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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

EDITORIAL 09.02.11

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



Month febrauary 09, edition 000751, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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













































































2.      YOU CAIRN'T DO IT?































1.      LET IT WORK


















2.      DESPITE IT ALL  




































2.      FIRE ALARM




































1.      RONALD REAGAN AT 100
































Millions of his fans — in West Bengal as also in other parts of the country and even abroad — will no doubt find little to cheer about Sourav Ganguly's decision to quit all forms of cricket, but it must be hailed as a brave and wise move by him. Indeed, it has come not a day too soon. Sourav Ganguly's best playing days were over quite some time ago and his IPL tenure was marked not so much by spectacular performance as by mediocrity forced by bad form and age. For a player of his stature, it was too much of a humiliation to wait with bated breath to be picked up by IPL team-owners and selectors. That humiliation was further compounded when his home team, Kolkata Knight Riders, rejected him although he had been its star player and mascot. Having given so much to cricket, he can do without such humiliation. After all, nothing can take away from his dazzling performance as a player and skipper of the Indian team. In an era of fiercely competitive cricket where even the best players find it difficult to maintain their form, Sourav Ganguly's consistency stood out as a shining example of what makes the great different from the good. His batting average of 42 plus in Test cricket and 41 in one-dayers is impressive enough, but what is notable is that he maintained this enviable record over a huge span of 113 Test matches and 311 one-day games. Unfortunately for him, IPL's T20 format came when he had already reached his peak and his performance had flattened out. Even then, he managed a decent 28.6 runs on an average — not bad for a 20-over game but still far removed from his genius. It's not just as a player that he strode the cricket arena in his heyday: Sourav Ganguly was a charismatic captain as well. Not since the days of MAK Pataudi — and the brief spell when Kapil Dev mesmerised the world — did Indian cricket have a revolutionary captain like Dada. His dynamism and aggression were infectious and he could energise the entire team even when the chips were down. Like a true leader, he led from the front and brooked no excuses for failure, even when it came to him. His honesty and sense of purpose won him respect and, more important, the loyalty of the team.

Of course, his hands-on approach and no-nonsense attitude also ruffled more than a few feathers, leading to the famous spat between him and the then team coach, Greg Chappell. That, in a sense, did dent the unity of the Indian team and it was sadly reflected in some of the matches that followed. But not even Sourav Ganguly's worst critics would accuse him of subordinating the team's interests to his own. His aggressiveness on the field was little more than a clever ploy meant to keep his 'boys' on their toes and unsettle the rivals. As for his famous 'arrogance', it is a charge that several leaders — and not just from the world of cricket — who are known for their no-nonsense approach have had to live with. Indian cricket will benefit vastly if its current and future players were to learn some lessons from him. It would be such a waste if Sourav Ganguly's genius were to be left unused. For he would make a great coach and an able cricket administrator. He has shown his willingness to play another exemplary innings of a different kind. He should be allowed to do so — not as a favour to him but because he deserves it and Indian cricket needs him in his new avatar.







The nation-wide strike that paralysed Bangladesh on Monday, leading to violent clashes that injured at least 83 people, is essentially a demonstration of despicable politics by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party — the country's largest Opposition party. Desperate to get back to power and bolstered by recent victories in local elections, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has gone back to her old, vile ways to disrupt the functioning of the Government. Her party called the strike to protest the construction of an international airport at Arial Beel in Munshiganj district — a project that had little support from local residents and, earlier, had led to protests — but the same day, after a police officer died in the ensuing clashes, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced that the airport would be moved to another location. Withdrawing the strike would have been the appropriate response of a responsible Opposition leader but instead Begum Zia chose to go ahead and organise the strike anyway. The result was a predictably fruitless exercise in destructive politics that caused unnecessary violence, injuring mostly BNP party workers and disrupting the lives of millions. Though the BNP has claimed that the strike had popular support, in reality most people could not care any more about Monday's strike than they did about the dozens organised in recent years. As always, it was merely another occasion for BNP politicians and their followers to take to the streets in a vulgar show of strength and then, just for good measure, clash with the police and set ablaze a few buses to ensure that their activities made it to the front page of national dailies. Indeed, violence and vandalism were the only the elements that distinguished the BNP's latest stunt from its previous versions as skirmishes were reported across the country throughout the duration of the dawn-to-dusk hartal.

The BNP has legitimised its irresponsible actions by blaming the Awami League-led Government for a string of problems that have hit Bangladesh in recent months. These include the fall of the Dhaka Stock Exchange, rising food prices and last year's protests by garment industry workers demanding better wages. Yet, most of these problems are the result of upheavals in the global economy, a matter beyond the hands of the Government of Bangladesh. In other cases, the Government has taken steps to redress the grievances of the people — for example, workers' wages havebeen doubled. In fact Shei









Thanks to India's proclivity to deal with the Arab palace, sentiments on the Arab street have gone unnoticed. Our feeble response to events in Egypt proves this.

It is virtually impossible for an Indian to comprehend the reverberations at play in the Arab mind today. So it becomes necessary to depend on analogies to put things into context. Just, for a moment, imagine the Emergency of 1975-77 in perpetuity. The 19 months of darkness in India changed the nature of politics in the country. But suppose it had not ended and Mrs Indira Gandhi had continued the suspension of civil liberties and rights?

So now imagine a situation in which countries and societies live in a state of Emergency from birth to death. Which is, in perpetuity. And that is the reality of the Arab world, where the state rules under permanent Emergency regulations. Entire generations have passed their lives through these draconian Emergency laws. And then there are of course the glaring examples of match-fixing when it comes to elections, which are also conducted under these severely restrictive conditions.

If we in India found those 19 months of suspended politics stifling, imagine the conditions under which Arab minds have existed for so long. Generations of poets and rebels struggled to breath and express, but there was only repression. If the age of Aquarius changed Western societies, it is a certainty that the age of bloggers and twitterers has changed Arab societies permanently. A coalescence of events has brought forward the Arab tipping point. And this will explain, to a large degree, the upheaval that is underway in the Arab world: It began in Tunisia and nobody can predict where it will end.

The tepidness of India's response to events in the streets of Cairo can only be explained by an inability to understand the Arab mind. The hesitation to express an opinion on the biggest challenge to the leadership of the biggest Arab country is amply reflective of a curious Indian mindset, bizarre attitude and deep-rooted ignorance of a people who have traded with the subcontinent longer than history records the facts.

Globalisation of the mind requires an opinion on events elsewhere which reflects policy, persuasion and erudition. Citizens demand that of their Governments, at least those that come in through votes. India's half-hearted response has failed to enthuse its people. This calls for a closer scrutiny of India's connections with the Arab countries. There are two trends in how India does business with the Arab world. And both have long since passed the expiry dates.

For starters, India's relationship with the Arab world is crafted on the basis of a rapport with only the ruling elite of each country. The President, or the Sheikh, and a couple of Ministers constitute the sum total of communication, and hence knowledge, about each Arab country. All that is known, and prepared for, vis-à-vis each country is on the basis of contacts with the rulers of the Arab world.

There has been no place in Indian policy-making for the Arab ruled, only their rulers. There has been no Indian political and psychological investment in, say, Luxor, Allepo, Marjayoun or Nablus. Communi- cation constitutes chatting with only a restricted circle living within the safe and sanitised confines of the capital city. No relationships are made with the masses, despite the fact that Arab music has found a resonance in India's film and pop scene and vice versa. And that Indian movies once competed with Egyptian films for an audience that stretched from the Atlantic to the Arabian Sea. The absurdity of an ignorant policy, therefore, has been vividly brought home by the events in Cairo's streets and India's inability to phrase a sentence that reflects policy based on knowledge and foresight. That America's policy statements also lack both features is of no consequence, no solace and no excuse for India's unawareness.

The second aspect of India's policy making in the Arab world is based on an equally spurious plot which has been constructed upon obelisks that are as dodgy as they are dated. There is a sentiment in the Indian political circles about the Non-Aligned Movement that is difficult to describe other than as sheer intellectual laziness, political naivete and policy paralysis. Simply because India's first Prime Minister formulated a policy that united post-colonial countries, membership of this club has continued without questioning its validity and the type of members of whom it consists.

Without entering into a long-winded debate on non-alignment et al, and since the subject of today is the Arab mind, suffice to say that their leaders in the Non-Aligned Movement were among the most brutal rulers. But since they had shaken hands with Jawaharlal Nehru, they remained 'our' allies and friends. No matter how vile they were with their people, as far as Indian politicians are concerned these rulers constitute the vanguard of Third-Worldism and power to the poor.

Hence, Abdel Gamal Nasser, who began the brutalisation of society in Egypt by suspending liberties and political processes, is still eulogised by Indian politicians. Nasser's brutalisation process continued under Anwar Sadat and Mr Hosni Mubarak, his only successors since he died 40 years ago. But because they are part of the club, they are also seen as friends. The list of such friends goes on and on.

Since the the basis of India's relationships in the Arab world revolves around either of these two factors, New Delhi just can't measure the pulse of the Arab street. For a long time these so-called friends could do no wrong, so when the follies of their policies are exposed by their own people, India is caught dumb-struck. Silence is never a policy, especially not in a world as connected as it is right now. Ignorance is, of course, no policy for it is certain to get exposed, as it has just happened over events in Egypt.

It has been almost eight years since Egyptians launched their 'Movement for Change', or kefaya in the local Arabic dialect. There was no global response over the years and the Egyptian state continued as before. It was the unwillingness of the people to accept the status quo that has questioned this globally-imposed silence. The world has, of course, interpreted the events in Egypt as a reaction to the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. That is far from the reality, without taking away from all that Tunisians have provided in terms of inspiration.

India voiced a response of sorts only after the pressure generated by the crowds of protesters in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez compelled the US to mouth its concerns. There are large elements of Indian policy that have been out-sourced and this is but the latest example of that recent phenomenon. Globalisation of thought is all very well, but policy is always parochial.








The Supreme Court, while setting free a man arrested under TADA for being a member of the United Liberation Front of Asom, has sought to draw a distinction between 'passive' and 'active' members of banned organisations. This ruling can have serious consequences on the state's efforts to combat terrorism of various shades with the help of law that treats all members of banned organisations as equally culpable

Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra have set a curious benchmark for members belonging to proscribed organisations. The learned judges of the Supreme Court have ruled that mere membership of a banned organisation does not make one a criminal. To attract criminal proceedings, the member must indulge in or incite violence. This is great news for all the back office operators of banned groups who until now faced action if caught and bad news for investigating agencies and the Union and State Governments that are battling with the menace of terrroism in various forms and at different levels. What is strange here is not just the verdict but the context in which the Justices pronounced it. Once we understand that, we will be able to better appreciate the needlessness of the ruling.

The case before the two-member apex court Bench pertained to an appeal by Arup Bhuyan who was convicted by a TADA court in March 2007 for being a member of the banned United Liberation Front of Asom. An aggrieved Bhuyan approached the Supreme Court contesting the conviction on the ground that he had confessed to being a member under duress. He claimed innocence saying he had nothing to do with the banned group. It must be remembered here that under Section 15 of the now-lapsed Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987, a confession made before the police was admissible evidence in a court, although under other laws such evidence is inadmissible under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Also, a member of a banned outfit attracted criminal action under Section 3(5) of TADA merely for being a member.

Clearly then, the case of the accused rested on the single most important point: That the only concrete piece of evidence against him was the "forced" confessional statement where he implicated himself. The issue before the Justices too was that point alone.

So far so good. The Bench then went on to elaborate on how confessions before the police cannot be overly relied upon because "the widespread and rampant practice in the police in India is to use third degree methods for extracting confessions". The Justices helpfully provided an explanation for such conduct: Because the police are neither trained nor equipped to scientifically investigate cases they rely upon force to squeeze out confessions from reluctant accused.

They did not stop at that. Calling torture a "terrible thing", the Bench observed that "when a person is under torture he will confess to almost any crime". Therefore, it concluded, the courts should be "hesitant before they accept such extra-judicial confessional statements".

All of this is true, and there is no dispute with the Justices on the points raised, even if one bears in mind that Bhuyan's confessional statement — in whatever manner it was extracted — was admissible evidence since he was being tried under TADA. In the end, the Bench set aside the conviction and acquitted the accused not just because it held the confessional statement with suspicion, but also because the prosecution (State of Assam) could not provide corroborative evidence of guilt. And that is where the matter should have ended.

It did not. The Justices, now in full flow, decided to get hypothetical and use the power of assumption to pronounce a ruling that can have an implication beyond the context in which it was made. They had let off Bhuyan because his membership of the banned ULFA could not be established. But what if he had been a member, the court wondered, rather unnecessarily. "Even assuming he was a member of ULFA it has not been proved that he was an active member and not a mere passive member", the Justices stated. The court thus slipped in an aspect that was extraneous — and even irrelevant — to the case at hand: The active and the passive, something which no law of the land distinguishes between.

Going by the pronouncements of the Bench, an active member of a banned organisation is one who directly resorts to violence or incites violence. Every other member is passive and cannot be tried for criminal activity under specific laws. This nuanced understanding flies in the face of existing provisions of the law. Take, for instance, Section 10 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, that is currently in force and deals with penalty for being a member of an unlawful association. It says, "Whoever is and continues to be a member of an association declared unlawful by a notification issued under Section 3 which has become effective under sub-Section (3) of that Section, or takes part in meetings of any such unlawful association, or contributes to, or receives or solicits any contribution for the purpose of any such unlawful association, or in any way assists the operations of any such unlawful association, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, and shall also be liable to fine."

The provision clearly covers all members of an outfit declared unlawful by the Union Government through a notification, without categorising such members as 'active' or 'passive'.

Allowing so-called passive members to get away, the Justices have sought to dismiss the concept of 'guilt by association' by citing the example of a 1966 US Supreme Court decision. While we shall not go into the validity of the comparison, it must be emphasised here that provisions of UAPA rely on this doctrine, whether it is Section 10 referred to earlier or Section 7 that prohibits the use of funds of an unlawful association. The latter reads, "Where an association has been declared unlawful… any person has custody of any monies, securities or credit which are being used or are intended to be used for the purpose of the unlawful association, the Central Government may… prohibit such person from paying, delivering, transferring or otherwise dealing in any manner" with such financial instruments.

Incidentally, in the matter of Section 7 too, the member does not directly indulge in violence or incite violence. Going by the apex court's recent ruling, would a member involved in financial transactions of a banned outfit, get away?







The Left Front and the Trinamool Congress are feverishly pitching against each other to dominate the political discourse in West Bengal. In the process, they have failed to satisfy politically conscious citizens, which is tantamount to contempt for the voter and democracy

It is now obvious that there are two versions of everything in West Bengal: The CPI(M) and its partners in the Left Front have one version and the Trinamool Congress has another version. Both claim that their version is the truth.

With the two sides feverishly pitching against each other to dominate the discourse, the average person in West Bengal, with average political consciousness and no particular preference for either brand of politics, is a frustrated onlooker. There is an exasperated question hovering around: What is happening? One solution would be, albeit only after the State Assembly election is over, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission backed by a Human Rights Violation committee, a Reparation and Rehabilitation committee and an Amnesty committee, on the lines that was set up in South Africa after the end of apartheid.

Constituting it would be difficult if not close to impossible without serious accusations of partisanship which would, of course, defeat the very purpose of such a commission. And no side would want to grant amnesty to anyone from the Opposing side. However, without a commission of some credibility the political class would get away without answering the question — what is happening? Failing to give satisfaction to the politically conscious citizen is tantamount to contempt of the voter and of democracy.

Since West Bengal tends to cling longer than other parts of India to hopelessly outmoded conventions and processes, the chances are that if the demand from citizens gathers momentum, again a doubtful situation given the usually escapist style of somewhat vocal voters, then yet another judicial enquiry will be offered as a palliative. The fate of such judicial enquiries is that the reports take so long that there is very little credibility about the findings. An open method — of truth and reconciliation hearings — may be the best though politically worst option.

In proposing a search for the truth in the hope of allowing all the pent up or simulated bitterness to be released and so create the conditions for a closure, the objective is to appeal for a restoration of civility, truthfulness and balance or moderation in public life. However much a boost it may be for the popularity ratings of politicians and certainly the viewership ratings of television channels, the ugliness of the exchanges between 'leaders,' political, social, intellectual or otherwise is almost profane in what it is doing to civilised political discourse on which modern democratic practice is founded. With a double edged axe to grind, the Congress is perhaps the worst offender, routinely describing various advocates and adherents of the Trinamool Congress as "chairman of the food leftovers-bathrooms committee," in reality the Committee for Public Amenities, appointed by the Railways.

Arriving at the truth or even the mere facts of the matter will not be easy in West Bengal; the case of the Election Commission best illustrates the problem. The Election Commission has been compelled to send a second team of high ranking officials, who are powerless to visit a different set of politically selected places, because the first equally emasculated team of high ranking officials that visited West Bengal on a fact finding mission on politically sensitive spots failed to make the rights stop. In other words, there are locations in West Bengal that are politically sensitive, having been places where violence is either chronic or endemic or episodic.

The Election Commission perhaps under pressure, perhaps because it is as swayed by rhetoric and exaggerations as the average man on the street, perhaps because it is trying to expand its jurisdiction by trying to pressure State administrations well in advance of its legally permitted oversight period is made ridiculous by the need to send two teams, one to correct the mistakes of the other. The first team visited places that the CPI(M) declared were drawn up by the Trinamool Congress. The second team is visiting West Bengal because the CPI(M) complained and demanded another team visit locations that it felt were politically sensitive.

The wilful and wasteful politics of cutthroat competition in West Bengal cannot end soon. Far too much bad blood has been produced by rather dubious practices of political parties in pursuit of power. The CPI(M) has admitted as much by suspending 10,000 of its cadres, excluding another 23,000 and doing a quick spring clean of its organisation. The Trinamool Congress, on the other hand, is on the defensive about its doubtful connections with People's Committee against Police Atrocities, which has been widely described as a front for the Maoists operating in West Midnapore.

The Trinamool Congress cannot appear to cut the connection, if one ever existed; its defence — the State Government has not banned the Maoists — is meaningless. The worry is that whereas the CPI(M)'s rectification can be unmasked as cosmetic changes post elections, the Trinamool Congress may not be able to clarify what connects it to which political formation and why either before or after the election. A truth and reconciliation, followed by an amnesty may be necessary all the more in the circumstances.







As world energy consumption increases, new sources of conventional energy will be needed. But consumers will shift to alternative sources of energy, given environmental concerns and the looming political uncertainty in West Asia

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 the 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 per cent 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 per cent 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 per cent 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 sulphur 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 programmes to do that already exist in most countries, and even in the United States, where Congress blocks direct action, the 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 per cent 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 motorised 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.

--Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.









Beginning today, the second phase of Census 2011 - the largest of its kind - is slated to witness 2.7 million enumerators and supervisors map an estimated 1.2 billion people across the length and breadth of the country. The three-week exercise promises to be significant in terms of the massive volume of data collected as also in terms of quality of information. From adopting a female pan-Indian face as mascot to roping in cricketers and actors as Census 2011's brand ambassadors, efforts have been made to give the exercise a modern outlook.

In content too, the approach is to keep step with the times, focussing on gender sensitivity and inclusion. It's welcome that the Census will make no assumptions about anyone's faith or mother tongue. Every individual will provide such data independently of the head of the family, and can even choose 'no religion' or specify a faith outside the country's six major religions. Similarly, relationships in modern society don't always fit conventional moulds. So, those separated will have a different code to distinguish themselves from those divorced, and live-in couples can describe their relationship as 'never married', 'friend' or 'unrelated'.

A major first, gender won't be enumerated according to male/female categorisations alone. A separate category 'others' has been created for transgenders and non-heterosexuals. In fact, enumerators have been instructed to accept whatever gender identity the respondent chooses to mention. If sex workers will fall under 'others' instead of 'beggar' as was the case earlier, 'illegal immigrants' will be enumerated without mention of their nationality. From a headcount of the homeless to data garnering on ownership of mobile phones, computers and internet connections, Census 2011 has an impressively broad sweep.

As a caste count is also on the anvil, it would be a good idea to offer flexibility on this score as well. If gender isn't treated as fixed, why not view caste too as indeterminate? Indeed, the mobility associated with caste today - thanks to quota politics itself - makes it statistically difficult to enumerate. This was the experience the last time an effort was made to collect caste data in 1931. It would be better to let people determine their own associations be it with regard to gender, caste, faith or any other markers of identity. With the individual rather than community seen as society's basis, choice should be prioritised over affiliations by birth or default. The modern state must increasingly embrace the idea of the multiplicity and fluidity of identities. Recognising that an individual can fashion her own identity and be voluntarily affiliated to several social groups, Census 2011 has a chance to produce data that's truly representative.







Exactly how productive the United Liberation Front of Asom's (ULFA) decision to sit for unconditional talks with the Centre will be - whether it will amount to anything more than 2005-06's failed attempts to construct a dialogue - can't be predicted. But for now, a promising start has been made. By dropping 'sovereignty' from the agenda and not insisting on talks in a third country with a UN observer present, ULFA's central executive committee has signalled willingness to negotiate within the framework of the Indian state. For ULFA, geopolitical conditions have now aligned in a way making any other attempted resolution implausible. Sheikh Hasina's government in Bangladesh has cooperated with Delhi on the ULFA issue to a far greater extent than Khaleda Zia's dispensation did; so too has Myanmar's junta. Squeezed from all sides with a spate of arrests of leaders over the past year or so, the quest for a military solution would have been suicidal for ULFA, as it concedes.

Assam reflects a larger realisation that's dawned elsewhere in the northeast as well, such as Nagaland where a popular groundswell in favour of peace has gained strength. It now becomes crucial for Delhi to safeguard the dialogue process and move towards establishing a ceasefire as the first step. Of the total of ULFA's six armed battalions, not all are under the central executive committee's control. Two still remain with commander-in-chief Paresh Barua, who has termed the committee's offer a betrayal. The internal split will most likely see him play spoiler. Bolstering security arrangements through the state to buffer talks from attempted violence by the splinter faction - and a focus on governance and economic issues to give the committee credibility with supporters among Assam's people - should be Delhi's top priorities.









Last week, Nasa's Kepler satellite released a list of 1,235 potential planets orbiting nearby Sun-like stars, with 68 planets that are roughly the Earth's size and 54 planets in the so-called habitable zone, a region conducive to life as we know it. This is an incredible haul, and we are witnessing the culmination of the scientific revolution started by Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler, in which the Earth and then the Sun lost its special place as the centre of the universe. Now, it seems a planet like the Earth, which many believed was unique, could also turn out common.

It was only 15 years ago that the first planet beyond the solar system was found, even though many astronomers had believed our solar system was not unique. In the intervening 15 years, about 500 exoplanets (as these planets beyond the solar system are called) have been found. Most have been large - Jupiter-sized. But now our technology is getting better, and the smaller ones are being discovered.

Nasa also announced that the Kepler satellite has found a solar system with six planets. No planet in Kepler 11 (as the new solar system is called) is Earth-like, but many seem similar to planets like Neptune.

And last month Kepler scientists announced that they had found a rocky planet, with a radius about 40% larger than the Earth's, orbiting a Sun-like star. Dubbed Kepler 10b, it is only 40% larger in size, with about four times the mass of the Earth. It orbits its sun furiously - in only 20 hours, compared to our Earth's 365 days, at a distance 1/20th the distance Mercury is from the Sun. Conditions on Kepler 10b are far too hot to sustain life as we know it. But its discovery has prompted great excitement among astronomers, because it was the smallest exoplanet found.

And now we have more than five dozen others - a veritable cornucopia. In the coming months, astronomers will investigate them diligently to see if any are truly similar to the Earth.

Finding planets around other stars is no easy matter. Planets emit no light of their own, and they shine by reflecting the light of their parent stars. The separation between stars is immense and measured not in miles but in light years (a light year is almost six trillion miles). Given the immense interstellar distances involved, even the nearest stars appear to us only as pinpoints, Planets are even fainter, and it's an immense technological challenge differentiating a planet from its parent star, which is thousands of times brighter.

The first exoplanets were, in fact, found by an indirect method: their gravitational signature. A planet's presence affects the motion of a star, and it was this rhythmic gravitational wobble in a star's orbit that was detected in the case of the first extrasolar planets. This method, however, tends to pick out larger planets close to their star, because it relies on a planet's mass - the more massive the planet, the larger the gravitational wobble produced.

There are other ways to detect smaller planets, and Nasa launched the Kepler satellite for that express purpose. Kepler's mission is to find Earth-size planets around other stars, and it does so by searching for planetary transits - a brief dimming of light that's caused when a planet passes in front of its sun.


Over the ages, there have been some who have held that there are other planets in the universe. Philosopher Epicurus wrote in the 4th century BC that "there are infinite worlds both like and unlike this world of ours". In the 13th century, Albertus Magnus posed the question, "Do there exist many worlds, or is there but a single world?" He went on to say, "This is one of the most noble and exalted questions in the study of Nature." And the heretic Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600, held that "innumerable suns exist, and innumerable Earths revolve about these suns".

But it was philosopher Immanuel Kant who made the strongest case for exoplanets. In his theory of the heavens in 1755 - a time when only six planets were known - Kant advanced the idea that planets were not confined to our solar system. "Our planetary system has the sun as its central body, and the fixed stars which we see are, in all probability, centres of similar systems," he wrote.

Part of the excitement at the recent announcement is because astronomers realise that so many of the planets lie in a habitable zone. This is an area around a star where temperatures are such that liquid water can exist. Scientists think the presence of water increases the possibility of finding life. Of course, the question that follows is whether there are many, many planets like the Earth out there. After all, the Sun is an ordinary star, and there are millions of similar stars in our galaxy. Nasa's latest results seem to indicate so, and it may turn out that Earth-like planets are a dime a dozen.

And if Earth-like planets are common, what does that do to the question of life? Many scientists believe that if we have Earth-like environments, we would dramatically increase the possibility of life, since the processes that gave rise to Earth and life will be replicated there as well. It seems we are finally getting close to learning whether life is unique to Earth and we are alone in the universe.

The writer is a commentator on science and technology.




Q & A




How did you begin writing?

I grew up in England, lived in France and America. I was doing a corporate job in New York when i realised i could not die doing this. I started writing my first book and saw it needed time and space. I left New York and moved to Delhi. I was in love with someone there, so it seemed like a good thing. And i stayed. I didn't mean to but i did for 10 years. I've written two books. I'm writing a third one now.

Tell us about your new writing.

This is a non-fiction portrait of Delhi in the 10 years i've lived there, exceptional, intense, crazy years. If one returned to 2000, Delhi would be completely unrecognisable, physically and the way people lived their lives. The explosion of shopping, bars, restaurants, was just beginning. It's been spectacular but also traumatic for many people. I want to document that because it has global resonances. It says a lot about the 21st century. The society emerging in Delhi is one of enormous energy and ambition but also great inequality with a very harsh reality. This is symptomatic of things which will happen to the entire world.


Why non-fiction?

I am now writing about my reality. It is to me so intense that it doesn't need embellishment of any sort. Solo was a very intimate novel where the things you've lost in life find their way to you. Delhi is a very public, global book about what kind of world we're living in, what are its values and energies. I want people not to dismiss it as something i've made up. I think it only has an impact when we report it.


Do continuities pop up when you write?

Central to all my writing is the life of cities. How different people living side by side relate to each other, love each other, hate each other, is of great interest to me. I'm attracted to people at the centre of things, the rich and dynamic who make the world happen. But i'm also intrigued by marginal figures, by the stories never told. The true story of a place is achieved by bringing these two together. For me, writing that means something in the contemporary world is the craft of making unlikely connections, showing how highly visible things appearing on the front pages of our newspapers have intimate connections to things we think are remote and hidden.

Where do you belong now?

I find it difficult to know. I spent the first 20 years of my life in England but when i go there, i feel foreign. I don't know what they watch on TV! Their preoccupations are not mine. Many of the best and worst aspects of here have become me. But i'm not from here. I speak terrible Hindi. I don't have childhood places to go back to. I'm an emigre. That puts me in the same boat as millions of people across the world. Lots of people are caught up in this migration cycle; you've gone to a place, you're nostalgic for home but when you return, it's not the same. You can't fit in anymore. Many of the world's writers are people who've lived between places. It's a representative 21st century experience.









It is rather rich to find Pakistan giving us a finger wag when it comes to pursuing investigations related to terrorism. Yet, the way the Indian authorities have been going about their investigations into the terror attacks reportedly conducted by a network of Hindu fundamentalists from 2006 to 2008 gives the handle for the proverbial pot to call the kettle black. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) was created after the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008 with the purpose of it being a central agency empowered to deal with terror-related crimes across states. Apart from bypassing the bumps and rumbles of Centre-state politics, the NIA opened shop in 2009 to be a single-window investigative body for terror-related crimes. So far, evident from the manner in which investigations are being conducted into the Samjhauta Express, Malegaon, Mecca Masjid, Ajmer Sharif and Modasa blasts cases, this has hardly been the case.


The fault for this embarrassing confusion lies not in the NIA being lax about its job but in the state investigative authorities being proactively uncooperative with the central body.

Whether conducting parallel questionings of witnesses -thereby undermining the NIA's authority and unduly harassing witnesses -or, as is the case in Madhya Pradesh where the state police investigating into the murder of an RSS pracharak has no answer for the disappearance of two key accused, it has been a tale of bumbling and petty one-upmanship. Instead of a concerted effort to bring terrorists to justice, we are witnessing an infantile contest between states and the Centre.


Two features of the NIA Act were to fix and strengthen the symbiotic relationship between state investigation bodies and the central NIA: one, a state government shall extend all assistance to NIA for investigation of terror-related offences; two, provisions of the Act with regard to investigation shall not affect powers of state governments to investigate and prosecute any terror crime or other offences. If the first feature is to encourage stronger cooperation between the two levels of investigators, the second is to ensure that the state investigation bodies are allowed to play their due parts in the process. This isn't only about getting to the bottom of `Hindu terror'. It's also about tackling terrorism in a concerted manner. The NIA must be allowed to function as a one-stop shop with other agencies providing it the much necessary assistance. Terrorists don't see their adversary as disparate blocks of the Indian State. So why should they whose job is to investigate terrorism-related cases?







As any HG Wells fan knows, one of the big advantages of being invisible is that no one knows when you're coming or going. In the latest episode of the curious case of Sourav Ganguly, not visible in any cricket field for a while now, we don't know whether he's coming or going. His departure from international cricket may have coincided with the first real rumblings of regime change in his home state of West Bengal. But what precipitated matters was his exclusion from any team — never mind the Kolkata Knight Riders — in the forthcoming edition of the Indian Premier League. And now comes the news of Ganguly himself stating that he's retired from cricket, followed by what the hit-wicketing media deem as a 'denial' to the earlier 'announcement'. If Dada has indeed hung up his boots, it could mark the end of a chapter in cricket — and, for his legions of Bengali fans, the end of cricket.

But did he really make such an announcement at all? Even before his 'retraction', the Ponce of Kolkata had clearly stated that he doesn't "see any point in playing competitive cricket again". Pointlessness, some may argue, is besides the point when announcing one's discontinuation or otherwise of a job. As he stated with great theological dexterity a few hours after making his initial comment, Ganguly, if he gets "an opportunity to play IPL", will continue to "play domestic cricket to stay fit". Something that may, now come to think of it, apply to Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and even the old blighter Bishan Singh Bedi.

Ganguly, who knows his shirt on from his shirt off, has now firmly tapped the ball in the court (pardon the mixed sports metaphor) of any selectors out there. If they still can't get what Ganguly's trying to say (on the lines of "I won't call you, you'll have to call me"), we're afraid we can't protect these vulnerable but wise selectors out there.










A spectre is haunting the West. In 1979, the United States watched a street revolution in the Middle East and saw its stalwart ally, Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ousted, only to be replaced by a theocratic Islamic Republic. Now, watching another street revolution in another Middle Eastern country, many people seem spooked by this memory. Washington Post's Richard Cohen writes, "The dream of a democratic Egypt is sure to produce a nightmare." Columnist Leon Wieseltier believes the Islamists will attempt a Bolshevik-style takeover.

All these things may indeed come to pass, but there is little evidence so far to support the scare scenarios. The Egyptian protests have been secular. The Muslim Brotherhood is one of many groups participating, all of whom have demands that are about democracy and human rights. Egypt is not Iran in a dozen important ways. Its Sunni clergy play no hierarchical or political role the way they do in Iran. Perhaps most important, the current Iranian regime is not a popular model in the Arab world. Egyptians have seen Mubarak and the mullahs and want neither — Pew polling in 2010 found that a large majority supports democratic governance.

Fears of this imagined future are drawing American eyes away from the actual problem in Egypt: military dictatorship. Egypt is not a personality-based regime, centered on Mubarak. Since the officers' coup in 1952, Egypt has been a dictatorship of, by and for the military. The few presidents since then have emerged from the officer corps; the armed forces have huge budgets and total independence, and are deeply involved in every aspect of society, including owning vast tracts of land and hundreds of companies.

Right now, the military is consolidating its power. Mubarak's efforts since 2004 to bring civilians and business leaders into the Cabinet have been reversed over the past week — in fact, the businessmen have been turned into scapegoats, sacrificed so that the generals can continue to rule. The three people running Egypt — the vice-president, prime minister and defence chief — come from the army. Half of the Cabinet are military men, and about

80% of the powerful governors are drawn from the armed forces. The military seems to have decided to sacrifice Mubarak but is trying to manage the process of change to ensure that it remains all-powerful. Egypt, remember, is still ruled by martial law and military courts.

Many commentators have made parallels to Turkey, where the military played a crucial role in modernising the country. But the military in Turkey has yielded power very reluctantly, and only because the European Union has persistently applied pressure to weaken the military's role in politics. The danger is that Egypt will become not Turkey but Pakistan, a sham democracy with real power held in back rooms by generals.

Fareed Zakaria is a columnist at the Washington Post © 2011.






Is it fun to be young? Not really. The Hindustan Times-CNN-IBN Youth Survey, studying urban 18-25 year olds, shows that for 50%, the source of happiness is parents, more want to join government service more than any other profession, 60% have never had a girlfriend or boyfriend and romance is far down their list of priorities. For most, a good salary, rather than new challenges, is most important when choosing a career.

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven," wrote William Wordsworth about the heady times of the French Revolution. But the 18-25 generation in 21st century India doesn't want revolutions. Far from it. In fact they are highly risk averse, more politically right-wing than before, extremely socially conservative and disinclined to opt for rebellion. With such a shockingly conventional generation, where  are the free thinkers, the adventurers, the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Bill Gates going to come from?

The young's relationship with their parents is conventional. Priyanka Todi and Nirupama Pathak may have chosen life partners in defiance of parents, Manoj and Babli may have defied the Kaithal khap panchayat, but the overwhelming majority of young want to marry and live according to their parents' wishes.

While this may be good news for those worried about the breakdown of the Indian family, in some ways it also shows that in spite of films like Udaan and Three Idiots that interrogate parental diktat on children's destinies, questioning or challenging parents is simply not part of the mentality of today's young. This is borne out in the unquestioning way that sons and daughters today meekly follow in the footsteps of their actor or politician parents or even in the fact that young men are prepared to murder their sisters if they step out of the family line. In return for this devotion, parents provide absolute protection. Even educated mothers dote on their children to such an extent that, a la Manu Sharma, they will even bend the law to protect the offspring who has committed murder.

How healthy is this fierce attachment of parent-child, of total protection in return for total devotion? Rich parents in metros are rearing a generation of cosseted spoilt brats who will touch the feet of their parents in ostentatious mock respect but recklessly flout the law on the street in a bout of drunk driving, confident that Dad and Mom will get them off any trouble with the law. The Indian family — India's most prized institution — was once a classroom of good behaviour both inside and outside the home. Today it can sometimes become a cynical trap of wealth and power where children and parents are united by a common rather feudal pursuit of status and family success, unmindful of social responsibility, public good or a consciousness of being part of a wider social world. Obedience and respect towards parents is wonderful.

Yet, it is individuals who tackle the world independently and on their own terms, who intelligently question their parents' choices, who choose to venture into the world in a spirit of discovery, who are likely to become leaders, risk-takers and original thinkers. Being cocooned in the family womb and making nightly forays in Dad's Mercedes may keep mothers happy. But it won't create an individual likely to enrich society.

The young aren't only incredibly family-minded, they are also extremely socially conservative. Over 70% disapprove of homosexuality and over 60% want marriage partners to be virgins. As for politics, four times more young people prefer right-wing politics to left-wing politics. If two decades ago the political centre of gravity of the young was with the Left, in 21st century India, the urban youth are firmly with the political right. This is not a surprising finding.

Facebook and Twitter may have created the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt. But in India, Facebook and Twitter are dominated by young people openly pouring scorn on 'pseudo-secular liberals', minorities and the so-called 'anti-nationals'. Young Indians proudly call themselves 'nationalist' without quite spelling out what their 'nationalism' means. While economic reforms have created an optimistic belief in private enterprise, hardline attitudes to minorities and preference for a hard State spell doom for liberal democracy.

So why are India's urban youth conservative and politically right-wing? The perceived loss of culture due to globalisation could be a reason why Indian "culture" is aggressively asserted even as 'global' lifestyles sweep through the metros. Pop traditionalism, albeit in a modern garb, has returned with a bang. Trendy clothes, skinny figures and latest gadgets coexist with a passionate attachment to religious rituals. If rituals and religious rites were once the activities of grandmothers, they are now being adopted by the youth as aggressive demonstrations of identity. No wonder marriage remains central to the youth's dreams and giving birth to sons is the preferred option even in the upmarket social strata.

There's a great deal to be proud of in the youth survey too. In spite of their own attachment to family, India's youth has chosen the self-made Sachin Tendulkar and APJ Abdul Kalam over scions born into privileged 'royal' families. But the survey contains portents of the future. India in the next two generations will be powered by a majority of success-oriented, deeply conservative citizens whose ambitions are narrowly focused on money and status. Poets, bohemians, rebels, intellectuals, dissenters, freethinkers, adventurers or even risk-taking entrepreneurs may become a vanishing breed.

Sagarika Ghose is Deputy Editor, CNN-IBN. The views expressed by the author are personal.




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






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.






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.






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.










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.







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'







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.







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.







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.






Given the government's stance on the Rs 1.76 lakh crore losses associated with the 2G scam, presumably its spokespersons will dismiss reports of Rs 2 lakh crore loss on a deal between Isro and Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia as merely presumptive. The loss is based on the preliminary questions sent by the CAG to Isro—the final report is still some months away—on its deal to build two satellites for Devas that come bundled with 70 MHz of spectrum. The Rs 2 lakh crore figure has been arrived at on the basis of the Rs 3,000-odd crore per MHz that the government got in the latest 3G spectrum auction. Devas, which is led by MG Chandrasekhar who is a former scientific secretary to Isro, has denied any wrong-doing and said the spectrum continues to belong to Isro (this is largely irrelevant if Devas has the exclusive right to use it to offer ISP and multi-media services to its clients), that the deal has been approved by the Cabinet, that the firm developed an innovative satellite system to offer the services and that there were no takers for the spectrum six years ago when it first began negotiations with Isro.

