you didn't expect an oil company to publish a report saying that demand for its product is going to dwindle and prices are going to fall, did you? But BP's analysis leaves out politics, technology and even fashion.

The politics first. One major implication of a rising demand for oil is that the importance of Middle Eastern oil will grow, for this is the one place where relatively modest investments can increase production rapidly. However, the Middle East is unpredictable politically, and getting more so by the moment. The consumers hate uncertainty, and this gives them a strong incentive to move to alternative sources of energy.

Concerns about global warming are pushing them in the same direction. The key to stopping the warming is to cut the amount of fossil fuels we are burning, and ultimately to stop using them entirely.

Government programs to do that already exist in most countries, and even in the United States, where Congress blocks direct action, the Barack Obama administration has used the Environmental Protection Agency to raise the fuel efficiency standard for American-built vehicles to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. (The current average is 25 mpg.) That alone will result in a 29 percent cut in American oil usage.

Now the technology. The hunt for a substitute fuel for vehicles is already underway. ExxonMobil, for example, is investing $600 million in research into producing a cost-effective alternative from biomass – specifically, from algae that require no agricultural land and use only waste or salt water.

A rival process would combine hydrogen with carbon dioxide drawn directly from the air (by "artificial trees," a technology that is developing very fast), to create an octane-type fuel for cars. Like its algae-based rival, this fuel would be carbon-neutral, and could be delivered through existing distribution systems and used in current vehicle engines. Either solution would be a real challenger to $100-per-barrel oil.

And finally, fashion. In the 1934 movie "It Happened One Night," Clark Gable, the leading male movie idol of the day, undressed to get into bed with Claudette Colbert (they were married, of course), and under his shirt was...a bare chest! He wasn't wearing an undershirt! Shock, horror – and then the treacherous thought: why ARE we all wearing undershirts? In less than a year, the market for undershirts collapsed.

So here we have a world where almost all the cars are oil-fuelled or at best "hybrid," although electric-powered alternatives are beginning to appear on the market. The electrics are still not satisfactory for long-distance driving, but mass-produced cars burning carbon-neutral oil substitutes in internal combustion engines are probably only five to 10 years away.

And in 10 or 15 years' time, after we have had a couple of really big environmental disasters or a new oil embargo by Middle Eastern oil producers, might the motorized masses ask themselves: why ARE we all driving petroleum-fuelled cars? And act on their conclusions.

The BP study is a soothing bedtime story for worried oil industry execs. In the real world, the long-term future of oil prices may be down, not up.







Turkish activism in the Middle East, stemming from a need and sense of geopolitical responsibility and a willingness to reconcile with its geography and history, appeared as a destabilizing factor for the traditional regional line-setting actors keen to preserve strategic equations which took for granted an inherently unstable status quo. Throughout the 20th century, geography had proved a liability for Turkey. The Middle East has traditionally posed the greatest number of threats to the country's security.

Today Turkey's sense of an increased security in the Middle East is contrasting with Israel's sense of vulnerability. Empathy stemming from defensive reflexes has become much less immediate between governments and the public opinion. The new regional dynamics set in motion are likely to bring to Turkey strategic gains but are increasing risks associated with unpredictability and sense of isolation for Israel.

In 1958 David Ben Gurion and Adnan Menderes laid down the framework for a strategic alliance based on a peripheral doctrine. Interactions between the two states were bolstered by shared views of the Middle East and the perception of common enemies (Syria, Iraq and Iran). The fact that both states considered that they were surrounded by the same hostile states motivated both Israel and Turkey into accepting one another as valuable strategic partners in a perceived hostile environment.

Turkey is the only country that has started feeling more secure in the Middle Eastern context, where everyone has an existential paranoia. The progressive shift from a security-based democracy to a freedom-based democracy has been a decisive factor: Only an open regime can provide this sense of security to its citizens. In the context when Turkey, while focusing on the consolidation of an inward-looking nation-state, was the eastern bulwark of NATO, its neighbors were merely threats that had to be contained. Turkey has been shifting its foreign policy priority from hard security concerns to soft power and commercial interests and moving away from a regional gendarme role to a more independent player determined to use a plethora of regional integration tools.

Turkey has introduced a new and positive language of cooperation rather than conflict. The approach is based on a dogged diplomatic pragmatism supported by the use of the soft power of trade along with cultural links to project stability beyond its frontiers. The rhetoric shows important similarities with the discourse of the European Neighborhood Policy and is a reminder of Henry Kissinger's approach to the USSR by promoting the development of a web of interdependence based on economic strength.

Integration process for a shaking ground

The first weeks of 2011 have profoundly shaken the ground in the Middle East and have brought societies ignored for too long to the world's attention. Turkey can support social transformation dynamics and normalize relations between governments and people by initiating integration processes, designing policy frameworks and projecting security beyond its borders. Turkey's force of traction in the region and transformative power will determine whether it will be possible to convert economic interdependence into political convergence.

There is a growing interest in the Turkish model and experience with the belief that it can be a catalyst for change by the positive example it provides among the Middle Eastern democratic intelligentsia, the nascent middle classes traveling to Turkey for work, trade or tourism and by some from the political elites lucid enough to acknowledge the need for social change. Turkey, with its economic success and democracy based on liberal values and enlightened interpretations of Islam, is an inspiring model to set an example for a Middle East that has been in a state of constant change despite the political sclerosis of regimes.

Middle Eastern societies don't want Turkey to become another populist Middle Eastern country, like Egypt was in the '50s and '60s. The Palestinian cause or the Israel bashing, instrumentalized for too long by today's completely ossified leaderships, is probably not anymore the best way to gain popularity on Arab and even Iranian streets animated by the quest for economic and social rights and political freedoms. There is a need in the region for a mediator with Israel rather than for a new opponent coupled with the request to find in Turkey the elder brother, calm and thoughtful, far beyond emotional drives – in other words the wise man as depicted recently by Foreign Minister Davutoğlu.

There is a pressing need to go beyond the question of "Who needs whom the most?" and to try to assess the costs of the flotilla crisis for the region. It generates costs for both Turkey and Israel. Each side can be convinced that the other side is paying more. The governmental stubbornness advocating for an uncompromising position leads to an irrational logic of self-destruction based on the acceptance to bear the cost as long as the other side is paying more.

The boycott of Israel at international platforms and an anti-Israeli posture are not Turkey's main source of popularity and legitimacy in the Middle Eastern countries. Turkey's potential to play a stabilizer role, still partly untapped, can be fully realized only in the case of a renewal and deepening of Turkish-Israeli ties. Furthermore, conditioning relations with Israel on the progress of the settlement of the Palestinian conflict is more likely to have the opposite effect by complicating the negotiations and excluding Turkey from the process entirely.

Israel has a lot to gain from Turkey's developing force of traction and transformative power in the Middle East. Turkey is a key for the regional acceptance of Israel's legitimacy. The use of governmental apologies in the usual conduct of diplomatic practice, in trying to resolve incidents and disputes, has been developing steadily. The reluctance to apologize generally stems from the fear that the apology will be taken as an admission of responsibility exposing the country to liability. The art of apology in international diplomatic settings requires probably a delicate balancing of interests involved in negotiating diplomatic apologies and quasi apologies as well as the gradations of language and often deliberate ambiguity that can be deployed to achieve viable compromises. Both Israeli and Turkish governments by acknowledging the need to normalize relations should leave room for diplomacy.

Turkey's new strength, its experience in building a strong, modern economy and its ambition to trade and integrate with its neighbors offer a chance to bring more stability and reduce conflicts and corruption that have plagued the Middle East for so long. Turkey's approach can help shape a vision of a region in which security and economic interests are pursued pragmatically by all states and citizens and within a framework of cooperation aiming at a normalization of relations. A pragmatic approach can help build trust and cooperation in the context of mistrust and mutually perceived threats. A regional momentum triggered from inside can develop the much needed sense of accountability and ownership. Inclusiveness requires healthy communication with everyone without any discrimination. The development of crisis management and institution-building mechanisms through democratic and participatory methods based on dialogue and consultations can pave the way toward a system of states stable and accountable.

* Burcu Gültekin Punsmann is senior foreign policy analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, or TEPAV.






There are developments that indicate a solution is approaching in Egypt as the Hosni Mubarak regime negotiated with its arch enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, for the first time. There was even consensus about preparations for a new constitution.

Interestingly, the Muslim Brotherhood is behaving extremely realistically as they are not hurrying or applying pressure; in an effort not to upset the United States, it is trying to gain some time as it knows it will take over power in the long run.

We may conclude that this situation will temporarily be handed over to the Egypt crisis commission. But we should also realize that this won't end up in a solution.

The U.S. and Israel are very much afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. If they come to power without any coalition, then Israel will lose all together while the balance in the region would be disturbed from the ground up.

Washington is trying to prevent this from happening or at least delay the bad result and prolong Mubarak's tenure by forming commissions. In order to do this, it is preparing a regime protected by the military.

US views everything through Israel's perspective

The U.S. is not expending efforts for stability and democracy in Egypt but is rather behaving very egoistically. As I stated above, it does not care about democracy. The U.S. only aims at protecting Israel – that is, it is trying to solve the crisis via Israel.

That would be a pity.

As long as democracy does not resume, Egypt will stay unstable for many years. What a pity though that we always encounter such scenes in international relations: the strong one wins.

Another thing that strikes me is why the democracy champion, Turkey, shares Washington's opinion100 percent. We may predict that if the Mubarak administration continues to remain in power for some time then relations between Ankara and Cairo will experience trouble (!).

No one can be a mere spectator

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's words about developments in Egypt clearly reflect change in Turkey's general approach.

On his way home from Kyrgyzstan, Erdoğan said, "We are not a country to view the Middle East from the stands," which showed that Ankara's view on external relations has changed from the ground up.

Previously, when foreign criticism was received on matters such as the Kurdish issue, Ankara would get upset. It wouldn't make any difference if criticism came from the European Parliament or any other place.

The response would be: "This is our internal problem. Mind your own business."

Internal affairs would be a shield, and people would not want anyone to call them to account and they would perceive answering any question as dishonorable.

Sure, we still do not live in a world in which criticism is welcomed, yet the old approach is noticeably changing.

We are living in a world in which a crisis in one country affects another country, especially in a fragile region like the one we live in and especially if everyone shakes when one of the region's biggest and influential countries like Egypt is involved. And this would bother Turkey, too.

Everyone needs to learn a lesson.

You see our prime minister talking to U.S. President Barack Obama and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou or talking to the Syrian leader. Everyone talks to everyone and gathers views about each other. 

Internal affairs do not exist anymore.

As we state our opinion about developments in other countries and don't remain mere spectators, we similarly should not get upset about others stating their views about us.






As most readers of this short paper probably know, Dr. Steven Chu is the energy secretary of the United States, a physicist and a Nobel Laureate. Discovery Magazine, in its latest issue (2011), selected what it called the "100 top stories of 2010," one of which was authored by an editor of Discovery, and whose main purpose was to verify Dr. Chu's green credentials.

As good luck would have it, the article was only two pages long, and did not contain any elementary physics or mathematics – two subjects that I failed twice in my first year at engineering school, and as a result of which I was duly expelled. On the other hand, some important observations of the Econ 101 variety were missing from Dr. Chu's answers to editor Corey Powell's questions, which unfortunately prevent me from recommending his "piece" to serious readers.

Mr. Powell began this Q&A with a reference to the Gulf Coast oil spill, asking how an accident of this magnitude could happen. I won't bother to discuss Dr. Chu's answer, because both question and answer were irrelevant. Statistically, accidents of that type are unavoidable, and have always taken place. If we go back to the Second World War, we can look at examples such as the unnecessary invasion of Peleliu Island and the attack on Manila, the failure to clear the approaches to the port of Antwerp as soon as possible, and perhaps the worst blunder of all: adopting the Sherman as the main American battle tank. Compared to those "accidents," the Gulf Coast tragedy was a small beer.

For long-term energy investments, Dr. Chu pictures the U.S. moving toward the electrification of personal vehicles. So do I, only I don't have a clue as to the details, nor how rapidly a large-scale electrification could be completed if deemed necessary. I therefore wonder if the secretary and his foot soldiers could provide us with the kind of information that we can use in our teaching and publications, and to do so as soon as possible – assuming that they, unlike my good self, have examined this issue sufficiently to tell us something beyond public relations hype.

His thoughts on nuclear energy bother me somewhat, because he states that large reactors will cost up to $8 billion. I regard that estimate as completely and totally wrong, and suggest that he should have a talk with Anne Lauvergeon about her plans for her firm Areva, as well as what she knows about new Chinese reactors. If his French is not up to scratch, he can examine my new energy economics textbook (2011), because evidence from the nuclear past and present leads me to insist that "large" reactors, whose construction is organized by competent managers, will soon cost a maximum of $5 billion. This is because the time span from ground break to grid power will be less than 5 years, and when the nuclear renaissance moves into full swing, perhaps much less.

"Future-gen" (in the form of zero-emission coal power plants) evidently plays a prominent role in Dr. Chu's vision of an optimal energy structure. It plays none whatsoever in mine however, and I never use the expression "future-gen" nor listen to anyone discussing it. Carbon Capture and Sequestration, or CCS, is an element in this activity, and the Swedish firm Vattenfall once made certain optimistic promises to the German government and newspaper readers concerning their efforts in that direction. Jeffrey Michel, an MIT graduate and energy consultant living in Germany, calls CCS a thermodynamic travesty, and remembering my own long and delightful study of thermodynamics and engineering economics causes me to say that Michel's judgment is much too mild.

A carbon-free United States in 2050 seems to be one of Secretary Chu's more abstract notions. Interestingly, a recent large energy meeting in Berlin was on the same wavelength, where the emphasis was on solar and wind's place on the German energy scene in the same year. As far as I am concerned, the German intentions are strictly off-the-wall, and in 2050 the German nuclear intensity will match or exceed France's. The nuclear equipment will be breeders, and I sincerely hope that the security problems associated with those reactors are solved the way that they should be solved, because if not somebody could be in a world of hurt.

Finally, Dr. Chu mentions that "there is no law of physics which states that the whole society can't benefit," and unlike the contention of e.g. Gordon Gekko (in the film "Wall Street"), he says, "There is no zero-sum game here." It was really very decent of the secretary to inform us of his interest in the subject of game theory, because in a world of 9.5 billion souls – which is his prophecy for 2050 – a complicated version (or extension) of the zero-sum paradigm is going to be the order of the day, and there is very little – or more realistically nothing – that he or all the Nobel Prize winners since Adam and Eve can do about that.






Turkish Cypriots are shocked hearing and reading what Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said about them.

For a society subscribing strongly to freedom of expression as best summarized by the saying "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" attributed to Voltaire, Turkish Cypriots just could not understand why Erdoğan reacted so angrily and in such a detestable manner to some placards criticizing Turkey at a recent rally.

Seeing the deep affection toward "Motherland Turkey," high appreciation for their "savior" and a nationalism based on the "Even if it might not be in our interest, if something is in the interest of Turkey it eventually will be in our interest as well" conviction, Turkish governments must have developed a rather wrong perception regarding the behavioral patterns of the Turkish Cypriot people.

True, some out-of-line people like this writer have been writing and talking for years that compared to Greek Cypriots, Turkey posed a more serious existential threat to the Turkish Cypriot people (as integration would mean Turkish Cypriots becoming a mere lentil in the gigantic Turkish soup), but, for the overwhelming majority of Turkish Cypriots, Ankara has always been a Mecca of hope, identity and indeed life.

The culture of allegiance, however, was something totally alien to the Turkish Cypriot mentality. Restraining speech, surrendering and accepting the absolute rule of the local executives or the "supreme rulers" back in "Motherland Turkey" was not in the culture of Turkish Cypriots. Having a double tongue was not advisable at all. Yet, all through the past decades since the start of the Cyprus problem in December 1963, excluding a small and negligible far-left group defying all ethnic backgrounds and identifying themselves only as Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots allowed Ankara to even have a say in their political preferences.

Of course the rising number of mainland settlers – who have long accommodated themselves to the Turkish Cypriot culture and indeed have become Turkish Cypriots as well – and the political affiliations of those people gave Turkish parties some sort of a leverage in the domestic politics of northern Cyprus; this was seen in the 2004 vote on the Annan Plan as the wishes of Ankara outweighed a campaign against the plan by veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktaş.