Since it is early days yet, it's difficult to say just how accurate the estimates are of the losses, if any. It is clear, however, given the rapid increase in the number of scams related to natural resources, that the government needs to come out with a clear and transparent policy on the use of such resources, on how to price them and how to allocate them. Should scarce spectrum be auctioned or should it be given out free as some have suggested on grounds that this will lower consumer tariffs (assuming tariffs are related to auction costs, though they are not, how do you choose between suitors if there is no auction?). Should spectrum or land or minerals be given to value-added industries/services (free land for hospitals in return for low-cost medical facilities or captive iron ore mines for steel producers)? Unless there is some clarity on such issues, it's likely such allegations will be made about all deals in the future. That's probably the last thing we need at the moment.





They are the traditional hypermarkets of rural India, selling anything from fresh farm produce, agri inputs and equipment, groceries, consumer expendables, garments to durables like pressure cookers. Haats—weekly rural bazaars that spring up weekly across India's heartland—may not exactly be a new phenomenon for marketers, but a new study by Rural Marketing Association of India makes for a better understanding of rural markets for corporate India as it tries to sell more and more of its wares to a humongous mass of people rapidly climbing the consumption ladder. At 43,000, the number of haats outnumber the number of stores of the world's biggest retailer, WalMart, five to one. And even though sales are dominated by low-value, small-ticket items, they still add a sizeable Rs 50,000 crore annually. Though a majority of these haats existed before Independence, it's interesting how their wares have changed with the changing nature of the rural economy, livelihood and lifestyle. So even though agri products still account for around half of all sales at haats, manufactured products (fifth of all sales) and processed foods (6%) are rapidly gaining traction with buyers here. The sales of branded consumer expendables like soaps, shampoos and toothpastes as against unbranded, local lookalikes are on the rise at haats across the country as consumers prefer the variety offered here vis-a-vis the permanent village shop. Branded products now constitute a third of all FMCG sales at haats, pointing to the opportunity that awaits big brand marketers like Hindustan Unilever, Marico and Godrej in upgrading consumers to their offerings. Understanding from where and how sellers at these haats source the goods can be a good beginning. Haat sellers mostly buy on credit from wholesalers and sell on cash, largely ignoring the company-owned stockists in nearby cities who tend to merely copy the urban distribution pattern of their respective marketers.

Most (98%) rural folk are regular visitors at haats, with women accounting for two of every five haat visitors, making haats a fertile ground for any big bang communication aimed at rural consumers. And these may not necessarily be for consumer goods, but even awareness building for programmes like government schemes, weather warnings and conducting surveys on rural health. Around 60% of all haats have access to electricity and half have potable water facilities, though just a third offer toilets, pointing to the distance state governments have go in providing basic infrastructure in a place where most of rural India congregates weekly. Even as high food prices force the government to focus on measures to bridge the farm-to-fork supply gap, and pushing foreign investment in big-box retail is touted as key here, it must not forget the upliftment of these age-old bazaars where Bharat still shops.





Everyone is interested in black money now, especially black money stashed away abroad. There seem to be five reasons behind this renewed interest in black money. First, the Swiss have diluted their banking secrecy laws, under pressure from the G-20, OECD, US and even EU (though Switzerland isn't a member of the EU). So, under international tax cooperation clauses, and for foreign clients, even if there is tax evasion and no tax fraud, Swiss will provide information. For UBS, though there is nothing comparable yet for Credit Suisse, they have done that with US and details of 4,450 UBS accounts have been provided. We are unlikely to get that information unless someone in the US embassies has talked about it and it surfaces through WikiLeaks. That's a long shot. But there is a short shot too. A former UBS employee, Rudolf Elmer, has leaked to WikiLeaks. This leak has a list of 2,000 UBS accounts and presumably, there are Indians there. We have to wait and see. Second, there is another so-called tax haven named Liechenstein. The Germans got hold of information about 4,500 bank accounts in Liechenstein bank through a disgruntled ex-employee and offered this information to whichever country wanted it. After some waffling, India did want it.

At the Seoul meeting of the G-20 in November 2010, the OECD's Deputy Secretary General and Chief Economist cited large revenue gains, using this information, in Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Greece. So India got this information and there is speculation there are 26 Indian names on this list. They aren't necessarily resident Indians, some might be NRIs too. The Supreme Court has been given a CD with this information and there is a PIL pending on whether all of us have a right to know these names. How can we be content only with a name like Hasan Ali Khan? Third, we are re-negotiating double tax avoidance agreements to bring in clauses on exchanging tax information, or negotiating tax information exchange agreements. So perhaps, as the Finance Minister said in his press conference in late January, we are now really joining the global crusade against black money and will unearth tax defaulters. Fourth, this is the season of scams—CWG, 2G, Adarsh, Arvind and Tinu Joshi, and even the original Bofors has resurfaced. Fifth, there has been the Global Financial Integrity (GFI) report, more so, the one that surfaced in November 2010. This didn't estimate black money in India, it estimated capital flight abroad.

What is black and what is white? Is black something that doesn't show up in measurements of GDP? GDP is the marketable value of all goods and services that are produced in an economy over a period of time. Consequently, there are some transactions that are definitionally not part of GDP.

Domestic work is the classic example. The use of the word "black" connotes a sense of illegality. However, there is nothing illegal about domestic work. It doesn't show up in GDP and leads to the standard argument that GDP is under-estimated. In contrast with developed economies, India has a high share of the informal/unorganised sector. There is a high share of self-employment, a low share of employer-employee relationships. Monetisation is low and transactions occur in cash. Under GDP definitions, these ought to be part of the GDP and there is no conceptual problem. But there is a measurement problem because these are below the radar screen of collection of statistics. Stated differently, there is an informal economy that ought not to be confused with a black economy. Sometimes, there are deliberate reasons why people/enterprises wish to remain in the informal economy.

Tax evasion may be one reason, but it isn't the only one. Vito Tanzi has been a pioneer in estimating the size of the underground economy, not just in the US, but elsewhere too. While the thrust of that work was on tax evasion, Tanzi himself recognised there were other reasons for the existence of an underground/ black economy. The high compliance cost of registration is one, which is one reason why the SSI sector remains unregistered. Labour laws can be another. Therefore, one should not jump to the conclusion that there is a black economy simply because one wishes to evade taxes, or because there is criminality associated with the source of income. And one should be careful in separating the informal economy from the black economy. Let's think this tax evasion argument through. Both on direct and indirect taxes, tax evasion is one thing and legitimate availing of exemptions is another. Without exemptions, our tax/GDP ratio will probably be around 22%. If it is 16%, is that because of evasion or exemptions? Yes, the exemptions should go. Yes, the agricultural/rural sector should pay taxes. Yes, we need to jack up the effective corporate tax rate. Yes, lawyers and doctors should be brought under the tax net effectively. Yes, one should not avoid direct taxes by claiming deductions through registration under the Shops and Establishments Act. While these arguments are true and we should have tax reform, as long as those reforms aren't introduced, illegality may not necessarily be involved.

There is a difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance. Whichever one we are thinking of, we essentially have the organised/registered sector in mind and the rural/agricultural sector is excluded. How much of GDP is the organised sector? Let's say the shares of national income are 60% for services, 24% for industry and 16% for agriculture. If 40% of industry is SSI, we only have 14.4% of GDP left in industry. The bulk of services is imperfectly taxed. Hence, from the tax point of view, it is difficult to see how one can have more than 25% of GDP in mind. To complicate matters, some examples of corruption are transfer payments. The 1985 NIPFP study estimated the black economy to be 21% of GDP, Arun Kumar said 35%, GFI extrapolates (and interpolates) on the basis of a 1982 Gupta and Gupta study to suggest 50% of GDP in 2008. One of the problems with linear extrapolation based on a regression on time, is that we will eventually find that 100% of GDP is black. Reportedly, the finance ministry is commissioning a new study, roping in NIPFP, NCAER, CBDT, CBEC and DEA. Perhaps we will have more light then. Right now, the 50% figure seems to be based on faith, like the 50% below the poverty line is.

The author is a noted economist





So it wasn't that difficult, to give up a majority share holding and still retain government control over things that matter. But obviously you wouldn't expect the political bosses to come out with that sort of thought openly.

Probably in a wise move, they have let Nandan Nilekani say what we should have thought was obvious. Making social inclusion really come alive does not require the government to have majority holdings in companies that deliver. Strategic control can be equally retained by executive order or means like golden share. The key is to organise into one place several best practices of the government to create a template for fast execution.

The report of the Technology Advisory Group for Unique Projects (TAGUP) led by Nilekani has added up those best practices to tell the government and India something very obvious. If we want to create headroom to deliver social justice through government services, the way ahead is to embrace technological revolution and private sector participation, big time.

What the report suggests is to take the government out of its bread and butter role of measuring the result of the day to day functioning of projects like the NPS, goods and services tax, debt management or monitoring results of government expenditure. Instead, the report says, the daily grunt stuff should be left to the IT skills of a new set of companies, freeing the government to focus its limited resource on policy issues. These companies would have majority holding from the private sector but with strategic government control. Once that's done the government departments would set the policy for the projects, execute them thoroughly but leave the job of tracking and measuring the results to those who have made a career of doing so.

But wouldn't such savvy back offices usurp quite a lot of the freedom government officers enjoy to play favourites? Also the checks and balances this plan lays out could also sharply emasculate the role of the audit department.

As a concept, this can be a huge game changer. Take the plan the report has suggested to track expenditure. For the past many years, the finance ministry has come out with an outcome document to give some indication on if the money spent has served its purpose. But as D Swarup former PFRDA chairman and expenditure secretary explains, there is a big catch here. As soon as the finance ministry releases a crore of rupees to a state for a programme, the money is counted as spent. It might take more than a year for the sum to shape up as a village road, but that last mile execution is impossible to track for most projects.

This is where Swarup, Nilekani and others who worked on the report recommended a quality revolution. They have suggested establishing companies as national information utilities. Once those are mandated by the government for specific projects, government officers will not have to waste their time thinking up detailed compliance reports, which still do not say when a rupee slotted for a village has reached it because the feedback method in the government just does not allow such micro management. Even where a feedback loop exists, its a rare government department that will give an accurate report of the efficiency of its own programme. The backroom efficiency of the NIU will come in useful here to track funds from the time it leaves the finance ministry to when it actually reaches the project that needs it. This automatically creates the mechanism to measure the efficiency of a project delivery.

Essentially what TAGUP is suggesting is a very powerful tool for the government to use and create value.

It is also here where the problems are bound to crop up. The primary road block is of course going to be handing over such key overlordships to a private sector led entity. The Indian government will create its own obstacles to baulk at it. Yet, as the report explains, without being freed from government management, it's impossible to bring in top notch professionals at every level to set up these companies. The other is how seriously the departments take the report. NIU for tax information network or expenditure management can conceivably give daily reports of cash utilisation for projects and kilometres of road built. This can be most annoying for departments. We have a highly under-used ministry of programme implementation. Will that one be wound up?

The other is, of course, the emasculation of the audit departments. What can an audit report say about a project six months later that an NIU would not have flagged already?

Postcript: Despite the strong complementary role for the private and government it assigns for the projects, the report does not mention public private partnership even once. A possible indication of how badly the term has fallen out of favour?






The talks between the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan at Thimphu on the resumption of bilateral dialogue appear to have gone off well. Since February 2010, attempts by the two sides to restart the bilateral engagement that India broke off over the November 2008 Mumbai attacks have not made much headway. Despite initial promise, the July 2010 meeting between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad ended up in another impasse. The main disagreement was over Pakistan's insistence that the resumed dialogue between the two sides must schedule talks about the Kashmir issue, which India linked to Pakistan making tangible progress in punishing the perpetrators of the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The two sides also differed over the format of the dialogue. Pakistan favoured continuing the "composite dialogue" while India preferred a new format. It is not clear if Sunday's meeting succeeded in breaking the stalemate. What is significant is that the two senior officials reiterated the importance of dialogue in order to settle "all outstanding issues" between the two countries. It is encouraging that Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistan counterpart, Salman Bashir, took care not to publicly air all the problematic issues that must have come up in their discussion. Often when things start going wrong in India-Pakistan relations, the two sides use the media to wage proxy wars. That the 90-minute meeting was followed by a common press release is a good sign. It is to be hoped that the officials can soon work their way to holding a meeting of the Foreign Ministers, and to an announcement of the formal resumption of the dialogue process.

Despite what cynics on both sides say, engagement is the only way forward for India and Pakistan. Talking may not lead to an immediate resolution of all the problems between the two countries but, as recently underlined by former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Ahmed Kasuri, the India-Pakistan dialogue of 2004-2007 brought about a significant narrowing down of differences on major issues such as Kashmir, Siachen, and Sir Creek. On the other hand, the absence of dialogue leaves a damaging vacuum that hate-mongers on both sides rush to fill, and will eventually lead to a hardening of positions. New Delhi's demand that Pakistan act against terror groups plotting attacks on Indian soil can be addressed only through talks. While India is correct in demanding that Pakistan act expeditiously to bring to book the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks, it could set an example by ensuring swift investigation and punishment for those involved in the 2007 bombing of the Samjhauta train in which 60 Pakistani nationals were killed.





The International Monetary Fund's latest update on world economic outlook reflects the optimism generally shared by global institutions on growth prospects. As the recovery gathers pace, the reports of the IMF and the World Bank have tended to strike a progressively cheerful note. There are caveats, to be sure. The industrial nations as well as the emerging economies continue to face significant, if very different, downside risks. Also, there has been no marked improvement in the uneven growth pattern noticed across regions. The emerging economies outstripped the developed ones by 4.2 percentage points in 2010, and this the IMF describes as the continuation of a "two speed" growth process. More recently, Global Economic Prospects, the World Bank's flagship publication, said this sharp disparity will continue well into the future, a prospect that will have far-reaching consequences for the global economy. For instance, the pecking order in the economic hierarchy of nations will get altered.

The IMF, in its latest report, projects a 4.5 per cent rise in global output in 2011 — the figure is 0.25 percentage point above its October forecast. The mark-up is attributed to the stronger-than-expected economic activity during the latter half of 2010. The United States' monetary and fiscal policies aimed at stimulating consumption have already made an impact. The modest recovery in consumption noticed in Japan is also due, at least partly, to the stimulus measures. Overall, there is growing evidence that private consumption, which dropped sharply during the crisis, is beginning to get a firmer foothold in the advanced economies. The financial milieu at the global level improved in the second half of 2010. Equity markets are looking up and the bank finance is available more easily even for the medium and small enterprises. However, some significant areas remain vulnerable. For instance, the real estate markets and household incomes have been weak in several advanced economies. In the U.S., unemployment continues to be at disturbingly high levels. There have been ominous signs of financial turbulence reviving in the periphery of the euro zone. However, the financial sector of the advanced countries has shown greater maturity in dealing with the unexpected stress. As for the emerging economies, major risks relate to the escalation of inflationary pressures, as in India. The commodity prices, especially of petroleum, are expected to remain elevated. Monetary authorities need to be alert and ahead of the curve in countering inflation.








Very little in the case of the American employee of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Pakistan, arrested after the killing of two locals in "self-defence" in a crowded intersection of Lahore on January 27, rings true. The only cold facts are the bodies that have been piling up.

First, there were the bodies of the two men that the American — whose name is yet to be confirmed but referred to in the media as Raymond Davis — admits to have gunned down. Then there is the third man run over by a speeding U.S. embassy vehicle that was rushing to Davis' help. And, now — 10 days later — the wife of one of the two men killed by Davis commits suicide; apparently in protest against the 'VIP' treatment being given to him and fearing that he would be allowed to go free by a pliant government.

Much else in this case, which has whipped up rampant anti-American sentiments and hogged the headlines since January 27, remains in the realm of speculation, fed primarily by the refusal of both governments to clear the air on who the American is and what he was doing in Pakistan. While the Pakistan government has maintained a studied silence — except for the Interior Minister stating that Davis has a diplomatic passport and the general insistence that the courts would decide the matter — the U.S. is yet to reveal his name even. And, for the first two days after the incident, the U.S. embassy refused to comment on whether he had diplomatic immunity.

Four statements from the U.S. embassy in Islamabad make no mention of his name, and Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley added to the confusion by stating in his Washington briefing, a day after the incident, that the name doing the rounds in the media was incorrect.

Instead of clearing the air, the official statements put out by the mission added grist to the rumour mill. The media did not have to split hair to make their reports. The U.S. embassy was most helpful. First, it called Davis a staff member of the Consulate-General in Lahore. A day later — by when 48 hours had passed — it described him as a "U.S. diplomat" assigned to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad with a diplomatic passport and a Pakistani visa valid till June 2012.

Invoking the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations which allows him diplomatic immunity, the embassy demanded his immediate release and accused the local police and senior authorities of failing to observe their legal obligation to verify his status with either the U.S. Consulate-General in Lahore or the embassy in Islamabad. "Furthermore, the diplomat was formally arrested and remanded in custody, which is a violation of international norms and the Vienna Convention, to which Pakistan is a signatory," the embassy said.

Without saying anything officially, the Pakistan government let the word out that as per its records, there was no U.S. diplomat by the name Raymond Davis and a person with that name had been issued a visa to work in the U.S. embassy as a technician. This got the Americans to admit a day later that the man was on the embassy's technical and administrative staff but asserted that such employees are also entitled to criminal immunity under Article 37 of the Vienna Convention.

This is all that has been made available by way of 'facts;' the rest is all conjecture — based on calculated leaks and educated guesses — but in a country prone to conspiracy theories and for a nation familiar with the machinations of the U.S. in the past, the speculation becomes plausible. More so when the U.S. is held to blame for the blowback effect that Pakistan is facing by virtue of being an ally in the American global war on terror. As one lawyer who believes Davis ought to be extended diplomatic immunity put it, the question is whether popular opinion should be allowed to decide the fate of the American and, as a consequence, bilateral relations. But then, he rues, "right now 'popular opinion' holds the nation hostage."

While moderate voices say the furore is misplaced given the rising crime graph and the fact that the two men Davis killed were apparently armed — giving the American reason enough to fire in self-defence as white-skinned foreigners do face a security risk in this country — the average Pakistani views the incident as a graphic example of the impunity with which Americans operate in the country. That the Americans have no explanation for Davis carrying a gun — Mr. Crowley sidestepped the question whether American diplomats in Pakistan were allowed to carry weapons — feeds into the Pakistani sentiment and almost instantly the incident was equated with the drone attacks by the Central Intelligence Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Given that U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by the WikiLeaks recently show the Pakistan government speaking in two voices on the drone attacks — protesting for the consumption of the domestic audience while allowing the CIA's unmanned Predators into Pakistani airspace as per a tacit agreement — the widespread apprehension is that the federal dispensation will allow Davis to get away. The general belief is that he is a private security operative like Blackwater agents who are allowed a free run of the country.

Most Pakistanis are certain that had it been the other way round — a Pakistani diplomat killing two Americans in the U.S. — Washington would have moved heaven and earth to punish him as was the case when Georgian Deputy Ambassador Gueorgui Makharadze killed a girl in a driving accident in 1997. The U.S. got Georgia to waive diplomatic immunity in that case.

The vocal U.S. demands for the release of Davis and the pressure tactics only lend credence to the belief that America will resort to every means to get its man out. When no headway was made through persuasion, the U.S. began tightening the screws at various levels. A visiting congressional delegation conveyed to the Prime Minister that the Armed Services Committee may find it difficult to approve military aid and arms supply to Pakistan if the American official remained in custody. The State Department snapped all communication with the Pakistan embassy in Washington and now the U.S. has apparently put on hold all scheduled bilateral contacts.

The federal government, thus, finds itself forced to walk a tightrope. On the one hand, there is immense pressure from the U.S. — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called up President Asif Ali Zardari over the weekend and also raised the issue with the Chief of the Army Staff, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference — amid fears of what this one incident could do to the strategic alliance. On the other, there is the clear and present danger of a street backlash if Davis is let off, similar to the street power shown by the 'religious' right-wing organisations over amendments to the blasphemy law.

But it is not as if Pakistan is alone in having to do a trapeze act. The U.S. also cannot afford this strain on bilateral ties as Washington has always maintained that Islamabad's cooperation in going after terrorists who get safe havens on Pakistani soil along the border with Afghanistan is crucial to the restoration of normalcy in Afghanistan. This particularly rough patch in bilateral ties between two countries which have had a history of blow-hot-blow-cold relationship could not have come at a worse time as the U.S. hopes to begin troops withdrawal from Afghanistan in July.

Little wonder then that satirist and radio host Fasi Zaka wrote in The Express Tribune on February 1: "We have begun the most political of tennis matches, the Desi Davis Cup for the prize of Raymond Davis's freedom or conviction … The court of choice will be clay, slippery for both Pakistan and America." And, from the way this "match" has proceeded, there is no straight set clincher coming up.





The Prime Minister's Office has issued a statement claiming that "no decision was taken by the Government to allocate space segment using S-Band Spectrum to Antrix or Devas." The statement also claims that "hence, the question of revenue loss does not arise and any such reports are without basis in fact."

The documented fact is that the agreement concluded on January 28, 2005 between Antrix Corporation Ltd. — the commercial arm of ISRO, which is under the Department of Space of the Government of India — and Devas Multimedia Private Ltd. says otherwise. Antrix represents that it has the right to make available to Devas, on a 24x7 basis for a lease period, "part of a space segment capacity" on two satellites for services in the S-band. The amount promised by Devas is vastly below the commercial worth of the transponders leased and there are clearly financial implications for annulling the agreement.

We publish below detailed extracts from the Antrix-Devas agreement.

"Agreement for the Lease of Space Segment Capacity on ISRO/Antrix S-Band Spacecraft by Devas Multimedia Pvt. Ltd."

The agreement, No. ANTX/203/DEVAS/2005, was entered into on January 28, 2005 between Antrix Corporation Limited , acting through and represented by the Executive Director, and Devas Multimedia Private Limited, an Indian company with its registered office at 102 Eden Park, 20 Vittal Mallya Road, Bangalore.


The "Recitals" of the agreement cite the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), under the Department of Space, Government of India, as a pioneer in the satellite industry with a portfolio of satellite products and services, international experience in satellite manufacturing and launch program management expertise, and satellite network expertise, and Antrix as a marketing arm of the Department of Space through which ISRO engages in commercial activities.

The agreement notes that "Devas is developing a platform capable of delivering multimedia and information services via satellite and terrestrial systems to mobile receivers, tailored to the needs of various market segments."

Devas "has requested from Antrix space segment capacity for the purpose of offering a S-DMB service, a new digital multimedia and information service, including but not limited to audio and video content and information and interactive services, across India that will be delivered via satellite and terrestrial systems via fixed, portable, and mobile receivers including mobile phones, mobile video/audio receivers for vehicles etc. ("Devas Services")."

Antrix commits

Antrix "has agreed to the request of Devas and has decided to make available to Devas, on a lease basis, part of a space segment capacity on Primary Satellite 1 ("PS1") and an option to gain additional capacity on Primary Satellite 2 ("PS2") to be manufactured for similar services without any immediate backup in the S-Band, for such purpose under appropriate terms and conditions."

The agreement states that "Antrix and Devas understand and accept that they will collaborate to build, launch and operate satellite(s) and the Devas Services, and recognise that enabling the Devas Services and activities related thereto requires execution of interdependent technical and business activities."

Article 2, titled 'The Leased Capacity', states that under the agreement, Antrix shall lease to Devas five C x S transponders, each of 8.1 MHz capacity, and five S x C transponders, each of 2.7 MHz capacity, on the Primary Satellite 1 (PS1) with technical performance and other specifications defined, and/or any other available capacity as provided and/or mutually agreed to by the parties in writing. Devas and Antrix agree that the leased capacity shall be utilised in accordance with this agreement and its exhibits. Antrix agrees that the leased capacity shall be a non-preemptible service, except as specifically provided for in Article 7.

Period of lease

Under Article 3, titled 'Period of Lease and Terms & Conditions', the leased capacity shall be made available by Antrix to Devas on a 24-hour, seven-day-per-week basis for the lease period, which shall be 12 years commencing as set forth below, and extended as provided below or as mutually agreed to in writing by the parties.

Antrix shall deliver the leased capacity to Devas from a fully operational and ready PS1 within 30 months, with a further grace period of six months, (that is, a total of 36 months, the "Delivery Period") of the date of the first payment of an Upfront Capacity Reservation Fee as provided, inclusive of in-orbit testing and verification by Devas ("Delivery").

Antrix agrees that to the best possible extent, it will lease to Devas Additional Satellite Capacity above and beyond PS2, and spares and frequencies associated to the Additional Satellite Capacity to enhance Devas Services features based upon mutually agreed terms and conditions of a lease arrangement which will be negotiated and signed by the parties at least three years prior to the actual requirement date of the fresh lease services, provided that Antrix shall obtain all necessary government and regulatory approvals relating to the orbital resources, frequency clearance, investment feasibility and funding for the satellite including but not limited to ITU (International Telecommunication Union) coordinated orbital slot, frequency allocation and related approvals for all matters covered in Article 3. Further, if Antrix cannot fulfill the needs of Devas for Additional Satellite Capacity, Devas may seek the support of Antrix to procure the services from a third-party on such terms which are mutually agreeable to parties. Antrix shall, either by itself or through ISRO, make best efforts to support Devas in this regard.

Article 4, titled 'Charges', makes clear that the charges comprise an upfront capacity reservation fee and lease fees for 5 S x C and 5 C x S band transponders on each of PS1 and PS2, and other charges, fees and payments as provided.


Devas may terminate this agreement in the event Devas is unable to get and retain the regulatory approvals required to provide the Devas Services on or before the completion of the Pre Shipment Review of PS1. In the event of such termination, Devas shall forfeit the Upfront Capacity Reservation Fees made to Antrix and any service or other taxes paid by Devas and those outstanding to be paid to Antrix till such date. Upon such termination, neither party shall have any further obligation to the other party under this agreement.

Antrix may terminate this agreement in the event Antrix is unable to obtain the necessary frequency and orbital slot coordination required for operating PS1 on or before the completion of the Pre Shipment Review of the PS1. In the event of such termination, Antrix shall immediately reimburse Devas all the Upfront Capacity Reservation Fees and corresponding service taxes received by Antrix till that date. Upon such termination, neither party shall have any further obligation to the other party under this agreement nor be liable to pay any sum as compensation or damages (by whatever name called).

Antrix may terminate this agreement at any time if Devas is in the material breach of any provisions of this agreement and Devas has failed to cure and breach within three months after receiving notice from Antrix regarding such breach, or non- payment of the lease fees and other charges (such as spectrum monitoring charges) by Devas for a continued period of 12 months, or if such accumulated delays from recurrent non-payments exceed 60 months, whichever occurs earlier, or Upfront Capacity Reservation fees, already due.

In the event of two successive launch failures of PS1 by Antrix, Devas shall have the option, exercisable in its sole discretion, to either terminate this agreement, in which event Antrix agrees to immediately reimburse Devas all the Upfront Capacity Reservation Fees for PS1 received by Antrix till that date, and after that, neither party shall have any further obligation to the other party under this agreement, or forego the refund of the Upfront Capacity Reservation Fees and service taxes and request Antrix to launch a satellite within 24 months of the exercise of this option, based on mutually agreed-upon terms.

Under Article 8, titled "Vacation of Leased Capacity", it has been provided that, upon termination of this agreement (in part or in full) either by Devas or by Antrix, or at the end of the lease period, the use of the leased capacity so terminated shall revert to Antrix unconditionally.

Article 10, titled "Board Participations", provides that Devas shall offer Antrix the option to appoint a senior officer to the Board of Devas. The officer so appointed shall act as an observer and shall not have any voting rights.

In Article 12, on "Representations and Warranties", Antrix has represented and warranted to Devas that it has the capacity and power to enter into and perform this agreement. Antrix, through ISRO/DoS, will be responsible for obtaining clearances from national and international agencies (WPC, ITU, etc.) for use of the orbital slot and frequency resources so as to ensure that the spacecraft is operated meeting its technical characteristics and provide the leased capacity as specified. Antrix through ISRO has the ability to make/build, manufacture, launch and operate the satellites, and provide the leased capacity as provided in this agreement. Antrix will fulfill its obligations under this agreement according to any applicable law. Antrix, through ISRO, has the ownership and right to use the intellectual property used in the manufacture and launch of the satellites and provision of leased capacity under this agreement. Antrix may offer another satellite to other parties, provided, in due recognition of Devas' seniority, it provides Devas with prior intimation in case it does not infringe upon any confidentiality agreements and does not affect any Devas schedules or deliverables.

Devas commitments

Devas has represented and warranted to Antrix that Devas has the capacity and power to enter into and perform this agreement in terms thereof; that Devas has the ability to design Digital Multimedia Receivers (DMR); that Devas has the ability to design Commercial Information Devices (CID); that Devas has the ownership and right to use the intellectual property used in the design of DMR and CID; that the fulfilment of Devas' obligations under this agreement by Devas will not violate any laws; that Devas shall assign, transfer and/or sub-let its rights and obligations in accordance with law and that Devas shall be solely responsible for securing and obtaining all licenses and approval (statutory or otherwise) for the delivery of Devas Services via satellite and terrestrial network.

Under Article 14, relating to "Operational Arrangements", Devas shall develop frequency and transmission plans for the use of the leased capacity on the satellites and the same shall be made available to Antrix for prior review and approval. For those particular transponders where there is potential for adjacent transponder interference between INSAT series of spacecraft and PS1, Devas and Antrix shall develop mutually agreeable technical operating parameters for operation in the said transponders. However, such parameters shall have no effect on Devas Services as set forth. In case of demands from other entities for similar services, Antrix shall take reasonable steps to accommodate such request without disrupting or putting limitations of Devas Services.

The contention of the Prime Minister's Office that 'the question of a revenue loss' from the Antrix-Devas deal 'does not arise' is at variance with key clauses in the agreement.

In the event of Antrix operating a co-located satellite next to Devas' leased capacity on PS1 and if applicable PS2, Devas and Antrix shall develop mutually agreeable technical operating constraints for all co-frequency transponders that have the potential for interference. Transmission and frequency plans developed for co-frequency transponders shall be exchanged and coordinated in the manner described.

Inter-system coordination

Antrix shall be responsible for inter-system coordination as per ITU Radio Regulations to obtain all clearances so as to use the orbital slot and frequency resources for Devas Services. All coordination efforts by Antrix referred to in this Article shall be performed at no additional costs to Devas. Devas shall provide assistance to Antrix in connection with the inter-system coordination efforts. Antrix shall make the best efforts, with the help of Devas, to coordinate the types of services required by Devas.

ISRO shall remain the registered owner of the orbital location on which the leased capacity is being made available to Devas.

Interference to other satellite systems with which Antrix or ISRO or associated entities are in the process of coordinating arrangements shall be kept at any acceptable level by utilising operating parameters within the limits prescribed and agreed to by Antrix and Devas, and shall remain in conformity with such arrangements without affecting Devas Services.

Antrix agrees that the PS1 spacecraft will be located at the 83 deg. E orbital location during the term of the lease. The spacecraft location may be changed to a different location with the written concurrence of Devas. Antrix believes that the proposed use of the leased capacity by Devas will not present any coordination problems.

In the event similar services are supported by Antrix or ISRO (through other satellites leased to commercial or government entitles), Devas Services will be ensured to be protected for inter-system interference.

Devas shall establish formal procedures for systems discipline, operations, access approval, maintenance and control of earth station access to space segment capacity. These procedures are considered expedient and necessary to ensure that Devas, its users, customers, contractors, lessees, agents and assignees derive the use of satellite resources covered by this agreement, to prevent interference to other users of the system. The Earth Station Standards (ESS) and Satellite System Operation guide (SSOG) modules for the spacecraft shall be prepared by Devas based on the spacecraft technical data provided by Antrix and shall be made available to Antrix for review and comment and the same shall become a part of this agreement after its finalisation.

Devas shall implement appropriate operational procedures required for the compliance with the technical and operational conditions specified in this agreement.

Each earth station, which shall utilise the leased capacity, shall satisfactorily complete or have completed earth station testing to verify compliance with the performance characteristics as defined above; and be operated and maintained in accordance with the applicable provisions as defined in the documents referred in paragraph (b) above.

Article 15, titled "Use of Leased Capacity", says Devas shall ensure that the use of the leased capacity is strictly in accordance with the letter and spirit of this agreement, and in accordance with laws.

Article 16, titled "Assessment of Technical Performance of the Leased Capacity", sets down that both parties hereby agree to conduct in-orbit tests from INSAT-Master Control Facility, Hassan, India to verify and accept the in-orbit performance specifications and deviations, if any, of the leased capacity, as per procedures to be jointly agreed upon. These procedures shall be generated within 12 months following the execution of this agreement and these shall become a part of this agreement. These tests shall be conducted within 60 days following the positioning of the PS1 spacecraft in its designated orbital slot. Such tests may also be conducted periodically afterwards to assess the in-orbit performance specifications of the leased capacity as and when considered to be necessary by both parties.


Antrix may sub-license, assign or sell any or all of its rights under this agreement without any approval from Devas provided Antrix provides Devas with at least 60 days prior notice of the same and provided further that Antrix undertakes and shall cause its assignee to undertake that the terms of this agreement and all related agreements are enforceable in terms thereof and will continue to be upheld in accordance with the laws and regulations of India. Devas may sub-license, assign or sell any and all of its rights under this agreement without any approval from Antrix provided Devas provides Antrix with at least 60 days prior notice of the same and provided further that Devas undertakes and shall cause its assignee to undertake that the terms of the agreement and all related agreements are enforceable in terms thereof and will continue to be upheld in accordance with the laws and regulations of India.

( The full text of the Antrix-Devas agreement is available under

"Resources" at







Chief Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas, who was elevated to his present position although he remains charge-sheeted in a corruption case in Kerala when he was food secretary in the state, has asked some searching questions of our political system after being pilloried by politicians for over two months and being declared unfit by

them for his present job since he carried a taint. The riposte by Mr Thomas, made in the Supreme Court in the course of his arguments in the corruption matter pertaining to him, does raise valid questions. However, it is not clear what bearing his pithy observations have on the specific case concerning his appointment to the high office of CVC whose job it is to deal with corruption in government.

The nub of the CVC's arguments is that although a significant number of our MPs have been chargesheeted in criminal cases, and many even convicted for terms running up to two years, they continue to make laws for the country. Some facing the charge of murder have been ministers at the Centre. The point is well taken. Apparently Mr Thomas' lawyer made these points to emphasise that being chargesheeted did not automatically disqualify his client from the post of CVC.

Some might regard this line of argument as the pot calling the kettle black. However, only earlier this month the Chief Election Commissioner, on a visit to Lucknow, made an appeal to not allow chargesheeted persons to contest elections for state Assemblies or Parliament. The CEC is entirely correct (as is the implied argument made in the apex court by Mr Thomas' counsel). Indeed, the suggestion made by the CEC may be deemed to be a basic requirement for cleaning up our system which has been mired in corruption and mis-governance at every level for decades. The points made by the CEC had in the past been made by others as well. But this line of thinking does not appear to have impressed our political class much. There has been a conspicuous reluctance on its part to enact legislation that would disqualify chargesheeted persons from running for Assembly or Parliament, although everyone can see this is a crying need. And yet, for all that, this point being made in court on Mr Thomas' behalf amounts to sophistry.

It can be no one's case at the moment that the present CVC is a corrupt man. That point is still to be proved. In fact, up and down the Kerala administration Mr Thomas is viewed as a man of integrity who has been caught in political crossfire. None of this matters, however. What matters is whether, given the sensitive nature of the CVC's job, Mr Thomas would be able to preside over the business of unravelling corruption cases without a defendant pointing a finger at him for being chargesheeted himself and thus being unfit to preside over the destiny of others. This was pointed out by the Chief Justice of India several weeks ago. To go a step further, only someone who is seen as moral, ethical and clean by all comers can effectively discharge the function of determining whether those brought before him are corrupt or clean. It is for this reason that Mr Thomas has had to recuse himself from considering the 2G spectrum case, for fingers would have been pointed as he was telecom secretary during a part of the period now being investigated. We know that a large number of MPs, MLAs and ministers have a criminal background and the system merely winks at this phenomenon. But does India aspire to have in high office people about whom taint is suspected. Would we want a chargesheeted person as Chief Justice, President, or Prime Minister for instance?






Around the turn of the year it was clear that makers of Indian foreign policy had decided to accord in 2011 high priority to the country's relations with the neighbourhood and with the continent of Africa. There were good reasons for this resolve. In the first place, the contours of relations with all the major powers had already

been established fairly firmly. Indeed, leaders of all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — had been to New Delhi one after the other during the second half of 2010. More importantly, there was belated realisation that South Block's energies were so concentrated on the difficult and tangled relations with Pakistan that other neighbours tended to be neglected. No wonder, China was able demonstrably to expand its ties with countries like Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to India's disadvantage, the "all-weather" China-Pakistan friendship and strategic alliance being in a class by itself. As for Africa too, it was obvious that China's economic and political sway there far exceeded India's.

While fresh developments in relation to Africa are still awaited, there have been some happy signs in the immediate neighbourhood for which Indian diplomacy deserves credit. For instance, at long last, Nepal has a Prime Minister after political and governance vacuum lasting seven months. No fewer than 16 previous attempts to elect a new Prime Minister had failed, and the success of the 17th was something of a surprise. For, Pushap Kamal Dhal, better known as Prachanda, leader of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), himself a candidate in all previous contests, announced the withdrawal of his candidature literally at the last minute. Though welcome, it also raised some intriguing questions. Mr Prachanda had kept his decision secret from even his own party colleagues, some of whom, principally Baburam Bhattarai, are peeved. Similarly, the newly elected Prime Minister, Jhalanath Khanal, is one of the several leaders of the faction-ridden Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), and this causes heartburn within the party.
However, the end of the protracted paralysis of both political and peace processes is heartening. Nepal can now get back to work. It will be unrealistic, however, to believe that Nepal's crisis is over. On the contrary, grim charges still loom and Mr Khanal would need all the skill and dexterity at his command to meet them. To these I will return after briefly mentioning two other encouraging events.

First, the often prickly and sometimes frustrating relations with Bangladesh have been on an even keel since the return to power in Dhaka of the Awami League leader, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, and a series of agreements between her and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A billion-dollar credit to Bangladesh by this country has been of great help. Initially, there were complaints by Dhaka that agreements arrived at were not being implemented. But these are now rare. Some issues, such as transit through Bangladesh to India's Northeast, are yet to be settled. But they are being discussed in a more constructive atmosphere than before.
Secondly, India has always wanted close, friendly and cooperative relations with Sri Lanka (the island republic that has no other neighbour), and so the policy remained even during the strains of Sri Lankan civil war. Of late, however, New Delhi found it necessary to tell Colombo that the wanton killings of two Indian fishermen by Lankan Navy in quick succession were unacceptable. Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao drove this home to Sri Lankan leaders with a commendable mixture of politeness and firmness.

To revert to Nepal, challenges ahead are acute and of concern to not only that country but also India with its high stakes in the peace and stability of the only neighbour with which it has an open border. Mr Khanal is the Prime Minister and the senior partner in the new ruling combination. But Maoist leader Mr Prachanda has a whip hand over him because of the huge numerical superiority of the Maoists over the CPN-UML in the Constituent Assembly. And since Maoist ideas of the shape of the Constitution differ radically from those of the Nepali Congress and other parties in the Opposition, to say nothing of several members of the CPN-UML, it is a moot point whether the Constitution can be adopted before the extended deadline that expires on May 28, 2011.
No less worrisome is the problem of integration with the regular Army of the Maoist cadres of the People's Liberation Army and the modalities of such integration and rehabilitation. The Maoists want integration at battalion and brigade levels to which other parties are opposed. As Prime Minister until 2008, Mr Prachanda had sacked the Army chief and appointed an "interim" commander-in-chief. President Ram Baran Yadav, as Supreme Commander, had overruled the Prime Minister. Thereupon, the Maoist leader had resigned and was replaced by Mahav Nepal of CPN-UML, who had to quit in June last.