The 2004 vote on the Annan Plan was indeed a turning point. Turkish Cypriots were made to believe by the government in Ankara, the European Union, the United States and other key international game-makers that if they voted in favor of the Annan Plan, thus aiding in the resolution of the Cyprus problem, Turkish Cypriots would not be left out in the cold and that their international isolation would be lifted – regardless of what the Greek Cypriots did.

With the hopes that with or without the Annan Plan, they would finally acquire the capability of building a future on their land and prevent their sons and daughters from migrating abroad, Turkish Cypriots not only voted overwhelmingly in support of the U.N. plan but also brought change after change. The center-right government fell to a socialist-led coalition, a first, in 2003. In 2005, veteran leader Denktaş – because of his advanced age but perhaps also in awareness that he might lose the elections – did not become a candidate and socialist Mehmet Ali Talat succeeded him to the presidency.

The end result? Turkish Cypriots learned that all the pledges, including those of Turkey that even if the Greek Cypriots voted against the U.N. plan, Ankara would tour the world and demand recognition for the Turkish Cypriot state, were all written on scraps of paper that were just thrown away.

In the meantime, after the 2003 opening of the crossing points on the island, Turkish Cypriots obtained the probability of seeing with their own bare eyes the "affection" of the Greek Cypriot side toward them.

Thus, seeing on one hand that Greek Cypriots did not love them, didn't want to have a partnership state that would be the common home of the two peoples as equal co-founders and frustrated with the empty pledges of Turkey and the rest, Turkish Cypriots first dumped the socialist-led coalition that Ankara very much supported, then voted out the AKP's best friend Talat from the presidency and brought in Derviş Eroğlu, the leader of the center-right National Unity Party, or UBP, a party established by Denktaş.

All efforts by Erdoğan and his AKP, including dispatching experts from the company that organizes the AKP's election campaigns, as well as the party's Mediterranean deputies failed.

The Turkish Cypriot government also rejected pressure from Ankara to build a gigantic mosque in the heart of the Turkish quarter of Nicosia even though existing mosques are more than enough.

Despite all that has happened, Erdoğan remained as adamant as ever, meeting with Talat on Monday.








The Davis Affair has now claimed another life. Shumaila, wife of Mohammed Faheem who was killed by Davis on January 27, took rat poison on Sunday morning and died later the same day. As she lay dying she gave a statement to the media, saying that she had no faith in the government and did not expect her husband's killer to receive justice – if justice were to be denied to her husband then it would be denied to her as well. She had become very depressed after her husband's death, this being worsened by reports that moves were afoot to release Davis in the near future. Doctors said they had done their best to save her, but the reality is that rat poison, once ingested, almost always proves fatal.

There are a number of issues arising from this untimely death. Shumaila died because she felt a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, she had lost faith in the ability of the state to properly discharge its duties, and it may be imagined that in this at least she is not alone, though few would allow their despair to eventually overwhelm them as she did. Then there is the issue of just where the state is in the Davis Affair? When any government representative is asked about it, they immediately take refuge behind the fig-leaf of the case being sub-judice and therefore impossible to comment on. This did not stop them from commenting on such matters before. Why this case? The government has yet to offer any kind of defining statement on Davis himself, on whether he is or is not a diplomat and precisely what level of immunity – or not – to which he is entitled. We are as much in the dark as we were an hour after the shooting. In the absence of anything from the government, the conspiracy theorists have gone into overdrive and all manner of wild stories are floating around. A clear and unambiguous statement from a credible (though that may be a tall order) government source might damp down some of the wilder speculations. Had somebody taken the trouble to speak to Shumaila, then she may be alive today, and dying of hopelessness is a dreadful way to go.







At the 17th Commonwealth Law Conference at Hyderabad, India, where he was the keynote speaker, the chief justice of Pakistan – in an eloquent speech that narrated the manner in which the judiciary in Pakistan was revitalised after the events of November 3, 2007 – stressed that it is vital that a country be ruled in accordance with its constitution and the law be uniformly applied. Both issues are relevant in the context of events in the country today. As the CJ pointed out, Pakistan's Constitution grants the judiciary a separate existence and independence, which the judiciary is determined to protect. The reminder that all institutions need to work within the framework laid down for them is important in the context of Pakistan where, during recent months, there has been a risk of clashes between institutions, due primarily to the reluctance of the government to implement key decisions delivered by the apex court. Repeated defiance of court orders can lead only to chaos and a further deterioration of the grim situation already facing the country.

Just as crucial is the need to uphold the rule of law. The fact is, there has been a breakdown of this concept in our country. In many places, might prevails over right. Areas to the north that are controlled by militant forces are one example of this. But even in cities, we have seen growing instances where people have taken matters into their own hands and individuals suspected of committing certain crimes have been subjected to mob justice of the worst kind. Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who also focused on the judiciary's efforts to improve matters in the country, in many ways also focused on precisely what is wrong within the country. The need now is for institutions to work together to correct this, by ensuring access to justice, working toward better governance and taking steps to ensure no one remains above the law. Only if this happens can the sense of unease felt by people be dispelled and the greater social harmony we so badly need be created.







Geo TV, subjected to severe victimisation by the administration of former president Pervez Musharraf, appears to have incited official wrath once again. This time, the issue of rights to the Cricket World Cup, beginning later this month, is being used as a means to pressure Geo and other media outfits affiliated with the Jang Group. The saga has continued for some time, with Geo appealing to the Supreme Court to protect its exclusive right to air World Cup matches. This is now being challenged through a PEMRA letter asserting that the landing-rights license of Geo Sports is expiring at the end of February, soon after the World Cup will be underway. This amounts to a complete distortion of facts and, in fact, goes to show a plot against the Group, with the conspiracy apparently devised in the presidency, as an act of revenge for the exposure of corruption and other wrongdoings.

There are a few essential points to be made here. Just the fact that Geo, and its sister organisations, The News and Jang, seem able to win disapproval of so severe a nature from successive governments shows they are doing their job by highlighting ills committed by the powerful. This, of course, is the primary function of media. The anger directed against the Jang Group by two different setups serves to prove its lack of bias. It is amazing that even after a similar episode during Musharraf's rule, the same tactics are being adopted once again and attempts are being made to hurt the financial interests of the Group. The previous example has shown such measures cannot succeed. They have failed in the past, and will fail again – further weakening the credentials of an administration democratic only in name.









While eyes were focused on North Waziristan due to the persistent US demand for a big operation by Pakistan's military against the militants in that volatile tribal region, the security forces had to undertake a more immediate action in the Mohmand Agency.

The militants affiliated with the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and controlling parts of Mohmand Agency had over a period of time become a potent threat and acquired the capacity to attack targets and assassinate rivals outside their traditional strongholds in faraway places like Charsadda and Peshawar. Led by their young commander Abdul Wali alias Omar Khalid, they were attacking not only the security forces but also tribesmen who dared oppose them or became part of pro-government lashkars and peace committees.

The coordinated night-time attack sometime back by a large number of militants on five different military posts in the Safi and Baizai areas in Mohmand Agency was a matter of great concern because a depleted TTP as was being claimed couldn't be expected to mount an assault of such proportions. The militants had earlier carried out two big suicide bombings at heavily-guarded offices of the political administration in Ekkaghund and Ghallanai towns and caused death and destruction at a scale never seen before in Mohmand Agency.

The ongoing action in Mohmand Agency isn't like the 'steam-roller' assaults that Pakistan's military conducted in 2009 in Swat and rest of Malakand division or in South Waziristan. On that occasion, thousands of heavily-equipped troops backed from the air were sent into mountainous terrain to sweep everything before them. The Mohmand Agency operation is smaller in scale and intensity and focused on selected areas in the Safi, Pandyali, Ambar and Baizai tehsils, or sub-divisions. But it is fairly big compared to the previous security operations in this rain-fed, poverty-stricken area sharing boundary with Bajaur Agecny, another militancy-hit tribal region.

The military action against the militants in Mohmand Agency, bordering Afghanistan like six out of the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), intensified on January 27 and is still continuing. The security forces, already deployed and engaged in operations against the militants, were reinforced for this larger action. Air power involving jet-fighters and gunship helicopters and heavy artillery are reportedly being used in the operation, but the scale of the damage suffered by the militants is unclear.

One thing that is clear though is the level of human suffering. There is once again the familiar sight of displaced people abandoning everything and trying to leave the conflict zone for relatively safer places. Pictures of children in long queues with all kinds of utensils at food distribution centres are again visible. It makes one think about the feelings of dependence and helplessness that these young boys and girls would carry as they grow up. This has now happened to thousands of children in the tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as militancy, military operations and last year's devastating summer floods have uprooted communities, destroyed livelihoods and made families dependent on handouts.

The internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Mohmand Agency are presently staying at two relief camps set up with help from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at Nahqi and Danishkol. The numbers are rising as over 30,000 IDPs have already reached the two camps and more are on the way. The UNHCR has warned that up to 90,000 would be displaced by the end of February if the fighting intensified. If that case the bare minimum facilities available at Nahqi and Danishkol camps would be overwhelmed. Already, a year old baby girl, Amna, died at the Nahqi camp due to severe cold.

This is the first time that such relief camps have been set up in the tribal areas. In the past, the IDPs would head for Peshawar and its surroundings where security and basic services at the camps were better and prospects of finding work were higher. Many displaced families also made a conscious decision to settle elsewhere instead of returning to Mohmand Agency where there wasn't much hope of improvement in the security situation in the foreseeable future. Most of the IDPs have been uprooted more than once and have no longer the energy and the resources to return home in an area where the conflict hasn't really ended and the risk of getting caught in the crossfire is high. Innocent civilians have been blown up by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by the militants to attack security forces' convoys or the vehicles of pro-government tribesmen. Also, artillery and mortar shells fired by the security forces in areas controlled by the militants have landed on houses and killed civilians including women and children. Life has become one living hell for the people in the conflict areas.

As the authorities and the UNHCR expect the duration of the recent displacement in Mohmand Agency to be relatively short and not exceed a period of three months, the IDPs are encouraged to stay in the Nahqi and Danishkol camps and prevented from moving to Peshawar and other destinations. The UNHCR has been urging the Pakistan government to allow freedom of movement to the displaced people so that they could stay with relatives and host families in Peshawar and other settled areas. It also expressed concern over complaints by the IDPs that young and middle-aged men were finding it difficult to leave the conflict zone.

Obviously, the security forces are screening them to identify militants, but such an exercise also creates bitterness. So strict is the identification parade that even patients needing urgent medical care have sometimes been unable to move out of Mohmand Agency and reach Peshawar to seek better treatment. Two tribesmen had to make a public appeal to the authorities through the media to be allowed to shift to Peshawar their three brothers (Ikhtiar Khan, Jan Khan and Hasan Khan) under treatment at the ill-equipped and under-staffed Agency Headquarters Hospital in Ghallanai, the administrative centre of Mohmand Agency, after suffering grievous injuries when a mortar shell hit their house. This is unjustified and is no way to win the hearts and minds in the long drawn out battle in which the militants would become weak if isolated by weaning away the people from them.

Predictably, the militants have retaliated by stepping up attacks on the police, exploding roadside bombs and blowing up schools in and around Peshawar. Government officials are convinced that the retaliatory strikes by the militants against mostly soft targets was evidence of the fact that they have suffered painful blows in the military action in Mohmand Agency. However, the militants haven't been able to launch revenge attacks in Mohmand Agency close to the scene of action. It is possible the militants' strikes including the first suicide bombing in Peshawar for months in which deputy superintendent of police Abdur Rasheed Khan was killed along with two other cops are being carried out by the TTP elements from Khyber and Orakzai agencies and Darra Adamkhel in a bid to release the pressure on their comrades in Mohmand Agency. This has been a familiar tactic by the militants, though their capacity to inflict harm has been diminished due to complete loss of public support and successive military operations against them.

The example of Mohmand Agency explains the difficult task of rooting out militancy and stabilising an area. In past military operations, thousands of people were displaced and even now up to 140,000 IDPs from Mohmand Agency are staying away from homes in camps near Peshawar or on their own elsewhere. In fact, the number of IDPs from all the militancy-stricken tribal areas including Mohmand is around one million. It is going to be an uphill task to repatriate and rehabilitate them while pursuing the fleeing militants from one tribal region to another through successive military operations.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim








It is said that dictators look good until their last minutes. But Mubarak is an exception. He has not looked good for a while, not even to his mentors, the Americans. Mubarak only looked good to the Israelis but that's because they love any Arab who does not shoot at them. That's all history now. Or is it?

Fed and fattened on American military assistance, the Egyptian army will be loath to lose the two billion dollars annually that it receives from Washington. All it has to do to pocket this amount is to carry on doing what it has now been doing for three decades: not to take on the Israelis, a fight which the Egyptians would lose in any case; to police the Gaza borders and help the Israelis maintain their vice-like grip on Gaza till the Palestinian pips begin to squeak. And this too Egypt has been doing with such telling effect that if leaked documents are to be believed the PLO President Mahmud Abbas was willing to give up Palestinian claims to Jerusalem, virtually all the land that the Israelis have grabbed in the West Bank through 'settlements' and abandon the 'right of return' for Palestinians in exile. And all in return for Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state that is barely visible on a map. Will, the Eqyptian army in the changed situation continue to oblige? We will find out soon enough.

Elections are now inevitable in Egypt and if fair, the opposition parties such as the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, Al-Ghad, Kifaya and the New Wafd Party should easily win. If they do, the peace treaty with Israel, which Sadat signed and paid for with his life, will not be worth the paper it is written on. With the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen and others at the helm of affairs in Cairo, and the extremist right-wing Arab-phobic coalition led by Netanyahu in power in Telaviv, it is only a matter of moments before relations between the new Egypt and Israel begin to fray. The Middle East could then return to being the cauldron that it was before Sadat opted out of the fight in 1979.

If this happens, America's entire Middle Eastern neo-colonialist policy would have to be rethought. Of course the danger so posed may refocus US and Israeli attention on the need to offer a fair, rather than the present shabby peace deal, to the Palestinians but that's very unlikely. Israel knows how to wage war but hasn't a clue what to do when it wins.

To stave off the nightmarish prospect of losing Egypt's support in the Arab-Israeli stand off the US will act. And the most obvious first step will be to retain the support of the Egyptian army. However, the army will be under strong pressure to take a clear stand against Israel although it need not appear to be as confrontational as the army under Nasser's regime. It can make life difficult for Israel as well as the US by simply opposing Israel on key issues and by providing a degree of support to the Palestinians. Hence American largesse and diplomacy will be put to a stern test.

Assuming that the cash-starved army is amenable to US blandishments of course fortified with a dollop of dollars, deft political maneuvering will be required to sell the new Mubarak appointees to the public, especially Vice President Omar Suleiman. Mubarak's spy master and his main channel of communication with the Americans, Suleiman is deservedly infamous for personally supervising the torture of the regime's opponents. As for the others, Prime Minister Shafiq, and the octogenarian Defense Minister Field Marshall Tantawi, a close friend of Mubarak's, are also discredited regime stalwarts. On the other hand Lieutenant General Sani, the Chief of Staff, who is in operational command of the army, is more respected.

In order to consolidate power within the army, ferret out pro-democracy officers, and deploy their own men in key posts prior to the elections, Mubarak's new team will want to string out the transition process. Talks with the opposition presently under way will continue fitfully so that much of the energy of protestors is drained. In due course, a series of reforms and amendments to the constitution ostensibly to usher in a far more democratic polity but in reality to dampen support for the opposition will emerge. Goodies traditionally associated with winning public support such as pay raises and the revival of trade union rights to strike will probably also be announced. A date will be fixed for elections which, like Mubarak, they will attempt to 'manage' to deny opposition elements a majority in Parliament. It's all been done before, ad nauseam.

Nevertheless, their chances of success are bright. The fragile unity that exists within Egyptian society will be easily sundered if the army were to throw in its support on one side and once divided, the splintered opposition could easily be handled using a combination of force and incentives. In due course, another strongman will emerge albeit his antics aimed at retaining power will be less ham-handed and crude than those employed by Mubarak. The clever manner in which the army has behaved thus far shows that it is alive to the trickery that will be needed if it is to retain its grip on power and popularity.

The question is: will the army succeed? Again, the answer, sadly, is that it probably will. The Egyptian public like that of many other countries of the Arab world and beyond, tends not to distinguish between democracy and totalitarianism until it is too late. Besides, history is not on their side. "All modern revolutions," said Camus, "have ended in a reinforcement of the power of the State" which, as it happens in Egypt, invariably rests with one or a small coterie of men.

A true revolution would only occur if the Egyptian army were to pry itself out of the American-Zionist embrace, refuse to be a pawn of the West, and accept the obvious fact that it can never match the Israelis unless it redresses the balance of military power by acquiring nuclear weapons. As someone once said, the most useless and expensive thing in the world is the second best army in a war, which is what the Egyptian army is when compared to that of Israel.

The Egyptian uprising can only acquire international significance if its impact were to reverberate across the world much like the Russian Revolution did. Merely getting rid of a few people at the top hardly qualifies as an event of any great consequence except, of course, for the tin pot dictatorships of the Middle East or the American petrol pumps that go by the name of Kuwait, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, if the Egyptian army were to seize the opportunity that the brave men and women of Egypt at Tahrir Square have created to refashion the power alignment in the region, the uprising would rightly be ranked as a seminal event in contemporary history.


The writer is a former ambassador.









The Debt Policy Coordination Office of the ministry of finance released two policy statements, namely the Fiscal Policy Statement and the Debt Policy Statement in January. These statements were released with a view to fulfilling the requirement of Sections 6 and 7 of the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation (FRDL) Act, 2005. Through these statements, the Debt Office reviews the country's fiscal and debt situation of the country and provides a compliance report on the various elements of the Act.

Keeping in view the macroeconomic difficulties faced by Pakistan in the 1990s as a result of the persistence of a large fiscal deficit (7 per cent of GDP, on average) with the consequential rise in public debt, at that time the government put together a rule-based fiscal policy in 2002-03, which was later approved by parliament on June 13, 2005, as the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act. The Act was meant to inject financial discipline in the country.

There are five key elements of the Act, designed specifically to inject financial discipline. These include: (i) Pakistan's public debt not to exceed 60 per cent of GDP beyond June 2013; (ii) Public debt to reduce at least 2.5 percentage point of GDP each year; (iii) revenue deficit eliminated by June 2008 and a surplus to be maintained thereafter; (iv) guarantees to the borrowings of the public-sector enterprises not more than 2 per cent of GDP in a given year by the government; and (v) expenditures on social sector and poverty-related programmes not to be reduced below 4.5 per cent of GDP in a given year and expenditures on education and health to be doubled in terms of percentage of GDP by June 2013.

Several elements of the Act have been in violation for the last three years and there are indications that these will be violated in 2010-11 as well. It is a pity that no member of parliament has ever raised the issue of perpetual violation of the Act in either house of parliament despite the Debt Office submitting over 500 copies of each statement to parliament for their members.

The two statements released by the Debt Office clearly pointed out that the government has failed to eliminate revenue deficit; that the public debt, instead of declining and moving towards 60 per cent of GDP, has in fact surged from 55.5 per cent in 2006-07 to 60.6 per cent in 2009-10, and that the government has provided guarantees of more than 2 per cent of GDP in 2009-10. Thus, four elements of the Act have been in violation, but no member of parliament has bothered to raise the issue in any of the houses of parliament.

Pakistan's public and external debt have grown during the last three years at a pace never witnessed in the country's history, and as such it has reached an unsustainable level. Public debt (both the rupee and dollar components of the debt) rose by an average of 28.4 per cent per annum between 2007 and 2010 as against an average rate of 6.6 per cent per annum from 2000 to 2007. External debt and liabilities (EDL), on the other hand, grew by an average rate of 12.7 per cent in the last three years, compared with a negligible increase (0.9 per cent per annum) during 2000-07.

Many factors have contributed to the recent surge in debt. These include the persistence of large fiscal and current-account deficits (6.3 per cent and 5.4 per cent of GDP on average, respectively), sharp depreciation of exchange rate (over 30 per cent) and unrestrained borrowing with pride and pleasure. The depreciation of exchange rate added almost Rs1200 billion, or 30 per cent, to the increase in public debt alone. It is horrifying to note that the total stock of public debt that stood at Rs4802 billion in end-June 2007 surged to Rs9473 billion in end-September 2010. In other words, the country added Rs4671 billion in over three years. It had taken 60 years for the public debt to reach Rs4802 billion, but we added almost the same amount in just over three years.

Why should we worry about the rising trend in debt? It is well-known that the high and rising trend in debt constitutes a serious threat to growth and development. It is a major impediment to macroeconomic stability and thus to investment, growth, employment generation and poverty alleviation. It is also a discouragement to foreign investment, because it creates uncertainly about the government's policy, and accordingly generates a high-risk environment for doing business in the country.

Pakistan's current state of the economy is a mirror image of the development on the debt front. Its economic growth has slowed to an average of 3 per cent per month, investment has decelerated from as high as 22.5 per cent to 16.6 per cent of GDP, theunemployment has risen, poverty must have increased compared with 2007-08 (17.2 per cent people were living below the poverty line in 2007-08), the exchange rate has depreciated by over 30 per cent, and inflation persisting at double-digit. Pakistan can reduce its debt burden by maintaining financial discipline, that is, by keeping budget deficit in the range of 2.5 per cent to three per cent of GDP, current account deficit in the range of 1.5 to 2 per cent of GDP, maintaining stability in exchange rate, relying on grants rather than on loans, accelerating the pace of privatisation and by avoiding unnecessary borrowing.

Pakistanis are born free but they are in debt everywhere. In recent years, Pakistan has borrowed heavily from the future and is enjoying a living standard that is unsustainable. The unprecedented surge in debt is the road to ruin and the failure to repay will be the breach of trust. Ours is "spend now and tax later society." Reckless lenders have further aggravated Pakistan's debt situation.

The writer is principal and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email:








The writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK.

Despite an encouraging start talks between government and opposition teams to evolve a bipartisan reform agenda have yet to make the progress needed to address the deteriorating economic situation. The fiscal deficit crisis is like a runaway train hurtling towards derailment that can be averted only by prompt and bold corrective actions.

The recent visit to Islamabad by an IMF team and a senior economic adviser of President Barack Obama saw similar messages being delivered to the government: that time was running out on the economy and on patience in Washington. Without necessary reforms, which the PPP-led coalition committed and retreated from, there could be no revival of the IMF programme or prospect of help from donors.

The top political leadership still seemed to harbour the hope that the IMF would consider releasing the sixth tranche of an $11 billion standby arrangement. Having utilized $8 billion from that loan since 2008 with little structural adjustment to show for it, the government's economic credibility is in serious question.

The visiting officials went away with no clear indication of what action plan the government was prepared to implement to enable the IMF to review Pakistan's request for disbursement of the next tranche ahead of the budget. Progress on previously agreed performance criteria will have to be demonstrated before the Fund programme, now inoperative, can be resuscitated or a fresh one negotiated.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani publically acknowledged that the economy was "under pressure" but found comfort in the country's present level of foreign exchange reserves. This underestimates how the external position can slip rapidly if the runaway budget deficit is not expeditiously addressed.

Nevertheless five rounds of talks between the government and PML-N teams seemed to indicate common recognition of the seriousness of the problem and the need to do something. But negotiations began with a disadvantage: policy reversals by the government - on the reformed general sales tax and fuel price increase - that signaled its weak political will.

Talks have also been disadvantaged by the political and long-term nature of several of the ten points of the PML-N's negotiating agenda. Although there is nothing in them to disagree with, an expansive agenda that does not distinguish between the urgent and the important can scatter the focus needed to evolve a minimum economic consensus. Stabilization of the economy is necessary for the attainment of most of the ten points.

Not surprisingly, the differing priorities - and constituencies - of the two sides have slowed the negotiations. What could also be complicating the process is that the ruling party, its allies and the PML-N all seem to have an eye on the next elections even though they are two years away. In theory there is a one-year window to take tough steps but in practice electoral considerations are weighing on leaders' minds.

The consequence is that the urgency warranted by a worsening economy is not yet translating into talks being able to prioritize areas for immediate action.

This is worrying, as both sides know what needs to be done and why action must be taken quickly. Without new measures the gap between the government's expenditure and income will widen further, even push the budget deficit to a record 8 per cent of GDP this fiscal year. With no additional internal or external resources available to fund this at a time when the oil import bill is rising, resort will - as at present - be made to borrowing from the State Bank.

This will fuel more inflationary pressures on the economy at a time of falling growth and produce 'stagflation' which can generate conditions for social instability. More borrowing will also start depleting foreign exchange reserves, put pressure on the exchange rate and erode confidence in the country's currency.

Without structural reforms on both the revenue and expenditure side the economic slide cannot be halted. This requires a minimum consensus on urgent steps in three core areas.

One, agreement on domestic resource mobilization and specific tax measures. But people will only accept additional taxation if credible steps are taken upfront to reduce inessential expenditure, impose official austerity, stop tax leakages through corruption and improve collection from the existing regime.

But there is no getting away from attacking the source of all fiscal problems: Pakistan's appallingly low tax to GDP ratio. Unless the present 9 per cent of GDP is increased by 3-4 per cent, reliance on bank borrowing, with all its pernicious effects on the economy, cannot be ended. This is essential to achieve a durable reduction in inflation, a major reason for the rise in poverty in recent years.

Agreeing on tax actions is a challenge as the two sides have differing proposals and priorities. Consensus has to be mobilized to enforce the reformed general sales tax and the flood tax legislation that was put on hold in the National Assembly. Removal of hundreds of tax exemptions (which cost the economy billions of rupees) revival of the wealth tax and commitments by provincial governments to institute an agricultural income tax should all be part of a package deal to accommodate the demands of all stakeholders.

This will help prevent a situation where any political party can use the non-acceptance of its favoured tax proposal as an alibi to oppose another.


The second point of consensus has to be on expenditure control. The PML-N's demand for a 30 per cent cut in spending has to meet the test of practicality because after the substantial slashing of the development budget, debt servicing and defence are what are left, and the limitations here are obvious. There is however still scope to curtail non-interest and non-defence current spending.

Federal expenditure control will have to be matched by similar action by the provinces, which are unaccustomed to spending restraint. Provinces have benefited from the transfer of resources under the National Finance Commission Award but without a reciprocal obligation to raise revenue from taxes in their jurisdiction. Without provincial expenditure cuts, efforts by the center will be inadequate.

The third area that needs immediate agreement is arguably the most politically difficult: elimination of general subsidies. Ostensibly aimed to help the less well off, subsidies are untargeted and a budget liability irrespective of what product they are for. They add to the fiscal deficit and are financed by additional government borrowing. This produces more inflation - the most insidious tax on the poor - and neutralizes the presumed 'pro-poor' intent of the subsidy.

A structural reform agenda to attain sustainable economic stability will have to go beyond agreement on just these policy measures. A debt management strategy has to be evolved. But first adherence is required to the principles already set out in the Fiscal Sustainability and Debt Limitation Act. The limits prescribed in this have already been breached but must be respected.

Restructuring of public sector enterprises needs to be urgently undertaken to stem the losses that are such a heavy drain on the national exchequer. Also critical is energy reform including action to eliminate untargeted subsidies, while protecting the poor, and addressing the load shedding problem and growing circular debt.

While strategies to deal with longer-term problems have to be put in place the immediate priority is to forge agreement on what is absolutely essential to deal with the spiraling budget deficit. The aim should not simply be to qualify for another IMF tranche but to find durable solutions to the economy's underlying problems.

The government cannot expect the opposition to compensate for its lack of resolve any more than the PML-N, which runs the country's largest province, should seek to enjoy power without responsibility. Both must learn to share the pain of adjustment.

This is a moment of truth for Pakistan's political leaders: a test of whether they can subordinate their political and partisan interests to the goal of saving the economy. The country's very stability depends on whether economics can take precedence over politics.








A pall of gloom hangs over already troubled Pak-US relations following the murder on January 27, 2011 of two Pakistani youths by an American agent in Lahore. A third young man was crushed to death by the US Consulate's vehicle that rushed to the rescue of their trigger-happy national. While the assailant identified as Raymond Davis was successfully intercepted by the traffic wardens, those travelling in the second vehicle managed to return to the Consulate. The Lahore police was justified in arresting Davis as he was trying to escape from the scene. The first statement issued by the American Embassy after the tragedy described the unnamed attacker as a staff member of the US Consulate in Lahore. Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, consular officials do not enjoy immunity from prosecution if charged with committing a grave crime. However, the US modified its initial stance by declaring the accused as a member of the Embassy invoking immunity from criminal jurisdiction under the Vienna Convention of 1961 that deals with Diplomatic Relations.

Their anxiety to get Davis out of police custody has only added to the anger of bereaved families and Pakistanis in general. While pursuing relentless efforts to press for his release on the basis of diplomatic immunity, US officials have glossed over two possible courses to be followed in the event of crimes committed by individuals who enjoy immunity as members of a diplomatic mission.


The Vienna Convention of 1961 provides that the sending state, in this case, the US, can revoke the immunity of a member of its diplomatic mission so that the person can be tried in the courts of the state where the crime was committed. In a famous case, the US pressed the Republic of Georgia to revoke the diplomatic immunity of one of its diplomats posted in Washington so as to try him for causing the death of a US national in a traffic accident. The sending state can also try the person under its own laws. While insisting on its agent's release, the US has not even hinted at these possibilities. It is not clear if the Pakistan Foreign Office has raised these options with the US. But it has avoided taking a definitive position on the American claim that Davis is a member of the US Embassy. American posturing so far strengthens the perception that it does not really care for the lives of non-Americans. If the US does not act to soothe feelings in this country, the shooting spree at Mozang will cause further damage to what is left of the friendship between the two countries.

The Foreign Office's reluctance to clarify its position on Davis' status has led the Lahore Court to ask for a formal opinion on this crucial point. The barrage of statements asserting that the matter is in court is not helpful in the present situation as the court is itself seeking the federation's guidance on how to proceed further in this complex case. If the Foreign Office confirms the US contention that Davis is a member of its Embassy, then Pakistan has the option of asking the US Government to revoke his immunity. Or, it can ask the US to give an undertaking that, if repatriated, Davis will be tried under US law for killing two Pakistanis.

If, on the contrary, the Foreign Office determines that Davis is not a member of the Embassy, then there is nothing preventing his trial in a Pakistani court. In both cases, it is for the courts to pronounce on the plea of self-defense advanced by Davis. The matter can best be settled through diplomatic negotiations between the two governments in consultation with the families of the three victims. The US must also come clean about the identity of the person driving the vehicle that fatally wounded the third Pakistani.

In view of the extraordinary character of this case, the judiciary should be spared from deciding this matter as a simple criminal case. Some cases involving employees of diplomatic missions have been resolved through compensation to the bereaved families. This could be a possible way forward in the Davis case provided the Foreign Office confirms that the accused is a member of the US Embassy in Islamabad. In exchange, the US must agree to respect Pakistan's sovereignty in processing visa applications of its agents. Additionally, the murders in Lahore should lead to stricter measures directed toward putting an end to the free movement of armed US personnel on our streets.

The writer is a former ambassador and head of Americas Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Email: saeed.saeedk@








STRICTLY in line with its track record, India adopted the same approach at Thimpu meeting between Foreign Secretaries of the two countries which it has been demonstrating for the past six decades and as a result the latest engagement also remained inconclusive and unproductive. Not to talk of the agenda, the two sides even failed to agree on a date for resumption of peace talks merely because of the stubborn and hegemonic attitude of New Delhi that wants to dictate its terms at the bilateral talks.

We have been emphasizing in these columns that India was not sincere in pursuing the dialogue process and has been using it as a ploy to hoodwink the international public opinion. It unilaterally discarded the composite dialogue process citing Mumbai attacks as an excuse yet the fact remains that it is part of the Indian tactics to avoid talks on the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, before Thimpu meeting, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was quoted as saying "dialogue between India and Pakistan was necessary and a must if we are to satisfactorily resolve the outstanding issues between our two countries". She also claimed that her country was going into this meeting with an open mind and constructive attitude but the outcome of the meeting speaks otherwise. The meeting failed to produce any tangible result despite expectations of Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir that it would focus on making progress towards meeting between Foreign Ministers of Pakistan and India. India is adopting delaying tactics, as it wants to strengthen its hold on Kashmir where it is using the entire State machinery to suppress the voice of Kashmiri people for right of self-determination. However, despite negative attitude adopted by India, we would urge that efforts should continue to remove irritants and find grounds for constructive talks on substantial issues. This is because there is no way out of the tension except to talk to each other and make honest and sincere efforts for just resolution of the disputes especially Kashmir. But we also believe that there would be no point in talking to India if the core issue is not addressed seriously during the dialogue process. Again, a deadline or cut off date should also be there as it would a futile exercise to continue dialogue for an indefinite period.