Presumably because of the absorbing interest in the Egyptian upheaval, not enough notice has been taken of another welcome development with a significant bearing on India's extended neighbourhood. Regrettably, some weeks ago, without any discussion with Iran, India had terminated the traditional arrangement of paying Iran through the Asian Currency Union and in dollars. This was a consequence of the enhanced American sanctions on Iran and their impact on the international banking system. Understandably, Tehran was not amused. Happily, after quiet negotiations between the two countries, this problem has been solved. India would now pay Iran in euros.

One good has come out of even this unhappy episode. Both sides now have better awareness of the great importance of the Indo-Iranian relations that are civilisational, geo-strategic and economic. Iran supplies 12 per cent of India's needs of crude oil. Its quality is even more important than its quantity. For, several Indian refineries can run only on light crude. To get it from elsewhere would be more costly. That apart, Iran's interests in Afghanistan converge with ours, and events in Egypt and elsewhere in West Asia are almost certain to add to the already growing Iranian influence in the region.






After more than two decades, Burma convened its new Parliament on January 31, 2011, led by former Prime Minister Thein Sein as President. Though Mr Sein retired from the military in April 2010 to contest elections as a "civilian", he is still strongly backed by the military, and his party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), is backed by the military junta.

This shift, therefore, does not indicate critical leadership change that was expected after the elections in November 2010.

Although the convening of Parliament and the fact that Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi continues to engage in her official work can be seen as a microstep forward for a system that has remained opaque for over four decades, its real impact is negligible. It does not highlight in any way a willingness on the part of the junta to relinquish the reins of power and allow a democratic transition.

The elections that resulted in the USDP winning about 80 per cent of the seats hardly had any Opposition. Opening up elections to multiple parties did not produce any effective challenge to the USDP as the only party that could have challenged the junta was Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) which boycotted the elections. In fact, the question of participation in the elections itself led to internal division of the NLD. The faction that supported participation merged with five other smaller parties to form what came to be known as the National Democratic Front (NDF). This loose knit grouping today has little voice as the Opposition in Burma. Ms Suu Kyi's NLD was barred from elections. And since her release in November 2010, there has been little clarity on how she plans to take on the junta and press for democratic changes in Burma.
The elections and the new Parliament raise several questions for the international community. The West, particularly the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia, have adopted sanctions as a method of dealing with the intransigence of the military junta. However, it is evident that the sanctions have had little impact on the Burmese rulers. If sanctions have had an impact at all, it has been on the Burmese people who remain impoverished. In fact, it is the junta that initiated opening up of the economic front. Burma's integration with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and closer ties with both China and India have pushed the development agenda in Burma and this brought in investment from the region. Southeast Asia has several examples where a rigid political system has coexisted with a liberal economy.

Today, however, the West is beginning to question the validity of sanctions. Sanctions have rarely worked in altering the domestic scenarios, forget initiating a transition to democracy. In fact, dictatorships and authoritarian regimes thrive even with the imposition of sanctions.

The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which strongly favoured sanctions, is now divided because countries like France and Germany have begun to have economic engagement with Burma. And the message from the Obama administration is that sanctions must be re-evaluated and options to engage with Burma need to be explored. 
At the Asean foreign ministers' meeting in Lombok (Indonesia) last month, the ministers took a positive view of the November elections in Burma and stated that the time has come for sanctions to go. Leaders stated that the elections and release of Ms Suu Kyi critically demonstrated the seriousness of the junta to bring about political transition.

But, interestingly, neither of the two groups — the ones that advocate sanctions and those who talk of engagement — have made any headway with Burma's military junta.

The impact of both these groups on the junta's ability to bring about change is negligible. If any option can work, it has to be one that does not support sanctions. Only engagement with the junta can create space for an economically viable middle class which can then demand political participation. Real change in Burma must, and will, come from within, from an empowered Burmese society and polity. It is only then that the change will be enduring and long term.

After the elections, there is a division between Burma's older and newer leadership as they hold divergent views on reform and political change.

This new development is being spoken of as a "civilianised" military. This is a first step towards evolving a new framework for transition and is indicative of a minute change. If this can cause some degree of split within the military and the USDP, it will challenge the cohesiveness of the military. Such a split will be critical in realigning the priorities of the younger leadership. This has happened in other military regimes in Southeast Asia. In fact, in Indonesia this critical factor led to the collapse of Suharto in 1998. Burma, which draws heavily from the Indonesian example, could well follow suit if this schism were to deepen.

Also, the 2008 Constitution, which is seen as regressive by many and reserves 25 per cent of the seats for the military, needs to be revised. It currently allows for Parliament to be dissolved and Emergency powers to be declared with just consultation between the President, the Commander in Chief of the armed forces and the ministers for defence and home affairs. So despite the Constitution, the authority remains vested in a few hands. 

The NLD in its current state can do little to challenge the junta. Since her release, Ms Suu Kyi has spoken of national reconciliation and the need to negotiate with the junta. However, she and the NLD remain debarred from political processes. While she asked the international community at Davos to responsibly invest within Burma, especially in the fields of technology and infrastructure, domestically her continued political response has been towards achieving national reconciliation. Creating a space for her pleas must come from within Burma.

Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU






When India and Pakistan met in Thimpu to revive the composite dialogue between their foreign ministers this spring, Pakistan asked India to do more against Hindu extremists allegedly responsible for the Samjhauta Express blasts.


This might have been ironic if it weren't so tragic. After all, the perception of the world in general, and of India in particular, is that terrorists dominate Pakistan's landscape at the behest of its army, which pull the strings behind a façade of civilian rule.


A rebuttal is in order. Fact: India is taking action against all terrorists, politics and religion notwithstanding. It was solid police work that first exposed the till-then unknown phenomenon of some radical Hindus resorting to terrorism. The proof of the police's success is the fact that such radicals have not been able to carry out any further attacks.


For Pakistan to subtly link acting against those responsible for the 26/11 attacks to India cracking down on those behind the Samjhauta blasts is not just unforgivable, but smacks of a ploy to deflect attention from the fact that Islamabad has done precious little against those behind 26/11. It has not even questioned the army officers believed to have directed the attacks, let alone act against them. The trial of LeT's Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi's trial drags on and on.


India did well to stand firm against Pakistan's diversionary tactics at Thimpu. It is unfortunate that the act of a few radicals is being used by some in India to score political points. It is especially unfortunate when Pakistan uses this internal debate to avoid reducing the trust deficit between the two neighbours.







Within days of the start of the uprising in Egypt, political pundits in Washington began to ask why America's massive intelligence apparatus had not been able to predict it.


Their criticism has the empty benefit of hindsight. History has a habit of blindsiding human beings. It did so in St Petersburg in 1917; in Berlin in 1931, in Moscow in 1992. It tends to do so because although the causes of political change can be identified in advance, the change itself is almost always sudden. Anger that has simmered for years, even decades, suddenly bursts forth and spreads like wild fire. Then there is no stopping it.


Strategic analysts have ascribed the near simultaneous explosions of street power in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen to rising income inequalities, a sharp rise in the cost of food and widespread unemployment. But a closer look shows that their single uniting factor is a revolt against governments that have become increasingly unrepresentative with the passage of time.


All the prote-sts and uprisings are taking place against regimes that are firmly aligned with the US and are therefore, tacitly or explicitly, willing to coexist with Israel. Israel's relentless nibbling at the West Bank throughout the nineties, George Bush's Iraq war in 2003, Israel's attack on Lebanon in 2006, and the unending economic blockade of Gaza for the past five years have made it harder and harder for the rulers to justify their policies. This has forced them to rely more and more heavily on repression to stay in power.


But repression cannot be selective: What may have begun as an attempt to suppress Arab radicalism after the assassination of president Anwar Sadaat, and the end of the First Afghan war, has ended by stifling all forms of political dissent. Repression has bred unaccountability and corruption. One needed only to add global recession, food inflation and unemployment to this deadly mix to make the pot boil over.


As I write, Egypt is on the cusp. The government is holding talks with the dissidents; after 45 years the Muslim brotherhood has been allowed to come out of the cold. The chances of an orderly transition to democracy are getting better. Should this happen the credit will belong not only to Egypt's suddenly empowered civil society but also in good part to president Obama. He understood within hours that siding with repression now would buy short term stability at the cost of long term chaos. He has therefore urged Mubarak to leave the seemingly safe harbour of authoritarian rule, for the heaving seas of democracy.


The change that is taking place in Egypt and has already taken place in Tunisia is reverberating around the world. King Abdullah of Jordan has changed his prime minister; president Saleh in Yemen has called a joint meeting with all parties to craft a reconciliation.


If this upsurge of democratic sentiment continues, the political map of the Arab world will be changed forever. Israel will be the first to feel its effect, for it will have to look for fresh ways to settle the Palestine issue. But Islamist extremism will be the second loser, for it too has fed upon the intransigence of authoritarian regimes and their willingness to tolerate Israel's incessant resort to force.


But India will not escape the reverberations either. For it too must answer the question that Tahrir square has posed: what can even the most heavily armed state do when its own people repudiate it? This question needs an urgent answer in Kashmir valley, which has been in a virtual lockdown since June. What will Delhi do if lakhs of Kashmiris converge on Lal Chowk and refuse to leave it till the Abdullah government resigns, the anti-terrorist laws are repealed and the army sent back to the barracks? Will it fire on them? Will it deploy water cannon and rubber bullets as the Egyptian police have done but the JK police and the CRPF have not? Will it declare curfews, and try to prevent demonstrators from getting to Lal Chowk? Or will it forestall having to choose between these grim alternatives by giving democracy one more chance in Kashmir.


It is true that the Omar Abdullah government is an elected government. But as more than one opinion poll in the valley has shown, it is also a government that has lost the support of most of the people in the valley. Is it asking too much of a nation that prides itself on its democracy, to give democracy a chance to sort out the mess in Kashmir? As we are seeing in Egypt, the very least this will do is to empower the moderates and weaken the extremists clustered around Geelani and Masrat Alam. All that Delhi has to do is make up its mind. What it can no longer afford is to do nothing. Today it is like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding train. It has to jump off the tracks , and is rapidly running out of time.









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.








Security forces personnel deployed in low intensity conflict and counter- insurgency operations experience a number of stressful events including operation stressors, domestic stressors, physical and situation attributes of operation zone and socio-political stressors. Troops deployed in such an environment had significantly higher psychiatric morbidity, alcohol use, unfavourable response to task, diminished efficiency, frustration, maladjustment, tension, isolation etc. Stress is a part of day to day activities in all walks of life. However, the scope and dimension of physical and psychological stress in the army is relatively higher and peculiar due to the uniqueness of service conditions. Stress has a distinct connotation owing to the constant involvement of security forces personnel in counter-insurgency or counter-terrorist operations, high altitude area environment and long separation from their families.

This creates a combination of domestic and operational environment related stresses. On November 06, 2009, at Fort Hood, Texas, the largest United States Army Base in the world, an army major (service psychiatrist) gunned down 20 people. He was going to be deployed in Iraq. General George Patton gained fame during World War II for his brilliant military strategy. He gained infamy for slapping a soldier suffering from shell-shock/ battle fatigue/ combat stress/ post- traumatic disorder. On an average we have been having about 100 suicide cases a year in the past four to five years, so this year has been the same. Mainly it is in insurgency-hit areas, but suicides are also happening in areas where there is no insurgency. Deployment in such environments has resulted in a number of stress related incidents and cases of suicides and fratricides, which is definitely a cause of serious concern. While measures initiated to arrest such trend have yielded some positive results, a holistic approach to arrest this trend is definitely required. In general, causative issues of counter- insurgency stress are occupational factors like increased workload, lack of adequate sleep and rest and non- grant of timely leave which were highlighted before pressure from family front coupled with host of personal factors in order of priority. As per report in the media, the officers considered personal causes as prominent precursors of suicide and fratricide, while personnel below officer rank considered occupational and familial factors as more important than personal ones. While declassifying the parliamentary report on suicides in armed forces the ministry of defence stressed on the need of conducting regular studies on the subject. The defence minister, A.K. Antony while sharing his concern in the Parliament on July 13, 2009, over rising number of suicides and killing of fellow soldiers, mentioned that there were 520 cases of suicides and fratricides in the army since 2006, of which 495 were suicides alone. The standing Parliamentary Committee on Defence, during its 32nd report, had noted that there were 635 cases of suicide and 67 fratricides in the armed forces between 2003 and 2006. There is no denial that even a single case of suicide and fratricide in armed forces is a matter of concern for the ministry despite the fact that the overall psychiatric morbidity is less than the national figures.
The armed forces personnel could not be immune to influences of the environment at their home and the rising aspirations of the community as a whole. In the light of above, it is essential to understand stress and its effect on the performance of security forces personnel deployed in sub-conventional warfare environment.

Anguish of mind has driven thousands to suicide; anguish of body, none. This proves that the health of mind is of far more consequence to our happiness, than the health of the body, although both deserve much more attention than either of them receive." Military life is full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations and demands. For many, stress is so common place that it has become a way of life. Stress is not always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you are constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price. If one frequently finds himself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it is time to take action to bring one's nervous system back into balance.
Service personnel undergo more number of life events in a year and in total life span as compared to civilian counterparts. Stress is a non-specific response of the body to a stimulus or event or demand. When an individual experiences an event or stimulus (stressor), it leads to a physiological response, one that can be measured by several indicators such as elevated heart rate. The term stress is used to refer to this physiological response. Stressors may vary in the form and can include extreme temperature or lighting, time pressure, lack of sleep and exposure to threat or danger, among others.

The demands of deployments often require tighter deadlines and heavier workloads for maintenance, training and logistics operations. In addition to stressors stemming directly from military operations, there are separation stressors that result from the fact that deployments force individuals to leave their families and friends for long and uncertain periods. This class of stressors affects not only the military personnel who are deployed but also the families left behind and the colleagues who have to deal with their emotions about not being deployed and with the additional work left by those who were. Separation stressors also include the worry associated with being forced to leave one's family alone, financial or safety concerns and the strain placed on a relationship when individuals are separated. Sub-conventional operations share many stressors with more hostile conventional operations but may include a lower threat of enemy fire, death or personal injury. Certain stressors such as lack of clear definition of responsibilities, boredom, or lack of relevant training may be more problematic in sub-conventional operations including peacekeeping and humanitarian missions than on conventional operations. The most commonly reported stressors are being away from home and family, uncertainty of return date, sanitation, lack of privacy, lack of time off and long work hours, environmental stressors like excessive heat/ cold, insects nuisance etc, fear of diseases, lack of sleep, problems with spouse/ children, and financial problems at home. Indifferent attitude of civil administration, civil police and society towards genuine demands of soldiers and their family members in resolving their land/ property disputes and various cases of wilful harassment, causes stress among soldiers. In relatively more intense combat operations, the types of stressors that are unique to hostile missions include handling of human remains, dealing with casualties and threat of enemy fire. Experiences of being ambushed, receiving hostile fire and knowing someone who was killed causes stress among security forces personnel. (INAV)








India's policy towards Afghanistan after 9/11 has rested on three prongs - greater economic engagement, support for the Karzai Government, and thwarting the Taliban's return to power in Kabul. The Indian objective is to prevent Afghanistan from emerging as a theatre for radical Islam and a launch pad for terrorism against India. However, India has failed to convert the third prong of its strategy into reality. The London conference, held last year, made the return of the Taliban - good and bad - a reality. After years of a spiteful relationship, Karzai has warmed up to Islamabad to seek its help to facilitate negotiations with the Taliban.

India's strategy to prevent the Taliban from returning to the centre stage of Afghan affairs had relied on America's ability to militarily enforce stability and on the Karzai government's capacity to provide effective governance. However, India underestimated Pakistan's capacity to play the role of a spoiler. With the Taliban return to power appearing inevitable, India has introduced an important nuance in its position. In the words of Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna "the process (of reintegration of the Taliban) should be Afghan-led, inclusive and transparent, and any external interference in the reintegration process would be detrimental both for its success and for the future of a democratic, stable, pluralistic and prosperous Afghanistan." The truth of the matter is that Pakistan remains central to the success of the process of reconciliation and reintegration. In the words of Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, "nothing will happen without us, because we are part of the solution." American helplessness and frustration are evident from the increasing number of drone attacks to alter the strategic equations in Afghanistan. Writing in the New York Times, Bruce Riedel noted that there are serious limitations that America faces in Afghanistan and "we cannot make Pakistan stop being naughty."
The economic crunch and increasing casualties have made a long term Western presence in Afghanistan untenable. The United States has linked its exit strategy to a relatively stable Afghanistan that does not pose a serious threat to its interests. At the same time, it refuses to recognise the organic link between the Taliban and al-Qaeda and continues to remain focussed "on disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan…"

Groups that can make a significant difference to the escalating violence in Afghanistan are the Haqqani group based in North Waziristan, the Quetta shura, and now the Karachi shura (as speculated in the media) - all controlled by Pakistan's intelligence agency. There is very little influence that India has over these groups which are now poised to play a major role in Afghanistan. India realises that any workable strategy in Afghanistan would involve Pakistan. Like the US, it prefers those Taliban who abjure violence and accept the Afghan constitution. Under these circumstances, what India needs is a new strategy that protects its interests in Afghanistan.

The US has described its exit strategy as "aspirational goals" which are not cast in stone since it realises that there are difficulties in operationalising the strategy that was put together at the Lisbon NATO summit in December and which was reiterated in Obama's speech of December 16. India has argued that any troops pull out must be situation-based rather than calendar-based. Moreover, a 42 per cent increase in Afghan security forces by October 2012 to facilitate the exit strategy is not plausible give the shortage of 700 trainers.
India faces immense challenges in Afghanistan. It is engaged in developmental work in Pashtun dominated areas, yet it is seen as a friend of the erstwhile Northern Alliance and cannot count many friends among the Pashtun leaders. Karzai's controversial election, corruption charges against his government, and his attempt to sideline detractors, have all made his government unpopular at home and invited scathing criticism from abroad. India's support for Karzai only accentuates the Pashtun mistrust, though India is left with no choice but to support an elected Government.

India's economic engagement in Afghanistan has earned immense goodwill at the popular level. However, India lacks a political strategy to cater for the return of the Taliban. It is apprehensive about making further investments as it is not sure of the political configuration that may emerge in the future. It is plausible that the Taliban may not replicate their old regime, but there is a possibility of political instability that may offset India's economic presence. However, given the geo-strategic flux, India needs to chart a policy that minimises its losses in Afghanistan.

India needs to take proactive steps to mobilise other countries of the region that have similar concerns regarding the reconciliation and reintegration of hardcore Taliban elements. There are several options that can be attempted in cooperation with countries of the region. One way would be to prevent the Pakistan-backed radical groups from assuming a dominant position in Afghanistan. The other option would be to reduce the Afghan government's dependence on Pakistan for trade and transit, which would enable Kabul to be more independent and less subject to Pakistani arm twisting. India needs to take the lead in engaging countries that border Afghanistan. Pakistan should also be engaged to minimise mistrust and suspicion. India has already signed on to the TAPI pipeline project along with Pakistan and Afghanistan, and consultations must be directed at facilitating future energy cooperation. India needs to seriously pursue the development of Chabahar port. There are reports that Indian companies are bidding for Hagijak mines in Bamiyan province and they would need an outlet to get these minerals. To ensure stability in Afghanistan, the countries of the region need to ensure that Afghanistan's ethnic minorities find adequate representation in a future government.

Other countries of the region are preparing for the post transition phase as is evident from the first visit of Russian President to Afghanistan. Iran for the first time attended the NATO dominated international contact group meeting in Rome in October 2010. Like India, Iran would have an interest in ensuring that the future government in Kabul does not become an extension of the security establishment in Rawalpindi and should be truly an Afghan initiative. There is a need to engage China and Tajikistan which are unlikely to be comfortable with the return of Taliban. Countries of the region have followed separate policies in Afghanistan and this has tilted the balance in favour of Pakistan. India should therefore step up its engagement of these countries. This is likely to bear more fruits than formal multilateral forums that tend to take a geographical criterion rather than a commonality of interests. (INAV)








Indian Governance needs to be redefined in the light of recent scams and breach of trusts. The system needs complete over hauling and administrative thinkers and law makers are needed to make this democratic system survive. Considering the changing global scenario, a more sensitive and vibrant systems of operation is required and for this a better system of reward and punishment should be evolved.

The important institutions of the social system like the family, morality, ethics, values have gone down to the level of extinction and the role of relationship is in a state of confusion and mutual trust and dependence has almost become unpredictable. This has made the life more painful. In the absence of proper codification and adequate level of interpretation, the term freedom and fundamental rights has been misconceived as complete independence and independence has been regarded as a symbol of matured democracy. And this overemphasis on independence has disassociated an individual from the society system. Unthoughtful and irrational independence is tantamount to anarchy.

In anarchy there is no consideration for others and selfishness is the most potent and legitimate form of survival under such a situation, there is no past and there is no need to think about the future and only concern is the immediate today. But this kind of thinking is not good for the survival and evaluation of human society. A human being has a past and has a future too. In this system every one has to contribute as per ones needs, aspirations, desires and abilities. The abilities to sustain pressure and perform the basis of efficiency and the system recognizes them as the most value free criterion for their status power and position. This process of allocation and compliance is maintained by the level of governance. Good governance allocates proper role and duties to able incumbents and in return those incumbents contribute to the further strengthening of the governance. This becomes a cycle and relentless process transmitted from one generation to other in a stronger manner through the network of both formal and informal means of social control mainly in the form of reward and punishment.

Reward has certain properties. It encourages and aspires to do well for the society and oneself. Infact by the mechanism of reward which may be in the form of promotion, positions, assignments, titles, ranks, etc. the individual gets an incentive to work for the society and therefore, contributes towards ensuring good governance. But if the reward is given to inept, inefficient and fraudulent characters then the whole purpose is not only defeated but starts creating a vicious nexus amongst the non deserving elements against the deserving one. The entire existing machinery is geared towards concealing their in efficiency and there is rise and growth of demagogues and extortionist who believe in the management of their mismanagement. They manage the mechanism of reward to earn favour for their existence and in this process, the concept of good governance evaporates. Once this rewarding mechanism is manipulated, the mechanism punishment is automatically misused. Punishment is the most potent and effective means of formal social control and it encompasses both preventive and curative dimensions to restore not only the normalcy in the social system but also provides confidence in a common person in the system. The lack of co-ordination between reward and punishment encourages the anti-social elements to sustain even with in those professions which are supposed to be indispensable for the functioning of the system. This provides opportunity to anti-social elements to hide their modus operandi and this sends a wrong message to society and its followers especially, the generation to follow. The judiciary is confused and judgements are some time lopsided. The system fails to distinguish between good and bad and also the common people fails to choose the correct people to run the administration. This forms the vicious cycle as the voters elect mostly those people who can manipulate their opinion and when they are elected they protect those laws, which protect their interests. This impregenable nexus tarnishes the image of the Govt. and demonstrates the inability of the common people to under stand and break this nexus. Under such a situation laws breed corruption and corrupt people interpret the laws as per their vested interests. Even judiciary is not able to control the process of denigration and to some extent fails to punish the real culprits. This is the ultimate failure of punishment and when the punishment fails then the common people are estranged from the governance. The time has come to think about the future of the nation. There is need for certain changes in the approach and attitude of the governance. The law enforcing agencies must be made multilayered and accountable for their jurisdictions with certain amount of autonomy and checks and balances. The schools must teach about the ethics and morality to the coming generations and the present generations must learn to sacrifice to build the lives of their children. The judiciary must have a large number of officials and staff to investigate the disputed matters at the spot so that the role of manipulations could be wiped out at the initial level without proper involvement of the people with all mental and moral responsibility to make every person feel that good governance is the most luxurious invention of human kind. Now time has come for those isolated people to come together and assist those parts of the Govt. which are still honest and just take bold initiatives to punish those, who are rewarded for their misdeeds and bring back the message that those who are to be punished would be punished without any discrimination and delay. Message should be clearly sent to all those who deserve that they would be rewarded and also to those who commit crime must know that they would be punished and in between let the humanity prevail and system remain intact with all there of good governance. If one has talent and perseverance will get the reward, if one has a tendency to be deviant, punishment is sure.



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





THE central government is certain to file a revision petition against the Supreme Court ruling that held that mere membership of a banned organisation would not be enough to hold a person guilty of terrorist acts. The ruling was given on a petition filed by a suspected member of the banned United Liberation Front of Assam ( ULFA) Arup Bhuiyan. The latter had been held under the Terrorist & Disruptive Activities ( Prevention) Act. The apex court held that the evidence produced against him was weak and the entire case against him seemed to be based on his purported confession made before the police, which is admissible under the anti-terror laws. Taking a dim view of the manner in which the police extracts confessions, the court ruled that unless a person indulges in an act of violence, incites people to violence or creates public disorder, his life and liberty cannot be compromised. Even Joan of Arc, the Bench observed, confessed to being a witch after she was tortured.


That there is some merit in what the Supreme Court observed is unquestionable. A case in point is the plight of 14 people, accused of being members of the banned Students' Islamic Movement of India ( SIMI) and charged with their role in the Jaipur blasts in 2008. The detained, according to media reports, include an elderly physician and a labourer. Their only fault, established during the trial so far is that they allegedly attended meetings addressed by a person described by the police as the mastermind behind the serial blasts. While misuse of the draconian provisions of the anti-terror laws and the very real possibility of persecution of the innocent were factors prompting the ruling, the dismay of the government is also not unreasonable. The police needs to deal with facilitators, given the difficulties in apprehending the terrorists.


]etween the government and court, however, it should be possible to evolve a better mechanism and improved checks and balances, so that the innocent do not suffer and yet, national security is not compromised. It is necessary at the same time to ensure that security agencies are adequately trained and equipped to collect scientific and better evidence.









External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna has clearly hinted that the doors for India-Pakistan sustained engagement have opened with the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries having discussed the subject in a cordial atmosphere in Thimphu, Bhutan, on Monday on the sidelines of the SAARC Council of Ministers' Conference. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir discussed the modalities of a fresh dialogue process and how to start building bridges of trust, understanding and mutual confidence which could be seen after the Composite Dialogue Process that got snapped in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. This was what the extremist elements in Pakistan wanted because an atmosphere of tension between the two neighbours suited their destructive designs.


Unfortunately, the Pakistan establishment has been using these elements as part of its policy to achieve its geopolitical objectives. Now it claims that it has launched a drive against terrorists and extremists in the interest of peace and stability in Pakistan. But has it really done so? Why is it not pursuing these evil forces with the same vigour as noticed in the case of the Taliban and Al-Qaida? Why has it not brought to book all those involved in the Mumbai mayhem despite enough evidence provided by India? Why is Pakistan allowing many terrorist training camps to remain intact despite its pledge not to allow its territory to be used for terrorist attacks on India? Why is it helping these elements indirectly to sustain themselves by changing the names of their outfits? These questions are bound to be raised during the Foreign Minister-level talks that may be held between India and Pakistan in the near future.


Those who argue that there is no point in holding any kind of dialogue with Pakistan under the prevailing circumstances miss the vital point that there is no better alternative to talks. Pakistan's insistence on calling it the Composite Dialogue Process is pointless. All the issues that have been coming in the way of normalisation of India-Pakistan relations can be discussed in any dialogue process. What is important is that the two countries must remain engaged, giving precedence to promoting people-to-people contacts, trade relations and cultural exchanges, which together can create an atmosphere when it will be easier to tackle sensitive issues like cross-border terrorism and Kashmir. 
















EVEN though Tuesday's all-party meeting convened by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the impasse in Parliament over the Opposition demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the 2G Spectrum scam remained inconclusive, reports of an apparent breakthrough at the meeting seem to suggest a thaw in the deadlock. The fact that both the government and the Opposition have expressed their readiness to resume the functioning of Parliament is good news. After the meeting, Mr Mukherjee, the Centre's key troubleshooter, has said that no price is too high to let Parliament function. Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj has said that the government is likely to convene another meeting on the issue before the Budget session of Parliament starts from February 21. Other leaders such as Mr Sitraram Yechury (CPM), Mr Gurudas Dasgupta (CPM) and Mr D. Raja (CPI) have all emphasised the need for resuming the functioning of Parliament.


It is not yet clear how the government intends to break the deadlock. However, one possible solution that the government is contemplating is to move a substantive motion in Parliament when it meets for the Budget session. A substantive motion is one that reflects the sense of the House. It is a reflection of the collective wisdom of Parliament. There has been a national outcry over the disruption of Parliament's winter session. The Centre held that there was no need for a JPC because the 2G Spectrum allocation scam was already being probed by the Public Accounts Committee, the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate. The Supreme Court is also monitoring the CBI probe. The BJP-led Opposition, however, held that a scandal of such a magnitude needed to be probed by the JPC in all its ramifications. It upped its antenna after the arrest of former Union Telecom Minister A. Raja, his private secretary R.K. Chandolia and former Telecom Secretary Siddharth Behura.


In a democracy, there are bound to be differences between the government and the Opposition over any issue. However, these are best resolved through debate and discussion in Parliament and not in the streets. We can strengthen democracy only by running Parliament effectively and not by disrupting the noble institution which is the chief repository of the people's will. It is good that both sides have at last realised the imperative need for a meeting ground on running Parliament at any cost.









MR Jhalanath Khanal's election as Prime Minister of Nepal on February 3, after 16 electoral rounds, ended the seven-month-old stalemate on government formation in the Himalayan country. It will be the third communist-led government in Nepal since the dethroning of monarchy in 2008.


Mr Khanal's election became possible due to an unexpected change in the Maoists' tactics when its supreme leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) withdrew from the prime ministerial race in favour of the chief of the rival communist party, the United Marxist Leninist (UML). This was a cleaver move based on a hurriedly arrived seven-point understanding between the Maoist and UML leaders. It was triggered by the surprise entry of a Madhesi (Terai) party leader, Mr Bijay Gachhadar, into the prime ministerial race aimed at spoiling the prospects of Mr Prachanda, securing the support of some of the Madhesi groups. If Mr Prachanda had continued in the race the possibility of either the Nepali Congress winning the prime ministership in the second count or the stalemate persisting could not be ruled out. Thus, by his move, Mr Prachanda not only avoided his personal defeat and frustration but also ensured a dominant say for him and his party in the running of the Khanal government under the seven-point understanding.


The implementation of the understanding may not be very smooth as there are a couple of sensitive issues. Difficulties in the distribution of portfolios have already surfaced, as the Maoists wanted the portfolios of Home and Foreign Affairs. There are also tensions on the principle of rotation and "supervising mechanism" built into the seven points. A more sensitive issue, however, is related to the peace process; of integrating Maoist armed cadres into Nepal's security forces. The understanding arrived at between the two leaders provide for the integration of Maoist combatants either as a "separate force" or an "alternative force combining the PLA and other security forces". This is not acceptable to many within Mr Khanal's UML or in the Nepali Congress and other parties. The army has serious reservations on any en-bloc integration of Maoist combatants into the security forces. They want individual induction only after scrutiny. These reservations have played an important role in obstructing the integration process to advance as the Maoists reject the army's position but the major political parties like the Nepali Congress, the UML and some Madhesi groups endorse it. India and the US also prefer to go along with the army's position and want to see a very small number of the Maoist combatants accommodated into Nepal's security forces after close scrutiny at the individual level.


The Maoists have not had an easy relationship with the UML in the past. Both parties have been rivals, engaged in capturing the leadership of the left in the Nepali political space and even poaching each other's cadres. The Dahal-Khanal alliance forged under the seven-point understanding has been questioned within both these parties. While the Madhav Kumar Nepal and K.P. Oli groups have raised objections within the UML, one of the Maoist Vice Presidents, Mr Baburam Bhattarai, submitted a written dissent to Mr Prachanda on the withdrawal of his candidacy. The Nepali Congress and the Gachhadar-led Madhesi groups may also want to see this alliance collapse.


The Maoist-UML alliance, however, looks far more stable than the previous UML-led government headed by Mr Madhav Nepal and supported by the Nepali Congress. The Maoists and the UML put together have comfortable numbers on their side —- 343 in a House of 600. They also got support from fringe left groups as well as breakaway Madhesi groups from the Sadbhawana Patrty and the Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party, taking their tally to 368 that voted for Mr Khanal.


There is a strong possibility of Mr Gachhadar's rival faction led by Mr Upendra Yadav representing Madhes joining the Khanal government to take the number nearer to a two- thirds majority in the Constituent Assembly. If this happens, the finalisation of the Constitution and advancing of the peace process being promised by Mr Khanal and Mr Dahal will be considerably facilitated. This will end the specter of uncertainty and instability in Nepal.


Patronage of power gives Mr Dahal and Mr Khanal an advantage in dealing with their intra-party dissenters. It may also be recalled that Mr Dahal, Mr Khanal and Mr Yadav have a certain compatibility with each other as was evident in the support extended by the latter two, in their personal capacities, to Mr Dahal in his futile exercise of sacking the Nepal Army Chief, General Katawal, in May 2009. If they could then carry their respective parties along on this issue the Maoists government could still be in power.


The policy makers in South Block will have their own assessment of the Khanal-Dahal alliance, but to the dispassionate observers, both within and outside Nepal, this is the fourth major setback to Indian diplomacy. The first was the failure of the Karan Singh mission in April 2006, then came the "unexpected" victory of the Maoists in April 2008 elections, followed by the unprecedented rise of anti-Indianism in Nepal characterised by the pelting of stones on the Indian Ambassador, and now the formation of a Maoist-UML government.


Indian diplomacy in Nepal in recent years seems to have been relying rather heavily on inept inputs of its intelligence agencies, personal prejudices and egoistic assessments of its diplomats and exaggerated obsession with China's influence.


It was widely believed during Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's visit to Nepal last month that India would accept any government there except the one to be headed by either Mr Dahal or Mr Khanal, the so-called pro-China communist leaders.


The Maoists have publicly blamed Mr Gachhadar's candidature for prime ministership as a move blessed by India to keep Mr Dahal and Mr Khanal out of power. It was this move that precipitated the alliance between Mr Dahal and Mr Khanal.


Mr Dahal, while withdrawing his candidature, openly asserted that he was doing so to frustrate India's interference in Nepalese affairs. China has naturally capitalised on India's lapses by promptly identifying itself with the Khanal-Dahal alliance.


India now clearly has two options in Nepal. It can pursue its present line and work with all those domestic forces that want to pull the Khanal government down and frustrate the writing of the Constitution and completion of the peace process. This will make Nepal unstable, damage India's long-term interests and encourage China to expand and strengthen its strategic presence there. As an alternative, India can attempt a course correction and encourage the Nepali Congress and other Madhesi groups to join the Khanal government and shape the Constitution making and peace processes in a more constructive direction. A broad-based coalition will naturally reflect national consensus, restraint the dominant communist alliance from taking the polity solely in their chosen direction and make governance more democratic and responsive.


The writer is Visiting Research Professor, Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore.








When I first moved to Dharampur I found great pleasure and joy when my visitors raved over the beauty of my house, the lovely location and the tremendous sense of peace and tranquillity.


"I hope you realise that you are living in heaven," many said. Yes, I did realise that I was living in heaven and I have written at length about the gurgling rivulets, the heavenly bird song and the wafting fireflies. But now, after six months when I have had a chance to deal with the nuts and bolts of daily living I raise a quizzical eyebrow when I hear this gushing. I have come to realise that like everything else in the world, my heaven too is not perfect.


The first imperfection was with my water supply — it was sporadic and inadequate. As a result, the wisteria looks as if it has definitely seen better days, the hydrangeas, hardy as they are, seem tired with life and the geraniums look like something that the cat brought in.


The second imperfection is with the erratic power supply. When I first settled in, there was a constant flicker in the lights .This was because a timber yard got its connection from the same line. A transformer took care of that. But amazingly there were frequent power cuts in what is touted as a surplus state as far as power generation is concerned.


I found a way out by investing in a small inverter. But this is no help when the lights go off in the middle of an interesting movie and come on for the cast and credits or when they go off on a cold winter night and you are left without the comfort of the room heater. You ring up someone called Hemraj who tells you to get in touch with Karamchand and kindly gives you his number. When you ring up Karamchand someone called Suresh picks up the phone and politely tells you that this is not his section. When you ring up the complaints again you are told that Hemraj has gone home and they do not have his number. And so you learn to live with the power cuts and accept them as part of life.


Then there is the telephone that goes dead even without the provocation of a storm and remains dead sometime for as long as ten days at a stretch. No, I don't need to tell you why I don't make an effort to complain. Since the broadband is connected to the phone that too remains dead.


I look back to the time when I lived in a real heaven, my 17 years as teacher and housemaster in Sanawar. During the summers the water was so strictly rationed that one had often to get up at four to avail one's turn. The lights often went off during the winter and I had no telephone. I am convinced that if I could find perfect happiness without these creature comforts then, I can find it now even in my imperfect heaven.









THE old slogan from the 1960s has come true: the revolution has been televised. The world is watching the Bastille fall on 24/7 rolling news. And smuggle his family's estimated $25bn in loot out of the country, and to install a successor friendly to his interests. The Egyptian people — half of whom live on less than $2 a day — seem determined to prevent the pillage and not to wait until September to drive out a dictator dripping in blood and bad hair dye.


The great Czech dissident Vaclav Havel outlined the "as if" principle. He said people trapped under a dictatorship need to act "as if they are free".


They need to act as if the dictator has no power over them. The Egyptians are trying — and however many of them Mubarak murders on his way out the door, the direction in which fear flows has been successfully reversed. The tyrant has become terrified of "his" people.


]f course, there is a danger that what follows will be worse. My family lived for a time under the torturing tyranny of the Shah of Iran, and cheered the revolution in 1979. Yet he was replaced by the even more vicious Ayatollahs. But this is not the only model, nor the most likely.


]vents in Egypt look more like the Indonesian revolution, where in 1998 a popular uprising toppled a US-backed tyrant after 32 years of oppression — and went on to build the largest and most plural democracy in the Muslim world.


But the discussion here in the West should focus on the factor we are responsible for and can influence — the role our governments have played in suppressing the Egyptian people.


Very few British people would praise a murderer and sell him weapons. Very few British people would beat up a poor person to get cheaper petrol. But our governments do it all the time. Why? British foreign policy does not follow the everyday moral principles of the British people, because it is not formulated by us. This might sound like an odd thing to say about a country that prides itself on being a democracy, but it is true.


The former Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons spoke at a conference for Israel's leaders last year and assured them they didn't have to worry about the British people's growing opposition to their policies because "public opinion does not influence foreign policy in Britain. Foreign policy is an elite issue". This is repellent but right. It is formulated in the interests of big business and their demand for access to resources, and influential sectional interest groups.