THERE are reports that Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani intends to have meetings with Sharif brothers to take them into confidence on formation of new Cabinet once the incumbent one is dissolved to pave way for a small and efficient team of ministers. This would be part of the on-going discussions between the ruling PPP and opposition PML(N) on the ten point agenda proposed by the latter to help salvage the ailing economy but there are clear indications that the two sides are just talking for the sake of talk and the process is hardly expected to achieve the desired results.

Political analysts are predicting that the two parties are heading towards a deadlock, as 45-day deadline given by PML(N) for realization of the agenda is nearing and progress on the ground is not encouraging. It appears that the two major parties are moving towards confrontation with PPP Punjab, which is likely to become the first casualty of the emerging scenario, giving its own deadline to PML(N) to respond positively to its 19-point agenda, otherwise its provincial ministers would stage a sit in daily for one hour before the Provincial Assembly chamber from today (Tuesday). This shows that the two parties are not sincere in the dialogue and they are just indulging in point scoring. The country is facing serious challenges both on economic and security fronts and it is duty of both the Government and the opposition to discard self-centered policies and join hands in finding solution to these problems. We have seen that our failure to improve economic conditions of the country are causing us heavily with Americans putting immense pressure to toe their lines at all costs. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that they are now threatening to suspend all sorts of aid if killer Raymond Davis was not released. This humiliating vulnerability should serve as an eye-opener for our political parties and it is time for them to think in terms of national interests, not individual or party interests.









THERE appears to be no end to the uprising in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak but the fall out of the two week long demonstrations has been massive not only on the economy but on the life of the citizens of Cairo and other cities. Talks between Vice President Omar Suleiman and two groups have failed to yield the desired results as the leaders of the opposition are sticking to their central demand that the President must step down.

According to a statement from Suleiman's office following Sunday's talks, the government offered to form a committee to examine proposed constitutional amendments, pursue allegedly corrupt government offi-cials, liberalize media and communications and lift the state of emergency when the security situation was deemed to be appropriate but the demon-strators say they do not believe in the promises and insisted on their main demand. There are several opposition groups holding demonstrations and participation of only two groups in talks would not bring an end to anti-Mubarak uprising. Tragically the protest movement appears to have been hijacked by the criminals. Egypt has become a lawless land as thieves are looting and torching historic buildings, businesses and shopping centers and families in Cairo are being forced to barricade themselves in their homes. There is a lesson in it that spontaneous but unorganized move-ments lead to anarchy causing innumerable losses to the country and in-creased sufferings for the people. Launching the protests is easy but to control the sentiments of the masses is difficult and it is here when the situation goes out of control as criminal elements take advantage of the lawlessness. Some reports said that precious and historic artifacts have been stolen from the Museum. Egypt's economy has almost collapsed as the country depended a lot on income from tourism but the agitations have forced foreign tourists to pack up and go back. The impact of the agitation is widespread and a member of Kuwait's Supreme Petroleum Council said on Sunday that global oil prices could exceed $ 100 a barrel if the political unrest continued in Egypt. One hopes that saner elements among the protestors leaders and within the government would realize the gravity of the situation and reach an agreement to save the great country from total anarchy and chaos.









Look at it from any perspective you like, the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan appears to have run its course. Those hankering after its resumption had better look elsewhere for redemption. The composite dialogue looked good while it lasted. It had its highs along with its lows. Above all it kept hopes alive and gave the liberal brigade something to chatter about. But now all that is passé. After having run aground thanks to the stormy battering it received post-Mumbai, it may well be time to give the composite dialogue process a decent burial and go back to the drawing-board.

It may not be out of place to dwell on what led to the India-Pakistan Joint declaration of June 1997 (yes, the concept was concretized in 1997 and not 2004 as is commonly believed!). The basis for the concept lay in the shared belief of the then governments of the two countries that a 'mechanism' was needed to go about the business of reaching accommodation on the contentious issues between them.

The precept of 'Confidence-building Measures', or CBMs, was included at the desire of the Indian side that argued it was necessary to prepare the ground prior to taking concrete steps towards normalization of relations. The reason for making the mechanism a 'composite' process was to ensure simultaneous progress on all issues so that neither side tried to push any issue to the proverbial back-burner. The Foreign Secretaries were mandated to meet periodically to monitor progress on all issues, as well as to negotiate on the most contentious of the issues – Jammu and Kashmir dispute. The composite dialogue never had a smooth sailing. The problems started when India successfully maneuvered to shift the limelight to CBMs and away from the contentious issues. As time passed, the Pakistan side appears to have gone along, so much so that in due course of time the CBMs came to be regarded as an end in itself rather than the means to an end. To be fair, the CBMs had their emollient effect, but the resultant improvement in the bilateral environment was not capitalized upon to make progress on the basic issues. Thereafter it was all downhill.

There remains a strong lobby within India that continues to believe that 'gaining time' goes in India's favour and that, if sufficient time is allowed to elapse, the issues will 'solve themselves' on India's terms. It is this lobby that has put the spanner in the works every time light was discernable at the end of the tunnel. Not that the Pakistan side is free of the blame. In Pakistan too there exists a lobby that is all sold out in favour of CBMs and nothing beyond. Needless to add, both these lobbies take a shortsighted view of the situation, thus making concrete headway difficult if not impossible.

India and Pakistan are destined to be neighbours for all times to come. It is in the interest of both the countries as well as their peoples to promote peace, normalization and good neighbourliness. For this to come about, concrete steps to settle the contentious issues in a fair and equitable manner are necessary. Mere papering over of the cracks or pious platitudes just will not do. Thus far, the – now moribund – composite dialogue process appears to have been bogged down in the 'crises management mode', while singularly failing to step into the 'issue settlement mode', that would have been the logical step. Apologists on both sides of the border continue to make optimistic noises, but offer no road map to take the peace process to its logical conclusion. Without a time bound road map, efforts to revive the process are nothing better than trying to latch the stable door after the horse has bolted. It should not need a soothsayer to fathom that the process has outlived its usefulness, such as it was, and should logically be allowed to die a natural death. What, then, about the outlook for the future? If the leaderships of the two countries are sincerely desirous of moving ahead and keeping up with the rest of the world, a new mechanism to replace the composite dialogue process would need to be devised. This mechanism should be one that is mandated to work for long-term settlement of contentious issues and not mere short-term papering-over of the cracks.

Once the contentious issues are on the way to final settlement, such mutually-beneficial steps as increased commerce, cultural exchanges and cooperation in security matters will automatically follow. So this time, how about agreeing on starting with serious, time-bound negotiations issue by issue? One could make a beginning by solving the simplest one before moving on to the more complicated ones. Perhaps the issue most amenable to a settlement in the short run is the Sir Creek squabble. Its early settlement will set the ball rolling and in the process lead to the long delayed demarcation of the maritime boundary between the two countries. A settlement of this one issue will not only pave the way for moving ahead on other more complicated ones, but will also send the right signals to the international community.

Mutual cooperation for development is the name of the game in the twenty-first century. Recriminations, finger-pointing and scoring debating points at the expense of each other, as hitherto, will take the two countries nowhere. All that is needed is a resolve to succeed. As the Chinese say, every journey has to start with a single step. Are our two countries prepared to take the crucial first step?









The Supreme Court has restrained the Balochistan government from granting the mining lease at Reko Diq to any mining company till the final decision of this case. Reko Diq's proven gold and copper reserves are worth $ 260 billion, while the estimated reserves are to the tune of $ 3 trillion. Amidst news of rampant corruption, challenges of fiscal and trade deficits, there is a ray of hope in the light of news that precious gold reserves explorations in Reko Diq project in the province of Balochistan could help pay back foreign loans and ensure a prosperous future as well. Dr. Samar Mubarkmand's resolve to help Pakistan fully develop the gold mines using indigenous technical capacity and trained manpower is indeed encouraging, and has injected a new sense of hope and optimism in the nation. Member Science and Technology of the Planning Commission and Chairman of the National Engineering and Scientific Commission Dr Samar Mubarakmand has submitted in the Supreme Court that Pakistan is self-sufficient and does not need foreign help to develop the Reko Diq mines. However, the government should formulate monetary and fiscal policies to revive the economy, which will result in increasing revenues and employment opportunities.

Governments throughout the world formulate fiscal and monetary policies to achieve robust economic growth, stabilize the economy, collect targeted revenue for meeting to meet non-development and development expenditure, and to generate employment opportunities. In Pakistan, the governments of different shades did go through the rituals of making monetary and fiscal policies, but mostly failed to achieve the desired objectives. The State Bank of Pakistan has decided to maintain the existing discount rate of 14 per cent, whereas other countries have reduced interest rates after financial meltdown and recession to revive their economies. But Pakistan is obliged to increase electricity and gas tariff to meet the conditionalities of the IMF to the detriment of trade and industry and the people at large. Unusually high bank interest and frequent hikes in the prices of utilities is producing a cumulative effect on general price level and the cost of production, thus making Pakistani products uncompetitive in the international market. Our economic managers do not realize that it is cost-push inflation in contrast to demand-pull inflation; yet they increase interest rate to increase cost of production.

The finance ministry has warned the government that the foreign exchange reserves, currently at the highest level, will start dwindling when the repayment of the International Monetary Fund's loan begins next fiscal year. The ministry in its debt policy statement 2010/11, released late last month, said that Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves saw an increase of $4 billion to reach $16.9 billion by the end of FY2010. But there is nothing to write home about, as foreign exchange reserves have increased due to the IMF's support for balance of payments, but at the same time it will create problems in debt-servicing next year when Pakistan will start paying installments and of course interest. The IMF in November, 2008 had approved a $7.6 billion standby arrangement for Pakistan to stabilise the country's economy; and later the loan was increased to $11.3 billion in August, 2009. But instead of increasing the debt, the government should take measures to strengthen the corporate sector, which will result in increased production, more revenue to the government, and exports to bridge the gap between imports and exports. It will also reduce the prices of commodities in the local market. The government should assess the fiscal and monetary policies besides taking steps to bolster exports and foreign currency flows in order to reduce reliance on external financing, because IMF's dictates and conditionalities are the sure recipe for disaster. The trade and industry has expressed concerns over the monetary policy, announced by the Governor State Bank of Pakistan. They said that it is the need of the hour to reduce and gradually bring the interest rate down to single-digit, but SBP has maintained the 14 percent bank rate without any justification. They further said that interest rate is highest in Pakistan as compared to the rest of the world, and the exporters have become uncompetitive in export market due to massive overheads. It has to be mentioned that even SBP Governor himself admitted that government could not achieve any monetary goal by increasing discount rate, yet he has failed to realise that highest bank rate prevailing in the country is resulting in a mass number of defaulters.

It has to be mentioned that if the total of foreign remittances by Pakistani expatriates and other foreign currency inflows vis-à-vis services and foreign direct investment services etc are less than the trade deficit figure then we have current account deficit; if they are more, then Pakistan has a favourable balance. In fact, once during Korean War and then during 1973 during oil crisis, Pakistan had a favourable balance of trade and favourable current account balance. However, all governments in the past had focused on export of textiles, and since the time Pakistani expatriates started sending remittances the governments seemed relaxed and no serious effort was made to increase the non-traditional exports to non-traditional markets. In the past, the sluggish growth of exports and foreign direct investment in Pakistan was compensated by the inflow of overseas Pakistanis' remittances from mid-seventies till now. After 9/11 events, overseas Pakistanis started transferring their cash assets to Pakistan, and the average remittances went on increasing from $ 3 billion to $5 to annually, and recently have increased to $8 billion.

Anyhow, economic turnaround needs massive investment, which is major determinant of mechanism for employment generating and poverty alleviation. But the quantum of savings and investment are inadequate to meet the challenges of unemployment and poverty alleviation. The basic reason for Pakistan's debt problems also arise from inadequate domestic savings, which compel Pakistan to borrow. As a result of insufficient savings, the investment level is not enough to provide jobs to the unemployed. Pakistan's savings rate is 16 per cent of the GDP, which is the lowest ranked in Asia. And with rising inflation, the incomes of the middle income and lower income groups have eroded, which has adversely impacted savings. Whereas small savings are nuts and bolts of development, Pakistan needs massive investment to sustain the economic growth. For achieving seven per cent growth, investment level of 21 per cent of the GDP is required on the basis of Incremental Capital Output Ratio (ICOR) of 3 to 1. Since domestic savings are approximately 16 per cent of the GDP, Pakistan has to generate about 5 per cent direct foreign investment.

To address the trade deficit, the government will have to cut down on imports of luxury items such as cars, electronic gadgets and even mobile phones for the time being. The government is considering an increase in customs duty on import of luxury items and excise duty on locally produced goods. The decision of the government to reduce the size of the cabinet by half is appreciable. However, this measure is not enough to meet the challenges of fiscal and trade deficit, which is the cause of Pakistan's debt mountain. The government must show zero-tolerance to corruption, reduce the prices of gas and electricity, lower the discount rate and should say 'no' to IMF because if it has to follow IMF's policies then Pakistan would neither be able to increase its exports, nor would it be possible to give relief to the masses who are suffering from run-away inflation. The government functionaries must remember that policies should be business friendly, but at the same time they should ensure that there is no tax evasion. However, the leadership has to take the lead; it must ensure good governance and then expect from others that they pay due taxes.








Pakistan which was made a frontline State on terror war by US and NATO was repeatedly convinced that terrorism was an existential threat to its security and hence must be fought relentlessly. Coalition partners too were continuously persuaded that it was in their interest to eliminate terrorism from the face of the earth. In order to present terrorism as something most horrendous, variety of scenarios were circulated. These revolved around untraceable ghost of Osama, al-Qaeda a global threat, good and bad Taliban, safe havens in Pak-Afghan border belt, FATA the most dangerous place on earth, North Waziristan the hub centre of terrorism, al-Qaeda leadership based in FATA, Mullah Omar led Shura located in Quetta, Pakistan's linkage with militants, Pak nukes going into the hands of extremists etc.

All these made-up stories were circulated to prolong war on terror and to justify continued stay of a large US-NATO force in two far apart theatres of war. Likewise, fictitious tale of Mumbai style group attacks in western countries was played up. Purpose behind frequent security alarms and fabricated stories was to keep the public of America and the west terrified. Most terrorist attacks in Pakistan, western countries and even in Afghanistan and Iraq are the handiwork of CIA, Mossad, RAW and Blackwater agents. Terrorist groups like Tehrik-e-Pakistan Taliban (TTP), Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) in Swat, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Republican Army in Balochistan (BRA) are entirely funded, equipped and trained by these agencies.

India and Israel have played a key role in destabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan and in preventing the flames of war from getting extinguished. Since the mercantile objectives and denuclearization and secularization of Pakistan have not been achieved, the evil players playing the macabre game are least interested in restoring peace in the two affected countries. They have extended the date of withdrawal from Afghanistan to 2014 but want to stay beyond that date. Modernization of Kandahar, Kabul, Mazar-e-Saharif and Shindad where their military bases are located is continuing.

Threat to US homeland at the hands of al-Qaeda is the biggest joke played by US leaders upon their people. They are befooling them and keeping them in dark about the hidden objectives as well as ground situation. Homeland threat had been conceived by Bush Administration to justify colossal expenditure on war on terror as well as on homeland security. Obama led Democrats are also doing the same and taking their public for a ride. As a consequence the game of bloodletting is being ruthlessly played unabatedly without any remorse. It is most pathetic that governments of Afghanistan and Iraq have joined hands with alien forces occupying their lands and happily killing their own people. The US handpicked Karzai and Maliki are convinced that whatever the US is saying is correct and in their interest. It was immoral on part of Gen Musharraf to betray a Muslim neighbor to provide assistance to aggressors for destruction of Afghanistan. Nature is punishing Pakistan and its people for the follies of their leaders and now human blood flows into its streets freely.

If today Pakistan is being viewed as the hub centre of terrorism and the most dangerous place on earth, a dispassionate study should be carried out as to how it has reached such a stage. In my humble view, India's aggressive posturing and its refusal to address Kashmir dispute as well as to reconcile with existence of Pakistan had a lot to do with growth of religious extremism in Pakistan. Right from the day one, India has striven to impede Pakistan's economic growth. Pakistan instead of concentrating on economic uplift had to perforce divert huge resources towards its defence. As a consequence, poverty kept increasing and the class of have-nots became over populated. It was from within the deprived class which gave birth to criminals, Jihadis and suicide bombers.