You can see this most clearly if you go through the three reasons our governments give, sometimes publicly, sometimes privately, for their behaviour in the Middle East. Explanation One: Oil. Some 60 per cent of the world's remaining petrol is in the Middle East. We are all addicted to it, so our governments support strongmen and murderers who will keep the oil-taps gushing without interruption. Egypt doesn't have oil, but it has crucial oil pipelines and supply routes, and it is part of a chain of regional dictators we don't want broken in case they all fall taking the petrol pump with it. Addicts don't stand up to their dealers: they fawn before them.


There is an obvious medium-term solution: break our addiction. The technology exists — wind, wave and especially solar power — to fuel our societies without oil. It would free us from our support for dictators and horrific wars of plunder like Iraq. It's our society's route to rehab — but it is being blocked by the hugely influential oil companies, who would lose a fortune. Like everybody who needs to go to rehab, the first step is to come out of denial about why we are still hooked.


Explanation Two: Israel and the "peace process". Over the past week, we have persistently been told that Mubarak was a key plank in supporting "peace in the Middle East". The opposite is the truth. Mubarak has been at the forefront of waging war on the Palestinian population. There are 1.5 million people imprisoned on the Gaza Strip denied access to necessities like food and centrifuges for their blood transfusion service. They are being punished for voting "the wrong way" in a democratic election.


Israel blockades Gaza to one side, and Mubarak blockades it to the other.


I've stood in Gaza and watched Egyptian soldiers refusing to let sick and dying people out for treatment they can't get in Gaza's collapsing hospitals. In return for this, Mubarak receives $1.5bn a year from the US.


Far from contributing to peace, this is marinating the Gazan people in understandable hatred and dreams of vengeance. This is bad even for Israel herself — but we are so servile to the demands of the country's self-harming government, and to its loudest and angriest lobbyists here, that our governments obey.


Explanation Three: Strongmen suppress jihadism. Our governments claim that without dictators to suppress, torture and disappear Islamic fundamentalists, they will be unleashed and come after us. Indeed, they often outsourced torture to the Egyptian regime, sending suspects there to face things that would be illegal at home. Robert Baer, once a senior figure in black ops at the CIA, said: "If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear, you send them to Egypt." Western governments claim all this makes us safer. The opposite is the truth. In his acclaimed history of al-Qa'ida, The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright explains: "America's tragedy on September 11th was born in the prisons of Egypt." Modern jihadism was invented by Sayeed Qutb as he was electrocuted and lashed in Egyptian jails and grew under successive tyrannies. Mohammed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, was Egyptian, and named US backing for his country's tyrant as one of the main reasons for the massacre.


When we fund the violent suppression of people, they hate us, and want to fight back. None of these factors that drove our governments to back Mubarak's dictatorship in Egypt have changed. So we should strongly suspect they will now talk sweet words about democracy in public, and try to secure a more PR-friendly Mubarak in private.


It doesn't have to be like this. We could make our governments as moral as we, the British people, are in our everyday lives. We could stop them trampling on the weak, and fattening thugs. But to achieve it, we have to democratise our own societies and claim control of our foreign policy.


The Egyptian people have shown this week they will risk everything to stop being abused. What will we risk to stop our governments being abusers? —The Independent








ASKED IN Cairo's Tahrir Square if she was scared about what might happen, Mona Seif reflected for a moment before saying yesterday: "You know, I was feel scared. I hope I don't die here, but even if I do I'll have spent 10 days here with all these people and felt this is my country, and I have never experienced that before."


If this is a revolution, then 24-year-old Ms Seif is one of its quiet heroes. A post-graduate student in cancer biology at Cairo University, she is one of the leading figures who used blogs and Twitter to help spread the call for the first protest on 25 January.


Protest runs in her family: her father is a well-known human rights lawyer, Ahmed Seif el-Islam, who was serving in a Mubarak jail when she was born and is among more than 20 lawyers who have been arrested.


When Egypt cut the Internet last week, she was one of 20 activists who took their laptops to a private house and started the "Twitter Centre of the Revolution", getting messages to the outside world thanks to one of their number being connected to an ISP which Egypt did not initially shut down because it almost exclusively serves financial services. "I use Facebook, and I have a blog but Twitter is my favourite tool for political issues," she says.


Ms Seif believes that the immediate catalysts for the escalating protests were the death of Khaled Said — the young man allegedly beaten to death by secret police in Alexandria last year — the uprising in Tunisia, and "the build-up over years of all the small scale strikes and protests".


She pays tribute to the still-unknown creators of the "We are all Khaled Said" Facebook page.


But while she never imagined it would grow to this, what kept her going as the protest day approached was the memory of another demonstration she had taken part in last year. Her group managed to elude the police by not coming to Tahrir Square but another street downtown. A march of around 50 rapidly grew to around 1,000 before the police crushed it with some brutality. "For maybe 35 minutes we felt that the street was ours, which was incredible." What outcome does she hope for? "I want Mubarak to leave and the regime to fall. Then a transitional government, which will hold proper democratic elections and whoever wins I will accept it."


Another woman from a very different background is also surprised to be taking part in such a huge protest. Middle-aged single mother, Safa Hamis Mohammed, has had trouble making ends meet as a home Koran teacher after losing her journalism job 17 years ago. But after Wednesday's attack on the square by pro-Mubarak supporters, she found herself carrying stones to be thrown by those defending it.


Gigi Ibrahim, 22, a secular US-educated politics major at The American University in Cairo, will not be casting her vote for the Brotherhood. The self-described "revolutionary socialist" says she has had continuous arguments with her upper middle class family — and especially her garment factory owner father — about the protests. —The Independent








While Jammu and Kashmir continues to enjoy the dubious distinction of being the most corrupt state in the country, the ruling elite appears to have a vested interest to subvert all moves for fighting the demon of corruption by creating independent and powerful institution and enacting foolproof laws for this purpose. The corruption both at the political and administrative level has been multiplying with different regimes failing to take measures to nip the evil in the bud. Though corruption is eating into the vitals of society nothing tangible has been done to evolve institutional mechanism to fight out this menace. Apart from the all-pervasive institutionalised corruption in various government departments like the police, revenue, public works and other development-related departments the charges of corruption have been made against the high and the mighty from time to time but nothing has been done to make those in the government and the public life accountable. Those in politics and holding important political positions have acquired wealth quite disproportionate to their sources of income and one hears of scams and hawala transactions involving the bigwigs from time to time. Though every regime begins with the commitment to tackle the problem of corruption on priority basis it ends up with multiplication of corruption. Tragically, the rulers in the State have paid scant attention to the urgent task of making governance accountable and transparent by creating effective institutions for this purpose. The Right to Information Act, aimed at safeguarding the citizens right to know and making the governance transparent was delayed for years and even after it was enacted those at the helm failed to take steps for enforcing this important law. Even two years after the law was amended the State government has failed to appoint the chief information commissioner and other information commissioners for this purpose. That shows their lack of seriousness in making the governance transparent. Such transparency is imperative for putting an end to all kinds of irregularities and checking high-handedness and corruption.


The manner in which the successive regimes have resisted or sabotaged the important measures of making the publicmen holding high offices including the ministers, legislators and bureaucrats accountable for their conduct and actions shows that those at the helm lack both will and capacity to deal with the problem of corruption in the public life and the administration. The enactment of the J&K Accountability Act and constitution of the State Accountability Commission, though half-hearted measures, had been generally welcomed with the hope that these will go in a long way to make publicmen accountable for their acts of omission and commission. But soon after the SAC started looking into some cases of corruption and irregularities against some ministers and senior bureaucrats the powerful politicians-bureaucrats lobby succeeded in subverting the entire process by creating all kinds of hurdles in the way of this institution. This left the first chairman of the SAC with no option but to resign. Since then the State government has not been able to select the chairman and other members of this institution. The present state government demonstrated much alacrity in arbitrarily filling up the posts of chairpersons and members in some of the government-constituted boards for providing lucrative jobs to the ruling coalition activists. But in the case of the State Accountability Commission it is dragging feet for the past two years and has not even bothered to initiate the process of selecting its chairman. This has made the SAC redundant. The State's present law to deal with the complaints of corruption against government officials has proved ineffective and the State Vigilance Commission has failed to bring any senior bureaucrat to book for corruption. Instead of strengthening the State Accountability Act to make it more effective, hastening the process of selection of its chairman and other personnel and amending the anti-corruption law the chief minister has only been talking of scrapping the State Vigilance Organization and entrusting this task to the SAC. With the state government failing to move fast to evolve institutional mechanism for eliminating corruption the corrupt elements are thriving both in the administration and the public life.







With weather conditions becoming adverse, making lives of people vulnerable especially in the hilly areas, besides virtually cutting them off from rest of the world, questions are once again raised over the preparedness of the government which begins gearing up the disaster management cell only after a calamity strikes. Despite prior avalanche warnings, casualties could not be averted. Thankfully, a major disaster has not struck Jammu and Kashmir so far. Otherwise, the shocking lack of preparedness could have taken its toll. The state has had a disaster management cell in place for some years. However, its role has been reduced to that of recommendatory body and its doesn't have either the adequate infrastructure of its own to deal with situations of crisis, nor does it have the support of the relevant departments so that a co-ordinated effort could yield better results in avoiding both loss of life and property as also inconvenience to the public. Even in the case of stranded passengers which is a routine phenomenon every time the weather conditions are inclement in the state, it takes days altogether for the government to wake up to the situation. Such situations are more than an annual feature in this state with its harsh, hostile climate and unfriendly topography. People stranded for days at airports, at bus stands and on the highway, even in freezing cold without shelter and food, still continue to part of a routine narrative without the government stepping in to provide some timely relief to them. This is the least that the government can do in its preparedness for disasters. Tragedies in recent years have shown that the state government has no mechanism of its own for even basic rescue and relief operations and every time it has to rely on the army for the necessary aid. But, at least it should be a little more responsive to the needs of the stranded passengers, many of whom are poor and have no means to fend for themselves when roads and means of communication, due to poor weather conditions, simply trap them into distress and misery. The phenomenon of stranded passengers is too frequent, any lapses on this front atleast are unpardonable.








"Prisoners of indecision" was an epithet that Vijayalakshmi Pundit hurled at Lal Bahadur Shastri's government sometime in early 1965. One may debate over the question whether the expression had been then correctly used or not; but there is absolutely no doubt that it is true about the present government headed by out 'good doctor' Manmohan Singh. The nation is slowly and sadly coming round to accepting L.K. Advani's view that the present incumbent is the "weakest prime minister" we ever had. Even his best admirers find it hard to explain why he has apparently lost his grip over the team he leads. He is no longer a green horn in that seat. He is already more than six years in that chair, and is certainly better placed than before to meet any attack headed by the main opposition party the BJP. Still, the highest seat of authority in the country is apparently plagued by high level anarchy.

Every one in the centre is apparently free to speak out his and announce his policies and priorities, while none appears accountable for what he or his office does. Never before our country has been so rudely shaken by so many scams in course of only three months--the CWG in September, the Adarsh Society Building in Mumbai, the Karnatak Mining, and the mother of all scams, the 2G involving our telecom sector--yet none has so far been held accountable and punished except poor A.Raja who had to lose his ministerial berth and no more. The committee appointed to prove the CWG scam promised to complete the task within three months, but that dead-line was passed on 18 January. So, those who were foolish enough to take such public announcements in their face value felt frustrated. In fact, all of us who are foolish or naive enough to believe that ministers and bureaucrats are there to carry out their allotted tasks have by now enough reason to accept that they are fools, indeed.

It seems no one cares for what he or his officials say or do. With great fanfare the UPA I had announced in 2006 the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and had released Rs. 1.08 lakh crore for this purpose. But, on the 28th of January the union government was forced to admit before the Supreme Court that it had not carried out any account auditing at any level, although the aforesaid act had made it imperative for the authorities to do so, when the CAG carried out a sample performance auditing in 68 out of the 625 districts where the scheme has been implemented the fall out of non-auditing was clearly visible. The centre says that 4800 officials are being proceeded against and misappropriation of around Rs. 88 crore have been detected. Obviously, misappropriation in this scale would not have been possible, if only accounts had been audited annually on time. But, who cares? And, out of so many proceeded against none but a few small fries may be ultimately punished. None is naive enough to believe that the Rs. 88 crore misappropriated will ever come back to our national treasury, or that the concerned minister or senior bureaucrats will suffer in any way. After all, India is now free, and every one is free to use his authority or opportunity in any way he can.
Unfortunately, the list of such criminal carelessness does not end here. Just take up the case of the appointment of P.J. Thomas as the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). The very designation of the post and the wide authority its incumbent wields speak of the dignity the CVC carries. He is like the chief ombudsman who enjoys the right to probe every case of corruption and suggest appropriate action. So, the incumbent of this high post, obviously, has to be a man of considerable experience as well as of widely accepted high integrity. He should be, like the proverbial Caesar's wife, above suspicion. But, it came to light that as the then food secretary in the Kerala government he was implicated in some unseemly controversy regarding the purchase of palmoline oil, in the early nineties. A tainted person, even if proved innocent, is obviously unfit for this high post. Yet the man refuses to resign, and the centre shamelessly admits before the Supreme Court that his record as the food secretary of Kerala government had not been placed before the selection committee comprising the prime minister, the home minister, and the leader of the opposition, Sushma Swaraj. One wonders why was such an important appointment made in so careless a manner. But, it had happened.

Then there is the latest craze with the possible recovery of black money, especially what lies stashed abroad in foreign banks. This time the demand has been raised openly not so much by the opposition as by the accepted heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi himself. In response to this challenge many in the government are speaking in many voices. The finance minister in despair has virtually confessed that it is impossible to make a reasonable estimate of the amount stashed abroad, and therefore one expecting the home coming of that black money will have to wait indefinitely. No doubt, the present government alone is not responsible for the generation of black money and its outflow into foreign banks. But, it can be certainly expected that they strain their nerves to unearth the black money, both at home and abroad. The Swiss banks are no longer as secretive as they once were, and can be expected to cooperate with our government when convinced of the bonafide of our request in obvious national interest. Instead, our leaders have virtually raised their hands in visible despair.
Finally, the principle of collective responsibility, which is the virtual corner stone of modern cabinet government, has been given a good bye. Different ministers speak in different voices, often contradicting one another over the same or closely related issues. The public differences among Jairam Ramesh, Kamal Nath and Dr. Montek Singh Alhuwalia, Dy Chairman of the Planning Commission, once acquired the stuff that legends are made of. One minister grants permission to clear forests for starting a mining concern or an industry, or in the case of coastal Orissa the Vedanta University, while another minister, in charge of environment, with olds permission and threatens action for having started the project without his consent.

Instead of having a well-coordinated programme for sustainable development we are witnessing a running conflict between projects for development and concern for environment, while the prime minister maintains total silence over such unseemly goings on. He has more than once referred to the Maoist problem as democratic India's challenge number one. Yet, Mamata Banerjee, a senior member of his cabinet, openly asks for the withdrawal of the security forces from the Jangal Mahal of West Bengal, and holds not the Maiosts but the communists responsible for the trouble there. When petrol price was hiked recently she openly declared that she had not been consulted. The prime minister is apparently incapable of enforcing discipline among his cabinet colleagues. We all expected that he would reshuffle his ministry to make it more efficient and cohesive. But, while the nation waited for a big bang, the exercise ended in a whimper. No dead wood was thrown out. Only a few less important portfolios changed hands, and three relatively unimportant politicians were inducted into the ministry. Obviously, the Sonia-Manmohan duo has thrown aside an opportunity to revamp the central government. One feels like agreeing with what an U.S. embassy official wrote, according to the Wikepedia leak, about Sonia Gandhi that she "never fails to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity". This means that the government will continue to live for three more years with its vision clouded with uncertainly and hands tied by indecisiveness.

In fact no one knows whose voice and views are more important, the present prime minister or of Rahul Gandhi, believed to the prime minister in waiting. Sonia Gandhi gives the prime minister full support over every issue in public. Yet, it is a fact that with both the mother and the son constantly breathing down his shoulders, even though patronisingly the, poor prime minister lacks the confidence and the urge to assert himself. He knows, like the rest of the ministers, that he is in his seat because of the wish of some one else, and that he is keeping it warm for some one else. Under these circumstances one should not expect from the head of the government more of drive and dynamism. This means we are fated to drift ahead as before airing differences and often working at cross purposes.






In the city of Mumbai, all tenants have to have a police clearance certificate, before they can rent a house, now a school in the same city has taken it even one step farther, they have asked the police to give character certificates to parents who want their children admitted to their school. I can well imagine a parent getting his character examined by the police:
"How much?"
"How much what?" asks the parent looking puzzled and confused.
"How much character you want?"
"As much as I have sir!"
"How much you have?"
"You have to judge Mr Inspector! It is you who has to give me a character certificate!"
"Very correct, so stand up!"
"So I can see your character better!"
"What is that bulge in the left pocket?"
"My handkerchief and some change for rickshaw fare!"
"Keep the change in my drawer, good character!"
"Thank you!"
"What is that in the other pocket?"
"My wallet!"
"Empty it on the table, good character!"
"Thank you sir!"
"What is in your shoes?"
"My socks!"
"What is in your socks?"
"My feet, and toes!"
"I know that, but you do not hide money there?"
"No sir, no hidden money there?"
"No sir!"
"Bad character!"
"I am sorry!"
"On your finger?"
"Gold ring!"
"Take it out, good character!"
"What are you doing?"
"Making certificate!"
"You have written 'fair character?"
"Why inspector sahib? Why?"
"Next time carry more than feet and toes in your socks! Next..!"






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As the Aero India show gets under way in Bengaluru today, two facts are worth dwelling on. India is — and has been for three years — the world's largest importer of defence hardware. Also, in a list of the 15 largest exporters of defence hardware, India simply does not figure. No other country with a serious defence budget has such a skewed import-export picture. Only one conclusion is possible: something has gone seriously wrong with the indigenisation effort, and with the building of a competitive defence hardware industry.

Not long ago, it had looked like a new leaf was being turned. The economist Vijay Kelkar had submitted a report suggesting (among other things) that private sector participation be encouraged when it came to defence production. After some initial steps in this direction, the government backtracked. Now, it is watering down the offsets condition that would have used import contracts to support related domestic manufacture (read Ajai Shukla in Broadsword on this page yesterday). There are large industrial houses that are capable of making a contribution, and indeed have shown interest in the business, but they are being systematically discouraged. The beneficiaries are not public sector rivals, as some might imagine, but international suppliers. If something is not done to change this situation, the skew in the import-export picture will continue to bear testimony to the failure of indigenisation in a vital area.


 It need not be this way. Indigenisation of defence production began half a century ago, under a defence minister (V K Krishna Menon) who rightly carries some of the blame for the disaster of the China border war in 1962, but who was nonetheless the pioneer in promoting indigenous defence production. The country is not short of success stories even today. Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) is basking in the afterglow of having launched its own combat aircraft (the Tejas), which stands up well in international comparisons and costs less than the foreign alternatives. HAL has also launched a combat helicopter (Dhruva) that enjoys an international market, and supplies sub-assemblies to Boeing and Gulfstream for civilian aircraft. It is now working with the Russians on a fifth generation fighter, comes 34th in a ranking of the world's 100 largest defence manufacturers, and has a very healthy bottom line.

The country needs not one but many HALs, and it is a pity that the only other Indian company in the list of leading defence firms is Bharat Electronics. To be sure, some smaller companies are making a contribution, like the shipyards that are building an impressive array of naval vessels, ranging all the way from stealth destroyers to a nuclear submarine and an aircraft carrier. Also, for all its chequered history, the Arjun tank is now serving the army. But at a time when the country's defence needs are growing because of a deteriorating security situation and an expanding horizon for the navy, domestic defence production needs a quantum leap. When the ticket size for international acquisitions is multiplying, it would be criminal failure of policy if more of the value addition involved does not take place in India, and if Indian designers and engineers are denied the opportunity to work on cutting-edge technologies that will inevitably have civilian spin-offs. This much is clear: current attitudes in the defence ministry will not deliver what is needed.






In the $9.6 billion Cairn-Vedanta deal, former Union petroleum minister Murli Deora has left his successor Jaipal Reddy with a significant issue to resolve: can a government use its sovereign power to alter commercial contracts? The world is watching how India will answer that question. On the face of it, Cairn Energy's offer to sell a controlling stake in Cairn India to Anil Agarwal's Vedanta group amounts to a change of corporate ownership that requires shareholder approval, which both have already received. For Cairn India, an open offer should suffice. But as with any deal that involves what politicians are wont to call "national resources" — in this case oilfields — the issue has become a lot more complicated. It is by no means obvious that the government's insistence on permission and conditionalities for the deal is entirely warranted. The issue of government approval has arisen because it involves a state-owned company — the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) — that holds a 30 per cent stake in Cairn India's biggest asset and India's largest onshore discovery, the oilfields in Barmer, Rajasthan. Even this can be considered unexceptionable were it not for the fact that ONGC is seeking to leverage the deal to rid itself of the contractual obligation of bearing the entire financial burden of royalty payments.

To be fair to ONGC, the royalty payment is certainly a non-commercial impost. It was a conditionality imposed by its owner, the government, as an incentive to attract private (especially foreign) participation in oil exploration. ONGC came under this obligation as the original licensee of the block when it was first bid out to Shell. As long as Shell did nothing with the block, the question of royalty payments did not arise. Now that Cairn is pumping 125,000 barrels of oil through one of its oil fields, ONGC's contractual obligation to pay the entire royalty on crude oil produced from the block gives it a negative return. So, ONGC's argument for a "cost recoverable" royalty may be commercially sound, but it is equally unfair for it to use the government's sovereign power to press for a contractual change now, when production has begun. More so when the outcome of this issue has a significant bearing on the fate of some 20 other production-sharing contracts with similar conditions. There is certainly a case for the government to scrap this provision going forward, but chopping and changing legally binding contracts halfway through sets a precedent that will do little good for a fast-growing economy with an acute need for oil and mineral resources. Similarly, it is surely bizarre for the government to insist that Cairn and Vedanta unconditionally accept government decisions on issues under litigation between it and Cairn (cess payment is one of them). This is tantamount to the government telling the international community that India's judicial system is irrelevant to the conduct of business and, therefore, the sanctity of commercial contracts rests solely on discretionary political powers. Even some banana republics are better at disguising their intentions.







Three weeks ago, a khap panchayat (caste council) in Bhenswal village, Uttar Pradesh, issued a diktat banning girls from wearing jeans. They argued that jeans were encouraging couples to elope! This is no isolated incident. In the last couple of years, a number of colleges have attempted to ban their female students from wearing jeans. However, this ire against jeans is not about a piece of apparel but about rapidly changing socio-cultural attitudes. The combination of urbanisation, rising incomes, cable television and mobile telephony is liquefying Indian society at an unprecedented rate. The ban in Bhenswal village, therefore, does not reflect the growing power of caste councils but a losing rear-guard action by an older generation unable to deal with such rapid change.

Much ado about jeans

The clothes worn by the Indian male have been shifting to trousers and shirts since the late nineteenth century. It has been a slow but steady transformation and is far from complete. For reasons of convenience or style, many Indian men still wear traditional clothes in daily life. Still, it is fair to say that western attire is common enough even in the remotest villages to be now considered unremarkable. The story for women is different.


 Till recently, Indian women largely continued to wear traditional clothes. Usually this implied the saree although some states had other local attires (for instance, the mekhla-sador in Assam). The wearing of western outfits was rare except for the upper and upper-middle classes in the very largest cities. The first sign of change was the gradual shift from the late 1970s to the salwar-kurta, a dress that was originally from the north-west of the country. By the 1990s, its different variants became the dress of choice for young urban women across the country. Now, we are witnessing a second and much faster change. In the last two years, I have travelled from Ladakh to Tamil Nadu, and from Gujarat to the North-East. The trends are clear. In small moufassil towns and even in villages, unmarried teenage girls increasingly wear jeans. Most will still shift to traditional clothes after marriage but it is only a matter of time before that too will not be a barrier.

One could lament the homogenising effects of globalisation on local culture. It is not for me to pass judgment. However, jeans are a reflection of a deeper transformation in social attitudes, aspirations and even gender equations. Perhaps it is inevitable with literacy, rising incomes, urbanisation, access to mobile telephony, trends in Bollywood and exposure to cable television. Moreover, it shows through in many other facets of life. The thirst to learn the English language is yet another manifestation of the phenomenon. We can see it everywhere — in "English-medium" schools in the slums and villages, language-learning channels on cable TV and guide books sold at the street-corner. Politicians may cry foul, but India's poor are voting with their feet.

Modernisation not westernization

There may be temptation to interpret the above trends as westernisation. However, there are many ways in which the trends point the other way. Take popular music for example. Till the mid-nineties, the urban middle class listened to a fair amount of American and British music in addition to local numbers. The older readers will recall Cliff Richards, the Beatles, Michael Jackson and Madonna. Today, one hardly hears a western tune. Instead, rural migrants are bringing their own tastes from the hinterland that find expression in superhits like Munni badnaam hui (Munni became infamous) and Beedi jalai le (Light your cigar). An earlier generation of Bollywood songwriters would have blushed at the lusty lyrics. Yet, it is now considered cool.

Similarly, the new middle-class that is emerging from the urbanisation process has a very different relationship with the English language than the pre-existing middle-class. To the new group, English is just a skill necessary to climb the job market. In contrast, the language was about a whole culture for the old middle-class. Great pride was once taken in speaking "propah" English and quoting Shakespeare. Hardly anyone cares now. The point is that the new India has the confidence to absorb outside influences on its own terms.

From NRI to global Indian

The change in attitude is feeding through even to Indians who live abroad. The lonely and alienated immigrant described by American-Indian writers like Jhumpa Lahiri no longer rings true for most expatriate Indians of today. Indeed, the fate of the US green card is a good illustration of how things have changed. Less than a decade ago, the acquisition of a US green card would be a matter of great celebration for a Non-resident Indian (NRI). Parents back home would proudly announce it to their friends and relatives. The trend has completely reversed at least for the upper and upper-middle class. Successful global Indians now go out of their way to give up their green cards in order to avoid paying US taxes. This would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

Such rapid changes in our social and cultural attitudes will inevitably have repercussions. The diktats of khap panchayats and clerics are only an extreme illustration of this. There are grumblings about the "Bollywoodisation" of our culture. Language purists lament the mish-mash vocabulary of the youth. There is a genuine danger that many local dialects and customs will disappear. However, the process can no longer be reversed. Love it or hate it, the new India is here to stay.

The columnist is the author of The Indian Renaissance: India's Rise after a Thousand Years of Decline









Twenty years ago, a Union Budget was sacrificed at the altar of Congress politics. Until almost the third week of February 1991, Yashwant Sinha, finance minister at that time, was busy finalising the Budget for 1991-92 to present it before Parliament on the last day of that month. Little did Mr Sinha or his finance secretary, Sriranga Purushottam Shukla, know then that Congress President Rajiv Gandhi, the main opposition leader then, was planning to pull down the Chandra Shekhar government.


 Indeed, few in the finance ministry those days gave credence to the rumours of such a Congress move. How could the Congress withdraw support to the Chandra Shekhar government just before the Budget and that too in a year when the economy was in deep trouble? Setting at rest such doubts, Rajiv Gandhi did just that. The reason: The Congress was eager to pull down a government that it had propped up barely three months ago, so that it could go for elections in the hope of regaining power at the Centre.

That the economy was in a shambles and delaying a Budget would cause greater economic uncertainty did not deter Rajiv Gandhi or the Congress from pursuing power politics. Thus, Rajiv Gandhi used an apparently silly reason (a few police men were seen outside his residence allegedly sent there to spy on him!) and withdrew the Congress support to the Chandra Shekhar government. A government that had lost its majority could not present a full Budget. Mr Sinha abandoned his original plan and began work afresh to present an Interim Budget. Not surprisingly, India's economic crisis worsened as a result of the delay in the presentation of the Budget.

Today, twenty years later, nobody is talking about sacrificing a Union Budget, though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is keen on disrupting the forthcoming Budget session of Parliament. Whatever be the nature of disruption during the Budget session, it is unlikely that the Budget would be a casualty. Moreover, the BJP is in no position to pull down the government as the Congress and its alliance partners have a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha, whose approval of the Budget is critical. The BJP recognises this. Thus, there may not be a discussion on the provisions of the Budget, but in all likelihood, the BJP would let the Budget go through and then resume its disruptive protests.

The point you should not miss is that political parties in India today are reluctant to take any step that directly affects the presentation and passing of the Budget. This is perhaps the most significant lesson that Rajiv Gandhi's scuttling of the Budget in 1991 has taught Indian politicians. You can play any number of political games, but none of them should stop the ruling party from completing the Budget exercise. Thus, in the last twenty years, Rajiv Gandhi's move to scuttle a Union Budget remains the only such instance. Indeed, there has been no other similar instance in post-Independent India.

In 1997, the Congress under Sitaram Kesri came close to achieving Rajiv Gandhi's dubious feat of 1991. The United Front government under H D Deve Gowda had presented its Budget for 1997-98 in the normal course — on the last day of February. However, Mr Kesri, who was the Congress president at that time, decided to pull down the government, unless the United Front changed its leadership. A compromise formula was worked out, with Mr Deve Gowda stepping down and Inder Gujral becoming the new prime minister. The Gujral government retained P Chidambaram as the finance minister in the new Council of Ministers. Fortunately, the Budget that Mr Chidambaram had presented as part of the Deve Gowda government was retained by the Gujral government and Parliament did not make any noise before clearing it.

In 1999, a bigger crisis took place. The Vajpayee government fell in 1999 after its finance minister had presented the Budget for 1999-2000. In the normal course, the Budget too should have been allowed to lapse after passing a vote-on-account for enabling government expenditure for a few more months until a new government was in place after the elections. However, the political parties had become wise by then. They all decided that the Budget presented by the government would be passed and then the Lok Sabha would be dissolved. In other words, they all agreed to get the Budget out of the way before resuming their game of politics.

You may describe this either as the maturing of the Indian political parties or the Rajiv Gandhi effect. Purists may also find flaws in the opportunism that political parties have begun showing by passing a Budget of a government in whom Parliament has already lost confidence. Perhaps, this is also a reflection of the gradually declining importance of the Union budgets. With tax rates becoming more or less stable and the focus increasingly on how the government spends the money, particularly on social sector schemes, political parties find fewer substantive Budget-related issues over which they can quarrel with the government.

If Pranab Mukherjee's Budget for 2011-12 goes off smoothly, in spite of an adverse political climate, the real credit should not go to the managers of the Congress, but to the Indian politicians' reluctance to jettison a Union Budget and refusal to take the kind of blame that Rajiv Gandhi took in 1991.








One stratagem to ward off judicial intervention while bending rules is to confront the courts with a fait accompli. If a multi-storeyed building is raised quietly and swiftly, the authorities and the courts will find it difficult to order its demolition. The illegality is most often compounded with a fine. It is harder to get permission than to obtain a gentleman's pardon.

Sometimes, the courts do strike back. In a few judgments delivered in recent weeks, the Supreme Court took drastic steps to correct the wrongs. In the case, Krishnadevi vs Bombay Environmental Action Group, the court faced a situation in which a bund was raised obstructing the flow of water threatening to damage the eco-sensitive mangroves in a Mumbai suburban district. The court passed detailed orders to restore status quo ante.


 In another case, Jagpal Singh vs State of Punjab, the government regularised possession of common village land by unauthorised occupants. The court reversed it, observing that "we are of the opinion that such blatant illegalities must not be condoned. Even if they have built houses on the land they must be ordered to remove their constructions, and possession of the land in question must be handed back to the Gram Panchayat. Regularising such illegalities must not be permitted."

The court recalled two of its earlier judgments that restored the damage done by such illegalities. In the case, M I Builders vs Radhey Shyam (1999), the court ordered reconstruction of a park after demolition of a shopping complex constructed at the cost of over Rs 100 crore. In the case, Friends Colony Development Committee vs State of Orissa (2004), the court held that even where the law permits compounding of unsanctioned constructions, such compounding should be only by way of an exception.

There have been several other instances in which the court took a tough stand. It ordered the demolition of a building meant for tourists since it violated environmental laws in the case, Piedade Filomena vs State of Goa (2004). No building was permissible within 200 metres of the high-tide line. The Bombay High Court allowed the writ petitions and ordered the demolition of the construction. The owner appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the high court order.

The Supreme Court ordered time-bound demolition of fish tanks illegally set up by encroachers in the Godavari-Krishna river delta in the judgment, T N Godavarman vs Union of India (2006). Encroachers had blocked the free flow of water. Farmers whose lands were ruined by chemicals opposed the building of fish tanks. The Andhra High Court and the Supreme Court ordered protection of the region.

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court, in its judgment, Om Prakash vs Administrator (2001), dealt with unauthorised constructions in Jammu city. A builder raised a five-storey tower despite being told to stop the construction. Later, he was allowed to compound the act. However, the court directed that the building be demolished.

One ingenious argument, put forward very often in such cases, is that others had also built unauthorised structures earlier, and they were allowed to compound, without demolition. The high court said, "Mistakes committed by the authorities are not enforceable in the court to seek parity or similar treatment." The concept of equality is a positive, not a negative, concept. If an illegality is permitted in one instance, others cannot invoke the court's jurisdiction to permit them to commit the same illegality.

Sometimes the passage of time and long-winding litigative process help eclipse the irregularities and make a judicial remedy impractical. Such was the case of Joydeep Mukharjee vs State of West Bengal, decided by the Supreme Court last week. There were strong protests in 1985 against allotment of plots from the discretionary quota of the chief minister. He had allotted 276 plots from his quota of 290, starting a series of litigation in the Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court. In the last 25 years, a full-blown township has already come up. Therefore, the Supreme Court administered a coup de grace to the litigation, remarking that there should be some finality to it and dismissed the last remaining petition. The judiciary often faces such dilemma with one horn urging it to compound the illegality and the other urging demolition.

What perpetrates and perpetuates the wrong is the collusion between the authorities and the builders, the helplessness of those affected by the wrongs and the snail-pace of court proceedings. There is an initial fight over an injunction against the illegal act; but once it is over, the matter lies there for years. By then the ground situation changes so much that it is difficult to reverse the state of affairs.

Disclaimer: Any resemblance of the above cases to the the Adarsh Housing Society and Lavasa affairs, in which the Union environment ministry has offered to compound the irregularities, is purely coincidental.





These arrangements are counterproductive at best; curbing corruption and overhauling tax structures might be more effective.

Sukumar Mukhopadhyay

Former Member, Central Board of Excise & Customs


Such a scheme destroys the morale of taxpayers by penalising them. India has already tried VDIS five times. The evaders will wait for the sixth time

In the context of the report "Global Financial Integrity" in November 2010 stating that a huge amount of black money has been stashed in foreign banks under the protection of secrecy laws, talk of retrieving it by introducing a Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme (VDIS) is doing the rounds again. Such schemes have been tried earlier in other countries including the UK, and five times in India since 1950. Such a scheme is an opportunity for individuals and companies to bring their tax affairs up-to-date. There are, however, many reasons for not announcing another VDIS.

The last scheme was floated in 1997. While introducing it in Parliament, P Chidambaram, the finance minister at the time, announced that it aimed to increase tax collections by lowering the marginal rate of taxation. The chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) enthusiastically described the VDIS of 1997 as "a golden chance for tax evaders to become honest".

The total declaration was of Rs 33,697 crore and the income tax collected was only Rs 9,729 crore. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report of 1999 on the VDIS of 1997 pointed out that there were numerous lacunae in the operation of the scheme including a tax loss of Rs 389 crore owing to payment defaults. There were 455,477 declarators and only 3,067 were corporations. So the response was poor and the impact was not even marginal considering the enormous amount of black money in the country. It was not even a whiff of a success.

Second, such a scheme destroys the morale of taxpayers by penalising them. The Wanchoo Report of the early 1970s underscored this point that is valid even now. India has already tried VDIS five times. The evaders will wait for the sixth time.

Third, an amnesty scheme will not stop the future generation from creating more black money so long as there is demand for black money. Demand for black money exists because of the property market — sellers get black money when they sell and use that money to buy more property. So the circle is complete. VDIS will never succeed as long as this demand for black money continues.

Fourth, VDIS goes against the resolution by world leaders at the November 2008 G20 summit in Washington where they agreed on transparency in financial transactions.

Fifth, there are other means of combating the evil of black money generation. We may have agreements with countries such as Mauritius to plug the loopholes that enable people to send black money from India and bring it back through the Mauritius route. Sceptics say this loophole was deliberately allowed by the government to channel black money back to India. The government can prove that such suspicions are baseless if it now takes stronger steps to choke the Mauritius route. For this purpose it would be an even better policy to offer soft aid of a large amount to Mauritius and similar countries to compensate the loss they incur on account of this.

Corruption is the prime reason for the creation of black money. A reliable estimate says there were eight major scams in 1980, 26 between 1991 and 1996 and 150 between 2005 and 2008. With so many scams around, slush money can only find a place outside the banking system in the country or in secrecy-protected banks abroad. If corruption does not stop, VDIS will not succeed.

The conclusion is that the existence of a parallel economy is a natural corollary to corruption. Combating the generation of black money and its integration into the open economy cannot be done only by an amnesty scheme. If a new VDIS is announced now, the fraudsters, cheats, money launderers, crooked politicians and hoarders will have the last laugh as they convert their illicit money into legitimate money.

Govindrao Adik

MP and General Secretary, NCP

The government could consider an option of voluntary declaration or assessment by taxpayers, which should be based on mutual understanding

At the outset, let me be clear that black money must and should be brought back in the larger interests of the country. India is a fast-growing economy and it has emerged as a major political power across the globe. Several figures of the amount of black money stashed abroad are currently being floated in the public domain by various political parties and agencies. The debate has reached a point where the government of the day will have to show strong political will and determination to bring back the unaccounted black money to the country and ultimately utilise it for various social sector and infrastructure projects that badly need huge investments.

The government has cited many limitations in getting back black money stashed abroad owing to the lack of government-to-government agreements. However, the government can also explore the harsh option of seizing such unaccounted money languishing in various banks of different countries by including a new clause in government-to-government agreements. Our government can also go to the extent of proposing the payment of some tax to the respective governments to get that money back. This will send a stern message to those who indulge in transferring black money that they should permanently refrain from doing so. Such a possibility should be examined thoroughly.

The government also needs to overhaul the existing tax structure. A section of genuine taxpayers feels that the present tax structure is too cumbersome and creates a tendency for taxpayers to opt for evasion or the transfer of the taxable amount to various countries. The government could consider an option of voluntary declaration or assessment by taxpayers, which should be based on mutual understanding.

I am, however, of the firm view that the government should not introduce another voluntary disclosure scheme on the lines of the 1997 scheme to get the black money hoards back into the country. Such a scheme will turn out to be temporary in nature and will not address the crucial issue of bringing back black money to the country, nor will it prevent the creation of more illegal funds in future.

Further, in my view, such a step will act as a guarantee to tax evaders and also those people who have illegally transferred money out of the country, that some day they will be pardoned by paying some tiny amount to the government. This is more dangerous because it will promote a culture of tax avoidance and evasion. Those indulging in the transfer of black money will also be sure of getting recognition by way of joining the amnesty scheme. India cannot afford to go in for such schemes after regular intervals but must put in every effort at the diplomatic level to bring back black money from overseas.

A voluntary disclosure scheme or amnesty scheme will make the disease of black money an epidemic and the time has come to concentrate on prevention rather than the cure of such a disease.