Besides India, the US injustices, discriminations and intrusiveness in Pakistan's internal affairs and use of drones has also contributed towards anti-Americanism and bringing Pakistan to this impasse. The US has a lot to do with keeping Pakistan's political and economic conditions wobbly by preferring military dictators or corrupt and inept political leaders over people friendly and popular leaders. It has kept the country in the grip of IMF and World Bank to keep Pakistan perpetually dependent upon USA. By making the leaders addicted to aid and burdening the country with huge debt, it has further compromised its sovereignty.

The US has preferred repressive regimes in Pakistan as a result of which democracy in real sense never struck roots. Varieties of systems were experimented but none worked mainly because of US intrusions. The corrupt and unpopular rulers dancing to the tunes of their masters got out of sync with the people. Extremism is a reaction to the immorality and insensitivity of the political class towards have-nots. Since the leaders and the led were always on different frequencies, political stability and integration of the nation could never be achieved. Consequently, economy never took off and remained in doldrums. Since our politicians propped up by USA get readily enslaved by their patrons, they feel no remorse in compromising sovereignty of the country and the liberty of the people merely to earn the goodwill of their patrons. Servility of our current leaders to Washington has touched new heights. Case of Raymond Davis with shady background involved in murder of two Pakistanis will be another litmus test to gauge the worth of our leaders.

The writer is a retired Brig and a security analyst.








The week-long Referendum in south Sudan, started on 9th January this year, has many lessons for Pakistan. This Referendum was for secession or not of the south Sudan from the Republic of Sudan. It was a foregone conclusion that the people in the south overwhelmingly desire separation and the Referendum was just a formal exercise, as the provisional, unofficial results have now confirmed.

The largest country in Africa, present Sudan has mainly two cultural, religious and ethnic divisions; north and south. The north is predominantly Muslim and ethnically Arab, whereas the south is Christian and Animist / pagan and ethnically African. The south is one of the most poor and un-developed regions in the world, but has oil reserves of considerable quantity. Prior to independence in 1956, the whole country was under joint administration of Egypt and the UK. However, the south was practically closed to the north, to control slave trade, as the raiders from the north usually captured the Africans from the south for slave trade. As such, for all practical purposes, the south Sudan was a separate entity. The independence threw these two diametrically divergent regions & people, north and south, into one country. As was natural, the divergent cultures and political aspirations led to civil war, soon after the independence. After several years of civil war, a peace accord was signed in 1972, to give peace a chance. The south was given a limited quantity of self-rule by the peace accord. This agreement lasted only for ten years and the civil war resumed again. (Mainly because of Gaafar al-Nimeiry's move to impose Islamic Shariah on whole of the Sudan and his tampering with the main clauses of the peace accord of 1972. Gaafar al-Nimeiry had captured power through a coup in 1969. For earlier period of his rule, al-Nimeiry posed as socialist & secular and later as champion of Islamic Shariah.)

After more than two decades of renewed civil war, the two warring sides arrived at a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in the early days of 2005. (It is estimated that more than 2 million people perished in the civil war.) Under the CPA, the south got handsome amount of self-rule, a somewhat power-sharing at the centre and an equal share in oil revenue. The present Referendum was held under the instruments of the CPA.

Apart from ethnic and cultural differences, one of the main reasons for estrangement of south Sudan was over-arching centralized dictatorial rule by the Arab north and in-effective, lame-duck democracy even if it was ever allowed in Sudan. Like Pakistan, the Sudanese military is mainly drawn from Arab north and as such the military rulers are equated with (and actually belonged to) the north Sudan. The question of legitimacy always haunts the military rulers everywhere in the world and the same must have occupied the minds of Sudanese Muslim Arab military dictators. So, they have been trying to get legitimacy through gimmickries; sometime posing themselves as socialist, secular or nationalist and sometime as champions of Islam, imposing Islamic Shariah and Muslim Arab cultural norms on the whole of the country of divergent ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

The south has now opted for secession. The next in line is Darfur region in the west of the country. Predominantly Muslim, the region is ethnically African. The insurgency and consequent atrocious military operation in Darfur is going on since 2003. The Sudanese military and "Islamic" Janjaweed vigilante brigades have been blamed for large scale war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur. The Janjaweed are generally believed to be the fighting arm or at least have support of National Islamic Front (NIF) – an equivalent of our far right 'ideological' religious party- whose ideological followers /members within Sudanese military had supported present ruler of Sudan, (Col.) Omar al-Bashir, to stage coup in 1989.

The civil war in Darfur has so far consumed 2 Lac to 4 Lac persons, mainly civilian Darfurians and displaced more than 2 millions. But it seems Sudan, like Pakistan, does not desire to learn from the history. The whole world has been making hue & cry over the atrocities in Muslim African Darfur, but Sudan, like Pakistan, has always rejected it as false propaganda by the West and USA. While in Saudi Arabia during Hajj in 2005-06, this writer talked, informally in private, to several Sudanese Hajis, mainly educated middle or lower middle class northern Arabs, as to why Muslim Darfur was being subjected to atrocities by the Muslim rulers in Khartoum. Toeing their government's line, they altogether rejected the allegations and termed them a Western / American propaganda & conspiracy; exactly the same attitude we, (West) Pakistanis, used to maintain vis-à-vis the atrocities by our forces and al-Badar & al-Shamas "Islamic" vigilante brigades, on the Bengalis back in 1971, though we blamed communist block and India. At the same time it is a manifestation of misfortune coupled by intellectual ineptness of the Muslim Ummah as a body. It is not surprising that International Criminal Court at The Hague later indicted president Omar al-Bashir on the charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, in Darfur; the first ever indictment against a sitting head of state. If the proceedings take off at all, his close associates, like former chief of Sudanese Intelligence (now Advisor to the president) and other senior men may possibly find noose around their necks, too.

The troubles for (north) Sudan do not appear to diminish even after the separation of south Sudan now and most likely Darfur in the years to come. Its South Blue Nile, Nuba Mountains and South Kordofan provinces / states are also bitter and disturbed. The last one is termed as potentially 'the next Darfur' by expert observers. It is pertinent to mention that, though Muslims, Darfur as well as the aforementioned disturbed regions had aligned with non-Muslim south Sudan against the imposition of Shariah, considering it a ploy by the Arabs-dominated centre to further marginalize them.

Sudan has many lessons for Pakistan, provided we allow ourselves to get ones. Like south Sudan (and Darfur), we have Balochistan, though it is far more rich in mineral & energy resources than whole of the combined Sudan. Unfortunately, we have not opted, so far, for a just and equitable policy towards the Baloch. Consequently, Balochistan is disturbed since at least three generations. We must realize that the world in 21st century cannot permit suppression and oppression of the people & regions, by brute force, under the cover of religion. We must resolve the irritants through peaceful political means, in a true federal democratic dispensation.

The writer, an author, is a retired senior public servant.







We're in the midst of a global food crisis — the second in three years. World food prices hit a record in January, driven by huge increases in the prices of wheat, corn, sugar and oils. These soaring prices have had only a modest effect on U.S. inflation, which is still low by historical standards, but they're having a brutal impact on the world's poor, who spend much if not most of their income on basic foodstuffs.

The consequences of this food crisis go far beyond economics. After all, the big question about uprisings against corrupt and oppressive regimes in the Middle East isn't so much why they're happening as why they're happening now. And there's little question that sky-high food prices have been an important trigger for popular rage.

So what's behind the price spike? American right-wingers (and the Chinese) blame easy-money policies at the Federal Reserve, with at least one commentator declaring that there is "blood on Bernanke's hands." Meanwhile, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France blames speculators, accusing them of "extortion and pillaging." But the evidence tells a different, much more ominous story. While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we'd expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate — which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning.

Now, to some extent soaring food prices are part of a general commodity boom: the prices of many raw materials, running the gamut from aluminum to zinc, have been rising rapidly since early 2009, mainly thanks to rapid industrial growth in emerging markets. But the link between industrial growth and demand is a lot clearer for, say, copper than it is for food. Except in very poor countries, rising incomes don't have much effect on how much people eat.

It's true that growth in emerging nations like China leads to rising meat consumption, and hence rising demand for animal feed. It's also true that agricultural raw materials, especially cotton, compete for land and other resources with food crops — as does the subsidized production of ethanol, which consumes a lot of corn. So both economic growth and bad energy policy have played some role in the food price surge. Still, food prices lagged behind the prices of other commodities until last summer. Then the weather struck.

Consider the case of wheat, whose price has almost doubled since the summer. The immediate cause of the wheat price spike is obvious: world production is down sharply. The bulk of that production decline, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, reflects a sharp plunge in the former Soviet Union. And we know what that's about: a record heat wave and drought, which pushed Moscow temperatures above 100 degrees for the first time ever.

The Russian heat wave was only one of many recent extreme weather events, from dry weather in Brazil to biblical-proportion flooding in Australia, that have damaged world food production. The question then becomes, what's behind all this extreme weather?

To some extent we're seeing the results of a natural phenomenon, La Niña — a periodic event in which water in the equatorial Pacific becomes cooler than normal. And La Niña events have historically been associated with global food crises, including the crisis of 2007-8.But that's not the whole story. Don't let the snow fool you: globally, 2010 was tied with 2005 for warmest year on record, even though we were at a solar minimum and La Niña was a cooling factor in the second half of the year. Temperature records were set not just in Russia but in no fewer than 19 countries, covering a fifth of the world's land area. And both droughts and floods are natural consequences of a warming world: droughts because it's hotter, floods because warm oceans release more water vapour. As always, you can't attribute any one weather event to greenhouse gases. But the pattern we're seeing, with extreme highs and extreme weather in general becoming much more common, is just what you'd expect from climate change.

The usual suspects will, of course, go wild over suggestions that global warming has something to do with the food crisis; those who insist that Ben Bernanke has blood on his hands tend to be more or less the same people who insist that the scientific consensus on climate reflects a vast leftist conspiracy. But the evidence does, in fact, suggest that what we're getting now is a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we'll face in a warming world. And given our failure to act on greenhouse gases, there will be much more, and much worse, to come. — The New York Times









Political pain often teaches worthwhile lessons, and when Kevin Foley first entered the South Australian parliament, he wondered whether he would ever sit on the Treasury benches. A staffer in the Bannon government, Mr Foley had seen Labor's financial disasters, including the collapse of the State Bank, from the inside. Taking his safe seat at the end of the Bannon era in 1993, he and his lower house colleagues could not even field a cricket team. A dismal opposition in a rust-bucket state, they wondered whether Labor was finished for a generation.

Labor's return to government eight years later, after only two terms in opposition, was largely attributable to Mike Rann's skill as opposition leader. Labor's success in government, with two subsequent election wins, is due in no small part to Mr Foley's tenacity as Treasurer and Deputy Premier. The hardest yards of selling assets and retiring debt were covered by the Liberal administration of premier John Olsen. But Mr Foley was determined not to repeat the mistakes of Labor's past and didn't fritter away these gains, instead winning and maintaining a triple-A credit rating for the state.

To be sure, few South Australians will shed a tear for Mr Foley as he bows to public and party pressure, resigning this week as deputy and Treasurer. Often arrogant and aggressive in his political repartee, Mr Foley has also been spied too often at late-night bars, paraded his girlfriends publicly and shared his self-pity with the public. On top of all that, he's raised some taxes and cut some spending, tempting the gods of political popularity.

All in all, however, Mr Foley has been a force for good in his state because he has not been afraid to stand up to powerful unions and other influential lobbies in order to deliver necessary reforms. Certainly, he could have done more, particularly in restricting public service growth and minimising state taxes. But he has usually been on the right side of the economic arguments and, if he can guard against junketeering or job-hunting in his mooted new role as defence industry minister, his hard head will help the cabinet to maintain some sense of parsimony. While the Premier considers the timing of his own departure and ponders a thin list of possible successors, he must not use his deputy's departure as an excuse to step back from the current battles with unions over public sector job cuts and the partial forestry privatisation.







Not a good summer for Australian cricket but an excellent one for Shane Watson who last night won the Allan Border Medal plus a couple of others. The all-rounder from Queensland who had struggled in recent years to hold on to a Test spot because of repetitive injury has streamlined his efforts to emerge as a remarkably good, if not brilliant, batsman. Watson is still an effective fast-medium bowler with a natural ability to swing the ball, but his decision to focus on the bat has paid off.

That the 29-year-old has turned out to be the best thing about the Australian team is a testament to his perseverance. The reality is that in a reconstituted Australian side, Watson is likely to find himself played as an all-rounder: he's too good with the ball to ignore that talent. True all-rounders are rare. In Australia you need to go back to Richie Benaud to find a cricketer equally expert at ball and bat. England had the superb Ian Botham; Pakistan the extraordinary Imran Khan. More recently, England's Andrew Flintoff was a wonderful example of a true all-rounder. But at Test level, most players are better off pursuing one or the other -- something that Watson at least seems to understand. His success over the summer was a beacon in a depleted side, a personal triumph over injury and a reminder that talent will find a way.







Kevin Rudd spent months last year trying to finalise a health deal with the states. In the end, he patched together a face-saver that left the premiers cock-a-hoop and the rest of us wondering what all the fuss had been about. So non-core was hospital reform that it scarcely rated a mention in the August poll. Now faced with two, and probably three, Liberal premiers uninterested in relinquishing their GST monies, Julia Gillard is laying the groundwork for a backflip. It's a backflip we urge her to execute sooner rather than later. The Rudd package has become so compromised that it is not worth the political pain of pursuing it.

When he first talked of upending the funding and management of the nation's health services and hospitals back in 2007, Mr Rudd made a lot of sense. The failures of a system that was about 40 per cent funded by the commonwealth but run by the states made attractive the then Labor leader's, admittedly ambitious, pledge that unless the states fixed the system in 12 months, he would take it over. It was part of Mr Rudd's determination to end the blame game with the states and work more efficiently with the Council of Australian Governments.

There is no argument with the need for reform: our health system is both inefficient and unsustainable. Expensive technologies; cost-shifting between state- and federal-funded services; high wages; increased client demands; and, to some extent, an ageing population are forcing up costs. Yet somewhere between the Rudd vision and the reality, it all went wrong. As prime minister, Mr Rudd marched in and out of hospital wards up and down the east coast, but by the time he got back to Canberra to wrangle the premiers last April, his threat of a takeover had become a deal in which the states won back much of the control that Mr Rudd had hoped to usurp by offering to pay 60 per cent of costs. Flanked by smiling premiers, he claimed an agreement to claw back 30 per cent of GST money to fund the increases. He promised Canberra would shoulder rising costs over time and that funding in future would be activity-based with budgets set using calculations based on performance. The Australian noted the winners were the premiers, with the states entrenching themselves at the centre of the process. While the deal included some significant changes, it fell far short of the comprehensive reforms Mr Rudd promised before the 2007 election. Others held similar reservations. David Penington, a former dean of medicine and vice-chancellor of Melbourne University, said the premiers had undermined the deal "ensuring their state bureaucracies retained control" in an outcome that "defies good evidence and logic". Bob Wells, director of the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute at the Australian National University, said: "It's a disaster . . . it doesn't achieve Rudd's original objective, which was for the commonwealth to have the major say in how the hospitals are run."

John Dwyer, founding president of the Australian Health Reform Alliance said: "Operationally, we don't see much difference . . . we don't regard that structure as reform in any significant way."

Labor pressed on, with Health Minister Nicola Roxon trying to find a way around West Australian Premier Colin Barnett's refusal to give up 30 per cent of his GST. But the prospect of agreement has faded now that Ted Baillieu has backed away from his Victorian predecessor's agreement and Barry O'Farrell in NSW gets ready to join the Liberal premiers next month. Ms Gillard has nothing to lose by playing hard ball with the states at COAG next week. The goal of health reform must be to deliver value for money and fund on the basis of outputs, not throughputs -- something Canberra can still achieve without the cumbersome, centralised model proposed by Mr Rudd. The appointment yesterday to the Queensland Reconstruction Authority, of Brad Orgill, the man who detailed the waste in the Building the Education Revolution program, suggests the Prime Minister appreciates she must demonstrate fiscal rigour. As she begins the parliamentary year, she should clear the decks and focus on two or three key reforms. Mr Rudd's hospitals model turned out to be a house of straw: it's time for Ms Gillard to blow it over.






THE motive behind the proposal to ban the use in vehicles of all mobile phones, including hands-free devices, is admirable: to reduce the still unacceptably high road toll. Sadly, good intentions do not necessarily produce sensible, enforceable policies. Federal and state transport ministers should think long and hard before adopting this idea, which is included in a draft national road safety report.