Several experts are making a strong pitch for amending the present norms for election funding. I beg to differ with those arguing that huge black money is involved in funding present-day elections. In my opinion, this amount is negligible. If the use of such money needs to be curbed, the government can make a substantial allocation of funds for elections and also revise the norms of donations especially by the private sector for the purpose of election funding. Such donations can be given exemption similar to those contributed for charitable purposes. Political parties will also adapt to new ways of election funding and, thereby, help restructure the present-day arrangement.

Against this backdrop, I suspect that opposition parties, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party, want to merely play politics on the issue of black money. In fact, the need of the hour is to keep out the politics and show unity on getting black money back into the country and also curb such illegal acts in the future.







State governments must take the initiative to reduce substantially, if not eliminate, any kind of tax on essential food articles.

Desperate situations call for desperate remedies. Waging a virtually unsuccessful battle against raging food inflation, the Government appears to have given up hope on the food prices front. The food market has consistently beaten all the brave forecasts of experts and specialists within the policymaking circle and outside. The many fiscal, monetary, trade policy and administrative measures of the last two years have delivered hardly any genuine relief to the aam aadmi. A deeply concerned Prime Minister has now stepped in to make out a case for a paradigm shift in institutional arrangements. Additionally, he has urged State governments to waive local levies such as mandi tax, octroi duty and the like.

Without doubt, there is merit in what Dr Singh recommends, although these suggestions are not really new. It is simply that for New Delhi agricultural market reforms at the grassroots level were never a priority. In most States agricultural commodities are taxed at the local level and often these multiple taxes add up to a significant amount. For example, cumulative taxes on wheat in Punjab and Haryana are over 10 per cent. Cities routinely levy octroi duty even on essential goods of mass consumption. States charge an agricultural produce market cess, not only on domestic produce, but also on imported ones. However, most States fail to offer any services commensurate with the fee collected; nor are adequate funds ploughed back into the market for improving infrastructure. Given that agriculture and agri-marketing are State subjects, New Delhi can only strongly recommend, not mandate, a waiver of local taxes. It is for the State governments to take a call. But who will compensate the State governments for revenue foregone? The latter, in their self-interest, must take the initiative to reduce substantially, if not eliminate, any kind of tax on essential food articles. Ideally, to avoid market distortions, it is essential that there is uniformity across the States. This is a tall order.

The Prime Minister's statement calling for a paradigm shift in institutional arrangements, including the need to shore up farm supply chains by bringing in organised retail players, has come as a big boost to proponents of large-format organised retail. Admittedly, there is scope for reform in the system of agricultural marketing; but it would be naïve to believe that promoting organised retail by itself will bring about much-needed change in produce marketing. Organised retail is a business opportunity but the potential for value capture is limited at the front end. At the farthest end of the supply chain is the poor farmer who runs the risk of being squeezed by the big boys. Affirmative action is the way forward. Even as organised retail expands, policymakers must work towards building capacity among small and marginal growers to withstand market vagaries.







As airline products go, it is fair to say a trip from Chennai to Mumbai and Mumbai to Chennai are identical. Critics may, however, object to branding the two as one and the same. Some might point out that there is a vast difference between being fussed over by a cabin crew consisting of comely young members of the fairer sex and one made up of decidedly matronly ladies.

On a recent trip to Mumbai, this writer asked for an aisle seat. No doubt, a behavioural scientist may analyse this as a manifestation of a shrinking personality that recoils from as stern a test to the psyche as having to ask one's co-passengers in the middle and the aisle seats to make way every time one wanted to go to the toilet.

Useful bit of information

Be that as it may, the counter staff said she could manage an aisle seat, but the catch was that she could only offer me such a seat in the last row. Of course, this meant having to make to do with what little leg space the manufacturers choose to leave in their desperate effort to pack in the extra six passengers so vital to the economics of running an aviation business.

Also, being located right next to the toilet (in the cattle class, that is) it means that one's auditory senses are frequently bombarded with a noise similar to that of steam escaping from the boiler of a power plant every time a passenger uses the loo — an all-too-frequent occurrence on the evening flights — thanks to those innumerable coffee bars and lounges so thoughtfully placed by the airport authorities to encourage travellers to quaff copious quantities of beverages.  I hesitated briefly, but still took up the offer (aisle seat on the last row) as a fair deal, net-net.

A similar situation awaited me on the return trip. When I expressed a wish for an aisle seat, the lady at the check-in counter promptly told me: "No problem, Sir. I am giving you seat 27C". I thought I got lucky as row 27 suggested something in the middle of the aircraft, nearer the wing, perhaps by the side of the emergency exit (more leg room). More so, because she told me that there was a slight delay in checking me in as they were placing a larger aircraft for the trip. When I boarded the aircraft I found, to my dismay, that I had drawn, once again, the last row by the toilet. Of course, knowing it in advance wouldn't have made any difference to the eventual decision. But somehow, I couldn't help but feel that the airline on the return journey had short-changed me.

Looking at every small detail

The 'Aha moment' in management insight arrived not too long after. Businesses, no doubt, realise that success in the market place comes only by breaking down the activities of the business to the last detail, identify the most efficient process with which to accomplish each task, and so on. But where many of them go wrong is in believing that they have broken it down to the last detail when, in fact, they might not have. The customer feedback form that the airline supplied me with on the journey had many questions about the activities involved in checking in a passenger on a flight. But there was none to ascertain whether the staff at the counter had told me that the seat preference I had sought carried a rider.

It should have. Its absence suggested that either the airline had not quite thought of it — imagining, perhaps, that it was of no great consequence — or, if it did, omitted to incorporate it in the feedback form. What the lady at the check-in counter on my onward journey succeeded in achieving with her helpful piece of information is that I would think twice as hard if I had to turn down a schedule offered by it for a particular trip in the future.









The merger of Praja Rajyam Party into the Congress(I) has taken the pressure, for the time being, off both Chiranjeevi, who needs to reassure his restive followers, and the Congress(I) leadership that has to contend with the Telengana factor and Jaganmohan Reddy's rebellion.

The decision by 'megastar' Chiranjeevi to merge his Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) into the Congress(I) in New Delhi on February 6, has set the pace for some exciting times in Andhra Pradesh, which is facing multiple challenges on the political front as well as to its very existence as a single entity. The mergercould augur well for the Congress(I), which faces a serious threat to its Government and also has to deal with the larger issue of the possible bifurcation of South India's largest State.

Chiranjeevi, a hesitant entrant into politics, was expected to make a big mark on the State politics in the 2009 May elections. He however turned in a 'flop' show, with just 18 legislators in the 294-member Legislative Assembly and drew a blank in the Parliamentary election.

Cong(I) dilemma

However, after the death of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (in September 2009), the Congress(I), which got a thin majority with 156 seats, has been on tenterhooks, lacking in leadership and unable to confront, on one side, the demands of YSR's son, Mr Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy who claimed a virtual succession to his late father, and on the other, the wave of agitations and calls for separate Statehood for Telangana raised by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief, Mr K. Chandrasekhara Rao, with the support of the students of Osmania and Kakatiya Universities.

In a bid to consolidate his Government in power, initial moves for an arrangement with PRP were started by the YSR-led Government itself. However, the sudden death of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the political uncertainty and the Telangana issue, forced Chiranjeevi to take a firm stand, in favour of a united State. In addition, with a small number of legislators, the filmstar-turned politician has been under pressure from the cadres and MLAs.

Right time

In this background, Chiranjeeviseems to have taken to easing the pressure with options of either joining the Congress(I) Government through bargaining or merger with some assurances from the latter. That he pitched for merger, citing the social justice plank of both the parties and the higher probability of making a greater impact through Congress(I) in the fluid situation, in a way indicates that he wants to satisfy his MLAs, give himself enough room to go back to movies (which he has been talking of late) and hope for a bigger role in Congress(I) in the near future.

For the Congress(I), the development has come in the right timeWith the State Budget session to start on February 17 and the possibility former Kadapa MP, Mr Jaganmohan Reddy floating a party and garnering MLAs from the N. Kiran Kumar Reddy Government looming large, PRP could offer the buffer. As it stands now, the Congress(I)- PRP together will have 173 seats which is 26 more than the requisite simple majority required to be in power.

Events moved fast since the Union Defence minister, Mr A.K. Antony, met Chiranjeevi last week at his residence with a proposal from the AICC Chief, Ms Sonia Gandhi. The meeting of Chiranjeevi with Ms Sonia on Sunday cemented the decisions.

In a way, the developments have thrown a formidable challenge to both Mr Jaganmohan Reddy, pro-Telengana TRS, as well as the group within the Congress(I) in favour of bifurcation of the State. Political analysts interpret the merger as an indication that the Congress(I) high command is not in the mood now to give in to the separate Statehood calls. There could also be a larger plan of tackling the Jagan factor, TRS and keep the Government going, as Andhra Pradesh with 33 MPs, remains the strongest State for the Congress(I) and can give strength to the precarious position it can be pushed given the political flux at the Centre. Unlike the Telugu Desam Party founded by N.T. Rama Rao in 1982, which was swept to power in Andhra Pradesh in 1983 and also made him a force to reckon at the national level, Chiranjeevi's PRP has turned out to be a short-lived (just three years), an also-ran in a State that adores film stars.

VOTE-CATCHING or bigger role?

The question now is what role will Chiranjeevi don or able to salvage in the grand old party of India. Given, its record of dumping rebels and political returnees as well as those who join it from outside, is the Congress(I) looking at projecting him as a vote-catcher, leader in the coastal region and of the large backward castes or give him a bigger role as Chiranjeevi must be harbouring?

While there have been mixed reactions to thisdevelopment , the TDP should be at least pleased. A major reason being in the May 2009 elections, the PRP proved to be its undoing in many constituencies, especially in its traditional stronghold of the coastal districts. With PRP merged with the Congress, it could be a straight contest the next time around.

For the moment, the three-month old Government led by Mr Kiran Kumar Reddy has to brace up to face some political stumbling blocks from the TDP and the lurking trouble from the Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS), which can join forces with any party to push its agenda for a separate Telangana State.

Mr Kiran Reddy, pitch-forked to the Chair with the task of diminishing Jaganmohan's impact by virtue of his proximity to the late CM and, also hailing from the same Rayalaseema region, has begun to push the pet projects of Rajasekhara Reddy, starting with 'Arogyasree' (health for poor) and now 'Rachabanda' (providing instant solution to people's problems in villages through meetings), though he is confronting problems at several places.

The TDP Chief, Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu, facing stiff internal pressures from the MLAs from Telangana, has taken to highlighting problems of farmers, weavers, micro-finance borrowers and other mass issues to gain public support, while trying to continue his stand that both Telangana and coastal Andhra are equally important for his party.







A Budget that works for agriculture would be one that enhances investment in farms, spurs market intermediaries to improve their services, and brings about price stability. It should nudge policies towards more integrated markets.

For the first time in many years, the setting for the forthcoming Union Budget is one of good agricultural growth. For this year and in the coming years, more will have to be done to supplement the benevolence of rains. Given that we already have several long-term policies and plans in place, and many more problems to address, what farm perspectives are likely to influence the upcoming Budget?

The estimates of GDP for agriculture and the allied sector were raised to barely above stagnant level for 2009-10 on the back of fisheries, as crop agriculture saw very little growth in GDP. For 2010-11, the growth rate is now placed in excess of 5 per cent. Meanwhile, food prices and commodity prices remain a global concern, even in the coming year. The Budget will have to provide for better supply management, and not just increased production.

Despite efforts on many fronts, sustained agricultural growth and prosperity for millions has remained elusive. There has not been enough investment and productivity growth to match the achievements in the other sectors of the economy. So far, it was believed that there was not enough market demand as well. Perhaps this assumption needs to change.


It is increasingly clear that emphasis on growth alone is inadequate to meet broader policy goals, even at the sectoral level. Seeking better utilisation of available production and more efficient distribution capacities is equally important. Stability in supplies and prices is also an important policy goal. There do not seem to be incentives for either producers or distributors in the supply chain to minimise the spikes in prices. The Budget should signal an environment that facilitates investments in the sector, including the government's own investments.

There is a lot of dynamism in all markets, including the link between food and fuel. Mere opening up to global markets does not necessarily mean lower prices and increased supply of food at lower prices. Reduction in volatility of supplies is likely to be an important objective for agricultural policies in the coming years.

It is also important to have good supply performance across regions and States, and not only in some areas. In this sense, policies will have to consciously seek to achieve both protective strategies as much as growth strategies. The Budget must reflect this balance.

The protective strategies should be in the nature of support for distribution of supplies, marketing infrastructure and insurance. It will also include support for rural infrastructure. None of this is, in fact, new. But there needs to be some increased urgency for achieving results. A number of steps have been taken in the past to put together a framework. While the initiatives reflect a balanced strategy, the speed of implementation is weakened by availability of resources. We are still in the phase of creating infrastructure and the challenges of maintaining it are yet to surface.


The development of basic infrastructure such as roads and electricity has been the goal of programmes and schemes for a long time now. There has been progress, but we now await a reflection of this development on farm output or better distribution of what is produced.

Successive Budgets have also increased the supply of cheaper institutional credit, funds for irrigation and subsidies for inputs. What is increasingly obvious is that speed in policymaking is also important. So is an integrated policy for agriculture. The annual Budgets of the Centre and the States do bring together a variety of policy perspectives. It is interesting that an agricultural budget is in the offing for Karnataka this year.


The Budget this year will have other anchors for agriculture, besides food inflation. There is the food security issue and the expanding MNREGS. One implicit goal in the articulation of food security is the need for more productive agriculture. Food security goals cannot be met without an adequate supply of food at affordable prices.

It is unlikely that food security will be sustainable at highly subsidised consumer prices forever. As in the past, agricultural subsidies in the Budget will also draw attention. When the budgetary allocation is to be contained, it is also marked by some changes, or reforms, in the process of subsidy. Will the Budget mark reforms in the way food is procured and distributed to meet food security goals?

The test of policies for agriculture will be based on the following: investments that farmers make in their farms; the investment that market intermediaries will make to improve their services; and sustained and widespread price stability. The Budget will have to nudge policies in the direction of more integrated agricultural markets.

(The author is a Senior Research Counsellor, NCAER. The views are personal.





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




AROUND THE turn of the year it was clear that makers of Indian foreign policy had decided to accord in 2011 high priority to the country's relations with the neighbourhood and with the continent of Africa. There were good reasons for this resolve. In the first place, the contours of relations with all the major powers had already been established fairly firmly. Indeed, leaders of all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — had been to New Delhi one after the other during the second half of 2010. More importantly, there was belated realisation that South Block's energies were so concentrated on the difficult and tangled relations with Pakistan that other neighbours tended to be neglected. No wonder, China was able demonstrably to expand its ties with countries like Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to India's disadvantage, the "all-weather" China-Pakistan friendship and strategic alliance being in a class by itself. As for Africa too, it was obvious that China's economic and political sway there far exceeded India's.

While fresh developments in relation to Africa are still awaited, there have been some happy signs in the immediate neighbourhood for which Indian diplomacy deserves credit. For instance, at long last, Nepal has a Prime Minister after political and governance vacuum lasting seven months. No fewer than 16 previous attempts to elect a new Prime Minister had failed, and the success of the 17th was something of a surprise. For, Pushap Kamal Dhal, better known as Prachanda, leader of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), himself a candidate in all previous contests, announced the withdrawal of his candidature literally at the last minute. Though welcome, it also raised some intriguing questions. Mr Prachanda had kept his decision secret from even his own party colleagues, some of whom, principally Baburam Bhattarai, are peeved. Similarly, the newly elected Prime Minister, Jhalanath Khanal, is one of the several leaders of the faction-ridden Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), and this causes heartburn within the party.

However, the end of the protracted paralysis of both political and peace processes is heartening. Nepal can now get back to work. It will be unrealistic, however, to believe that Nepal's crisis is over. On the contrary, grim charges still loom and Mr Khanal would need all the skill and dexterity at his command to meet them. To these I will return after briefly mentioning two other encouraging events.

First, the often prickly and sometimes frustrating relations with Bangladesh have been on an even keel since the return to power in Dhaka of the Awami League leader, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, and a series of agreements between her and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A billion-dollar credit to Bangladesh by this country has been of great help. Initially, there were complaints by Dhaka that agreements arrived at were not being implemented. But these are now rare. Some issues, such as transit through Bangladesh to India's Northeast, are yet to be settled. But they are being discussed in a more constructive atmosphere than before.

Secondly, India has always wanted close, friendly and cooperative relations with Sri Lanka (the island republic that has no other neighbour), and so the policy remained even during the strains of Sri Lankan civil war. Of late, however, New Delhi found it necessary to tell Colombo that the wanton killings of two Indian fishermen by Lankan Navy in quick succession were unacceptable. Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao drove this home to Sri Lankan leaders with a commendable mixture of politeness and firmness.

To revert to Nepal, challenges ahead are acute and of concern to not only that country but also India with its high stakes in the peace and stability of the only neighbour with which it has an open border. Mr Khanal is the Prime Minister and the senior partner in the new ruling combination. But Maoist leader Mr Prachanda has a whip hand over him because of the huge numerical superiority of the Maoists over the CPN-UML in the Constituent Assembly. And since Maoist ideas of the shape of the Constitution differ radically from those of the Nepali Congress and other parties in the Opposition, to say nothing of several members of the CPN-UML, it is a moot point whether the Constitution can be adopted before the extended deadline that expires on May 28, 2011.

No less worrisome is the problem of integration with the regular Army of the Maoist cadres of the People's Liberation Army and the modalities of such integration and rehabilitation. The Maoists want integration at battalion and brigade levels to which other parties are opposed. As Prime Minister until 2008, Mr Prachanda had sacked the Army chief and appointed an "interim" commander-in-chief. President Ram Baran Yadav, as Supreme Commander, had overruled the Prime Minister. Thereupon, the Maoist leader had resigned and was replaced by Mahav Nepal of CPN-UML, who had to quit in June last.

Presumably because of the absorbing interest in the Egyptian upheaval, not enough notice has been taken of another welcome development with a significant bearing on India's extended neighbourhood. Regrettably, some weeks ago, without any discussion with Iran, India had terminated the traditional arrangement of paying Iran through the Asian Currency Union and in dollars. This was a consequence of the enhanced American sanctions on Iran and their impact on the international banking system. Understandably, Tehran was not amused. Happily, after quiet negotiations between the two countries, this problem has been solved. India would now pay Iran in euros.

One good has come out of even this unhappy episode. Both sides now have better awareness of the great importance of the Indo-Iranian relations that are civilisational, geo-strategic and economic. Iran supplies 12 per cent of India's needs of crude oil. Its quality is even more important than its quantity. For, several Indian refineries can run only on light crude. To get it from elsewhere would be more costly. That apart, Iran's interests in Afghanistan converge with ours, and events in Egypt and elsewhere in West Asia are almost certain to add to the already growing Iranian influence in the region.





Chief Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas, who was elevated to his present position although he remains charge-sheeted in a corruption case in Kerala when he was food secretary in the state, has asked some searching questions of our political system after being pilloried by politicians for over two months and being declared unfit by them for his present job since he carried a taint. The riposte by Mr Thomas, made in the Supreme Court in the course of his arguments in the corruption matter pertaining to him, does raise valid questions. However, it is not clear what bearing his pithy observations have on the specific case concerning his appointment to the high office of CVC whose job it is to deal with corruption in government. The nub of the CVC's arguments is that although a significant number of our MPs have been chargesheeted in criminal cases, and many even convicted for terms running up to two years, they continue to make laws for the country. Some facing the charge of murder have been ministers at the Centre. The point is well taken. Apparently Mr Thomas' lawyer made these points to emphasise that being chargesheeted did not automatically disqualify his client from the post of CVC. Some might regard this line of argument as the pot calling the kettle black. However, only earlier this month the Chief Election Commissioner, on a visit to Lucknow, made an appeal to not allow chargesheeted persons to contest elections for state Assemblies or Parliament. The CEC is entirely correct (as is the implied argument made in the apex court by Mr Thomas' counsel). Indeed, the suggestion made by the CEC may be deemed to be a basic requirement for cleaning up our system which has been mired in corruption and mis-governance at every level for decades. The points made by the CEC had in the past been made by others as well. But this line of thinking does not appear to have impressed our political class much. There has been a conspicuous reluctance on its part to enact legislation that would disqualify chargesheeted persons from running for Assembly or Parliament, although everyone can see this is a crying need. And yet, for all that, this point being made in court on Mr Thomas' behalf amounts to sophistry. It can be no one's case at the moment that the present CVC is a corrupt man. That point is still to be proved. In fact, up and down the Kerala administration Mr Thomas is viewed as a man of integrity caught in political crossfire. None of this matters, however. What matters is whether, given the sensitive nature of the CVC's job, Mr Thomas would be able to preside over the business of unravelling corruption cases. We know that several MPs, MLAs and ministers have a criminal background and the system merely winks at this phenomenon. But does India aspire to have in high office people about whom taint is suspected. Would we want a chargesheeted Chief Justice, President, or PM?







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 West Asia, 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 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 burnt". 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 civilisation.

"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 memorise 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 organised 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".







The problem with most middle-class political movements is that they know whom they don't want, but rarely do they know what they want. This is the case as well in what is going on in Egypt and in other Arab countries currently in the grip of uprisings. Rest assured all these are largely middle-class driven uprisings, emerging from what is called the "blocked elite" — i.e. an educated middle class that feels it has what it takes to become a power-elite but its path is being blocked by a corrupt, unfair and autocratic regime.

Thus whenever this blocked elite does manage to stir up a movement, it is almost always focused on a single personality, and not necessarily the system as such.

The rallying cry in the troubled Arab nations is against despotic individuals, but nobody has a clue what is to follow. The protesters, largely coming from middle and lower middle-class strata of society have so far failed to produce their own organisations that can systematically suggest a political and economic plan and an alternative to what the hated individual symbolises.

Though such movements might be able to topple these individuals, they end up creating a vacuum that is often filled by political entities that may also be against the toppled individual, but their ways are not necessarily in tune with the ideals of politics and society of the middle class. But the question arises, what exactly are middle-class ideals?

In the classical sense they should be democracy, economic stability, good governance and the maintenance of law and order. But in the post-modern world such ideals have become blurred, especially in Muslim countries where the middle class has largely begun to perceive democracy as something akin to populist chaos or a way for the West to impose its own political agenda and values.

The irony is that only a handful of Muslim countries have a democratic system in place, and the most organised opposition to autocratic regimes there is coming from the religious Right.

But in the last two decades or so, though the religious Right has made a lot of headway in penetrating the psyche of the Muslim middle class, people are still not quite sure whether to support the religious groups on political basis as well. The same is the case in Pakistan, in spite the fact that it is one of the few Muslim countries that has seen a number of democratic set-ups. Nevertheless, even here, though religious groups have made deep inroads into the middle-class psyche and this class usually airs these groups' thoughts and anti-West rhetoric, it usually ends up supporting the so-called moderate conservative parties like the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), while the "masses" (at least as voters) have always kept religious parties at bay by voting for various democratic and quasi-secular political parties.

But the vacuum created by even the most positive action by the middle class in most Muslim countries remains. Two examples in this context can further strengthen this theory.

The first is the 1977 protest movement in Pakistan against the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto regime and the other is the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The movement against Bhutto was born out of the frustration the industrial and middle class faced due to the (democratically elected) Bhutto regime's widespread nationalisation policies and its perceived favouring of Sindhis.

The frustrated middle class, which till then was largely liberal and also had progressives in its midst, was not politically organised. For the better part of Bhutto's regime a significant section of the young, urban middle class aligned itself with the Jamat-i-Islami's student wing, the Islami Jamiat Taleba, on campuses and then squarely fell for the religious parties' movement against Bhutto in 1977.

Though this movement raised Islamic slogans, it was really entirely aimed against an individual, Bhutto. Bhutto's gradual weakening in the face of this middle-class uprising generated a vacuum that was conveniently filled by the military, that took over using the same abstract slogans used by the movement, and preying upon middle-class fears of political chaos.

In Iran, the groundwork for what erupted into a full blown revolution against the Shah was undertaken by various secular-liberal and Leftist groups, so much so that influential Iranian Islamic activist-scholar Ali Shariati borrowed heavily from Leftist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and Marxism to attract middle-class attention against the Shah.

The result was desperate groups of middle class Iranians squarely aiming against an autocratic individual, without any alternative plan as such — until the vacuum was filled by the organised political clergy who replaced an autocratic and corrupt monarchy with a faith-based and reactionary regime.

Today, urban middle classes in Muslim countries have begun to shape themselves into vital economic and political entities. But as seen in Egypt and also in Pakistan, this class has failed to elaborate exactly what it wants as a political and economic system. In Pakistan it is somewhat repulsed by populist democracy, fearing that a popularly-elected government too may end up blocking their upwardly mobile ambitions as does an autocratic one.

In the process this class continues to linger as a fragmented set of malcontents, willingly alienated from mainstream political entities, and thus, always susceptible in the end for settling for either the desired rule of an unelected technocrat, or worse, being hijacked by Right-wing aspirations that promise them a check on populist masses-driven "chaos".






The concept and the meaning of this simple sounding word — shanti — goes beyond the realm of our imaginations. To imagine that this concept was given a few hundred thousand years ago, a time which, according to most historians, was a time when the world was roamed by uncivilised barbarians! It defies a logical mind how "uncivilised barbarians" could even imagine shanti — the importance of which even the present day civilised world cannot comprehend. Obviously one need not be a genius to understand who was more civilised.

Our ancestors not only discovered the power of this word but also the way to have complete peace, complete shanti, which is not just being at peace with ourselves but to have peace all round. To elaborate, they realised that being at peace is not possible if only we ourselves are at peace, but there must also be is peace around us. We, the selfish beings of today, cannot think beyond ourselves and just want peace for the self, failing to understand that if there is disturbance around us we can never be peaceful.

Waves, which a being radiates at all times directly, affect his/her immediate environment and the state of the being is dependent in a major way on its immediate environment. A disturbed being will radiate disturbed waves which would affect the complete creation generally, and the immediate environment of the source specifically. Thus, it can be assumed that a person who is in a disturbed state of mind will radiate disturbances. Shanti has the effect of calming it down and making it a law-abiding cell from a rogue cell. For what is shant can never walk the path of destruction...

A point of view, an event, or a situation can be clearly seen and understood if there is no disturbance around. Even a slight disturbance blurs reality. For example, if there is a coin at the bottom of a river bed it can only be seen if the water is clear and still. Even slight ripples and waves affect the clear view.

The key to shanti is stilling the brain, taking the brain to a state of point zero, when even the movement of eyeballs ceases to exist. This is undoubtedly the most difficult state to achieve. Just imagine the power of the person who is able to sit still in a thoughtless state. That is the state when all ripples have died down and the vision is crystal clear.

Anyone who is calm and at peace, or shant, creates a serenity around and people feel good in such people's company. Those who are disturbed or ashant create disturbance around them. This can be explained by the following example: Thousands of years ago our sages had perfected the state of stillness. For them this state was so profound that their age too had come to a standstill. At that time some of them decided to move closer to normal beings, so they moved their dwellings closer to villages. Of course, this also led to an increase in interactions with the local community, as they were worshipped by the locals. After some time the practitioners realised that they were ageing. Looking deeper they realised that these interactions and all the worshipping had touched their ego somewhere and created a ripple. Such a slight ripple in such advanced yogis was enough to distort their vision momentarily, immediately having an effect on the physical.

Our sages understood the deepest of meanings of shanti, which has been described in the following verse.

Om dehu, shanti antariksham
Shanti prithvi
Shanti (r) aapa
Shanti (s) ama
Shanti aushadhaya
Shanti vanaspataya
Shanti Vishwadeva
Shanti Brahma
Om dehu shanti(r)ive, dehu shanti(r)edhi
Shanti sarvagyam, shanti sarvagyam, shanti sarvagyam
Dehu shanti, shanti, shanti, shanti, shanti om.
(First there should be peace in the universe, then on mother earth, then within the plant kingdom, the medicines that we take should be at peace, the Gods around, and Lord Brahma should be at peace. We should be at peace like all of them. There should be shanti all around.)
Only when there is shanti all around, we can be at peace. This is the depth of the knowledge given to us by our ancient sages. This seemingly simple concept is the key to good health, success and wealth.

— Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He has recently written a book, Sanatan Kriya: 51 Miracles... And a Haunting.
Contact him at [1]






After more than two decades, Burma convened its new Parliament on January 31, 2011, led by former Prime Minister Thein Sein as President. Though Mr Sein retired from the military in April 2010 to contest elections as a "civilian", he is still strongly backed by the military, and his party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), is backed by the military junta.

This shift, therefore, does not indicate critical leadership change that was expected after the elections in November 2010.

Although the convening of Parliament and the fact that Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi continues to engage in her official work can be seen as a microstep forward for a system that has remained opaque for over four decades, its real impact is negligible. It does not highlight in any way a willingness on the part of the junta to relinquish the reins of power and allow a democratic transition.

The elections that resulted in the USDP winning about 80 per cent of the seats hardly had any Opposition. Opening up elections to multiple parties did not produce any effective challenge to the USDP as the only party that could have challenged the junta was Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) which boycotted the elections. In fact, the question of participation in the elections itself led to internal division of the NLD. The faction that supported participation merged with five other smaller parties to form what came to be known as the National Democratic Front (NDF). This loose knit grouping today has little voice as the Opposition in Burma. Ms Suu Kyi's NLD was barred from elections. And since her release in November 2010, there has been little clarity on how she plans to take on the junta and press for democratic changes in Burma.

The elections and the new Parliament raise several questions for the international community. The West, particularly the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia, have adopted sanctions as a method of dealing with the intransigence of the military junta. However, it is evident that the sanctions have had little impact on the Burmese rulers. If sanctions have had an impact at all, it has been on the Burmese people who remain impoverished. In fact, it is the junta that initiated opening up of the economic front. Burma's integration with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and closer ties with both China and India have pushed the development agenda in Burma and this brought in investment from the region. Southeast Asia has several examples where a rigid political system has coexisted with a liberal economy.

Today, however, the West is beginning to question the validity of sanctions. Sanctions have rarely worked in altering the domestic scenarios, forget initiating a transition to democracy. In fact, dictatorships and authoritarian regimes thrive even with the imposition of sanctions.

The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which strongly favoured sanctions, is now divided because countries like France and Germany have begun to have economic engagement with Burma. And the message from the Obama administration is that sanctions must be re-evaluated and options to engage with Burma need to be explored. 

At the Asean foreign ministers' meeting in Lombok (Indonesia) last month, the ministers took a positive view of the November elections in Burma and stated that the time has come for sanctions to go. Leaders stated that the elections and release of Ms Suu Kyi critically demonstrated the seriousness of the junta to bring about political transition.

But, interestingly, neither of the two groups — the ones that advocate sanctions and those who talk of engagement — have made any headway with Burma's military junta.

The impact of both these groups on the junta's ability to bring about change is negligible. If any option can work, it has to be one that does not support sanctions. Only engagement with the junta can create space for an economically viable middle class which can then demand political participation. Real change in Burma must, and will, come from within, from an empowered Burmese society and polity. It is only then that the change will be enduring and long term.

After the elections, there is a division between Burma's older and newer leadership as they hold divergent views on reform and political change.

This new development is being spoken of as a "civilianised" military. This is a first step towards evolving a new framework for transition and is indicative of a minute change. If this can cause some degree of split within the military and the USDP, it will challenge the cohesiveness of the military. Such a split will be critical in realigning the priorities of the younger leadership. This has happened in other military regimes in Southeast Asia. In fact, in Indonesia this critical factor led to the collapse of Suharto in 1998. Burma, which draws heavily from the Indonesian example, could well follow suit if this schism were to deepen.

Also, the 2008 Constitution, which is seen as regressive by many and reserves 25 per cent of the seats for the military, needs to be revised. It currently allows for Parliament to be dissolved and Emergency powers to be declared with just consultation between the President, the Commander in Chief of the armed forces and the ministers for defence and home affairs. So despite the Constitution, the authority remains vested in a few hands. 

The NLD in its current state can do little to challenge the junta. Since her release, Ms Suu Kyi has spoken of national reconciliation and the need to negotiate with the junta. However, she and the NLD remain debarred from political processes. While she asked the international community at Davos to responsibly invest within Burma, especially in the fields of technology and infrastructure, domestically her continued political response has been towards achieving national reconciliation. Creating a space for her pleas must come from within Burma.

- Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor ofSoutheast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU








Well may we like to believe that a judge of the Supreme Court actually caused the ruling Congress party some embarrassment with his remarks on the elevation of Vilasrao Deshmukh to Cabinet rank after he had been held directly responsible for interference in the matter of a farmer's exploitation.  But if we are honest, we will admit it is well nigh impossible to cause embarrassment to today's politicians and bureaucrats for those who rise to top positions come armed with thick skins and submerged sensitivities. And the higher they go, the greater their insensitivity. It was for Deshmukh to have resigned in the wake of the fine imposed by the Supreme Court on the Government of Maharashtra as a direct consequence of his action. A man with a sense of shame would have done so, after having compensated the government for the loss he had caused. But in this topsy-turvy world that we live in, Deshmukh was actually, we are given to understand, nursing a grievance ~ at not having been made a Cabinet minister after he was moved out of Maharashtra for gross incompetence! In a perverse sort of way, he might even have had a point ~ after all, if a position could be found for him at the Centre after he had made a mess of things in his home state it ought to have been commensurate with his former stature.
So how thick-skinned are we? Central Vigilance Commissioner PJ Thomas' petition to the Supreme Court tells us something about how the perverted minds of those who rule us work. In justification of his own clearance for promotion, Thomas cites the service records of seven of his peers who were cleared for promotion to the rank of Secretary. One was charge-sheeted for misappropriation of sale proceeds of essential commodities; the second had three separate charges, including a complaint of corruption and embezzlement; the CBI had recommended action against the third for illegal transfer of government land; the fourth faced a complaint of misuse of office and corrupt practices; the fifth had not been cleared by his state for non-submission of asset statements, and the sixth had not only been charge-sheeted for wrongly claiming expenses and punished, but had also been cited for corruption in a case where the UPSC had recommended punishment. A secretary to the Union government holds an important position. These promotions are cleared at the highest level. If a supposedly incorruptible Prime Minister can choose to run his government with such bureaucrats, should a judge of the Supreme Court really have found Deshmukh's elevation shocking or shameless? So, was the judge right to feel outraged? Of course he was, and we share his shock. Should Deshmukh have been rewarded?  Viewed from his perspective; or from that of his party leader, and in accord with the standards expected of our politicians, he ought to be Prime Minister of India. Isn't he just what we deserve?



NOWHERE near South Block was AK Antony when the Armed Forces Tribunal was conceived, he certainly was unabashed about taking the credit for its being established. So now he cannot evade responsibility for initiating action to redress a grievance of what is itself meant to be a grievance-redressal mechanism. It reflects an extremely sorry state of affairs when the Chairman of the Tribunal, Mr Justice AK Mathur, finds it necessary to publicly lament that his organisation lacks the power to ensure enforcement of its orders. It is telling that despite having drawn the attention of the defence ministry to that situation no corrective measures have been taken. After expressing such concerns frequently, the AFT chairman appears frustrated enough to go on record that, "it is a matter of great concern that an aggrieved party, despite getting a favourable order from the Tribunal, waits in vain for months to get it executed. We are helpless and cannot do much as under the Act, the Tribunal has no power to punish erring offices for non-implementation." The number of such cases is not negligible ~ 15-20 per cent. It is also significant that the Central Administrative Tribunal and the apex consumer court tribunal have the authority that is being denied to the AFT. It would, therefore, be fair to conclude that there is no oversight or mere red tape behind keeping the AFT toothless.

The track record would confirm that neither the service headquarters nor the ministry were very keen on the Tribunal, at which their functioning would come under scrutiny. The case was "pushed" by the Judge Advocate General's Branch, essentially for its own administrative convenience. The government was also embarrassed by the number of cases being taken to court. Sadly, it now appears that some very "clever" officials did the paperwork with typical subterfuge: making sure that while it was possible to tom-tom a Tribunal it  amounted to little more than a "big noise". The defence minister, for all his honest and transparent image, does not inspire confidence that he has the clout to sort out this mess ~ or any other for that matter. Once again the fauji has cause to feel he has been defrauded.




THE setback was not wholly unexpected; it is now confirmed. The West Bengal Governor has withheld his assent to the West Bengal Panchayat Board of Education Bill, a piece of legislation that was rushed through in the winter session of the Assembly with the hope that it would pay dividend at the hustings. It was passed without a proper debate, let alone an effort to address the reservations expressed by Mr MK Narayanan at least six months ago. Chiefly, that a panchayat, by the very nature of its functioning, cannot be entrusted with matters academic, not to mention the ineptitude and corruption which are highlights of the system in West Bengal. The fine print of the legislation is intensely political ~ to convert the Sishu Shiksha Kendras and the Madhyamik Siksha Kendras into regular schools under the panchayati raj system. Implicit is the primacy accorded to the panchayat department and not the school education department, as it ought to have been in the fitness of things.  Another objective was employment generation for rural Bengal's under-qualified and over-aged. Yet another was a contrived exercise to empower women; the Bill had envisaged that women in the 40-plus age bracket would also be deemed eligible for appointment as teachers (with scant regard to qualifications). The Bill has floundered at a critical juncture ~ barely three months before the election. A populist campaign plank ~ if far removed from learning ~ has been kept in abeyance through gubernatorial intervention. The policy has been disingenuous; the legislative process half-baked and marked by muscle-flexing that the 2006 brute majority afforded and with disastrous effect as in the case of industry. The panchayat system itself showcases one of the flagship disasters of the government. The drift both in terms of rural governance and corruption has been pronounced even after the change in political control in the last panchayat election. A change of guard doesn't ipso facto translate to better governance. To entrust the panchayat system with elementary education would only have deepened the disaster of primary schools. Raj Bhavan has saved Bengal from yet another fiasco.








AN part of the 125th anniversary of the Congress, a three-day conclave was organised in Delhi last December. Subsequently, a book, edited by Mr Pranab Mukherjee, was released. There was an element of self-criticism as it acknowledged the blunder and excesses of the Emergency.  Sanjay Gandhi has been made the scapegoat.
However, recent developments didn't evoke popular interest. In stark contrast to the centenary celebrations of the party in 1985, under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi, there was no acknowledgment of the present shortcomings. In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi was critical of the power-brokers, admitting that only 15 paise of a rupee in the approved sum for a project reached the actual beneficiary. The proceedings of the latest conclave were merely cosmetic and ritualistic without any prescription on how the party could be revamped. It chose the easy way out by criticising the opposition, rather than reflect on its past, present and the future.

The beginning of the Congress in 1885 was a turning point in our political evolution. Allan Octavian Hume was extremely cautious in initiating a process of political consolidation, taking full cognizance of the contemporary situation and the major contradictions and faultlines of Indian society. One major reason for the failure of Surendranath Banerjee's efforts was its highly centralised organisation with its headquarters in Calcutta, then the imperial capital.