Love it or loathe it, the mobile phone is now ubiquitous, integral to modern life, not just a convenient aide to chatter, but as essential a social and economic tool as the car itself. This is not to suggest the use of mobiles while driving is not dangerous, or that it should not be restricted - just that the law should be dictated by common sense and practicability.

In our view, the existing rule - which prohibits hands-on use of mobile phones when behind the wheel (or even hands-off use by probationary drivers) - is reasonable and necessary. The problem is not the law, but the readiness of so many drivers to ignore it. In a Victorian survey, 60 per cent of respondents who owned a mobile phone admitted using it while driving. Last year nearly 50,000 people were fined a total of more than $11 million for calling, texting, or touching their phones while driving.

It is a nice little earner for government, but hardly grounds for thinking that extending the prohibition to hands-free devices would reverse the trend. More likely, perhaps, would be an increase in offences, particularly by angry people who had already sought to minimise risk by investing legally in hands-free systems.

There is much evidence, of course, that mobile phone use can and does distract drivers, contributing to crashes and fatalities. But so can car radios and sound systems and the conversation

of passengers. The solution lies not in the nanny-state option of reaching for a total ban, which would invite defiance, but in better driver education, more rigorous policing of the present law and, perhaps, an increase in the already stiff penalties for breaches.

The hard fact is that we can never abolish human folly from our roads. If that were possible, the scourges of drink-driving and speeding would be history and two girls would not have died in the car of a young Victorian who served a six-year jail term after he crashed because he was deleting a text message while driving.






THE British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has entered Europe's debate about multiculturalism on the side of the sceptics. He has been criticised for speaking out on the same day the English Defence League, an organisation purporting to oppose militant Islam, held a demonstration in Luton, a town with many Muslim residents. The topic is highly sensitive, but Cameron is not alone among Europe's leaders. Last October the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, declared attempts to build a multicultural society in her country had failed. It seems powerful forces from the mainstream of Western politics are starting to line up in opposition to the notion of multiculturalism. Does the trend have implications for Australia, where the idea has been embraced with enthusiasm since the 1970s?

Cameron's speech was quickly caricatured from the left as pandering to racist and specifically anti-Muslim attitudes. But despite the coincidence of the Luton demonstration, and although he will undoubtedly have pleased some Conservatives who have always been suspicious of immigration, the criticism misses the mark. The speech cannot be construed as rabble-rousing or an appeal to baser instincts; rather it was a serious attempt to address the security difficulties presented by extremists who operate among, and exploit the cover of, an otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslim population.

Britain's situation differs from Australia's in degree. Its Muslim population is larger and tends to be more concentrated in specific areas. As in any population, size allows a greater variety of opinion to flourish -

including extreme opinion. Britain's leading role in military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan gives Islamist extremists a cause to unite around, and the combination of circumstances appears to have produced home-grown terrorists such as those who carried out the July 2005 bombings in London.

Cameron's words were directed at circumstances specific to Britain's version of multiculturalism. He has called for ''muscular liberalism'' - an odd phrase intended to describe a more assertive defence of liberal and Western values in the face of extremism and oppression of all kinds. And his words have been followed up: his government has stopped aiding suspect groups which had been funded previously in the hope of reaching young Muslim men at risk of being drawn towards extremism.

Australia's more relaxed multiculturalism has concentrated more on the positive contributions of other cultures to the mainstream, and has been quite successful as a result. Let us hope it continues to be so, and that the tolerance, freedom and decency it has embodied can survive terrorism's threats. But the slow hardening of opinion now apparent overseas may presage a similar change here.





REVOLUTIONS are never easily understood, even by those taking part in them. But if public utterances are any guide, the greatest confusion about Egypt's democracy movement exists in Washington, where in little more than a week the Obama administration has twice reversed its attitude to the upheavals in Cairo and the future of President Hosni Mubarak.

First, Mr Mubarak was dubiously defended by Vice-President Joe Biden, who said ''he has been our ally in a number of things'' and ''I would not call him a dictator''. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for ''an orderly transition to meet the democratic and economic needs of the people'', apparently implying that of course Mr Mubarak is a dictator and it is time for him to go. But now the Biden view is ascendant again, with the administration's special envoy to Egypt, Frank Wisner, saying at the weekend that Mr Mubarak is an ''old friend'' of the US's and that as a new political order evolves his ''continued leadership is critical - it's his opportunity to write his own legacy''. The phrase ''orderly transition'' now appears to mean that the dictator should choose the time and circumstances of his departure, regardless of ''the democratic and economic needs of the people''.

This realpolitik is a long way from the ideals invoked in President Obama's speech in Cairo in June 2009, in which he tried, tentatively but eloquently, to set out a new relationship between the US and the Islamic world, one that eschewed the hostility and misunderstandings of the past decade while also seeking to encourage Arab and Muslim reformers. ''No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation on another,'' Mr Obama said. ''That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people … All people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights.''

As The Age noted at the time, by speaking so Mr Obama went as close as he diplomatically could to insulting his host, Mr Mubarak, because Egyptians are not free to live as they choose. It cannot be known whether this speech helped to lay the ground for the pro-democracy protests that have convulsed Egypt in recent weeks. But it can be assumed that many Egyptians will now wonder whether Mr Obama can be taken at his word, or whether he will follow the example of his predecessors in the White House in supporting dictators who suit US interests rather than elected leaders who may not.

Among those who may not in Egypt are the Muslim Brotherhood, whose representatives joined more liberal opposition politicians and youthful protesters in meeting Vice-President Omar Suleiman on Sunday. No pledges were made, beyond a commitment to complete studying proposed amendments to the constitution, but the possibility that the Brotherhood may seek to seize control of the uprising is clearly influencing US policy. Mrs Clinton, speaking to the same Munich conference at which Mr Wisner declared support for Mr Mubarak, warned that a transition with Mr Suleiman as its public face was crucial to prevent extremists hijacking the political process.

This fear has for 30 years inhibited successive US administrations from challenging Mr Mubarak on his regime's human rights record. By adhering to this attitude the US will not dissuade the protesters who want an immediate end to the regime, rather than a ''transition'' managed by Mr Mubarak's henchman. US insistence on such a transition may, however, strengthen the hand of the Muslim Brotherhood and make more likely the outcome the administration most wants to avoid.






CRICKET is in crisis, and we are referring to something more serious than the insipid performance of the Australian Test team during this summer's Ashes series. The weekend decision by the International Cricket Council to suspend three Pakistani players for so-called spot-fixing is a reminder that what used to be called the noble game is being undermined by corruption. Regrettably, the leniency of the penalties given to the trio reinforces long-held fears that the game's governors may not be up to the task of restoring confidence in cricket's integrity.

Sport, especially at the elite and professional level, is based on an unbreakable contract between players and spectators: the fans are entitled to assume the participants are trying their best at all times. Last August, in a Test match against England at Lord's, Pakistani bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, and their captain, Salman Butt, brought shame on themselves and their country by breaking the contract. Butt was party to Asif and Amir deliberately bowling no balls. They had been bribed, by bookmakers and a player agent.

The ICC tribunal found the three guilty - it could hardly have done otherwise, given that part of the transaction was captured on video in a sting by a British newspaper. But the tribunal then passed up the opportunity to unambiguously signal to other players, and the game's followers, that such behaviour will not be tolerated. Eighteen-year-old Amir was banned for five years. Asif, 28, was given a seven-year ban, with two years suspended. Butt, 26, received a 10-year sentence, but with five years suspended. It is conceivable that all three could be playing for Pakistan again in five years.

It is pleasing to note that some of the game's most decorated former players have condemned the penalties as manifestly inadequate. Former England captain Michael Vaughan said anyone found guilty of corruption in any sport should be banned for life. Another former England skipper, Andrew Flintoff, observed that the ICC appeared to have adopted a ''semi zero-tolerance policy'' on corruption.

As for Amir, he seems incapable of grasping the magnitude of what he has done. ''For a cricketer whose life is cricket, this is like destroying their life,'' he said of his punishment. Amir is still a teenager, and perhaps unable to appreciate the significance of the old truism that the game is bigger than the individual. Cricket's ruling elite has no such excuse.







The "big society" is an abstraction as well as a programme. Like all abstractions it can be vacuous and elusive. It means different things to different people. If it has an essential idea, however, it is still summed up in David Cameron's argument that while there is indeed such a thing as society it is not the same as the state, a piece of triangulation that enabled Mr Cameron to differentiate himself from the individualism of Lady Thatcher and the statism of Gordon Brown. The positioning was important; but there was more to it than tactics. Every strong political tradition in modern history – whether conservatism, liberalism or, lest the Labour party forget, socialism – has at one time or another had a vibrant place within it for community, solidarity and localism, often at variance with the central state. The span of ideas stretches from Saul Alinsky on the left to Edmund Burke on the right. New Labour never quite settled on its own version. Central to Mr Cameron's, however, is what he said in his Hugo Young lecture in 2009 – that strong and concerted government action can release the forces that make up the big society.

That's the theory behind the current government's programme. In many ways it remains an enticing one, not just for traditional critics of big government but also for all those who believe that social-ism (a formulation that Tony Blair flirted with in his early years as Labour leader) and the state are not interchangeable or coterminous. In practice, however, the big society strategies that Mr Cameron developed in opposition, and which he was still articulating in his lecture 18 months ago, belong to an era that no longer exists and have now been subverted by some of his government's own actions. Mr Cameron's vision of a state that would stimulate communities and neighbourhoods and encourage individual initiatives – all with the net objective of helping to shrink the unnecessary and over-mighty state – was predicated on a level of economic activity and tax revenue that would allow the battalions of the big society to supplement and then take over what the state was already providing. Those possibilities no longer exist. Today, a combination of coalition year-zero radicalism and deep cuts in public services mean that big-society programmes are being forced to carry a weight far greater than they can be expected to bear.

The latest evidence for this came in authoritative comments yesterday from Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, director of Community Service Volunteers for the past 36 years. Dame Elisabeth believes the cuts have imposed too big a burden on the voluntary sector, forcing them to provide an alternative to state services rather than a supplementary network of support. All this comes at a time when many voluntary organisations are themselves struggling to make ends meet. Instead of encouraging new approaches and a new culture to evolve, as Mr Cameron intended, the government has forced councils to cut everything from libraries to Sure Start centres and then expected the voluntary sector to pick up the pieces. Liverpool city council, not one of Mr Cameron's fans, threw in the towel last week. But the independent-minded Labour MP Frank Field made the very same point yesterday about child poverty action.

Mr Cameron should take such critics particularly seriously. People like Dame Elisabeth and Mr Field come from the centre-left. But they are not Labour statists. They were open to the promise which Mr Cameron's social Toryism offered. In many cases, they still are. Now, though, they are increasingly despairing about what the coalition is delivering in practice. A combination of misplaced government urgency to do too much too soon, ill-thought-out projects and, above all, the scale of the cuts has weakened confidence in the big-society offer. There is no evidence that the country is falling back in love with the big state, but Mr Cameron has failed to sell his alternative.





Is it as bad as the old days? No. But it is bad enough. The expulsion of Luke Harding is a bad omen indeed

Three days ago the Guardian's Moscow correspondent returned to Russia to resume his duties there after a period of secondment in London, where he had been working on the team assessing and organising WikiLeaks material. Half an hour after his arrival he was in a detention cell, in spite of having a valid visa, and an hour after that he was back on the plane that had brought him to Moscow.

For him, an official said, "the Russian Federation is closed". Although no reasons for his expulsion have been given, it is easy to guess at the "crimes" that led the Russian authorities to take this step, unprecedented since Soviet times. These were to report on the many deficiencies that increasingly disfigure Russian politics and society, including the corruption of the state bureaucracy, the security establishment's links to organised crime, the counterproductive brutality of the government's policies in the Caucasus, the shrinking space for a free press, the hollowness of the country's democratic institutions, and the abuses of the judicial system. To name but a few.

We may guess that the crowning offence was his association with this paper's story on what the WikiLeaks material revealed about the views of foreign diplomats and others on the nature of the Russian system as it has evolved, or rather, devolved, under Vladimir Putin in recent years.

That report, it should be emphasised, summed up the opinions of men who, because of their work, were in a position to know a great deal about Russian affairs. These were not as such the Guardian's opinions, but it was right to publish them, because they represented the considered judgment, sometimes the very pained judgment, of people whose job it is to understand Russia.

For a time it seemed that the Soviet Union's ways of controlling and managing the international press had disappeared for good in the new Russian Federation. There was an understandable prickliness about patronising foreigners, including those of the journalistic variety, and there was a lack of openness understandable in a society that had long seen curiosity as a dangerous commodity. But it was permissible to hope they would in time disappear.

Instead, the old ways gradually returned. Rewards for the discreet, but punishment, and harassment, for those who crossed certain red lines. Is it as bad as the old days? No. But it is bad enough. The expulsion of Luke Harding, dismaying as it is for a reporter whose affection for the Russian people cannot be doubted, and distressing for a newspaper that led the way in expanding contacts with the Russian media in more hopeful days, is a bad omen indeed.








This is National Apprenticeship Week and also National Marriage Week. Last week was National Salt Awareness Week, National Storytelling Week and National Bramley Apple Week. Next week we have National Nest Box Week and National Chip (as in a bag of rather than on the shoulder) Week to deal with. World Orphan Week and Fairtrade Fortnight also beckon. And that's without even mentioning World Wetlands Day, World Cancer Day, International Mother Language Day, Safer Internet Day and World Thinking Day, all of which fall in little February as well – as, of course, does Saint Valentine's. They mean well, the people who think up the national awareness days and national awareness weeks that punctuate so much of modern life. And we all do our best to be, at least, aware that we ought to be not merely aware of them but responsive too. On one level, it is hard not to sympathise with the American writer Russell Baker, whose proposal for a National Talk Like a Pirate Day was designed as a reductio ad absurdum of the whole awareness thing. On another, though, who is to say that we would give a moment's thought to the importance of Bramley apples, wetlands, chips and a safer internet without the prodding reminders from those who spend the rest of the year worrying about such matters on our behalf? Some awareness of apprenticeships, marriage and nest boxes is, after all, surely better than none. You can't have too much awareness in this world. But it's perhaps just as well that March is National Bed Month.






In September 2006, the Tokyo District Court ruled that the policy of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education to force school teachers to sing the national anthem Kimigayo ("Your Reign") during school ceremonies was illegal. The court ruled that the policy violated Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of thought and conscience, and constituted "unjust control" as prohibited by the Fundamental Law of Education. But on Jan. 28, the Tokyo High Court overturned the lower court ruling and ruled that the policy neither violates the Constitution nor constitutes such "unjust control."

The lawsuit had been filed by 395 incumbent and former school teachers targeted by the board of education's October 2003 instruction that teachers must stand facing the Hinomaru (Sun) national flag and sing Kimigayo during school ceremonies. Teachers face discipline if they defy the instruction. Defiance subjects teachers to progressively heavier punitive measures that starts with a reprimand and then escalate to a wage cut, to suspension from the job and to refusal of reemployment after the teachers reach retirement age.

It has been reported that the number of teachers disciplined under the instruction has been dwindling. This indicates that many teachers have given up daring to act in accordance with their conscience, defying the instruction. In other words, the control over teachers by the metropolitan government and the board of education is working. The high court ruling only serves as confirmation of this situation.

The 2006 lower court ruling said that since Hinomaru and Kimigayo served as the spiritual backbone of the emperor-centered ideology and militarism before and during World War II and that their religious and political neutrality cannot be recognized even today, the right of people who oppose hoisting the flag and singing the anthem should be recognized by the Constitution. It also noted that teachers are not duty-bound to stand and sing the national anthem or play the piano to accompany the singing, thus making it clear that they have the freedom to refuse to do these things.

In contrast, the high court ruling said that the board of education's instruction, which calls for raising the national flag and singing the national anthem during school ceremonies, does not constitute imposition of certain acts that deny individuals' outlook on history or the world on the individuals in question. It also said that because Hinomaru and Kimigayo had been traditionally used during school ceremonies and because public servants such as teachers are "servants of the whole community" under the Constitution, the board of education's instruction is "rational," does not violate the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of thought and conscience, and does not constitute "unjust control" as prohibited by the Fundamental Law of Education.

This ruling is difficult to understand. It does not address the likely possibility that forcing teachers to stand before Hinomaru and sing Kimigayo may make some teachers feel that their freedom of thought and conscience are being violated. It seems that the high court thinks that outward actions and inner freedom have nothing to do with each other. The court also forgets an important aspect about a national flag and a national anthem — that they must be accepted spontaneously by people.

When the law declaring Hinomaru and Kimigayo as the national flag and the national anthem, respectively, was enacted in August 1999, then Chief Cabinet Secretary General Tsutomu Nonaka said that the government would not force the use of Hinomaru and Kimigayo. Then Education Minister Akito Arima said that the enactment of the law would not bring any changes to teachers' duties. But what has happened since is the education ministry's stricter instruction to boards of educations across the country to use Hinomaru and Kimigayo during school ceremonies, which has caused spiritual pain to some teachers.

The high court ruling is clearly based on a February 2007 ruling by the Supreme Court, which ruled that it was constitutional for the principal of a municipally-run primary school in Hino, Tokyo, to order a music teacher to play the piano accompaniment to Kimigayo during a school ceremony. Thus, it upheld a reprimand by the metropolitan board of education meted out to a teacher who refused to play the anthem during a 1999 ceremony.

The top court said that the principal's order neither constituted a denial of the teacher's historical and world views, nor imposed a certain way of thought on her, nor prohibited her from entertaining certain thoughts. The Supreme Court failed to pay attention to the simple fact that the principal's order brought spiritual pain to the teacher. The Japanese judiciary should fulfill its duty of protecting the rights of people who hold minority opinions.






LONDON — U.S. President Barack Obama caught the imagination of the world when he talked recently of a new "Sputnik moment." He outlined a bold plan for improving education, infrastructure and technology, and vividly compared the resolve required to put a man on the moon to the determination needed to restore growth to the U.S. economy.

Obama is right to say that the West faces not only great challenges, but also great opportunities. In the last decade, the global economy was transformed by 1 billion Asian workers entering the ranks of industrial producers. In 2011, for the first time in two centuries, Europe and America face being out-produced, out-exported and out-invested by China and the rest of the world.

Yet Asia's growth also gives the West unprecedented economic hope. In this decade, the world will be transformed yet again by the rise of the Asian consumer. By 2020, Asia's domestic markets will be twice the size of America's. The world's middle class will have swelled from 1 billion consumers to 3 billion.

The opportunities for growth in Europe and the U.S. from this additional global demand are enormous. The countries and companies that will flourish in Asia's new markets will be those that can provide the technology-driven, custom-built, high value-added goods and services needed to serve Asia's 2 billion consumers.

But neither Europe nor the U.S. is in a strong enough position to take best advantage of these new markets. The West must again begin to out-invent, out-innovate and out-skill the rest of the world if it is to seize the opportunities that Asia presents. Indeed, unless the West significantly expands its capital investment in engineering, science and new technologies, it will be marginalized by countries whose governments back their innovators with hard cash.

Obama's investment plan could be the foundation stone for a formal global agreement that delivers higher levels of growth to all corners of the world and creates millions of new jobs. Under such an agreement, Europe would join the U.S. in raising levels of investment — complementing America's "moonshot" initiative with a program of structural reform aimed at building a digital, green, energy-efficient, and competitive economy — while China would play its part by increasing its consumption. I believe that such an agreement could boost the world economy by around 3 percent by 2014 — and lift 100 million people out of poverty.

I presented this plan when I chaired the Group of 20 summit in London in 2009. I wanted East and West to commit to a strategy of delivering more enduring results than those promised by the rescue packages that we were putting together at the time. In the end, no agreement was possible on a shared growth objective, and there has not yet been enough political will for the coordinated action to achieve it.

Since then, Europe and America have grown well below their capacity and unemployment has climbed to around 10 percent (reaching 20 percent among youths) on both continents. The global growth agreement that evaded us in 2009 remains the unfinished work of the G20.

Front-loaded public investment could be funded through an enhanced European Investment Bank. China has already laid the foundation for its part: Its policy of expanding the middle class should create a market for billions of dollars of Western goods and services.

The West should propose that if China's consumption increases by two to four percentage points of its GDP over the next three years, America and Europe will expand their public investment by similar amounts. If other Asian countries do likewise, and agree to create a level playing field for exporters, we could create around 50 million additional jobs.

Of course, in the West, an investment plan invites criticism from those who prefer that we do nothing but talk about growth strategies. Indeed, critics argue that raising public investment conflicts with the drive to reduce deficits, and warn of higher interest rates on the back of further spending.

But critics are wrong about the impact on the deficit of focused investment. A recent study by the International Monetary Fund produced unequivocal evidence that we can actually maintain deficit-reduction plans while benefiting from the additional capital investment that the U.S. and European economies need.

My extrapolation of the IMF model shows that Western countries can boost their long-term GDP growth significantly by increasing their levels of capital investment over a three-year period. An annual stimulus equivalent to just 0.3 percent of GDP yields a return in the U.S. of 0.8 percent in economic growth at its peak in 2013, and 0.4 percent in Europe. This approach, which secures growth and cuts unemployment without raising the deficit, is needed to energize the private sector and mobilize some of the capital that has accumulated on corporate balance sheets in recent years.

The West's workforce must not be condemned to policies that willfully produce a decade of slow growth.

Gordon Brown, a former British prime minister (2007-2010) and chancellor of the Exchequer, is the author of "Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalisation." © 2011 Project Syndicate







The murder of three Ahmadiyah followers in Banten on Sunday is a concrete example of state-sponsored terrorism against the country's own citizens. With the full — very sorry to say — backing of the state, bloody oppression and even the butchering of Indonesians will continue to haunt us. This street-side persecution of those with different views, faiths or backgrounds than the majority by those with swords in their hands will continue and even spread to other parts of society, and may do so without reason or pretext.

All Indonesians, regardless of what group they belong to, should consider the killing of Ahmadis in Banten an emergency beacon, because such extremely discriminatory treatment could also happen to them in a different form or at a different time. What if other religions also had similarly violent responses to different sects or religions just because they differed from the mainstream?

But, is this state terrorism? The Religious Affairs Ministry officially declared Ahmadiyah defiant of Islam and urged Ahmadis to repent. Yet the government was quick to criticize the killings on Sunday in Pandeglang, Banten. Every time Ahmadiyah followers are harassed or expelled from areas the government routinely expresses its regret and vows to conduct a thorough investigation.

If state officials are honest enough to listen to their own consciences, then they will admit that state-supported discrimination has been developing rapidly in this country.

We would like to remind President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as the head of state, of his constitutional obligation to protect all Indonesian citizens regardless of their faith, ethnicity or ideology, and to ensure equal treatment for all the shareholders and stakeholders in this nation.

We strongly defend the right of Ahmadiyah to exist, not because we share or agree with their ideology, but purely because our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of expression. The state should not allow the prosecution and criminalization of citizens just because of their personal beliefs.

To be honest, there is little hope the President will be determined enough to say "enough is enough" to those who attempt to impose street justice. The President, his ministers and other state officials will certainly defend their "do nothing" position on minorities.

Hundreds of churches have been forced to close or were burned down in this country. But, it is just a matter of time before a similar thing happens in other areas where Islam is a minority religion.

Mosques will not be allowed to open or Muslims will find it difficult to practice their faith. The majority — not just in terms of religious belief — will force the minority to follow their ways or else face brutal treatment.

But, we should also remember what history has shown us. The more minority groups are oppressed, the more creative they will become to ensure their survival. Oppression can often be a blessing in disguise for those who are hunted down because they are different from people who think they command absolute truths. It is not difficult to find examples like this in our world.

It is distressing that Ahmadis have had to face state-sponsored terrorism just because their personal faith is not recognized by the state. And, what is even more tragic, our head of state is reluctant to carry out his constitutional obligation to protect the country's citizens as he vowed to do in his oath of office.





Another incident related to the Ahmadiyah group erupted in Pandeglang, Banten, when a group of villagers attacked the home of a follower of the Islamic sect. In the raid three Ahmadis were killed, giving another bloody stain on religious freedom in the country.

This is another sad story of how religion in Indonesia can be violently attacked by a mob or a hard-line group — especially for Ahmadiyah. There were many other incidents targeting the group using the same modus operandi. For instance, the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) attacked Ahmadiyah's headquarters in the West Java city of Bogor in 2005. In October 2010 an Ahmadiyah mosque in Kuningan, also in West Java, was burned down.

The frequent attacks on Ahmadiyah leave questions about the state's obligation to protect its people. Why is it so easy for people in this country to condemn one religion and then attack its followers because they follow a different faith?

What about the Constitution, which clearly says that "the state guarantees the freedom of everyone to adhere to their respective religion and to perform their religious duties in accordance with their religion and faith"?

Furthermore, Indonesia has also ratified the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) into Law No. 12/2005. It is clearly stated there, especially within Article 18, that "everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest religion or belief
in worship, observance, practice and teaching."

Referring to those products of legislation, the state should take necessary actions to uphold the Constitution and laws that promote freedom of religion. Had this materialized Ahmadiyah followers would live freely in our country, upholding their faith and enjoying the freedom to profess, worship and practice what they believe.

In the case of attacks on Ahmadiyah, the state would have jailed the perpetrators and dissolved any group that condemned and attacked the sect.   

The reality, however, does not always come true, especially in this country, at least for the time being. This happens because the state has so far never paid attention to this issue, or has considered the repeated violence against Ahmadiyah a non-issue.

As evident in the government's response to the fresh attack on Ahmadiyah followers on Sunday, the state has barely taken a strong stance other than making a statement regarding freedom of religion.

The President said that enough is enough regarding violence in the name of religion, but we have heard such words many times before. He once said he would lead the fight against corruption in the country, but the judicial mafia and tax mafia cases centering on former taxman Gayus H. Tambunan recently showed a widening gap between words and actions.

The relentless violence against Ahmadiyah started from an edict issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) in 2005, which declared Ahmadiyah a deviant sect and categorized the group as non-Muslim.

The edict has therefore given justification to Muslim hardliners to attack Ahmadiyah across the country. The condition was exacerbated by the issuance of the joint ministerial decree that put a halt to any Ahmadiyah activities in Indonesia. This decree surely reinforces the hardliners' hostility against the minority group.

The edict and decree displayed the "authoritarian" face of both the MUI and the government, as the policies failed to take into account their impacts in society. Condemning or banning a group will justify attacks on its followers in the name of religion and law.

The government, as representation of the state, is responsible for protecting all citizens, particularly minorities, instead of facilitating avenues for people to batter others, in this case Ahmadis.

The Indonesian Constitution upholds the freedom of religion, promotes religious harmony and mutual respect among followers of different faiths.

Only a few months ago Indonesia was lauded by visiting US President Barack Obama as a model of a tolerant country where all religions were respected. Now, after the latest attack on Ahmadiyah, Obama might have to retract his statement.

The writer is a lecturer at the State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) Sunan Ampel, Surabaya.






For those who have "tasted the Nile water" Egypt is a land of hope, peace and harmony. The Holy Koran even says, "converge to Egypt and you will find peace".  

But with the protests in which millions of people are participating, one might now ask where Egypt is heading to.

Egypt has always been important on the world map. What happens there receives international attention. Leaders of American, European, Asian and African countries have all expressed their concern over the political crisis that has currently hit the country.  

In many countries, such as Malaysia, protests are even held by people who seem to have nothing to do with Egypt, demanding Hosni Mubarak's resignation.

No less interesting is what has happened here in Indonesia, where the crisis has received a good deal of attention both from the government and the people, so much so that some TV stations provide full minute-to-minute coverage of events as they unfold there.

For many Indonesians who used to study there, Egypt will remain on their minds. And those who follow the development of Islamic thought in Indonesia would quickly realize that Egypt has played a
significant role in shaping Islamic discourse here.

Many currents of thought found here are in fact derived from — and are an extension of — ideas found in Egypt. This is in addition to the thousands of Indonesian students who currently study there.

These are students that would certainly bring an "Egyptian version" of Islam upon their return home.

The connection between Indonesia and Egypt is also historical. Egypt was the first country to
have recognized the independence of our country.

During our financial crisis in 1998, thousands of our students who happened to be studying in Egypt — who would otherwise starve — were also well looked after by the Egyptians. They fed the students and supported them financially, all because the Egyptians care so much for us Indonesians.

That is why many of us should equally care for what is now happening in that part of the world and follow with great anticipation what might happen next.

" What is indisputable, though, is that mistrust of Mubarak has become somewhat of a 'spontaneous combustion'."

Having lived in Cairo for five years, and having a pretty good picture of Tahrir Square, I can imagine quite well that events in that central part of Cairo must have been very dramatic. For hundreds of thousands of people to converge on Tahrir screaming for the departure of their president must be exciting. The Nile River situated next to Tahrir Square must have been gushing forth as a result.
I trust that many Indonesians who have stayed and studied in Egypt, and know well how society is structured there, would easily understand why the country is now united against their leader.

Also, a nation like Indonesia, which has had the experience of being politically repressed and deprived from its most basic rights, would equally develop a sense of sympathy and stand in support for marginalized Egyptians.

We know very well what it is like to be oppressed and how important it is to stand up against unpopular leadership. As we saw the marvelous display of "people power" in the Tahrir Square, we are reminded of what happened here in this country many years ago when we spoke out against injustice and against the theft of our freedom — the most basic value that we pursue.

I can speak of the value of freedom in an Egyptian context because I was a victim of the lack of freedom in that country. I was part of a mass rally in Cairo in 1993 to protest — not the Egyptian government — but against the Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians. I was arrested by the Egyptian authorities and detained for a night. I was lucky not to be deported.

I was also part of an international seminar held in Alexandria in 2006 on human rights and how Egypt
can learn from non-Arab countries as far respecting human rights is concerned.

I heard from journalists covering the seminar that some national intelligence officers were around
to watch us and listen to what we were saying.  

The Egyptian human rights record is indeed not so bad compared to China. But critical views against Egypt on any issue will not be tolerated. And if you are in Egypt, be careful what you say, for "even walls have ears", so say the Egyptians.

While I do not agree with those who assume that this Egyptian movement is parallel with the fall of the "Iron Curtain", there is no doubt that is an expression of the people's demand for basic freedom.

It is this notion of freedom, I believe, that has been shaken by the very internal dynamics of Mubarak's government and its legitimacy. What is indisputable, though, is that mistrust of Mubarak has become somewhat of a "spontaneous combustion", as it were, and that all people share the same sentiment and anger toward their leader due to his dictatorship and oppression of freedom.

Indeed, it is true that for freedom-lovers like ourselves, Egypt has captured our attention and has generated a lot of excitement.

And if the Egyptians were amazed by us in 1998 in the way we brought down a mighty regime, right now we are left to marvel at the power and bravery of the Egyptian masses in their uprising against their unpopular president.

And we must wonder about the mobilization itself. There is, no doubt, a fascinating background yet to be told of how this movement came together, found its discipline and organization and sustained itself. What was, for example, the role of the organization called Kifaya, whose leader the late Abdul Wahhab al-Masiri I met regularly in Egypt?  What is the role of Muhammad al-Baradei? What about Ikhwan al-Muslimin? No less than Gamal al-Banna — the brother of Hassan al-Banna — has stood firm against it. Was there cooperation or competition amongst these groupings, and if competition, which will emerge as the "winner" moving forward?

Everything is still unclear as to what will happen next, where Egypt will go, what leaders will emerge and what direction the "new" Egypt will take.

One thing for sure, however, is that the people's uprising was due first and foremost to the failure of the Egyptian regime to engage and inspire the people it leads.

The writer is a graduate of Al-Azhar University, Cairo.  He currently lectures at the State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) Surabaya.






The West African nation of Ivory Coast is on the brink of another violent civil war in a decade as President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to cede his office to the winner of the Nov. 28 run-off elections, former prime minister Alassane Outtara.

Gbagbo, whose mandate expired five years ago, and who has managed to cling on to power citing emergency clauses in the country's constitution, has reasons not to step aside.

Having been in power for 10 years, he has accused Outtara of engaging in election fraud and intimidation. While the results have been verified by the United Nations, the country's Constitutional Council, however, nullified 700,000 votes from Outtara's stronghold, mostly in the north. The Council overturned the decision of the Electoral Commission and declared Gbagbo the winner.

And while Outtara, holed up in an Abidjan resort hotel guarded by 800 UN peacekeepers, has been sworn in as president, Gbagbo maintains to be the more legitimate president as he was installed by the Constitutional Council, as required by Ivorian law.

The United Nations, the United States, the African Union, the European Union and ECOWAS, the regional economic and political grouping comprising 15 West African nations, have accepted Outtara's victory and asked Gbagbo to step down.

Various pressures have mounted against the recalcitrant Gbagbo. Outtara asked for a month-long ban on cocoa bean exports from the world's largest cocoa producer, in order to raise financial pressure against Gbagbo, who uses the proceeds from this industry to pay government workers.