The situation started to change after the extremists made a triumphant return in 1916 and a total transformation took place with the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi on the national scene in 1920. He gave the Congress a constitution, provided a new map of India on the basis of linguistic states, opened up the membership to every single Indian with a four anna membership fee and made it both a mass and a cadre party. The early Gandhian Congress followed the framework of Tilak's mass politics with proper institutionalisation and annual election from the grassroots to the top. However, the Gandhian era in the Congress also had its shortcomings with its emphasis on consensus and the emergence of a very powerful pressure group of loyalists. Gandhi himself showed his weakness towards Jawaharlal Nehru by allowing him to be the Congress president four times while denying a second term to Subhas Bose. When the latter was re-elected against his wishes, he remarked, "Sitaramayya's defeat is my defeat".

It was after independence that the Congress started its journey under the leadership of Gandhi's chosen successor, Jawaharlal Nehru. He dominated the party till his death in 1964 like a "gentle colossus". After the first general election in 1951, in which the Congress polled 43 per cent of the votes and the socialists 16 per cent, Nehru initiated unity talks to bring back the socialists. They had left the party in the wake of independence on the question of maintaining a separate identity within the Congress. Nehru's desire was to cross the 50 per cent threshold and enjoy a real majority rather than be dominant only in the case of opposition disunity. The talks failed and after Nehru's death, Lohia's leadership of a non-Congress group led to the formation of non-Congress governments from Amritsar to Calcutta in 1967.

Indira Gandhi startled everybody by proving to be strong rather than a weak Prime Minister. She tried to split the party by getting the official Congress presidential candidate defeated and getting her candidate, VV Giri, elected to the post in 1969. She took bold decisions such as bank nationalisation, doing away with privy purses of the erstwhile princes and was described as "Durga" by Atal Behari Vajpayee for her deft handling of the Bangladesh crisis. She scored an impressive victory in the Lok Sabha elections in 1971. However, she was unseated by Allahabad High Court, a judgment that was stayed by the Supreme Court. To stifle opposition, she imposed the Emergency and arrested several leaders, including Jayaprakash Narayan.

The span of Parliament was increased by a year and a review committee under Swaran Singh was appointed to rewrite the Constitution. The basic structure proclaimed by the Supreme Court in 1973 was nullified by the 42nd Amendment and this was subsequently restored by the Janata government when it came to power in 1977.
Indira Gandhi did not hold any organisational election for 17 years. Her singular contribution to the party was to transform it from a consensual to a dynastic one. She espoused the doctrine of committed bureaucracy.
After her assassination, Rajiv Gandhi was chosen as successor. His bleakest phase was the anti-Sikh riots of October 1984.

Narasimha Rao, who ruled deftly even when the Congress did not have a clear majority, has not been accorded the importance he deserved either at the convention or in the book. It was under his critical leadership that India opted for liberalisation and globalisation and shed its "Hindu rate of growth", as described by Raj Krishna. The deliberate omission of Rao clearly indicates that the Congress of today is neither interested in pursuing bold policy initiatives nor in rewarding meritocracy. It has, however, rewarded sycophants like Arjun Singh who did his best to create hurdles for Rao and thereby earned the goodwill of the Gandhi family.

The party now has two centres of power, a de facto one in the UPA chairperson and the party president and a de jure one in the office of the Prime Minister. The power of the high command continues to be what it was during Indira Gandhi's time; it takes almost all the crucial decisions of the party. Even the term of the party president has been extended and the election is a mere formality as the incumbent gets re-elected unanimously. Possibly there will be another dynastic succession, this time by a leader who has not shouldered any responsibility, still less expressed his views on the issues and challenges facing the country. Rahul Gandhi's policy of going it alone in the Hindi heartland may not be effective; the Congress tally in the Bihar assembly, for instance, has come down from nine to four.

In its 125th year, it looks as though the Congress has lost its moorings. It is almost a rudderless organisation pursuing a policy of drift. Instead of being a party that could be emulated and envied, it is weak and uninspiring...  in sharp contrast to the heyday of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru.

The writer is retired Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi







INDIA hosted its first major conference on the growing clout of Environmental, Social Governance factors in corporate funding to enable investors to opt for companies making healthy profits without unhealthy corporate behaviour. This is a significant step towards more accountable economic growth, dodging the domino-like global financial crisis of the kind the Lehmann Bros collapse triggered in 2008, and also ensuring that our planet still has a bit of drinkable water, fuel and fertile soil left by 2075.

The 19 January roundtable "Responsible Investment: Mainstreaming of Environmental, Social, Governance Factors" conference in Mumbai had experts from five continents brainstorming to give investors in India, Asia's third largest and one of the world's fastest growing economies, credible tools for socially accountable, clean returns on investment. India will be the inevitable hotspot for ESG initiatives, being a trillion-dollar economy but accounting for barely $1 billion of over $20 trillion funds worldwide under ESG management.
The 18-day old Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, or Society for International Cooperation, and the Global Reporting Initiative  organised the meeting that attracted more than 140 diverse stakeholders such as the Tata Group, State Bank of India, Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, Confederation of Indian Industries, Bloomberg, Wipro, IBM, Mahindra and Mahindra and Walt Disney.
The idea is to provide not merely financial information for investors but also ensure they have credible tools to identify companies attempting wholesome growth and not self-destructive greed. As Ernst Ligteringen, chief executive of co-host Global Reporting Initiative, put it, "We cannot any longer afford having resources created over billions of years consumed in about 20 to 30 years."

With a tumultuous financial crisis hammering home painful lessons, financial stakeholders are looking to free themselves of the "dichotomy", as keynote speaker Jane Diplock put it, "of companies having to choose between making profits and doing good".

Diplock, executive committee chairperson of the International Organisation of Securities Commissions, is part of a multinational team of experts working to ensure ESG disclosures become as necessary as financial statements for pre-investment decision-making. "Investor confidence is the single largest factor influencing economic growth," she said, "and that trust is developed from transparency linked to disclosures on fronts such as ESG."

Diplock is also a member of the London-based International Integrated Reporting Committee that is engaged in creating a globally accepted "integrated" format incorporating financial, environmental, social and governance information for long-term investors and other stakeholders. The IIRC held its second meeting in Beijing on 17 January, hosted by the Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

"I can see change for the better coming about," said Ishaat Hussain, finance director of Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata Group. "But corporate social responsibility values cannot be merely legislated, and should be incorporated in the DNA of companies — it's not only about shareholders' value, but shared values."
China is travelling on this evolving sensible investment road, with the Shenzhen Stock Exchange making listed companies compulsorily include ESG disclosures. India's first major ESG-inclusive fund advisory is already operating with the Chennai-based Infrastructure Development Finance Company, one of the country's leading financial, advisory and management service providers in the infrastructure sector. The Indian government estimates $1.025 trillion worth of infrastructure investments between 2008-2012.

Funds under ESG management are actually starting to outperform conventionally managed funds, according to surveys by the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, one of China's three stock exchanges, and Bloomberg.
Natasha Mehta of Bloomberg India said ESG funds grew by $5 billion in Europe between 2002-2009, and by $4,000 billion in the USA between 2002-2010. "Between 2005-2010, there was a whopping 219 per cent increase in companies that included ESG reporting in their statements," she said. According to her, India has 580 companies providing ESG disclosures, the third largest number of companies in the world after Japan and the USA. But the downside is that most ESG disclosures from Indian companies lack detail, quality and consistency.

Entities like the Tata Group and privately owned Yes Bank lead India's drive for healthier business ways, but the Indian government is also diving in with the likes of the Union ministry of corporate affairs declaring 14-21 December every year as "India Corporate Week".

To celebrate the second India Corporate Week last December, the Kolkata-based Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India published a 29-page primer, "Monograph on Sustainable Development, Sustainability & the Cost and Management Accountant". Its authors, AN Raman and Manivannan Rajan, said cost and management accountants "have a great role to play in design and implementation of sustainable business strategies". Twenty Icwai cost accountants attended the conference.

Crucially, chartered accountants too are expressing interest in ESG values. Nilesh Vikamsey, finance committee board member, Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, said the conference was a learning experience. The 61-year-old Ical, with 160,000 members, is India's accountancy regulator. "We may be strongly pushing for the need for ESG disclosures along with financial statements of companies," Vikamsey said.
"This is bound to make a big impact, given that the mindset is changing for the better in India on the need for ethical business."

Investor choices define how a nation's economy grows, and ESG reporting is gathering a momentum of its own and could be a marked shift towards constructive rather than destructive economic growth. Bloomberg's Mehta interestingly said that universities were also buying ESG-related data, indicating that the next generation of corporate leaders stood a better chance of having responsible investment goals already in their management DNA.

The writer is a freelance contributor






The tremors have spread to Yemen, Jordan, Syria and even Saudi Arabia but one hopes the current protests in a peace-loving country will spare its historical and archaeological tomes, says haimanti dutta ray


THE world seems to be in a state of flux. There are parties engaged in the struggle for power even in what were seemingly stable countries like Egypt. Is this a movement for political reforms or is there the fear that the demand for change could mean that power will move into the wrong hands? Whatever the outcome of the debate, there are genuine apprehensions in the minds of many who are aware of the rich heritage on which the modern institutions in Egypt were founded. The history of the country goes back thousands of years, making it one of the most sought after destinations of tourists from around the world, including India. Quite obviously, that flow of visitors will be checked.

But, more important, people will wonder whether the shocks experienced on the political front will produce an adverse impact on Egypt's extraordinary natural assets.

I had visited the country back in 2007. We visited Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Aswan. In fact, we boarded an overnight train in our journey from Luxor to Aswan, took a cruise down the Nile, visited historic archaeological temples like Abu Simbel and returned by train. I remember seeing miles upon miles of human settlements with boys on camels and horses. The local guide at Cairo informed us that cars as well as petrol were cheaper in Egypt than anywhere else in the world. We visited the Egyptian Museum which has been at the centre of an upheaval that has been a source of intense anxiety for those acquainted with its reputation for being a treasure-house of ancient art.

The museum is huge and houses the largest collection of Egyptian artefacts. It is a matter of regret that the protesters agitating for the ouster of Hosni Mubarak regime have disfigured some of the mummies kept in the museum. The mummies of ancient Pharoahs are kept in a special air-conditioned room.

Egypt or "Misor" has had a chequered history. Ancient Egyptian civilisation dating back to hundreds of thousands of years BC has given us some of the most exquisite relics and specimens of historical origin, be it temples, monuments or the papyrus tradition. History has given us the pyramids at Giza, the Valley of Kings and that of Queens, the most ancient pyramid at Saqqara, the Karnak and Luxor temples and a host of other specimens of ancient Egyptian civilisation. Modern Egyptians are mostly Muslims or Christians and some of Greek origin. I had read Amitav Ghosh's In an Antique Land some days before travelling and was full of expectations as ancient stories with biblical echoes have been told again and again and now flow into modern sensibilities.

People around the world are today striving to put an end to autocratic regimes. The protests at Tahrir or Liberation Square in Egypt provide the most glaring reflection of the new aspirations and efforts to replace one socio-economic system with another. President Hosni Mubarak rose to power in 1981. He had pledged that he would complete his term. But modern-day Egyptians want to oust him and establish a democratic government. Pressure is mounting from America as well. The tremors in Egypt have spread to Yemen, Jordan, Syria and even Saudi Arabia. The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition force in Egypt, founded there as early as 1928, is among the oldest Islamist movements. But one hopes that the current protests in a peace-loving country like Egypt will spare the historical and archaeological tomes that dot the country. These should not be defaced.
Protesters bent on taking their resentment against Mubarak to its logical conclusion desist from damaging the relics that attract tourists from all over and which continue to haunt us. The desire for change should not deprive Egypt of the pride that goes with its past or produce a tragedy on the lines of the Bamyan Buddha statues that were destroyed by the extremist Taliban – only to wipe out the evidence of ancient art that stood out for its sheer mastery, skill and expertise.

The writer is a freelance contributor







IN Thimpu, India and Pakistan decided to resume talks. Will the government continue with its policy drift by pursuing this meaningless dialogue with Pakistan? We do need to talk with Pakistan, but the talks should be concrete, blunt and private. Such talks can only be held between the Prime Ministers of both governments, one to one. Only after such talks might New Delhi decide whether there are real and early prospects of stabilising relations with Islamabad. What should the government discuss if such talks are ever held? The following should be the agenda.

First, it must assert that history, ethnicity and geography dictate that India and Pakistan must have a special relationship that transcends ties with any third power by either country. If not, the relationship will be meaningless.

Second, such a relationship might only be achieved if the Pakistan army alters its strategic thinking. It should not perceive India as the major security threat. Even several Pakistani newspaper columnists have pointed out that every Indo-Pakistani war was initiated by Pakistan. If, in the light of this, the Pakistan army were to change its perception, there could evolve a joint defence strategy that might include a sharing of nuclear power. Any Indo-Pakistani dialogue that does not include the Pakistan army would be meaningless.

Third, stability of the region compels normal and friendly relations between South Asia and China. The current Chinese actions preclude such normality. India cannot tolerate its neighbouring countries being exploited by China to create tension with it. It should be bluntly pointed out that Pakistan itself is the prime proxy of China to needle India. That is unacceptable. In other words, for an appropriate relationship with India, Pakistan would have to drastically alter its relations with Beijing. Pakistan should be advised that in the not too distant future events could persuade Beijing to target Pakistan in the manner that it does India. China's access to energy and need for natural resources may persuade it to endanger Pakistan's hold over Baluchistan. On the other hand, if India and Pakistan evolve a special relationship the whole of South Asia could develop excellent trade and political relations with China on a common basis. If Pakistan and its army find this unacceptable, continuing the dialogue would be meaningless.

Fourth, if Pakistan accepts these conditions, India should be willing to revise its approach to the Kashmir problem. India should consent to a solution that reflects the popular will of all segments of undivided Kashmir, provided the entire region is incorporated in the envisaged India-Pakistan special relationship.
If Pakistan is willing to seriously consider the above conditions, India should pursue the dialogue. Otherwise it is futile to continue with the present talks. India in that event would have to formulate a foreign policy for the region based upon its singular role.

The writer is a veteran cartoonist and journalist






Indian democracy is poised to enter another phase of tests. It failed one test at the end of last year, when Parliament failed to meet even for a day during its winter session. The budget session, arguably the most important session of Parliament, is slated to begin in a couple of weeks' time. There is no indicator that the impasse that stalled the functioning of Parliament in its previous session has been resolved or is, in fact, close to some kind of resolution. In the winter session, the Opposition — there was a bizarre coming together of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left on this issue — refused to allow Parliament to function because it wanted the government to give in to its demand for a joint parliamentary committee to review the granting of the 2G licences. It did not strike the Opposition that the proper functioning of Parliament is absolutely critical to the democratic process. The functioning of Parliament is more important than any protest, even one focussed on corruption within the government. The Opposition was well within its rights to demand a JPC but once it was not conceded, Parliament should have been allowed to function so that debate could ensue and legislations could be passed.

The government's efforts to diffuse the tension and enable parliamentary work to proceed during the budget session have not made much headway. The Opposition is in no mood to let the government off the leash of the JPC, especially since other revelations about corruption have come to the surface. What is not clear is what the Opposition hopes to achieve by stopping Parliament from functioning. The failure to pass the budget and the finance bill in the forthcoming session could seriously jeopardize the present political dispensation. But will anybody gain from that? Is any political party prepared to face the electorate in the immediate future? There are even more profound issues involved here. What will it mean for democracy in India if Parliament is made dysfunctional by protests from the Opposition? No one in the political class recognizes the significance and the weight of this question. The mode of protest adopted by the Opposition has made it clear that it makes no distinction between the politics of the street and parliamentary procedure. The victim of this confusion is the democratic process, which is being held at ransom by political parties eager to score short-term points.






The killing of fishermen from Tamil Nadu in the deep seas is not unprecedented. Several hundreds of them were allegedly gunned down over the years by the Sri Lankan navy, which saw them as a conduit for supplies to the Tamil rebels in the north of the island. The reasons why the recent killings of fishermen have grabbed the headlines are manifold. For one, no one expected them to start all over again now that peace has returned to the island country and Sri Lanka has entered a new phase of friendly ties with India. Second, it ought to be remembered that it is election season in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, and political parties across the board are naturally fishing in troubled waters. The tragedy has already spurred the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to revive its call for the return of Katchatheevu Island from Sri Lanka. Not to be left behind, the Bharatiya Janata Party too has jumped into the fray, pointing fingers at the United Progressive Alliance for failing to prevent the recurrence of such episodes. The pressure on the government has been sufficient to put into action not merely the foreign secretary, but also the foreign minister, who accosted his Sri Lankan counterpart at Thimphu on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit on the issue.

As before, Sri Lanka has denied the involvement of its navy in the successive attacks on fishermen. Thankfully, it has agreed with India to revive the joint working group on fishing, which had become non-functional. There are certain things India has to own up to if it wants the group to make any headway. There is a possibility that fishermen from its coasts are venturing too deep into neighbouring waters to take advantage of the return of peace in Sri Lanka. Fishermen in Sri Lanka's northern and now eastern coasts have severally complained about the threat posed to their livelihood by Indian trawlers. It also has to acknowledge that fishermen rarely follow international borders while going after their catch. The arrangement worked out with Sri Lanka in 2008, which kept in mind this last truth, may perhaps go in for a revision in keeping with the changed circumstances. But during all such revisions of standing agreements, it should be emphasized that the violation of maritime borders does not and cannot justify a lethal attack on the violator. Both countries have to value the lives of its citizens.






The crises in Tunisia and Egypt have surprised the world even as they have shocked the incumbent leaderships. The knock-on effects on South Yemen and Jordan suggest that there is widespread popular disaffection in the Arab world. Is this a pointer to rebellion brewing in the Muslim world beyond the Arab countries? What about Pakistan in particular? Could it be next?

What we are seeing in Tunisia and now in Egypt is large-scale popular rebellion against long-standing authoritarian leaderships. Both are fairly advanced Arab countries in terms of per capita income ($7900 and $5400 respectively in purchasing power parity terms), literacy (78 per cent and 66 per cent), exposure to the media and electronic communications, and political awareness. Both have respectable population growth rates, with Tunisia slightly below the world average and Egypt somewhat above. Both are growing economically at a decent rate — at between 3.5 and 4.5 per cent respectively. Unemployment is probably the most disturbing element, with Tunisia at 14 per cent and Egypt at 10 per cent.

There is trouble also in Yemen and Jordan. How do they stack up against Tunisia and Egypt? Yemen has a per capita income of $2400 and Jordan of $5000. Literacy is at 59 per cent and 91 per cent respectively. Population growth rates are 2.97 per cent and three per cent, well above the global average of 1.17 per cent. Economically, they are both growing at five per cent. And unemployment is 35 per cent and 13 per cent. This suggests that Jordan is somewhat closer to Tunisia and Egypt.

Why then, given quite different profiles, at least between Yemen on the one hand and Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan on the other, are both sets of countries in political difficulty? Do the economic and social characteristics of countries not matter?

There is a view that economic and social deprivation leads to rebellion. An alternative view is that economic and social progress, up to a threshold, gives rise to rebellion. The four profiles sketched in here suggest that the latter view is more credible, as three of the four States represent middle-level developing countries that have attained a certain threshold of economic and social progress. Economic and social progress creates political awareness and a level of political mobilization that is necessary for an agitational movement. Economic and social progress is also influential in determining the nature of the movement. If one had to make a vulgar prediction, it is that Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan, as relatively rich and modern societies, will handle the present crises somewhat better and move in the direction of a fairly moderate, liberal alternative. Not so Yemen.

Is there anything that the four countries have in common besides being Arab and Muslim and sharing some economic and social features? One striking common feature is their political leadership which has been in the same hands for three decades. Discontent is as much political, therefore, as it is economic and social.

Where is Pakistan in comparison? Its per capita income is $2600 dollars, close to Yemen's. Literacy is 54 per cent, again Yemen-like. Population is growing at a more moderate pace, at 1.84 per cent. Economic growth is running at 2.7 per cent, lower than Yemen and barely keeping up with population growth. Unemployment stands at 15 per cent, well below Yemen's rate. In sum, Pakistan's economic and social profile is more like that of Yemen than of Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan.

Yet, compared to the four Arab States, Pakistan has certain political characteristics which make massive street protests against the incumbent government unlikely. It has had a history of rather effective street protests — in 1969 to oust Ayub Khan, in 1977 to oust Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and in 2009 to oust Pervez Musharraf. Nonetheless, it seems unlikely to happen in the wake of Tunisia and Egypt.

For one thing, and perhaps most importantly, Pakistan has not had the same leadership for 30 years. Nobody in Pakistan, not even a dictator, has ruled for more than 11 years. Pervez Musharraf, the last authoritarian leader of that country, did not quite make the 11-year 'limit', being at the helm from 1999 to 2009.

Secondly, the present government in Pakistan is a popularly elected one. There is discontent in the country, but the Zardari government was elected in a free and fair election and his political capital has not run out — he has not hit the 11-year limit. Nor has it been possible to focus public anger against any one leader. President Asif Ali Zardari is not personally liked, but he is not the only focus of dissatisfaction. The prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, runs the day-to-day affairs of the State with a fairly capable group of ministers. Responsibility is more diffuse in Pakistan.

This brings me to a third feature of the Pakistani system, namely, its relative openness. Pakistan today is not authoritarian in the way that Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen are. There are political spaces and freedoms available to dissenting groups, most obviously parliament. The effect of this is to let pressure dissipate.

Fourth, Pakistan has a lively and relatively free media. Popular expressions of dissent and dissatisfaction are allowed fairly free rein, particularly in periods of civilian rule. Even during military rule, Pakistan's press has had a fair degree of commentative and reporting freedom. Political unhappiness is therefore not bottled up as in the Arab world.

Another key difference is that Islamic forces in Pakistan have not been suppressed in the way that they have been contained in Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan. It is not clear to what extent Islamic groups have instigated or taken over the protests in those three countries. In Egypt, the role of the Muslim Brotherhood is becoming more evident. What is worrisome in the Egyptian movement is that the only organized force within it is the Brotherhood. There is a danger, therefore, that the Islamists will manipulate the post-Mubarak phase to their advantage and marginalize the liberals. In Pakistan, by contrast, the Islamists are pretty much out in the open and have the patronage or acquiescence of political parties and the army. Pakistani Islamists may not need a popular movement against the government of the day. They already set a good deal of the agenda and frequently act as a veto group.

Finally, young people have been a crucial force in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen, but Pakistan's youth, particularly educated youth, have really not played much of a role in agitational politics since the late 1960s. Some segments of young people have been drawn into Islamic radicalism, others have joined the mainstream political parties. Yet others have emigrated to the West or are politically apathetic. Those who have joined Islamic radicalism and those in the mainstream parties are not terribly interested in agitational street politics: the radicals are attracted to terrorism and sectarian conflict — Shia versus Sunni — or cultural reformation; and those in the political parties give vent to their views within the political process.

If this is correct, Pakistan is unlikely to be a candidate for the kind of protests we are seeing in the Arab world. Pakistan already has a richer democratic history than these countries. It also has much more instability and political violence. We must hope that the Arab future tilts towards democracy rather than instability and violence.

The author teaches international politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi







Amidst the turmoil in the Arab world came the news last week that the uncertainty in Nepal has eased, with the Maoists agreeing to support a ministry headed by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). This should be good news for the Himalayan nation. For far too long had the country been in a state of flux — with no government there worth the name — and hence no progress worth the name on the work for a new constitution. The news is good for India also, since with no knowing what turn the situation in Egypt and elsewhere will take, New Delhi could not have enjoyed an impasse in the east as well. The visit of Nepal's president, Ram Baran Yadav, was the first sign that a settlement was about to be reached in Kathmandu. That happened with the Maoist supremo, Pushpa Kamal Dahal or Prachanda, dropping out of the race for the prime minister's chair; it was his refusal to do so that had created the seven-month-old stalemate.

It is not immediately known what concessions, if any, Prachanda has extracted from the CPN (UML) for supporting its president, Jhalanath Khanal, as the new prime minister. No major concession, however, is likely to have been made. The biggest issue remains the fate of the Maoist guerrillas whom Prachanda wants inducted into the regular army — something to which all the other parties, including the communists, are averse. Even within his own party, Prachanda has become bit of a loner, with Baburam Bhattarai and others advocating a less radical line. Prachanda now seems to have got the message that since his party does not command an absolute majority, he will have to exist in peaceful collaboration with others when it comes to providing the people with a constitution and a government. The Maoists do have the strength in the House to prevent any political arrangement to form a government without them being a part of the scheme. But that is a dog in the manger policy, and fortunately, Prachanda has, at last, realized this. Perhaps a few words from the pragmatic Chinese in Beijing have also helped.

Tortuous road

The question is — for how long will the road ahead be smooth? Prachanda's stepping aside by no means indicates that the Maoists' basic differences with the CPN (UML), the Nepali Congress and others have been swept under the carpet to remain there indefinitely. These are bound to surface when it comes to finally drafting the constitution, which, under the present circumstances, will have to be more 'bourgeois' than Prachanda and his comrades would like it to be. That, certainly, was far from their minds when they fought the bloody battle with the royal forces. Yet events unfolded in a manner to make such a truce not only essential but also to prove to be the path forward provided by constitutional politics until the time arrives to take total control of the country.

In the election to the constituent assembly, the Maoists won the highest number of seats, but the others, who had been pursuing a democratic path, did not become exactly irrelevant. This is what the Maoists must always keep in mind in the days to come. They must also realize that the habit of drumming up anti-India sentiments whenever they are in a hole does not exactly pay, as the relations between the two people are too closely knit for the younger brother to do away with the older. If the Maoists do have a political message to spread that is distinct from Marxism-Leninism — even the Chinese do not seem to know what it is and, in any case, they had shed more than the Mao jacket — then they will have to do the preaching as they trudge the long and tortuous road that lies ahead along with the others. If Prachanda's current gesture indicates that's the way things will be only then can Nepal breathe a sigh of relief.


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




The income tax department has done well to attach the properties of an IAS couple Arvind and Tinu Joshi, who were suspended for corruption and violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). Raids on the couple's home revealed assets and properties worth over Rs 360 crore, an amount clearly disproportionate to their known sources of income. The couple belongs to the Madhya Pradesh cadre and had served several stints in powerful ministries. It is said that no IAS officer so far has been caught with so much of unaccountable wealth. In a country where corruption of officials and politicians is routine and brazen, little shocks the Indian public any longer. But the Joshis' corruption is of an appalling magnitude. This couple has taken corruption to a new high level. The IT department's decision to attach their properties is aimed at preempting any attempt on their part to operate their accounts or dispose off their assets quietly before investigations are completed.

It is well known that when officials and politicians are charged with corruption, investigating authorities move at a snail's pace. The manner in which investigations are being conducted into the alleged corruption by Suresh Kalmadi, Lalit Banot and other CWG officials or by A Raja and others linked to the telecom scam are cases in point. It was many months before investigating officials started acting against Kalmadi, Raja and others, giving them a lot of lead time during which they are sure to have shifted their assets or destroyed evidence. This has been the trend in India, especially when the powerful are charged with corruption. Even if they are convicted later, more often than not, much of their assets are safe as they were not attached early enough in the investigation.

Suspending officials or stripping politicians of their ministerial posts isn't enough. Those who have looted this country and its people should be forced to give back their ill-gotten wealth, besides facing prosecution. This requires freezing their assets early in the investigations. Doing so will also ensure that the accused are not able to use their wealth to influence investigations. This is the strategy that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has adopted in his battle against corruption in the state. The IT department's action against the Joshis is a sign that others are taking a leaf out of Bihar's book. Freezing assets early in corruption cases must become the norm.







Five years since the inception of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), there appears to be a concerted attempt at undermining the scheme. Its performance and achievements have been mixed. The world's largest rights-based livelihood security programme, the scheme guarantees 100 days of wage-employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. It has grown remarkably over the past five years.

It was launched in a single district — Anantpur in Andhra Pradesh, and then implemented in a phased manner over more districts. It covers the entire country today. That the scheme is bringing positive change in rural India, albeit slowly is undeniable. Rural Indians might not be getting 100 days of paid work as it promises. Still they are getting more paid work than they did under earlier public works programmes. It provided employment to 41 million households in 2010-11, increased rural wages, slowed migration and created durable assets that will spur more rural development. Dalits, tribals and women are getting paid work.

However, the scheme has been attacked by the 'growth lobby' as an expensive gravy train. This section has argued that raising rural wages has fuelled inflation. Bowing to this lobby, the government froze the daily wages at Rs 100 and delinked it from the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. Instead of offering MGNREGS workers statutory minimum wages, it recently said it would link the wages to the Consumer Price Index for agricultural labour. It is hard to dispel the feeling that the government is weakening the scheme from within.

The growth lobby would like to see it dismantled. It is true the scheme is riddled with problems and the funds are being channelled into private pockets. Villagers complain that they are rarely paid the wages due to them. Scams involving issue of job cards in the name of non-existent villagers have come out in the open. Middlemen are operating bank accounts in the name of job card holders. However, these are problems that can be addressed if we summon the political will. The way to fight corruption is strict enforcement of transparency safeguards and awareness creation among the people, not dismantling the programme. MGNREGS is a powerful tool of economic redistribution and social equity. It must be kept alive and implemented efficiently.








Karmapa's office may be guilty of financial mishandling, but to accuse him of being China's agent is unethical.
What intrigues me about the controversy over the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is whether home ministry officials suspect him of being a Chinese agent or of financial improprieties. It would be dishonest and dangerous if they are using the latter to imply the former so that he can be replaced by their favourite who is a rival candidate for the title. That trivialises national security to serve a private purpose.

Nar Bahadur Bhandari, Sikkim's former chief minister and present head of the pradesh Congress committee, who is neither Tibetan nor Buddhist but has had considerable experience of smear tactics, strong-arm methods and judicial persecution, says he can 'sniff a conspiracy.' He is not the only one.

There is a contradiction between what officials are supposed to be investigating in Sidhbari where the Karmapa lives and their attempts through anonymously leaked comments to demonise him as China's 'strategic asset' in 'constant touch with the Chinese authorities.' In deploring the resultant 'fiction masquerading as journalism,' the Karmapa's office refrains from saying that journalistic slander follows official thinking.
First, the background. Dorje was a Tibetan child of eight when he was recognised as the incarnation of the 16th Karmapa who had died in 1981. The Chinese authorities accepted his status, and he was crowned at Tsurphu monastery near Lhasa, seat of the Karma Kagyu school of Buddhism.

By the time he was 14, Dorje was disillusioned with the Chinese and fled to India in a dramatic escape that captured the world's imagination. The reasons he gave included pressure to attack the Dalai Lama and cozy up to Beijing's anointed Panchen Lama, regain Rumtek monastery in Sikkim where his predecessor had established a second seat, receive the teachings of gurus who had received them orally from the 16th Karmapa, receive the Dalai Lama's blessings, and spread the Karma Kagyu message abroad like his predecessor.

He could not do that from Tibet. "India, in contrast to communist China, is a free country, a democratic country that is based on the rule of law" he told his followers last week, advising patience because "the truth will become clear in time... There is no need to worry."

The controversy arose when a crore of rupees was found in the possession of two agents of a landlord from whom the Karmapa's office was buying a plot of land for a monastery and residence. The seller wanted cash payment which is legal, and all government departments cleared the purchase. Nevertheless, the discovery prompted several searches of the Sidhbari monastery where the equivalent of about Rs 8 crore was found in some 20 different currencies, including Chinese yuan.


The explanation is that all unsolicited cash donations would have been paid into the Karmapa's Saraswati Charitable Trust if permission to do so had not been withdrawn after the first $1,00,000. His Holiness then registered the Karma Garchen Trust but the application to receive foreign donations under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act has been pending since 2002.

Forced to retain donations as they come, the monastery ensures that every penny, cent or yuan (under 10 per cent of the total despite the hullabaloo over Chinese currency) is 'diligently recorded.' It would have been wiser to refuse donations until receiving FCRA sanction but that would have meant waiting forever while the Sidhbari community starved.

It would have made bureaucratic sense if the authorities had invoked the law and prosecuted the Karmapa and his office for this offence. Instead, our shadowy officials embarked on a campaign of slander claiming without a shred of evidence that Chinese SIM cards had been seized and that the Enforcement Directorate held records of conversations between His Holiness and Chinese officials. The media was fed with tales of Beijing financing the Karmapa to buy up land in the sensitive border region to set up a string of 'China study centres' to influence public opinion in favour of China.

Indian Intelligence claims to have always known of this devious long-term stratagem. They also claim to have played along, expecting reciprocal concessions. Instead, China hardened its stand on Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh, provoking an intelligence officer's outburst, "We have kept quiet for too long!"

India should decide whether it is accusing the Karmapa of financial violations or of being 'a security threat.' The former is a household offence. Atal Behari Vajpayee's famous comment about every parliamentarian starting his legislative career with the lie of a false election return can be repeated every time someone buys or sells a flat or consults a lawyer or even doctor, since both demand cash and neither usually issues receipts.

His office — not the Karmapa himself for he has nothing to do with business matters — may be guilty in that sense but to use that evidence to accuse him of being China's agent is exploiting security concerns for some other purpose.

Judging from media clues, that purpose is to replace him with a rival candidate with an influential and persuasive sponsor. If so, it wastes public money, belittles the national interest and persecutes an innocent youth to serve a private lobby.






The price spike of 2010 is partially explained by production shortages due to poor weather.

The world is living through another major upswing in food prices. Food prices surged to a new historic peak in January, for the seventh consecutive month, as the FAO Food Price Index reached 231 points, up 3.4 per cent from December 2010. The accumulated increase in food prices during 2010 amounted to 25 per cent relative to the 2009 level. Starting with a sharp increase in wheat prices in July in reaction to production shortfalls and export prohibition in Russia and followed by uncertain crop prospects in other parts of the world.

The current price spike is different from the previous incidence in many ways. The 2008 upswing was driven by escalating grain prices in a situation where cereal stocks had been declining over the years, reaching dangerously low levels in 2007.

The price spike of 2010 is partially explained by production shortages due to poor weather. Moreover, the current increases are more pronounced for sugar and oilseeds, while rice and maize markets remained relatively stable. Transmission of price signals to local markets has been highly heterogeneous. Carry over stocks help keep prices down in many countries.


Despite the different characteristics of the two price upswings and the short time elapsing between them, both are highly indicative of the fact that we are living in an environment of much greater uncertainty than 10 years ago.

Price movements are no longer determined only by the basic driving forces of supply and demand: agricultural commodities are attracting excess liquidity in international markets and other factors, such as expectations and appetite for risk, start to play an important role in determining the direction of the prices.

Furthermore, food markets are more and more intertwined with financial and energy markets, both of which are characterised by greater volatility. Facing these multiple sources of uncertainty, agricultural commodity markets tend to overreact to any changes in the demand or supply projections.

Although grain stocks are higher today, this is not the time to be complacent. If production shortages persist, stocks will dwindle and sooner or later world price increases will probably trickle down to local markets. Climate change also plays a role in this, as extreme weather conditions result in unpredictability to agriculture.

Excess volatility of food price is undesirable not only because it places a disproportionally high burden on the most vulnerable consumers but also because it results in suboptimal levels of production as farmers are typically risk averse.

What should be done to alleviate this worrisome situation?

First of all, it is clear that a coherent and coordinated worldwide response is needed to bring greater stability to global markets, while the sum of individual actions in an environment of elevated risks could result in a worsening of an already difficult situation.


The countries have the options of trying to minimise the risk of price swings or deal with their negative consequences ex-post. One possibility is to try to control the prices directly through stabilisation schemes, but these imply high fiscal costs and are very difficult to run. Another is to apply an array of border measures and domestic subsidies, but both can distort prices and be very difficult to dismantle once they are no longer justified.

Finally, there are policies to counteract the negative implications of price spikes, which include expanding the existing safety nets to compensate for loss of purchasing power by consumers.


Other mitigation strategies include increasing emergency stocks to avoid shortages, encouraging diversification of consumption to include traditional and locally produced products, improving the efficiency of domestic markets and helping vulnerable population to grow food for own consumption. These measures can help soften the negative impacts of price increases affecting foods that are traded on international markets.

These measures can provide immediate results but in the long run the only lasting solution to high food prices lies in securing ample and stable supply. Although the world produces enough food, global production needs to be gradually increased to keep pace with the growing population. Chronic underinvestment in agriculture throughout the years, in developing countries in particular, made them more vulnerable to risks associated with the new dynamics that rule the world market. Investment in agriculture, which would allow to increase productivity and improve resilience to climatic risks, together with strengthening of rural institutions and better governance of commodity markets, are needed to reduce the incidence of price spikes.








God was telling me that this moment's significance was to learn to live with patience.

TYGIISO. This is the message I texted to God after my one day long gruelling ordeal in a government office. He texted back: GOY. Over time, God and I have developed our own abbreviated text language. For example, TYGIIO stands for Thank you God, it is over and GOY stands for good for you. Sometimes, I do call him but then I am not sure what the universal service provider will charge me for making calls although I must admit that I have yet to receive any bill.

I am jumping the gun. My day long ordeal started with a drive to Mysore to resolve an issue lying in the files of a department for years. I knew that I needed someone to facilitate the process as we all know that you need to apply grease to glide through the corridors of powers although it has people housed by civil (?) servants.

At the appointed time, the servant concerned was nowhere to be seen and therefore we sat on the hard wooden benches which act like therapy platforms to strengthen one's worn out butts. I used that one hour to understand the system and my facilitator explained to me the hierarchy of wealth distribution from top to the clerk.   Finally, the person arrived and we tentatively peeped in to gain entry. "Kutko," — sit down is the direction we got as he pointed to the bench outside. I could not tell him that I had already kutkowed for one hour.

Eventually, my ally was told to get my file from the case worker. Now a second set back. The case worker had decided to take half a day off and would come only at 3 pm. I had no choice to wait but I asked my friend to leave. Let not two suffer when only one was needed. I was frustrated and I gave a missed call to God. He pinged back but gave me no direct answer but asked me to remember His having told me once that each moment had its own significance. I interpreted it as though that God was telling me that this moment's significance was to learn to live with patience. This advice came in handy and my frustration dissolved.

At 3 pm sharp, I went into see the case worker who had come to the office but gave me the same 'kutko' message. Time was 4 pm when a peon having seen me spend nearly the whole day and took pity and persuaded the case non-worker to give the file and both of us marched into the office of the dealing inspector to find that he was missing — leaving no clue as to when he would arrive. I asked God again and got the same message: each moment has significance.

Perhaps he was telling me that this is the moment to learn to live with disappointment of having to make one more trip to get the job done and I began observing my breath as Buddha has recommended in such cases.

Finally the officer came and after one more 'kutko', I was called in and after 15 minutes of police like grilling, I was asked to produce a proof of identity, which in my case is my ex serviceman ID card. Upon seeing that, I was given a chair to sit down and my case was cleared.

That is when I sent TYGIISO message.








As if there weren't enough scams tainting the no-longer lilywhite reputation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's UPA-II government, we now have a second spectrum scam that threatens to dwarf the one that just paralysed the entire winter session of Parliament. This all-new 'S-Band' scam involves the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO's) commercial arm, called the Antrix Corporation Ltd, and a company called Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd, run by a former ISRO insider.

The deal was that ISRO launches two satellites for Devas. But the sweetener was a massive 'free' benefit – unrestricted use of 70 MHz of the scarce S-band spectrum over a 20-year period. Also known as 2.5 Ghz band, the S-band is used for fourth generation technologies like WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE). ISRO comes under the Department of Space (DoS), which is directly in the Prime Minister's charge.
Just to put things in perspective, last year the central government got around Rs67,719 crore by auctioning 15 Mhz of spectrum for 3G mobile services. Government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) leased 20 MHz of S-Band broadband spectrum, and had to pay Rs12,847 crore for it. But Devas is getting access to 70 Mhz of spectrum in the same band for just over Rs1,000 crore!

If that is not a scam, what is?

The newspaper 'Business Line' has reported that according to preliminary Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) estimates, this 'gift' of spectrum could cause the public exchequer a loss of around Rs2 lakh crore, more than its estimate of Rs1.76 lakh crore as presumptive loss in the 2G spectrum scam.


Devas Multimedia is a company floated in 2004 by one Dr M G Chandrasekhar, its present Chairman, who was a former Scientific Secretary at ISRO and then Managing Director of the defunct satellite radio company WorldSpace. In 2008, Deutsche Telekom took a 17 per cent stake in Devas for about $75 million (Rs350 crore). Columbia Capital and Telcom Ventures have unspecified holdings in the company. Its board of directors includes former Nasscom President Kiran Karnik, former Verizon vice-chairman Larry Babio, and former XM Sirius Satellite Chairman Gary Parsons.

Under the contract with Devas Multimedia, ISRO must build and launch two satellites – GSAT-6 and GSAT-6A – for which it gets $40 million (Rs190 crore) as pre-launch capacity reservation and $250 million (Rs1,200 crore) for satellite capacity lease payments. Devas gets to use 10 transponders on each of the satellites, and Antrix would have earned $11 million (Rs53 crore) a year per satellite for 12 years. The two are to 'share revenue' after broadband services start, but the exact revenue share is not public. The company plans to invest $500 million to $750 million (Rs2,400 crore to Rs3,600 crore) once the service is launched.
The spectrum lease, for 20 years, is 'included' in the deal, for free. Originally the two satellites were to be launched from India in 2010. But the recent GSLV rocket disasters have delayed that. Now Devas is pushing ISRO to launch GSAT-6 through the European Arianespace, because the agreement has a penalty clause for delays. This may cause ISRO a loss.

It seems the agreement is loaded completely in favour of Devas Multimedia, and to ISRO's disadvantage. The 70 MHz of spectrum is just 'included' in the deal, as if it is of negligible value. Unlike contracts ISRO has signed in the past, there are no restrictions on Devas Multimedia sub-leasing the spectrum to third parties. In fact, it all so closely resembles A Raja's 2G scam, that they could be twins separated at birth. What is the government going to do about it?







Before venturing into the nitty-gritty of the genesis of corruption and its adverse effects on the much sought after; "all inclusive" holistic growth, I must clarify that the cancerous malaise of exploitation through corruption, is today deeply rooted and disseminated across every section of our society and thus selective targeting of any particular stake holder involved in the "corruption pie", would render our exercise towards weeding corruption, futile and useless. Whether it is the issue of the chicken or the egg first, the tweedle dee or the tweedle dom or further still, the ruling or the opposition party, first to breed corruption, the answer would lie in the societal or the public attitude towards dealing with the "corruption monster."

As long as there are boundaries across the globe and so long as there are differences of perceptions, ideologies across economic growth religious belief, societal understandings and political thinkings, exploitation by man of man would fuel disparity, hunger, poverty, and hatred leading to the battle for survival or extinction, in the cruel race for domination of one society over the other. The issue, therefore, of weeding out corruption and fostering of the all inclusive growth, justice and quality life of all the people, cannot be ushered in by replacing governments in power, with those in the opposition, if the mindset of those now shouting hoarse against corruption, are not the people committed to holistic development, fair play and justice, since India is reeling under corruption under several different governments, for over sixty years.

It is not only about the ill-famous "Adarsh scam" which has exposed the fragility of "value system" in our defence forces, if we minutely examine the functioning of many prominent charitable institutions, religious bodies and other commercial and political associations as well; it is the 'central coterie' of those in the power, who benefit most, through their kingly lifestyle.

The increasing number of poor living, below the poverty line, and those lying down under the open sky on an empty stomach dying in millions each day does not instil in us any sense of grief or guilty feelings; as we have no time to stand, stare or ponder about the fate of the poor. Our faith is confined only to the welfare of our fate. We do not wish to realise or know that the tsunami of corruption is not only annihilating the poor but also marginalising the common man or the aam admi, as a result of the rising levels of inflation corruption and exploitation by our politicians, and the coterie of individuals, who claim to possess the keys to the gates of heaven only fostering just words of faith and instilling hope in the "Aam Admi" of our deeply religious country, that justice will be given to us in heaven after death in misery. The facade of the religion is misused by corrupt politicians in Goa particularly. Look at any village feast day or religious festivities; it is the most corrupt politicians who would be prominently seated in the front most seats closest to the venerated deity.
Jesus Christ did whip the money changers in the temple and Lord Ram killed the demon for the crime. However, today's money spinners are like cheats, exploiters, holding offices of authority and power misuse governmental funds and donations to charitable institutions and religious bodies to promote personal "vested interests" in the name of God or for the sake of the common man. This is disastrous for society. In the Nehruvian era and that of Mrs Indira Gandhi we saw heights of socialism where government controls deterred productivity and growth, thus the poverty remained due to lack of goods and services with rates of unemployment rising. With Rajiv Gandhi in power in the nineties and with Manmohan Singh today in control of India's economy policies, the wheel has turned the other way round with the private sector and the corporate big businesses generating wealth but the government has lost total control as politicians, babus and the corporate bosses amassing wealth which has been created by the private sector by squeezing the poor and leaving them high and dry with growing scams, inflation and food shortages amidst plenty due to hoarding, smuggling and cheating crushing those who are living below the poverty line.

Today our political environment is vitiated as the venom of corruption is across political ideologies be it the Congress in Goa or the BJP in Karnataka they are both equally responsible for growing levels of corruption and degeneration of the quality of life of the society.

The Bharat Niaman of the Congress or the feel good factors of the BJP have both betrayed the common man. Today the black money, from India is contributing to the prosperity of Switzerland, Germany and Malaysia. Do Goans know that most of our Ministers from Goa and many of our MLA's too frequently shuttle between Dubai and Dabolim. Does Goan realise that Goan ministers are contributing immensely to the prosperity of the Middle East countries with the wealth generated in Goa being flushed out into the real estate prosperity of Dubai and round about?

While Goans politicians are found in Dubai looking after their personal prosperity acquired through tax evasions and criminal transfer of black money at the cost of Goan poor. It would do the local BJP in general, and Parrikar in particular, to explore and expose the details of the numerous Dubai visits of our politicians. The frequent visits of our politicians to foreign countries need to be exposed and investigated.
Our newspaper reporters, need to be vigilant investigative and proactive in reporting about hundred of crores of Goan wealth realized through shady land deals, illegal mining and vicious acts of corruption through the tendering processes, today parked in Dubai and not in Switzerland. If the money from Goa parked abroad is brought back to Goa, it would be able to generate economic and industrial development and helps in reducing poverty.

Do the Goans not realise that today even a minister's son or his daughter is capable of filling up pages of a newspaper with birthday advertisements and other promotional advertorials? The Goans fail to realize that the prosperity of political families in Goa is all at the cost of society at large. The virulent but the latent virus of corruption is today cause of garbage menace mining ills leakages in government finances, exploration of the common man as a result of the growing menace of bribes, commissions, setting fees, for each and every governmental business, job or procurement.

What is even worse is our judiciary is succumbing to the cancer of corruption and our religious institutions as well as social organizations are also slowly getting deeply rooted in corruption and deceit. It is alarming that even "God" is sought to bribe or appeased by the corrupt and the guilty, whereby the ill gotten wealth is partly donated in an attempt to procure prosperity and power.

Why should money and jewelry be kept idle and dormant or placed uselessly to adorn idols, catalyzing robberies and thefts on a frequent basis in Goa? Why aren't funds generated by religious bodies used to help poor who die on Goan streets on regular basis, while religious structures legal or illegal seem to mushroom all on middle of roads thus not only harassing but killing people. Who best can stall this mess, if not our religious leaders?

It is time to stall corruption malaise in Goa before it degrades and degenerates us.







With the introductory sitting of the talks between the Government of India and the ULFA slated for February 10, the inevitable seems to have happened. The outfit's commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah said on Monday that the recent meeting of ULFA's general council held by ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa recently was "unconstitutional". On February 5 and 6, an emergency meeting of the ULFA was held at its "mobile central headquarters" in which ULFA c-in-c Paresh Baruah, members of the executive council, assistant director of the ad hoc committee Jiban Moran and other leaders unanimously declared the general council meeting held under the chairmanship of Arabinda Rajkhowa "unconstitutional, immoral and against the aims and principles" of the outfit. The statement was e-mailed to the media by Arunoday Dohotia, a close aide of Paresh Baruah. There is no information so far as to which of the members of the executive council of the ULFA and who among the leaders of the outfit attended the meeting. Reacting to Dohotia's e-mail statement, Arabinda Rajkhowa's group said that all the leaders and members of the ULFA were bound to abide by the decision for talks, which was taken at the central executive committee which was attended by more than two-third members of the outfit. "We had sent the letter inviting Paresh Baruah for the central executive committee (meeting) on January 16, and the military chief informed our communicator over phone about his unwillingness to attend the meeting," a statement of the Arabinda Rajkhowa group said. "The military chief was trying to create confusion among the people of Assam, and it has been proved that it is an attempt to stop the process for political resolution of the problems," the statement added. ULFA foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury announced last Saturday that ULFA's general council held last week had decided to hold unconditional peace talks with the Centre and that all the resolutions adopted at that meeting had been conveyed to Paresh Baruah. Choudhury also said last Saturday that Baruah remained the military chief of the outfit.

It is obvious that Dohotia's latest e-mail statement will bring about major changes to the structure of the ULFA as acknowledged by the pro-talks group of the outfit. Paresh Baruah's latest stance has initiated the split in the outfit that most people had anticipated anyway. It will no longer be possible for Arabinda Rajkhowa and the majority of the ULFA leaders who are with him to let Paresh Baruah remain the military chief of the outfit any more. And the formalization of the split that the anti-talks faction has precipitated will also raise the questions that we had posed earlier about the significance of any peace talks between the Centre and the ULFA at which Paresh Baruah was not present. For instance, what would the assurances made by Arabinda Choudhury about the handing over of the weapons in the ULFA armoury be worth without the concurrence of Paresh Baruah? What kind of guarantees about a farewell to arms could Rajkhowa make that would not be broken by Paresh Baruah and his followers just to demonstrate who wields real power in the outfit? And even if the speculated weakening of Paresh Baruah's faction of the ULFA  is taken seriously and he continues to lose supporters, is there anything to prevent him from functioning as a major consultant on procuring clandestine arms for other terrorist groups of the region? Is there anything to prevent him from raising another terrorist outfit? In either case, the government would merely be completing the ritual of holding (or initiating) the peace talks before the Assembly elections due in April, but would the socio-political and economic climate in Assam change at all? Would terrorism cease to be an industry in Assam or will the vested interests keen on keeping this industry alive continue to sabotage peace efforts? And will the thousands of families that have lost their kith and kin to the ULFA see any justice done at all? These are the issues that matter — not the pre-poll rituals that are being organized.





Inaugurating the 17th Commonwealth Law Conference at Hyderabad on Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh called the rule of law ''the street anchor of democratic rights and a just society'' and said that the legal order must constantly adapt itself to change in a fast-changing world. ''That is the only way it can retain its relevance. In this context, the role of courts and judges in making law an instrument of social stability and progressive change cannot be overemphasized,'' he said. He added that ''the ability of emerging economies to be partners in shaping the new international order in the 21st century will be determined to a large extent by the choices they make with respect to their systems of governance as well as the legal and institutional structures they devise for enforcing the rule of law''. The Prime Minister maintained that an irrevocable commitment to democracy based on the rule of law remained the proudest achievement of the Indian state since Independence. Now the question is whether this is so true for the aam aadmi too — that is, whether that ''irrevocable commitment to democracy'' has really benefited the most neglected and marginalized among the people of the country in a way it should have. The question, in other words, is why that ''commitment'' has failed to check rebellion in backward areas.






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

I fear the different disclosures may create the atmosphere which is reminiscent of the days when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was alleged to have got the kickbacks of Rs 64 crore from the purchase of Bofors guns. His government tried to cover up the scandal and even held the joint parliamentary committee's probe, something which the Manmohan Singh government has refused to constitute to look into different scams. Rajiv Gandhi's explanation made matters still worse. In fact, the Bofors came to substitute the word corruption even in the countryside.

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

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

The 2G spectrum scam running into Rs 1.75 lakh crores has, no doubt, held the public attention so far. Parliament was stalled during the entire winter session. The corruption of the Commonwealth Games has got confirmed by the Shunglu Committee which the government had appointed. Yet I feel the 2G spectrum and the Commonwealth Games are elitist in appeal. Civil society is avidly interested, but not the general public.

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

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

Why was Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee saying that the names of beneficiaries could not be disclosed? The fault is that of New Delhi which preferred to go through the double taxation route because it "wanted" the government to be put under an obligation not to disclose the names on the plea of confidence. There is yet no reason given why it opted for the double taxation method.

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

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

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

Once India gets back this huge amount of black money, it can clean the entire foreign debts at one go. After paying the entire foreign debt, we will be left with surplus amount, almost 12 times larger than the total foreign debts. If this surplus amount is invested in earning interest, the amount of interest will be more than the annual budget of the Central government. So even if all the taxes are abolished, then also the Central government will be able to maintain the country very comfortably. I am talking on the basis of the 2006 figures. More money must have accumulated since.

Some 80,000 people travel to Switzerland every year, of which 25,000 travel very frequently. New Delhi should find out how many of them are Indians. "They may be travelling there for some other reason," believes an official involved in tracking illegal money. And, clearly, he is not referring to the commerce ministry bureaucrats who have been flitting in and out of Geneva ever since the World Trade Organization negotiations have begun.

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

The BJP and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance have said that they have no money abroad. This statement will act as a pressure on the Congress and its allies. And some of the allies may begin to keep distance from the Manmohan Singh government. It has no option except to reveal names. Maybe the Supreme Court will force the government to do it. Then the fat will be in the fire. The situation can meander first to the fall of the Manmohan Singh government because of the allies deserting it and then leading to a hotchpotch government which may not last for more than a year. Ultimately, the country will be left with no option except to go for a mid-term poll.

Kuldip Nayar 








The breakdown of relations between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi provides an opportunity to review what relationship should exist between these two men who carry the responsibility of Israel's security on their shoulders.

First: The chief of staff is subordinate to the defense minister. This relationship determines the civilian control of the military, the defense minister representing the government's authority over the armed forces.

Second: The defense minister carries full responsibility for all military actions. There is no split of responsibility here between the minister and the head of the army. The chief of the Israel Defense Forces is responsible to the defense minister, and he in turn is responsible to the public. The buck stops at his desk.

Third: The defense minister must treat the chief of staff with respect, as he is Israel's Number 1 soldier, the commander of the sons and daughters of Israel's citizens. The chief of staff is more than the individual who happens to hold that position at any time - he is an institution, one of the most important institutions in the state. He therefore is to be treated with the respect accorded his position.

All this seems self-evident. But on occasion there have been significant deviations from these norms. Although in Israel's history there have been occasional cases of military initiatives that were not authorized by the civilian leadership, these have been few and far between.

Civilian authority over the military seems to be well established. On the other hand, the overall responsibility that rests on the defense minister has on occasion been contested, while the chief of staff has not always been treated by the defense minister with the respect that is due him.

On more than one occasion when a defense minister testified before an inquiry committee regarding mistakes that had been made in military operations, the defense minister tried to shift responsibility to the "professional level," i.e. the military. He would claim that he was only acting based on the advice he received from the military.

Thus Ehud Barak in his recent appearance before the Turkel Committee investigating the Turkish flotilla incident, explained that whereas he, as defense minister, was responsible for determining what was to be done, the military was responsible for how it was carried out.

Actually the defense minister carries the responsibility for both - the what and the how. This is the reason why any military operation of significance is reviewed down to the last detail by the defense minister, and generally by the prime minister as well, and then approved or rejected.

Once he has made his decision the responsibility is his. In this case Barak was following in the footsteps of others before him. Moshe Dayan, when appearing before the Agranat commission, attempted to shift the blame for mistaken decisions made during the Yom Kippur War on the military.

As for the degree of respect shown by the defense minister to the chief of staff, the relations between Ehud Barak and Gabi Ashkenazi can serve as an example of how not to behave. Making it obvious over an extended period of time that he had little confidence in Ashkenazi and leveling nebulous accusations against him in public can hardly be called respect for Israel's top soldier. There is no need to explain the negative effect Barak's behavior has on the defense establishment.

Here too, Barak was following in the footsteps of others. Ariel Sharon, who as prime minister in effect acted as defense minister and acting chief of staff all rolled into one, unceremoniously fired the chief of staff at the time, Moshe Ya'alon, who had led the IDF to victory in the second intifada, by deciding not to extend his tenure for a fourth year, something that had become accepted as a tradition for more than 20 years.

In any case, rules defining the relationship between these all-important positions - the defense minister and the chief of staff - need to be adopted by the government. Deviations from them are liable to harm the security of the country.






A Georgian citizen married to an Israeli woman was surprised to discover last week that a decision made by a judge overseeing his custody tribunal appeared in his file before his case was even heard. The file on Besik Kajaia also contained statements he had supposedly made in Hebrew, a language he does not know.

Yesterday's report in Haaretz, written by Dana Weiler-Pollak, is the most recent of many disturbing reports published on this particular tribunal in the last several months.

The custody tribunal was established in 2001 by the Interior Ministry and has since come under the aegis of the Justice Ministry. It decides the fate of thousands of foreigners in Israel and - based on an extensive investigative report by Lital Levin, published in Haaretz (Hebrew edition ) several months ago - is responsible for the illegal detention of hundreds of foreigners.

Levin's report drew a harsh picture of a tribunal whose administration is faltering, whose decisions raise eyebrows and many of whose judges are not doing their jobs. In the past few months alone, some 17 foreigners who had been detained illegally for more than a year (and some even more than two years ) were released after the District Court intervened in their cases.

The impression is that the tribunal serves as a rubber stamp for custody orders issued by the Interior Ministry, which it approves almost blindly, without any supervision or oversight, and without detainees being able to defend their freedoms.

To site a few examples: the tribunal sent a 4-year-old girl to detention because her mother's visa had expired; a Sudanese refugee, whose release the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had demanded, was jailed by the tribunal and deported; the tribunal judge, attorney Yossi Maimon, released two labor migrants and sent them to work in his brother's car repair shop.

This is an intolerable situation. The rule of law in Israel must encompass the state's attitude toward foreigners and the custody tribunal. The country's justice system and the leadership of the Justice Ministry must not hesitate to enter the fray, investigate what is going on in the custody tribunal and transform it into what it should be: a fair judicial institution and not a rubber stamp for the Interior Ministry's shenanigans.







"Galant would have been approved as defense minister," Ehud Barak said at the cabinet meeting on Sunday, in an attempt to illustrate the apparent injustice done to Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant. "If Galant would have been a candidate for defense minister or strategic affairs minister," Barak claimed, "he would have probably received legal approval to serve in either of those posts."

Barak is right. If Galant, as a politician, was a candidate for either position, he would have been appointed. Ariel Sharon, with a sack full of Cyril Kern and Martin Schlaff, was elected to a second term as prime minister. Avigdor Lieberman, his file bulging with Michael Chernoy and Zeev Ben Aryeh, is the foreign minister of Israel. Ehud Olmert - boasting an impressive collection of Rishontours, the house on Cremieux Street and Bank Leumi - functioned for a significant time as prime minister. Barak is definitely correct: Had Galant been a candidate for a ministerial post, he would have been appointed.

What is interesting about Barak's statement is precisely the fact that it is accurate. And although it is accurate, it was uttered without the slightest awareness of its meaning. The defense minister, who has a reputation for wisdom, is unable to recognize the role reversal within his consciousness here, which goes like this: If we, the politicians, are appointed to critical positions even when our bodies are covered with moral warts, why should we probe the ethical conduct of a candidate for IDF chief of staff? Barak is in effect asking that we apply the same low moral threshold which absolves politicians of their misdeeds to the chief of staff candidates.

He turns the moral compass on its head, because he did not realize his goal of appointing Galant as the next chief of staff. In other words, his personal failure evokes within him a need to change the rules of the game - even if the change is for the worse. A pattern can be discerned here, by which the private imposes itself on the public, and an impulsive drive demands a victim at the expense of principles. Like a baby who has not achieved gratification, Barak believes the world must now change to prevent a recurrence of this frustration.

The frustration in the wake of his political failure led Barak, as he put it, to "remove all the masks." But when the masks come off, what do we discover? That the same people who decide when the Israel Defense Forces will go to war, who are supposed to decide whether to attack Iran, who in effect set for Galant the goals of the army he would lead, do not necessarily meet the criteria set for their subordinates. What an absurdity: the person with greater responsibility is required to meet lower standards.

That moment, during a cabinet meeting, when a senior minister criticizes a relatively successful screening system by citing an inferior screening system, pinpoints the precise location of the Israeli political system today: at the bottom of the moral scale. And Barak's statement is directly linked to the loss of shame regarding that very location.

The fact that there is no system in place to screen politicians who have lied and deceived their neighbors is a flaw in the system, not an example to be held up. The way the Israeli public has acquiesced to the lowering of the threshold imposed by politicians is a symptom of revulsion and a sense of hopelessness, and not the direction we should be going in. Barak's remark is sad because it is accurate, and even more so because he does not understand just how accurate it is.







The Israeli revolution won't take place in town squares, but in the corridors of power. It won't erupt over increases in the price of fuel and bread, but over fears of anarchy and a loss of governance. It's not the masses who will rise up against the regime, but the opposite. It's government that will shake off the checks and balances restraining its power.

The fault of the system that was revealed over the appointment of the Israel Defense Forces' chief of staff threatens to shake the foundations of the Israeli republic. This can be seen in the failure of leadership and proper functioning shown by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak; the undermining of political control in the army; and the intervention by the High Court of Justice, the state comptroller and the attorney general to determine who would be the next chief of staff and who would quit in frustration. It all prompted a public counterreaction.

The calls for strengthening government and the end of rule by jurists and the media have been growing. Instead of the slogan "corrupt ones, you have become repulsive," we'll get the slogan "purists, you've gone too far."

The loss of faith in our elected leaders has been compounded by concerns over the increased external threats if the Mubarak regime collapses and Egypt becomes an Iranian clone. The fear is growing but the country's leaders are having problems projecting authority and a sense of security. In our Bible classes, we all studied the political commentary regarding the Book of Judges. "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes," the Bible says. When that feeling becomes fixed in the public consciousness, the road to a remedy in the form of a "strongman" who will put things right at home and smite our enemies abroad, like the judges and kings of old, gets shorter.

In the Israel of 2011, unlike biblical times, you don't need to look for the strongman hiding behind the she-asses. He's waiting at the foreign minister's office for his turn. More than any other politician, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman constantly advocates the establishment of a presidential system of government. That's his "truth," his solution to heal the ills of the current political system.

Lieberman's bills in the last Knesset to provide for a separation of powers and a presidential form of government were sloppily drafted but easy to understand. The prime minister would become the country's executive branch. He would appoint "professional" ministers and have oversight over the IDF. Balance would be achieved through mutual deterrence: The prime minister would be able to dissolve the Knesset if a parliamentary majority opposed his policy, and the Knesset, with 80 votes, would be able to dismiss him. Lieberman is promising a stable government of technocrats that would not be dependent on a coalition. His system wouldn't have superfluous ministers without portfolio or deputy ministers like that of Netanyahu's government.

The more the government's authority is undermined and Netanyahu is perceived as an ineffective weakling, the more the public will be captivated by Lieberman's ideas. This is particularly so if he tempts them with provisions like eliminating the right to petition the High Court of Justice, curtailing the state comptroller's authority and limiting freedom of the press. In his presidential system of government, the prime minister would appoint an IDF chief of staff of his own way of thinking. Grumbling neighbors, nosy journalists and badgering lawyers would not be able to interfere.

The parliamentary system is prone to crises and is hard to navigate, but it has two positive attributes. It limits the prime minister's power and ensures representation of rival camps in Israeli society. In a presidential form of government, the winner takes all. Losing votes go to waste and minorities are not represented in the government.

Such a system suits the Israeli right wing, which advocates government by the majority and subjugation of the Arab community and the "old elites." Netanyahu has ridden this wave in the past. In the current Knesset, Lieberman inherited it as leader of the right and the leading nationalist legislative force, while Likud trails behind.

Lieberman didn't interfere in the crisis over the chief of staff's appointment, and while he still awaits a decision over whether he will be indicted, he is quietly enjoying the erosion of his rivals' public standing: the prime minister, the defense minister and the judicial system. Just a few more controversies at the top and the calls to "let them run the country" will be translated into longing for a change in the system of government and installing a strong leader at the top.

Crisis situations such as the current one are prone to such turnabouts. The so-called stinking maneuver of 1990 that caused revulsion toward the political system gave rise to the direct election of the prime minister, which was later repealed. The foiling of Yoav Galant's appointment as chief of staff and the expected revelations in the Boaz Harpaz forgery case in the chief of staff's office could spark the next constitutional change.

Crazy? If we had been told a month ago that millions of Egyptians would take to the streets and demand the expulsion of President Hosni Mubarak, would we have believed it?







The announcement that the Labor Party will hold its primaries in September stirs mixed feelings. The heart wants to encourage the remnants of this party to rebuild itself from the ashes. But it's hard to see how politicians who sat in the worst government in Israel's history, or the colleagues who lent their support, can do so.

Either way, former party leader Ehud Barak's decision to decamp to the warm embrace of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has injected a shot of energy to the moribund party. In recent weeks, 1,000 new members have joined its ranks, and it expects to attract 30,000 more.

But even if 100,000 people joined, Labor's arteries would remain clogged because it has become nothing but a supermarket located somewhere in that gray area between the center and slightly left of center. In November 2005, when Amir Peretz was elected chairman of the party, a break suddenly occurred in this lethal process: The sated bourgeoisie crept over to Kadima, and in their place came voters from development towns and distressed neighborhoods. For the first time, the "genetic code" defining the division between Israel's left and right had been cracked.

But all this was erased the moment Barak gained control of the party. Kadima offered a bigger and more convenient supermarket, so Labor became superfluous. Its entry into the government merely deepened its paralysis. And even though, following Barak's removal, it began showing signs of independent movement, it seems doubtful that it is capable of actual life.

The roots of Labor's decline, and that of the entire left, lie in its wanton unraveling of the threefold cord - economic equality, civic equality and peace. Granted, the torn strands of this cord still exist in various part of the left, but their connection has been severed.

Even the prevailing view among economic experts both in Israel and worldwide - that a stable welfare state with a strong public sector is the only power capable of battling the tycoons and generating growth that benefits everyone (see the articles by five Nobel Prize laureates in economics in the latest issue of Newsweek ) - are not heard among the left here. Its response to neoliberal privatization has been to strengthen nongovernmental organizations. Equal rights and the battle against the occupation have been pushed to the margins.

For that reason, it was refreshing to meet a different coalition - one that views this threefold cord as the cornerstone of its existence - at a conference organized last week by Massad (a Hebrew acronym for "The Social Democratic Headquarters" ) and Yesod (an acronym for "A Social Democratic Israel" ). More than 200 people were there, most of them young, and they represented various constituencies: student groups, members of residential collectives, union activists, activists from development towns and distressed neighborhoods, members of the Meretz and Labor parties, and environmental activists.

Conversations with the participants revealed that the cooperation among them, which has developed gradually over the last few years, is helping them attract both hard-core social democrats (most of whom, in recent years, had gravitated toward Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich ) and socialist doves (who had decamped to the radical movements ) - both former Barak supporters and Hadash voters. Their goal is to become a political force that advocates economic equality, distributive justice, civil equality and peace, and to influence existing parties from within in order to create a new political organization. Perhaps this organization will ultimately make use of Labor's empty shell, or perhaps not.

In addition to three politicians - Eran Ben-Yemini, Ilan Ghilon and Amir Peretz - who stressed the link between the economy, ecology and society on one hand and the struggle against the occupation and the settlements, and for peace, on the other, two young women stood out at the conference. One was Esti Kirmaier, an economic consultant, social activist and chairwoman of Labor's Jerusalem branch. The other was Sharon Ketron, a lecturer in psychology who heads the Koach La Ovdim (Democratic Workers' Organization ) chapter at the Open University. Ketron has waged an exhausting battle against the university for the last three years, and on that very day, she was celebrating the collective agreement that had finally been signed with its administration.

These two, and those who spoke after them, acknowledged that the process of political maturation will be long and complicated, but they didn't hide their satisfaction with the feeling that emerged from the conference: From every part of the country, different but overlapping circles have begun to work together. And it seems as if suddenly, in these darkest of days, a movement has arisen.




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES



We are a long way from knowing how Egypt will turn out. The government is using all of its power — including a promised 15 percent raise for federal workers — to try to hang on. The opposition is courageously pushing back, and, on Tuesday, it drew thousands of supporters to Liberation Square.

The United States and the European Union may not have been able to wheedle or push President Hosni Mubarak from power. Still, they badly miscalculated when they endorsed Egypt's vice president, Omar Suleiman, to lead the transition to democracy.

Mr. Suleiman may talk sweetly to Washington and Brussels. But he appears far more interested in maintaining as much of the old repressive order as he can get away with. That is unacceptable to Egypt's people, and it should be unacceptable to Egypt's Western supporters.

President Obama said the right things last week when he demanded that democratic change in Egypt start "now." Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's recent statements that change would "take some time" have taken the pressure off. Mr. Obama needs to regain his voice and press Mr. Suleiman to either begin a serious process of reform or get out of the way.

The protesters have won some important concessions. They forced Mr. Mubarak to forsake re-election. Mr. Mubarak's son and Mr. Suleiman, a former intelligence chief, also will not run. On Saturday, the government opened a dialogue with the opposition — including the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood.

More reform was promised, but it has been hard to take that seriously after Mr. Mubarak gave himself the sole power to appoint a panel to recommend constitutional amendments.

And while Mr. Suleiman was conciliatory in the early days of the protests, his recent public statements have been chilling. He said he does not believe it is time to lift the three-decade-old emergency law that has been used to suppress and imprison opposition leaders. Most alarming, he said the country's "culture" is not yet ready for democracy.

Mr. Suleiman is not going to do what's needed on his own. So the United States and its allies will have to lay down a clear list of steps that are the minimum for holding a credible vote this year and building a democracy.

The Egyptian government cannot choose which reforms to dole out when. Opposition leaders must participate in all aspects of the reform process. The emergency law must be lifted and Egyptians guaranteed freedom of speech and association. All detained protesters must be freed and the government-allied forces who viciously attacked demonstrators last week must be prosecuted.

The government and the opposition need to jointly set a date for elections and establish an independent commission to oversee the process. Egyptian and international monitors will need to observe the vote and the count. The government and opposition will need to work together to establish criteria for registering parties and candidates and ensure that all have access to the news media.

Then the full debate over Egypt's future can take place and the Egyptian people can decide.





The finding that Toyota's problems with uncontrolled acceleration were not caused by glitches in its electronic controls is good news for Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But it doesn't dispel concerns about the weaknesses of the nation's vehicle safety regulation.

The study by NASA into Toyota's electronics, which was ordered by Congress last year, confirms the traffic safety administration's original determination that the acceleration problems that led to the recall of nearly eight million Toyota cars and trucks in 2009 and 2010 were mechanical, caused either by gas pedals snagging on floor mats or sticky gas pedals that didn't retract when drivers released them.

Unintended acceleration has been blamed for 89 deaths, according to complaints fielded by the traffic safety administration. But in a separate study of Toyotas involved in accidents, the agency concluded that most cases of sudden acceleration were probably because of drivers stepping on the gas when they thought they were stepping on the brake.

These findings did nothing to dispel concerns about the frailty of a safety system that relies on an underfinanced regulator that has an enforcement budget of about $18 million and can only impose puny fines with little deterrent power.

Twice, the traffic safety administration imposed the maximum statutory fine on Toyota, for dragging its feet in its recalls and for waiting four months before telling the agency about problems with sticky pedals. The fines were $33 million, a paltry amount for a company of Toyota's size.

The recall process can seem chillingly slow. The first big recall of Toyota vehicles to deal with pedal entrapment happened more than two years after the traffic safety administration first determined that entrapment had caused accidents in Lexus and Camry models.

The agency said it is considering tightening safety rules. It will look into ordering that vehicles have an event recorder to help determine the cause of accidents and a brake override that would stop the car even when the throttle is open. It said it will study solutions to the problem of drivers flooring the gas by mistake.

But improving vehicle safety requires Congress to act. Last year, Democrats pushed for the passage of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which would have increased the safety agency's financing and raised the maximum fine it could impose on carmakers to $200 million or $300 million, in addition to mandating safety improvements like the brake override and the event recorder.

The bill died in the Senate amid intense opposition from the automotive industry, aided by Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican. Congress must pick it up again and pass it.






We applauded back in December when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced that it was seeking an emergency rule requiring gun dealers near the Mexican border to report multiple purchases of high-power semiautomatic rifles that use a detachable magazine. It looked as if the Obama administration was finally awakening to the urgent need to combat the illegal trafficking of AK-47s and other assault weapons across the border and into the hands of violent drug cartels. It turns out that we were wrong to applaud.

The White House Office of Management and Budget must sign off on the plan, and the bureau asked it to do so by Jan. 5. When that date passed, administration officials insisted approval would be coming soon. Last Friday, the bureau's answer arrived: The White House said that gunrunning to Mexico was a continuing problem rather than an emergency and did not warrant an exception to the 90-day process for implementing regulations.

The drug wars in Mexico have claimed more than 30,000 lives since 2006. That violence is fueled by gun-smuggling operations and the fact that American dealers can make bulk sales of military-style rifles favored by cartel gunmen without having to report those sales to federal authorities.

Dealers of handguns have to report bulk sales under federal statute, but the National Rifle Association and some of its supporters in Congress have protested that requiring a limited segment of gun dealers to report multiple sales of rifles would impose an onerous burden, and exceed the authority of the A.T.F.

Administration officials say the decision had nothing to do with the gun lobby's strong opposition, adding that approval from the budget office could come by late March when the public comment period is over. These officials also say the president's upcoming budget will seek additional financing for the A.T.F. to strengthen enforcement.

We wish we could feel confident. Meanwhile, we have heard nothing from the president or his aides about closing gaping holes in the background check system for gun purchases and other gun issues raised by the massacre in Tucson. These are real emergencies. What are they waiting for?







The official kilogram, a cylinder of platinum and iridium maintained by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, is more than 130 years old. It is stored under three glass domes in a safe in a basement in Sèvres, France, and can be accessed only with three independent keys.

Technically, the cylinder is not even the official kilogram until it has been cleaned in an authorized manner to remove contaminants. It is the only remaining international standard in the metric system that is still a man-made object. Some scientists now believe the official kilogram may be losing mass, which defeats its only purpose: constancy. This adds new urgency to a longstanding search for a new official kilogram, based, like the meter, on one of nature's fundamental numbers, called constants. Over the years, the official meter has been redefined several times and is now "the length of the path traveled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second." Precise, if not an everyday measuring stick.

The kilogram would be making the leap from the 19th century to the present in a single jump, its only redefinition since 1889 when the first meeting of the General Conference on Weights and Measures was held. The trouble is that metrologists — scientists of measurement — don't agree on what the new standard should be.

We reserve judgment, if only because the two possibilities — one based on Planck's constant, the other on the Avogadro constant, each yielding a slightly different mass — fall well outside our competence. The hope, in which we heartily join, is that the kilogram will be redefined successfully in 2015, at the next meeting of the General Conference on Weights and Measures. Until then, we will just have to live with uncertainty.







Just when you think the Egyptian uprising is dying down, more Egyptians than ever waited in long lines on Tuesday to get into Tahrir Square to ask President Hosni Mubarak's regime to go. One reason the lines get so long is that everyone has to funnel through a single makeshift Egyptian Army checkpoint, which consists of an American-made tank on one side and barbed wire on the other. I can never tell whether that tank is there to protect the protesters or to limit the protesters. And that may be the most important question in Egypt today: Whose side is the army on?

Right now Egypt's respected army is staying neutral — protecting both Mubarak's palace and the Tahrir revolutionaries — but it can't last. This is a people's army. The generals have to heed where the public is going — and today so many Egyptians voted with their feet to go into Tahrir Square that a friend of mine said: "It was like being on the hajj in Mecca."

The army could stick by Mubarak, whose only strategy seems to be to buy time and hope that the revolt splinters or peters out. Or the army could realize that what is happening in Tahrir Square is the wave of the future. And, therefore, if it wants to preserve the army's extensive privileges, it will force Mubarak to go on vacation and establish the army as the guarantor of a peaceful transition to democracy — which would include forming a national unity cabinet that writes a new constitution and eventually holds new elections, once new parties have formed.

I hope it is the latter, and I hope President Obama is pressing the Egyptian Army in this direction — as do many people here. For that to unfold, both the Egyptian Army and the Obama team will have to read what is happening in Tahrir Square through a new lens. Mubarak wants everyone to believe this is Iran 1979 all over, but it just does not feel that way. This uprising feels post-ideological.

The Tahrir Square uprising "has nothing to do with left or right," said Dina Shehata, a researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "It is about young people rebelling against a regime that has stifled all channels for their upward mobility. They want to shape their own destiny, and they want social justice" from a system in which a few people have gotten fantastically rich, in giant villas, and everyone else has stagnated. Any ideological group that tries to hijack these young people today will lose.

One of the best insights into what is happening here is provided by a 2009 book called "Generation in Waiting," edited by Navtej Dhillon and Tarik Yousef, which examined how young people are coming of age in eight Arab countries. It contends that the great game that is unfolding in the Arab world today is not related to political Islam but is a "generational game" in which more than 100 million young Arabs are pressing against stifling economic and political structures that have stripped all their freedoms and given them in return one of the poorest education systems in the world, highest unemployment rates and biggest income gaps. China deprives its people of political rights, but at least it gives them a rising standard of living. Egypt deprived its people of political rights and gave them a declining standard of living.

That is why this revolt is primarily about a people fed up with being left behind in a world where they can so clearly see how far others have vaulted ahead. The good news is that many Egyptians know where they are, and they don't want to waste another day. The sad news is how hard catching up will be.

The Arab world today, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian opposition leader and Nobel laureate, remarked to me, is now "a collection of failed states who add nothing to humanity or science" because "people were taught not to think or to act, and were consistently given an inferior education. That will change with democracy." It will unlock all the talent of this remarkable civilization.

Indeed, it is no surprise that the emerging spokesman for this uprising is Wael Ghonim — a Google marketing executive who is Egyptian. He opened a Facebook page called "We are all Khaled Said," named for an activist who was allegedly beaten to death by police in Alexandria. And that page helped spark the first protests here. Ghonim was abducted by Egyptian security officials on Jan. 28, and he was released on Monday. On Monday night, he gave an emotional TV interview that inspired many more people to come into the square on Tuesday. And when he spoke there in the afternoon, he expressed the true essence of this uprising.