The World Bank, the IMF and West African Central Bank have all imposed various financial sanctions, but these have not been sufficient to bring Gbagbo down.

The political events in Indonesia in 2001 can serve as a lesson for the Ivory Coast. At that time the presidency of Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid was embroiled in two financial scandals.

The so-called "Bulogate" involved the misappropriation of State Logistics Agency (Bulog) funds, with up to US$4 million allegedly taken by the agency's deputy chief at the behest of Gus Dur's masseur.

The other, dubbed "Bruneigate", revolved around Gus Dur's failure to report and include a $2 million donation from Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah in the 2000 state budget, one meant to provide humanitarian assistance in Aceh.

However political these charges were, the allegations were used by the House of Representatives against Gus Dur. He was then subpoenaed to present his accountability report to the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR). After a few months of political standoff between the President and the House, the threat of impeachment mounted.

Hoping to gather support to evade impeachment, Gus Dur sacked several Cabinet members, to no avail.

In the early hours of July 23, 2001, he issued a decree proclaiming a state of emergency, the dissolution of the House and fresh elections within a year. But in a swift move that same morning, the MPR impeached him.

Gus Dur refused to step down and remained in the Presidential Palace, only to go out on the balcony briefly in a T-shirt, shorts and sandals to wave at his assembled diehard supporters.

However, after four days he voluntarily left the palace, citing health reasons. At this time, it is clear Gus Dur no longer had the political support in the House. Yet, most importantly, he had lost the support from the military, which seemed to be the determining factor in his decision to step down.

Fulfilling his promise to reform the Indonesian Military (TNI), Gus Dur turned out to have displeased the armed forces.

In March 2000, he abolished the military-controlled Coordinating Agency for National Stability Development (Bakorstranas) — regarded by some to have been as oppressive as its predecessor, the dreaded Kopkamtib.

In regards to communism, the military's archenemy, Gus Dur, proposed the cancellation of Provisional MPR Decree No. 25/1966, which bans communism in Indonesia. He also eliminated the Special Research Institute (Litsus), whose job it was to detect and "cleanse" any activities related to communism.

The appointment of an outspoken, critical and reform-minded Agus Wirahadikusumah as the chief of Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) provoked anger among many top military officers.

Gus Dur also eliminated the position of the deputy TNI chief and, through Agus, he introduced a pilot project in Surabaya and Jakarta to abolish the TNI's territorial structure (Koramil and Kodim).

Furthermore, Gus Dur sacked the powerful Gen. (ret.) Wiranto from Cabinet because of his alleged role in human rights abuses in East Timor.

Despite his efforts to win the military by visiting the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) headquarters and sending an envoy — Salim Said — to lobby US Congress to lift the arms embargo, most of Gus Dur's policies were viewed by the military with anger, sowing division and sidelining them.

When he told the military faction in the MPR to reject the impending impeachment or face dismissal, the latter of course refused. Growing desperate at this time, Gus Dur asked his chief security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to declare a state of emergency, which the latter also refused.

Gus Dur knew that without the military — whose tanks and panzers were placed around the National Monument pointing at the Presidential Palace when Gus Dur refused to leave after being impeached — there was little he could do.

As the military shifted its support to vice president Megawati Soekarnoputri, Gus Dur had no choice but to give in.

In the Ivory Coast, one of the main reasons Gbagbo is still in power is the support he receives from the country's military forces, totaling up to 9,0000 well-armed troops, in addition to the feared youth militia, the Young Patriots.

Should the support of the army toward the president be removed, the transfer of power from Ggabgo — like Gus Dur —to Outtara, would have been much easier.

Yet, most importantly, Gus Dur had lost the support from the military, which seemed to be the determining factor in his decision to step down.

The writer is PhD candidate at the Center for Public Administration and Policy, Virginia Tech.







If the people of Sri Lanka had a choice to make between politics and cricket, their pick would be obvious. Politics will have to take a back seat for the simple reason that it takes place behind closed doors and can be a curse to many while cricket is played out in the open for everyone to see and causes no harm apart from some heartburn that has little or no repercussions.

As the country marks a countdown unlike the football World Cup where an octopus made some accurate predictions, Sri Lankans will want their team to at least enter the semi finals and if possible go further and pocket the Cup that brings with it a whopping 3.25 million US dollars or Rs.340 million which is enough to make the players multi-millionaires. Not that Sri Lanka is lacking in multi-millionaires but with so much money falling into the hands of cricketers one wonders whether success can also have its ill-effects on the morals of sportsmen who were even acknowledged by the late Pope John Paul 11 as model citizens who should use their celebrity image for the well being of society.

Should the Cup be ours for the next four years, can we in Sri Lanka look forward to our cricketers becoming guardian angels and role models in a country where corruption and cheating are rampant in public life? Here is where their real challenge lies. Can Sri Lanka's adored cricketers win the World Cup and then stand up like true heroes leading the way out of an abyss so the rest of the country can follow.

In Sri Lanka changes generally don't come about when bad takes place so how could one expect changes when good takes place? It will be a pipe dream for us purists in the media to think that winning the World Cup will change a "free for all' system at Sri Lanka Cricket which is responsible for making the most terrible blunders that have resulted in the wanton wastage of valuable funds. Perhaps the former Sports Minister C. B. Ratnayake paid the price for branding Sri Lanka Cricket the most corrupt institution in the country. To put it bluntly or forthrightly, Sri Lanka Cricket is largely a family business and corruption takes place with impunity while the powers that be 'say not out' or are pre-occupied with their own  problems that they have little or no time or just don't care.

But we will no doubt spare a thought for the true heroes of the country, the people who grin and bear it when the team loses and go into wild raptures when the team wins. Will they have something truly dear to cherish and celebrate? Or will they wake up one-day to realize that the World Cup was all about money and not national pride. What about those numerous followers out there in the provinces who despite the economic hardships and ongoing flood havoc are placing their palm prints and signatures on a ball in solidarity with the team? Will they see it all in vain?

But the people could take heart from the fact that unlike politicians and their stooges who run cricket, their cricketing heroes don't take them for a ride.





The United National Party took to the streets on February 4, 2011.  Dr. Harsha de Silva (MP) has given a blow-by-blow account of what happened in a comment on the Lanka Business Online website. There is no reason to believe that he has engaged in fabrication; apart from his off-the-mark predictions about the economy, Dr. de Silva strikes me as a gentleman politician. 

De Silva's claim is that protestors sought to agitate for the release of Sarath Fonseka who they believe is being wrongfully held. Regardless of their opinions on the matter and regardless of the fact that the UNP is served better by the continuing incarceration of Fonseka and indeed that the incarcerated man has knowingly or unknowingly been no more than a pawn in that party's political chess game (poorly played, yes), they did and do have a right to protest, to object to what they believe is a travesty of justice. 

 It is alleged that the Government resorted to means outside the ambit of the law to stop the protestors. The protestors were attacked not by the Police but by thugs.  The Government can claim it had no hand in the matter, but few would believe this.  To begin with, this is not the first time that protestors have been attacked in this country.  This is not the first time that those who held opposing views have been attacked.  De Silva mentions two ruling party MPs in his comment and insinuates that they may have been behind the attack. 

The protestors were not breaking any law.  Even if there was a possibility that tempers would have got the better of them and led to a situation where the law could have been broken, a responsible Police Force and Government only needed to ensure that adequate measures are in place to maintain control.  This did not happen.  By omission or commission or both, the Government failed. 

 Now it is possible that the UNP protest was inspired by events currently unfolding in Egypt, even though this would indicate a poor reading of reality and history.  Egypt is not Sri Lanka and not only on account of geography and demography.  Thirty years of tyranny, violation of human rights, arbitrary arrests, torture, assassination, widespread corruption and horrendous social disparities preceded the current wave of protests in Egypt.  Sri Lanka is just emerging from a 30-year-old war which the party that was demonstrating last Friday believed would not end and therefore aggressively pushed for legitimization of enemy and territories robbed.  Outside of the inflations that typically accompany rhetoric, the overall economic, social and political situation in Sri Lanka is a far cry from both Egypt of 2011 and also pre-2005 Sri Lanka, in particular the terrible UNP-JVP times of the late eighties. 

If the UNP did misread 'Sri Lanka and did believe that 'Egypt could be replicated, then that party clearly was not alone. If the UNP thought Mahinda Rajapaksa was the Sri Lankan equivalent of Hosni Mubarak, it appears that the Government either agreed or at least believed that the demonstrators were or had the potential to be the Sri Lankan equivalent of those who are on the verge of ousting Hosni Mubarak. 

In general those in power are wary, especially since they alone know what kind of mischief they've been up to. They see enemies where there are none.  They see in their enemy a reflection of who they themselves are.  In this case, the 'enemy' doesn't have the kind of innocent spontaneity that the crowds in Cairo appear to have. 

 If this regime is perturbed by this bunch of political clowns, then it has regressed a fair distance from the entity that stood up to the international community in order to finish off the LTTE.  Given track record the worst that could have happened was for the demonstrators to march to Welikada, rant, rave, pose for photographs, give voice-cut to friendly media entities and go home to congratulate each other over the theatrics over a drink. 

 Harsha de Silva has seen first hand something that would seem quite mild to what those who have suffered from the thuggery of his party have gone through.  His is not a baptism of fire in the matter of protesting. 

 On the other hand, whether it is a raging inferno or a spark from a nilaa koora (sparkler), it's still a no-no as far as what a citizen expects from a state.  The citizen will read this failure on the part of the Government in many ways. First, the citizen will understand that this Government is not averse to using force and flouting the law to silence even the mildest uttering of objection.  The citizen will no doubt extrapolate and draw conclusions about what could be expected if protest temper was more intense and moreover had the moral higher ground that the UNP just cannot claim. Some will lapse into silence. Others will be tempered into seeking other avenues of expressing dissent, some legal and some not. 

The Rajapaksa regime is politically strong on many counts including that of the opposition stewing in its own juice.  Perhaps it is this strength which persuades the movers and shakers in the regime to lapse into self-doubt now and then and believe that 'one thing would lead to another', when in fact the kinds of 'one things' that the UNP offers could only lead to one 'another thing', a political cul-de-sac. Stopping this 'one thing' does lead to another thing, though.

 The UNP didn't score any points on Independence Day. The Government lost some. Perhaps, all things considered, it was a good day for the people of this country. Looking far ahead into the future, that is.





The World Cup is at a touching distance and, understandably so, is increasingly becoming the only sports news of the day. The build-up to the event, which began a month in advance, is exploring many aspects and facets of this one-day event that revolutionised the face of cricket as a  sport.

Nostalgia is getting combined with a pragmatic look at what to expect and what not in the tournament, which in our country is obviously the biggest sporting event ever to take place, given the numbers that follow the game here.

The corporate world sees the event as a major opportunity to advertise their products and control the news flow in a manner which turns the World Cup into a profitable consumer brand. So you have all the winning captains coming on one platform to talk about the past and grip the nation in a wave of nostalgia, or the members of the India team speaking of their great dream to win the Cup. The branding of these events is being done and controlled by a conglomerate of Indian and multinational companies out to milk the tournament for their own commercial growth.

No one is complaining. The players are getting richer, the sponsors increasing the awareness of their brands and the media benefiting from the advertising revenue being generated. It is a symbiotic relationship which benefits all the stakeholders, except, maybe the genuine fan.

Those who invest millions would want the world to believe that there are no uncomfortable questions surrounding the event that need to be discussed for the better health of the sport.

In this great build-up, of which the recurring theme is that India and the Cup are made for each other, we tend to ignore the many challenges facing not just the one-dayers, but possibly the World Cup itself.

We all know what a sheer disaster the long-drawn 2007 event was, which forced another change of format for this World Cup. Given the commercial constraints and the need to keep countries like India in the tournament for a substantial period of time, we now have a format which for a major period of time would be almost meaningless. Therefore, would there be a sustained interest for the group stage league, from which finally eight teams will qualify for the knock-out? Will the crowds in India watch matches in which their team is not involved? What would finally be the real response of the corporate world and even the spectators, given the fact that the IPL is going to be held immediately after World Cup?

It's the popularity of the T20 format and the money riding on it because of the lucrative and huge Indian market, that even an event like  the World Cup could be seen by many now as an "unnecessary irritant".

Hindustan Times












The Foreign Secretary, Amb. Nirupama Rao, along with senior officials of the Ministry of External Affairs, visited Colombo on January 30-31, 2011. Nirupama called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Minister for External Affairs Prof. GL Peiris, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and External Affairs Secretary C.R Jayasinghe. The visit contributed in a big way to the easing of tensions in bilateral relations following the killing of two Indian fishermen in the Palk Bay region.

The Joint Statement issued at the end of the visit indicates a mellowing of Colombo's intransigent stand and the desire to find an amicable solution to the thorny issue of livelihood of fishermen of both the countries in the Palk Bay region. It now remains for New Delhi and Colombo to consolidate the gains and move forward.

A step forward is the reference in the Joint Communiqué to the India-Sri Lanka Joint Statement on Fishing Arrangements issued in New Delhi on October 26, 2008. The Joint Statement was issued following the visit of MK Narayanan, then National Security Advisor, and Shiv Shankar Menon, then Foreign Secretary, to Colombo and after detailed discussions with senior officials of the Defence Ministry, including Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The statement put in place practical arrangements to deal with bonafide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen who cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). It was provided that Indian fishing vessels will not venture into High Security Zones. What is more, there will be no firing on Indian fishing vessels. It was agreed that Indian fishermen would carry with them valid registration/permit and also identity cards issued by the Government of Tamil Nadu.

For the first time, the Joint Statement made a welcome reference to the positive role played by the fishermen of both the countries to arrive at an amicable settlement. The Joint Statement records: "It was decided as well to enhance and promote contacts between the fishermen's associations on both sides, since such contacts have proved to be mutually beneficial". This author has always maintained that a decision arrived at by the stakeholders - fishermen of both countries - has greater chances of success than an agreement imposed on them by the two governments.

What is more, such an exercise should have been welcomed by the Governmental agencies in both the countries. Unfortunately when the Sri Lankan fishermen team visited Tamil Nadu, a few months ago, Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard did not meet them. What is more, the reaction of the Sri Lankan diplomats was not encouraging. The fact that the fishermen wanted to submit their agreement to the two Governments for their approval was not appreciated by the Sri Lankan diplomats. Therefore the present attitudinal change is welcome.

Amb. Nirupama Rao's visit to Colombo has definitely contributed to the overall improvement of the situation. When this Author visited Sri Lanka in mid-January he found the situation to be tense. Sections in Sri Lankan Government were interested in precipitating a crisis and internationalising the issue.

The two Governments agreed that the next meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on Fishing should be convened at an early date. The JWG would address all issues relating to fishing by the two sides. The JWG was constituted in 2005. The first meeting was held in New Delhi in April 2005 and the second in Colombo in January 2006. Due to Fourth Eelam War, the third meeting could not be held for the next four years. It is reliably learnt that the third meeting of the JWG will be held in New Delhi in the middle of February this year. Naturally, the JWG, among others, will discuss issues like exchange of scientists and oceanographers, co-operation in enhancing trade in fishing boats, equipment and machinery, provision for training of Sri Lankan personnel in institutions of higher learning in India and co-operation to enhance joint surveillance to minimize the problem of poaching into each other's waters. At the end of the third round of talks, the two governments are likely to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on development and co-operation in the field of fisheries.

On the crucial question of livelihood of Tamil fishermen in both countries, it must be stated that the question of livelihood of Sri Lankan fishermen, who have resumed fishing after a lapse of three decades, should be addressed squarely. A conducive atmosphere for a peaceful resolution can be created only when Indian fishermen refrain from fishing deep into Sri Lankan waters. The agreement arrived at by fishermen of both the countries in August 2010 can be the basis for further discussions. One major achievement was that the two sides agreed to phase out trawler fishing. The Indian fishermen have given the "firm assurance" that they will stop mechanized trawl fishing in Sri Lankan waters within one year. The dialogue has resulted in several other areas of agreement. The number of fishing days in a year is restricted to 70. The ban on fishing has been extended from six weeks in April- May to another 30 days in September. The number of fishing days per week has been reduced from three to two (Mondays and Saturdays). In the northern Jaffna coast and south of Mannar Island, the Indian fishermen can fish up to three nautical miles from maritime boundary.

Unfortunately the agreement among the fishermen, as mentioned earlier, was not welcomed by the governmental agencies on both sides. What is worse, the Indian poaching into S