"This country, I have said for a long time, this country is our country, and everyone has a right to this country," Ghonim declared. "You have a voice in this country. This is not the time for conflicting ideas, or factions, or ideologies. This is the time for us to say one thing only, 'Egypt is above all else.' "

That is what makes this revolt so interesting. Egyptians are not asking for Palestine or for Allah. They are asking for the keys to their own future, which this regime took away from them. They are not inspired by "down with" America or Israel. They are inspired by "Up with Egypt" and "Up with me."







Our Father, who art in pixels,
linked be Thy name,
Thy Web site come, Thy Net be done,
on Explorer as it is on Firefox.
Give us this day our daily app,
and forgive us our spam,
as we forgive those
who spam against us,
and lead us not into aggregation,
but deliver us from e-vil. Amen.

Nothing is sacred anymore, even the sacred. And even that most secret ritual of the Roman Catholic faith, the veiled black confessional box.

Once funeral homes began live-streaming funerals, it was probably inevitable. But now confessions are not only about touching the soul, but touching the screen.

With the help of two priests, three young Catholic men from South Bend, Ind., have developed an iPhone app to guide Catholics through — and if they are lapsed, back to — confession.

It shot to global success, ranking No. 42 on the best-selling app list, according to iTunes.

The trio got the idea, surprisingly, from the pope.

When I was little, the nuns urged us to find the face of Christ in pictures of landscapes — snowfalls and mountains.

In a letter last May, Pope Benedict XVI urged priests to help people see the face of Christ on the Web, through blogs, Web sites and videos; priests could give the Web a "soul," he said, by preaching theology through new technology.

"Confession: a Roman Catholic App" is not a session with a virtual priest who restores your virtue with a penance of three Hail Mary's and three extra gigabytes of memory.

Rather, its developers say, it's a "baby steps" program that walks you through the Ten Commandments, your examination of conscience and any "custom sins" you might have, then after confession (purportedly) wipes the slate clean so no one sees your transgressions.

"We tried to make it as secure as possible," said Patrick Leinen, a 31-year-old Internet programmer who built the app with his brother, Chip, a hospital systems administrator, and Ryan Kreager, a Notre Dame doctoral candidate.

You still have to go into the real confessional at church to get absolution, and, hopefully, your priest won't be annoyed that you're reading your sins off of a little screen and, maybe, peeking at a football game or shopping site once in awhile.

"The whole point is to get you to go to church," said Leinen. He and his fellow programmers got help from two priests, the Rev. Dan Scheidt, the pastor of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mishawaka, Ind., and the Rev. Thomas Weinandy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

They also got an imprimatur — billed as the first for an iPhone and iPad app — from Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne in Indiana.

The app offers different questions depending on your age and gender.

For instance, if you sign in as a 15-year-old girl and look under the Sixth Commandment, one of the questions is: "Do I not treat my body or other people's bodies with purity and respect?" If you sign in as a 33-year-old married man, that commandment offers this query: "Have I been guilty of masturbation?"

Children are asked if they pout or use bad language. Teenagers are asked if they are a tattletale or bully. Women are asked if they've had an abortion or encouraged anyone to have an abortion and if they're chaste. Men are asked about the latter two, as well.

The app also tailors the questions if you sign in as a priest or a "religious." For instance, if you say you're a female and try to select "priest" as your vocation, a dialogue box appears that says "sex and vocation are incompatible." So much for modernity.

Under the Sixth Commandment, men and women are asked: "Have I been guilty of any homosexual activity?" Priests, however, are not. They are asked if they flirt.

Father Scheidt assured me that the app "isn't a morality textbook. It's just meant to prompt discussion."

"I have always allowed cheat sheets in the confessional for people who want to be sure they get all of their sins," he said of the ritual that can prompt so much anxiety. "Essentially, this provides an electronic list. Human relations are shifting more and more to being mediated by some of these gadgets. If this is the bridge for people to have a more meaningful encounter about what's deepest in their heart, I think it's going to serve the good."

He said when he was giving confessions on Tuesday evening, he was surprised when a parishioner came in with a phone glowing with the Confession app.

"Seeing somebody looking back and forth is initially a little strange," he said. "But I found that it really caused the person to focus and recollect more."

At least we know now that Nietzsche was wrong. God isn't dead. His server may be down though.






San Antonio

ON Monday the Senate finally confirmed three federal judges nominated by President Obama last year, thanks to a deal between the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to move forward on some of the less controversial judicial nominations.

It was a small but positive step toward solving the vacancy crisis in the federal judiciary system, the result, according to Democrats, of more than a year of Republican obstruction of President Obama's nominations.

But that's only half the story. Both the White House and Congressional Democrats have failed to make these nominations a priority — and until they do, the number of empty seats on the bench, and the ensuing courtroom backlog, will get only worse.

The Democrats are right to lay some of the blame on Republicans. In 2009 Senator McConnell made clear his party would filibuster every item on President Obama's agenda, including judicial nominations.

Republicans have also abused the hold process, by which a senator can block a nomination if he feels an important issue isn't being addressed. Holds are sometimes appropriate. But Republicans now regularly use them to slow down Senate business, even in cases in which a nominee enjoys bipartisan support.

The result is a judiciary where more than one of every nine positions is unfilled, a rate that is twice what it was when President Obama took office. This puts a strain on the remaining judges, prolongs cases and arguably violates the rights of defendants to a speedy trial.

But the Democrats share a large part of the blame as well. For one thing, the president has named only nine judges for the 17 appeals court vacancies and only 41 judges for the 85 open district court seats. That's significantly fewer nominations than Presidents George W. Bush or Bill Clinton had sent to Congress by this time in their first terms.

Moreover, unlike President Bush, President Obama has not used his bully pulpit to push for Senate confirmation of his nominations. Fairly or not, President Bush regularly lambasted Democrats for blocking an "up or down" vote on his nominees. Yet for all the recent chatter about a Republican-fueled judicial crisis, the president rarely speaks about the issue in public, and he didn't mention it in his recent State of the Union address.

Such silence from the White House has repercussions: unless the president speaks up about a relatively thankless task like getting nominations approved, his party's senators are likely to focus on issues with greater political benefits.

Senate Democrats have also refused to respond to the Republicans' obstructionism with their own aggressive use of the rules. Though almost all of President Obama's nominees have had enough support to overcome a filibuster, the Republicans have managed to slow the process to a crawl by deploying an array of delaying tactics, like demanding the full 30 hours of debate allowed after a filibuster is defeated.

This is hardball — but the majority can fight back. For example, the Democrats could push the extra time required by the Republicans' tactics to the weekends, when the Senate wouldn't otherwise be in session, forcing the Republicans to feel the pain of the delays. And they could bundle several nominations together, so that they would require a single set of votes and thus allow fewer opportunities for delay.

In the long run, the Democrats could also try to reform the judicial nomination process. In January, Senator Reid promised not to pursue filibuster reform if both sides would agree not to allow holds to be placed anonymously. But partisan holds are still possible as long as a senator puts his or her name on the record, and the Democrats should forbid them entirely from the nomination process.

When a nomination doesn't have 60 votes and is therefore vulnerable to a filibuster, Democrats should remember the Republican tactics from the last decade and threaten unilateral action to eliminate judicial filibusters altogether. That's unlikely to happen given last month's agreement between Senators McConnell and Reid, but the Democrats should be willing to break their promise if the Republicans continue to block President Obama's nominees. If experience is any guide, it would force the Republicans to back down.

The vacancy crisis on the federal bench is not a partisan issue. Without enough judges, cases are delayed, lives are disrupted and rights are violated. There's no question that Republicans are at fault — but until President Obama and the Senate Democrats take aggressive steps to counter such obstructionism, they share in the blame.

Jonathan Bernstein writes A Plain Blog About Politics.







FOR decades Shimon Peres, now Israel's president, has spoken of his country's yearning for a "new Middle East," one in which Israel is at peace with its neighbors, regional economies cooperate and the conflict with the Palestinians is finally set aside. Now, with Egypt's government on the edge of collapse, Israel is suddenly faced with a "new Middle East" — and Israelis are terrified.

Many Westerners believe that the events in Egypt are a disaster for the Jewish state. Its most important regional ally faces possible chaos and an Islamist takeover. Add to this King Abdullah II's recent dismissal of his cabinet in Jordan (the only other Arab country that has signed a peace treaty with Israel), Hezbollah's quiet coup in Lebanon last month, a resurgent Syria and an increasingly Islamist Turkey, and you can understand why many Israelis feel surrounded, as they did decades ago.

In the short run America faces an uncomfortable choice. It can support Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, who is at least marginally pro-Western and has maintained the cold peace with Israel initiated by his predecessor, Anwar el-Sadat. But Mr. Mubarak is also a ruthless despot. Alternately, Washington can support the democracy movement, but with the knowledge that democracy could bring anti-Western, anti-Israel and possibly Islamist leaders to power.

In short, none of the parties vying for control of Egypt share America's fundamental values of genuine democracy, a free press, women's rights and minority protections.

But the threat of chaos, and even Islamist rule, might have a silver lining. It is all the more obvious that there is only one country in the region that has the same values as America: Israel. If America reacts to recent events by increasing its support for those who share its values, it could reassure a suddenly surrounded Israel and perhaps even move the peace process with the Palestinians forward.

Until now the central pillar of President Obama's strategy for restarting peace talks has been to pressure Israel to cease building settlements. Settlements may or may not be wise, but where has the equivalent pressure on the Palestinians been?

The administration has failed to insist that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state, even though Israel has recognized the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. And Mr. Obama has allowed the Palestinian flag to fly in Washington, a symbolic signal of support for Palestinian statehood. All without the Palestinians making any concessions.

As a result, the United States has unwittingly created disincentives for the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel. Without pressure from Washington, the political position of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is growing stronger each month, abetted by the growing number of countries that have recently recognized Palestinian statehood.

But the chaos throughout the Arab world could force Washington to realize that all its coddling of oppressive regimes in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen has done nothing to spread its values in a region that desperately needs them.

In that event America might, at long last, come to understand that its best hope for peace in the region is to throw its weight behind Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, even if he isn't its Israeli politician of choice.

In doing so, Mr. Obama should make it clear to the Palestinians that what the United States respects is democracy, a free press, equal rights for women and a commitment to the free exchange of ideas. If he wishes to pressure Israel on settlements, he should publicly pressure the Palestinians on something equally politically fraught for Mr. Abbas. Washington should bring Israel in from the cold, and let Mr. Abbas know that time is not on his side.

Daniel Gordis is the senior vice president of the Shalem Center and the author, most recently, of "Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End."








One of our community's finest traditions is the Kiwanis Club's nearly 90-year-old custom of honoring a truly outstanding local citizen with the Kiwanis Distinguished Service Award. Justly honored by the Kiwanis Club at a special luncheon Tuesday at the Read House was Richardia "Rickie" Pierce.


Enjoying the honor with her were her husband, Charles Pierce, daughter Lynn Mulligan and granddaughter Lea Taylor Mulligan.


Pierce recently retired from very responsible service as associate head and upper school principal of our community's highly respected Girls Preparatory School, having served there for decades.


But she has found time and energy to serve also as a wife, mother and grandmother, and in so many civic organizations — more than 35, leading as president or chairwoman of 11 of them — that her good examples of citizenship and family devotion and her contributions to our community hardly can be counted.


She has been a member of the faculty at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, involved in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts programs, the Chattanooga Music Club and the Women's Leadership Institute, and active in service reflecting her Christian faith at First-Centenary United Methodist Church.


She is genuinely a distinguished Chattanoogan, which is why the Kiwanis Club chose to honor her.


Jeff Hollingsworth, chairman of the Kiwanis selection committee, said: "She's one of those who just dives into things. She doesn't just serve on boards; I mean she really gets in and works."


With it all, she has real humility, and a smiling personality, with good humor and friendliness.


Most good communities have outstanding leaders of many kinds. But we sincerely believe that Chattanooga, over many decades, has been unusually blessed with far more unselfishly serving good citizens than most.


That's one reason many Chattanoogans enjoy giving honor where honor is due — this time to Rickie Pierce.







We all know that the national anthem of the United States is "The Star-Spangled Banner." And we all know that its soaring music and inspiring, historic words cause shivers to run proudly along our spines when we hear its familiar notes and recall its lyrics.


Most of us also know it's hard to sing — but we love it.


The national anthem is in the news these days because Christina Aguilera had trouble singing the words correctly at the beginning of the Super Bowl last Sunday. She's not the first (and surely not the last) to have difficulty with "The Star-Spangled Banner." She deserves some sympathy in her embarrassment. But she'll never live it down. Whenever she's mentioned, many will remember "that performance" over all others.


But this provides a good time for us to recall some of the important history of "The Star-Spangled Banner."


]Many of us remember, from our school days, that the words were written as a poem by Francis Scott Key after he saw the British Navy's bombardment of the United States' Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.


The patriotic American lyrics ironically were put to the tune of a British drinking song — "To Anacreon in Heaven." The song was renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner." (Who was Anacreon? He was a Greek poet.)


There's an old joke about an American soldier on guard duty who encountered someone in the dark and challenged, "Who goes there?" Out of the night came the response: "An American." To be sure, the soldier demanded the intruder recite the words of "The Star-Spangled Banner." From the dark came the response: "I don't know the words." Then the guard, the story goes, promptly responded, "Pass, American," illustrating the embarrassing fact that many of us can't recite the words of our national anthem.


Well, to help us, here they are:


"O! say can you see by the dawn's early light,/ What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,/ Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,/ O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?/ And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,/ Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;/ O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,/ O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"


Many of us may get through that first stanza OK, but most of us don't know the other verses:


"On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,/ Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,/ What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,/ As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?/ Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,/ In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:/ 'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave/ O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


"And where is that band who so vauntingly swore/ That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,/ A home and a country should leave us no more!/ Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution./ No refuge could save the hireling and slave/ From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:/ And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/ O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


"O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand/ Between their loved home and the war's desolation!/ Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land/ Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation./ Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,/ And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'/ And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave/ O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"


Though we may not be able to recite "The Star-Spangled Banner" fully, nor sing it with perfection, may we always give thanks for what it means to all of us Americans!







A current news story reports what may be a surprise to most of us: U.S. taxes are at the lowest point since 1950!


But you are sure our federal taxes are still too high — and government is spending too much?


An explanation is due: Taxes are at their "lowest" since 1950 — as a share of the total national economy. Our economy is bigger now, even though it is stumbling somewhat. And tax revenue is way down because of the economic crisis.


This year, federal taxes will equal 14.8 percent of everything we produce in our nation. But the federal government is spending so much, it will still have to borrow 40 cents for every dollar it spends — adding to our $14 trillion national debt.


So don't you believe that federal taxing, spending and debt are all too high?







Once upon a time, beginning in 1905, Peerless Mill in Rossville was a booming business, employing many local people and producing high-quality woolens. But times change.


It is sad to learn the old Peerless facilities now might be demolished.


Whether or not that ultimately happens, many people will fondly recall when Peerless meant so much economically to Rossville, and to our whole Chattanooga community.









That Istanbul prosecutors have launched an investigation, involving some 28 officials in connection to alleged negligence that may have contributed to the murder of journalist Hrant Dink four years ago, is hardly a proud moment for Turkey. It took dozens of writs to the court by lawyers for the Dink family, a chorus of complaints by concerned citizenry, a judgment against Turkey by the European Court of Human Rights last September and indirect intervention by President Abdullah Gül to get this decision. Hardly a model of an effective judiciary.


It would also be premature to announce new hope for Turkish justice amid the hundreds of other unresolved murders and extra-judicial killings that have languished in some cases for decades. Restraint is also demanded by the fact that investigators are again poring over newly uncovered mass graves in eastern Turkey, as we reported last week. And few of the many victims of crimes in Turkey have the attention of the news media, the pressure of the European Union and the broad support across the Turkish public for a full accounting in the matter of Dink's murder.


But this step is encouraging. Not just for the family and friends Dink left behind whose demands for justice have now lingered for more than four years. It is a sign that horrific crimes cannot be committed in Turkey with the same impunity as in the past.


Which is not a rush to judgment in this particular instance. The 28 officials to be questioned, including police and security authorities in both Istanbul and Trabzon, the hometown of the confessed triggerman Ogün Samast, are not suspects. This is only a preliminary call to testify that may lead to more suspects. This is critical in light of a number of new books and other revelations that suggest a trail of negligence, if not complicity, that may have emboldened Samast. It was this set of revelations, in part, that led to the Euro court's ruling in December that officials sat on their hands after being warned about likely attempts on Dink's life.


The fact is that few reasonable observers buy the lone gunman theory in this case. The idea that the then-teenaged Samast, frustrated by joblessness and enamored of nationalist websites decrying Dink, acted all on his own strains credibility. Which is why it is not really Samast on trial; it is the Turkish justice system itself in the dock.


We have no way of guessing how this investigation will proceed. We do not know if it will still the many doubts that define the conduct of this particular trial. We do know that the Turkish courts and prosecutors are under assault from many quarters, not all of them with the quest for justice as the motivation. And we know that this justice system will never be redeemed in domestic or international eyes if this first step toward credibility in the Dink case is not sound, thorough, fair and swift.







In the early years of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's governance, there were basically two schools of thought in Western capitals, including rival ones in Turkey's vicinity, regarding the prime minister's ideology on nationalism. One group, mentally aged between 12 and 16 and featuring an average IQ of below 40, argued that Mr. Erdoğan would finally ruin Turkey's persistent and proud nationalism which had often caused headaches in foreign capitals. The other group maintained that Mr. Erdoğan's ideology was no less nationalistic than the "deep state's," but was just not as equally visible. After several years, the "junior" group has admitted defeat.

I came to this European capital for plenty of good reasons, namely a mystical stop-over before another journey takes me to even more mystical cities by the ocean; loud baroque music at the bar Santo Spirito; a shot of Plomari at Ouzeri Ellas; skillfully ground coffee at Daniel Moser; the quiet streets which once witnessed underground Cold War activity; and… to act as a judge in the finale of a political bet between two old diplomat friends.

It was the infant days of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, "regime." Most Western embassies were cabling reports telling their capitals that the AKP meant the demise of "dangerous Turkish nationalism." G., a diplomat, cabled home the same since he firmly believed that (a) the AKP would fight the "deep state" which fed dangerous Turkish nationalism; (b) the AKP had an ideology that by nature went against nationalism (as it instead favored religious bonds over ethnic ones); (c) with the AKP in power, "dangerous Turkish nationalism" would be sterilized first before completely perishing; and (d) therefore, the AKP must be supported against the Turkish deep state by any country that feels threatened by the "dangerous Turkish nationalism."

But the competing idea, as summarized by N., another diplomat, argued that (a) the AKP was no less "dangerously nationalistic" than the Turkish deep state but was successfully hiding its true colors; (b) the AKP would return to its blend of Islamist/Turkish nationalism at the earliest possibility once it no longer felt a need to hide it; and (c) the AKP's fight against the "deep state" did not mean it was also fighting the "dangerous nationalism" boasted by the deep state.

During our "summit" for the finale and before I even attempted to act as the referee as agreed years earlier, G. admitted defeat but did not forget to use his compromise as a means to defy my age/IQ theory for his camp. "I would not have admitted I was wrong if I had been younger than 16 and had an IQ less than 40," he reminded me as we raised our Prosecco glasses to the winner of the bet, N.

The AKP has never been at war with "dangerous Turkish nationalism." It has been at war with the ultra-secularist establishment which often supported the "dangerous Turkish nationalism." In rhetoric – but seldom in practice – the AKP stood up against the kind of nationalism the ultra-secularist establishment favored. But in fact it stood up against the establishment. That, understandably but wrongly, was perceived by some Westerners as the AKP's fight against Turkish nationalism. No, it was the AKP's fight against the secularist establishment.

With the war against the secularist establishment now over, the AKP has no reason to mask the nationalist ethos which its political genes harbored. Remember, Turkey's president and prime minister come from an ideology which in the early 1970s organized demonstrations asking the government to ban rock music because "rock music would lead to the degeneration of the Turkish nation." Lest they forget. 

Mr. Erdoğan et al. smartly thought that they could fool the Westerners aged between 12 and 16 and with an average IQ less than 40 (sorry, G!) and win their support by presenting their fight against the secularists as a fight against the secularists' nationalism. They did well. They privately told the generals to go ahead with whatever military plan around Turkey's borders could have been perceived by the West as "yet another nationalistic action." They privately told the Western capitals that it was the military acting on its own and that the poor government was helpless to stop these Kemalist/nationalist barbarians.

Overflights on the Aegean? Oh, it's the generals! We tell them to stop but they never listen to us. An incursion into northern Iraq? Ah, how we wanted to stop the military but these generals won't listen to us. Armaments? God, the generals want to buy all the weapons available on the world's arms market. And we cannot stop them!

Of course, the truth is oceans away from that smart cheating. The truth is that the prime minister knows several months in advance what training flights the Turkish fighters will make over which Greek island and precisely at what time and which day. The truth is that the prime minister – and his ministers and some other important people – know in every detail which weapon systems are to be purchased. The truth is that the defense minister proudly announces plans for the design, development and manufacturing of Turkey's first "national fighter jet" along with its first "national battle tank."

This is precisely why this columnist wished the Armenian protocols good luck, but cautioned that they would fail; why this columnist supported the reunification of Cyprus but predicted that Mr. Erdoğan was a fake peacemaker. As he has consolidated power and felt confident that he won his war against the "establishment" he would rediscover his nationalist self. Which he did… Mr. Erdoğan had a problem with the establishment. He did not have a problem with the establishment's nationalist ideology. The establishment has gone. The ideology remains under Mr. Erdoğan's auspices.

Meanwhile, Mr. Erdoğan's chief negotiator with the EU, State Minister Egemen Bağış, proposed a brilliant idea a few months ago for a solution to the Cyprus problem. According to Minister Bağış's Sistine Chapel proposal inspired by the Vatican rules for electing the Pope, the Turkish, Greek, and Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders are to be shut down in a room to agree on a reunification plan for the divided island and won't be let out until they do so.  

I think this is the best idea Mr. Bağış has ever proposed. It really is a win-win idea! I agree, and hope that the Greeks, Turks and Turkish and Greek Cypriots should agree to it, too. It would be something to celebrate if the very important Turks, Greeks, and Turkish and Greek Cypriots agreed on a solution. It would be equally wonderful if they didn't.  







The stamina of the brave people of Egypt, who are entering their third week of pro-democracy demonstrations, makes it clear: The days of Hosni Mubarak, the country's long time dictator, are numbered. That's why the nature of the post-Mubarak era, which is uncertain, is the real big question. 

The reason for the uncertainty is the elephant in the Tahrir Square: the military, which has the power to dominate the whole system. Its leadership, under new celebrity Gen. Omar Suleiman, has shown goodwill by not using any force against anti-Mubarak protestors, but that is not enough. The real question is whether the military will act as a midwife to democracy, by holding free and fair elections in the shortest term possible, and respect the authority of the winners. The other alternative is a military dictatorship, overt or not, which will deprive Egypt from democracy once again for the years to come.

False analogies

Word has it that the second option looks appealing to some in the West — and, I am sure, in Israel. The reason is not hard to get: The chance that the elections will be won by the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's most formidable political force, and the flagship of Islamism in the whole Sunni world. So, the reasoning goes, wouldn't a more secular-minded military rule be better than a democratic election that will empower the Islamists.

Steve Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, an expert on both Egypt and Turkey, wrote a good piece recently about this "romance with the Egyptian military" that he apparently sees in Washington. He added that people are also making "false analogies" with the "Turkish model," presenting the decades-old quasi-military regime in Turkey as a good remedy for the future in Egypt. 

I read that with some disdain — but without any surprise. For I have seen many Westerners over the years who believed that the Turkish military was doing a great service to Turkey by "protecting the democratic regime" from the supposed excesses of democracy.

"Well, why don't you try to discuss that nice idea with the thousands who have gone through the torture chambers of our juntas," I once asked someone who defended that pro-militaristic line. If you tend to think alike, I would encourage you as well to talk with the thousands of Turkish (and Kurdish) families who have lost their sons to "unsolved murders" committed by gendarme squads. The liberals who have been threatened and humiliated by our sinister generals might also be a good reference to understand how lovely the "Turkish model" used to be.

Today, Turkey is much less brutal of a state, and more free of a society, thanks to the very decline of that doomed "Turkish model." Besides, the new model, represented by the incumbent Justice and Development, or AKP, and its base, shows that Islamism can evolve into post-Islamism, by accepting the rules of secular democracy and the market economy. The outcome is still too "conservative" for the taste of the secular Turks, and still too pro-Palestinian from the eyes of the Israelis. Yet it is still a great leap forward within its own tradition. 

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood must be given the same chance: the chance to freely participate in politics, come to power, face the issues of the real world, and find its own way to pragmatism. 

I am aware that the Muslim Brotherhood represents a more rigid form of political Islam than that the AKP has inherited. But as Reuel Marc Gerecht, a neo-conservative, recently put in the New York Times, the party is "evolving." Moreover, "it would be a serious error to believe that it has not sincerely wrestled with the seductive challenge of democracy." So, why not give them a chance to be further seduced?

The vicious cycle

The alternative, a military-dominated Egypt backed by the West, will do nothing other than convince millions of Muslims that "democracy is a lie," and that the West is unabashedly hypocritical. It will also reinforce a vicious cycle that created Islamism in the first place, and kept on infuriating it.

The history of the Muslim Brotherhood is in fact the perfect case study to see that vicious cycle: The party was born in 1928, as a reaction to the destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate, the colonization of Muslim lands, and the foundation of secularist regimes. It got more strident under the oppression of Egypt's secular dictators, from Nasser to Mubarak. Sayyid Qutb, the party's powerful thinker who gradually became "the Lenin of Islamism," owed his radicalism partly to the torture he went through in Egypt's hellish prisons.

Nobody needs to see that horror film again and again. And what will open the way to the brotherhood's moderation is not the old "Turkish model," but the new one, which proves that pious Muslims can be a part of the democratic game and evolve while playing according to its rules. 






The Turkish model: It's been talked about so much these days that almost everyone thinks the same thing is being discussed.

But what Western commentators mean by the Turkish model is different from what those in the realm of political Islam mean when they say, "We want to adopt the Turkish model," in regards to the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

A recent New York Times article clarifies what Westerners mean by Turkey as a model, positing its ability to integrate Islam, democracy and market economics as component factors. Since it has been successful at integrating these factors, Turkey is highlighted as the model of moderate Islam. But I don't understand these "harmonizing Islam" theories at all.

In other words, some are unclear about what Turkey's experience of this combination has been. They don't talk about secularism in order to avoid scaring away elements such as the Muslim Brotherhood from the reconciliation process. But if secularism is dropped out of the equation, then it is not clear what is referred to with the merging of Islam and democracy.

If what is being discussed is equal balance between religious practices and democratic principles, then the model is not Turkey – because it's unrealistic.

Just as democracy and democratic institutions do not make any references to religion, there were no efforts before and there are no efforts now to provide harmony. Are there no demands on this front? Of course there are, but they are too weak.

The New York Times article makes a comparison between the armies of Turkey and Egypt. But that is improper, too. It emphasizes that the military in Egypt has always been anti-democratic while the general behind the Turkish coup in 1980, Kenan Evren, withdrew from politics while a new constitution was prepared. This has been shown as proof that the military allows democracy.

What does this have to with Islam? It has nothing to do with democracy either.

Were Turkish politics saved from military tutelage in the post-1980 period? Turkey is a country where murders by unknown perpetrators are committed, where a dirty battle goes on in the Southeast, and where no one is held to account for anything connected to any of these. Assuming that none of these problems existed, could the post-1980 period even be used as an example?

Third, on the economic front, Turkey is said to have market economy principles.

"Egypt maintained state control, with many restrictions on foreign trade. By contrast, Turkey has opened up its economy and developed a dynamic private sector," says the article. What does this have to do with Islam or "moderate" Islam? What kind of harmony is achieved in the economy? Seeking a correlation between Turkey and moderate Islam is a futile quest.

There is only one aspect that corresponds and that is the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The article in New York Times formulizes it as:

"Only after Erdoğan demonstrated success in raising living standards did he feel confident enough to overcome opposition from the determinedly secular military and the cosmopolitan elite in Istanbul by introducing elements of Islam into Turkish public life."

Here is the Turkish example considered for the Middle East. If they can wake up from ignorance, they can see that Turkey was a model for the 20th-century march to civilization from Iran to Pakistan and from Tunisia to Iraq and the entire Muslim world due to universal criteria.

But therein lies the difference. They don't want to see it. "This is enough for Easterners" is the approach. And an imaginary Turkey model is evolving around it. They are, in fact, pushing their own road map on the people in the region. People in the Middle East, however, are inspired by experiences of democratization and Turkey's path.

* Ferai Tınç is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece appeared Monday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.






Interior ministers generally protect their staff well. No matter how many mistakes the staff make, they would back them up. The police would then be protected well.

With the murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, this taboo was broken by the current interior minister.

The reaction in the public, constantly increasing, was perceived well. This reaction was not an opposition movement directed toward the government. It was just a reaction to injustice and police authorities' negligence. And these reactions and protests were to be continued. The public was definitely going to call those responsible to account for the remorse it felt.

The first investigation was done in such a wishy-washy way that people felt ridiculed.

What we expect Interior Minister Beşir Atalay to do now is to conduct a serious investigation and:

- Prepare a brand new report instead of coming up with new results based on the old report.

- Investigate with new people and inspectors.

By the way, I advise the investigators to take a look at Nedim Şener's books.

We underestimate Europe

No offense, but we believe in what we say so much that we distract ourselves from reality.

Recently Turkey has started using such a language in respect to the European Union that if this course continues I'm afraid we'll hurt ourselves.

Some of our officials, politicians and even some bureaucrats who speak in respect to the EU have started to make interesting comparisons:

- "Their economy has failed. They've fallen and don't know how to get up or how to get rid of the crisis. They are desperate."

- "There is no leader who could come up with a vision for 27 countries. Everybody just talks."

- "It's a geriatric society. They are becoming old. After a while there will only be old people running around in need of young people to get their jobs done."

- "They don't even have space for their own industry. They use old technologies."

- "World power shifts. Real power has shifted to the Far East. Europe is on its way to become an old fat society. It is losing its strategic power."

- "Europe is unable to protect itself. Its military is insufficient in number and no one wants to get involved in a war. It can neither protect itself nor, for instance, project power to the Middle East."

If we summarized, we'd say: Europe is slowly melting away.

Hang on EU, we'll save you!

We always indicate Turkey may be the rescuer.

Like Superman, we will hurry from Anatolia to Europe and save the EU from all its diseases.

This is the scenario we make up.

We may criticize Europe on almost all issues.

We can list all its inabilities, from its economic situation to old population, from lack of leadership to losing its status in the international arena. But if we believe in our own words then we'll be disappointed in the future.

Do you think that centuries-old Europe will destroy all its accumulations over the years this easily?

Do you think it will lose its power in science and technology, developed over centuries?

If we were really to believe that we'd just fool ourselves.

For sure, there may be areas in which Europe needs Turkey's support.

Power of young people…

Strategic depth…

Soldiers to die without questioning the reason behind…

All of which can be found in Turkey.

So then, doesn't Turkey need Europe?

If not, then we should give up all efforts for membership.

What I am trying to say is very simple:

We can still criticize the EU but let's not present the public with an image full of exaggeration and delusion. We'd put ourselves in a difficult position and in the eye of the public paint a very wrong image of Europe. If in the future we were to change this image it would be too late.

Let's not forget that Europe will not remain as is. Sooner or later it will get up and running. To believe that such a giant would melt all of a sudden or the EU will dissolve or to make plans based on the assumption the euro would disappear after a while would be just fooling ourselves.

Wouldn't it be better to be realistic without losing time with exaggeration and bragging?







Well, gradually, thanks a little bit to the nasty northern Cyprus breakdown of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the new banking regulation announced by the Central Bank, the decision to probe some 30 top officials – including former Istanbul Governor and current super Security Undersecretary Muammer Gürel and former Istanbul top cop Celalettin Cerrah – who with great expertise stalled progress of the probe into the murder of dear friend and colleague Hrant Dink four years ago and the uprising in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak regime has started to subside down on the agenda of Turkey.

It is of course difficult to maintain attention on developments in another country if what appeared to be a revolution has turned into an unending ordeal. It has been over two weeks. In a country which successfully changes discussion subjects several times every week and even the most important local developments lose their appetite for the average Turk in maximum two weeks' time, why would protests dragging on in Egypt with reduced violence and under the shadow of talks between the Mubarak regime and the opponents – including the much-feared Muslim Brotherhood – for a compromise settlement continue attracting interest of Turkish public?

If the average Turk is losing his interest in Egypt, why would politics remain attached to developments in Cairo? Yet, even yesterday, after two weeks of gross failure by most Turkish "grand analysts" – like the grand Ayatollahs these people must have a direct line to a divine source of information – on what indeed happened and what would be the outcome of the Egypt situation, almost all political leaders, particularly Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, felt the need to make a reference to Egypt in their weekly and routine addresses to their parliamentary groups.

It was of course wrong to expect Egypt to be a Tunisia or the Iran of 1979 just because some mass demonstration – yes, participated in by well over 1 million people according to news agencies and TV networks – at the Tahrir Square in central Cairo. It was of course wrong to expect Hosni Mubarak to pack and go just because an opposition which did not have an organization or a leader wanted him to go. As long as the real power of Egypt, that is the military, wanted him not to go, Mubarak will not go.

Now, developments have started to indicate that like what was instructed by Washington, there will be a phased transition of power in Egypt and most probably administrative power will be transferred from Mubarak to yet another Washington-loyalist, former head of the military intelligence, the alleged CIA collaborator and torturer Omar Suleiman, hand-picked by the 82-year-old Egyptian leader as his vice president, a post which was vacant for the past 20 years.

This transition, contrary to the expectations of Erdoğan, for example, will take some time. Egypt is a very big state. Egypt is a very big culture. Egypt is the backbone of the Arab nation. Irrespective how many countries they might have and under whatever regime they might be governed, Egypt has always been the political Mecca for all Arabs.

While the success of the anti-Mubarak protests in getting the 82-year-old Mubarak out of power in Egypt and punishment of both Mubarak and the so-called "president's men" who all have been facing charges of rampant corruption, misuse of office and serious degree of nepotism will obviously open a new era for all states of the region. The wave of change that started in Tunisia but might reach the level of a very strong tsunami might wipe away many of the absolute rulers – be they are elected president, prime minister, king or sheikh, in the entire Arab geography and perhaps beyond.

The future of Egypt being determined solely by the Egyptians, as was called for by Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan, is just a wishful demand in view of the geopolitical reality of the region and global political designs. Of course Erdoğan was a very democratic-minded man when talking on Egypt. He strongly suggested that in the transition period a democratic election law must be prepared. He said the will of the Egyptian nation must be respected.

What about Turkey? Don't Turks deserve a democratic election law? Don't Turks deserve to reflect their will to Parliament? Why does Erdoğan categorically reject taking down the anti-democratic 10 percent national electoral threshold in Turkey but call for a just election system for Egypt?

Perhaps the prime minister had better continue yelling and ridiculing the Turkish Cypriots instead of preaching democracy to others.







Many in the US, including the Obama administration, are suspicious over the Muslim Brotherhood's motives, and prefer to exclude the group from Egyptian politics at least in the near future, although they are quiet about this. Whether the brotherhood wins in Egypt and how it behaves after that greatly will shape up the Middle East's future

Abraham Lincoln, the great U.S. president during the Civil War, once said, in opposition of slavery, that "the authors of the Declaration of Independence never intended to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity, but they did consider all men created equal – equal in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

His famous saying is part of a public debate, albeit indirectly, in the United States today over the future of Egypt's politics. The untold truth is that the U.S. debate on Egypt hinges on the single question about the Muslim Brotherhood's future role in that country's politics.

Almost everyone in the United States, including President Barack Obama's administration, is deeply suspicious over the brotherhood's motives, and silently prefers to exclude the group from Egypt's politics at least in the near future. But U.S. liberals, realists and conservatives can't agree over how "dangerous" the brotherhood is, and if the group presently is strong enough to capture Egypt's leadership. They wonder if the brotherhood's continued exclusion from power is justifiable, feasible or viable.

The way the Obama administration handled the Egyptian turmoil also reflects how off-guarded the United States was caught. Over the past 10 days Obama, in varying degrees, has asked for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's departure to pave the way for an "orderly transition." But several statements by his senior officials have been confusing.

Frank Wisner, Obama's special envoy sent to Cairo last week to persuade Mubarak to step down, said at the weekend that "Mubarak's continued leadership is critical – it's his opportunity to write his own legacy."

Before sending corrections to Wisner's remarks by her State Department people, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said at a security conference in Munich that "revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy only to see the process hijacked by new autocrats who use violence, deception and rigged elections to stay in power."

Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012, blasted Obama's way of confronting the Egyptian crisis, saying: "Nobody has explained to the American public what they know, and surely they know more than the rest of us know, who it is who will be taking the place of Mubarak."

Significantly absent from the on-the-record statements by these U.S. officials and politicians was the critical name of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they all fear.

Liberal commentators don't share this fear in a major way. "To accept the Mubarak-or-chaos argument is a form of disrespect to the civility and capacity of Tahrir Square (the main place of anti-Mubarak protests in Cairo). It is an expression of Western failure before the exploding Arab thirst for dignity and representative government," liberal columnist Roger Cohen says in The New York Times. Cohen quotes Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei as saying that "the Western fiction is that somehow Arabs are not really ready for democracy" and he continues to say that "it is time to overcome that fiction." Cohen calls for free elections in a year.

The U.S. conservatives are divided over how to respond to Egypt's ordeal. Some neo-conservative thinkers, who follow former President George W. Bush's initiative for reform in the Arab world, also call for elections. Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy and a former Middle Eastern specialist in the CIA's clandestine service, says: "Egypt needs elections sooner, not later. More convincingly than any president before him, Barack Obama can say 'We are not scared of Muslim voting.' He can put an end to the West's deleterious habit of treating the Middle East's potentates respectfully and the Muslim citizenry like children."

But John Bolton, Bush's hard-line former ambassador at the United Nations and a close friend of Israel, says: "Egypt's real regime is the military establishment, which must restore stability, domestically and in the Middle East, to allow whatever progress toward a truly democratic culture may emerge. The idea that immediate elections will bring the Age of Aquarius to Egypt is misguided; far better to proceed when true democrats, not just the Muslim Brotherhood, are ready."

Created in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood is a transnational movement and the world's oldest and largest Islamist political group. Israel views the brotherhood as an existential threat. The Muslim Brotherhood is generally viewed as the strongest and best-organized opposition movement in Egypt. Israel fears that free elections in Egypt soon would greatly strengthen the brotherhood.

The United States itself can't fully control how things will develop in Egypt, although it is a major influence. Whether the Muslim Brotherhood fully joins the official political process in Egypt and comes to power and how it behaves after that will greatly affect the "paradigm shift," already taking place in the Middle East and globally.







The net around former president Pervez Musharraf seems to be tightening – with the Joint Investigation Team declaring him an absconder in the Benazir Bhutto murder case, and informing the Anti-terrorism Court judge that it would seek legal action to declare him a proclaimed offender in the case if he continued to fail to come forward for investigation. Much of the latest hearing has focused around the Musharraf issue, with the court told that the two former police officials named in the case, CPO Saud Aziz and SP Khurram Shahzad had been in close contact with President Musharraf in the hours leading up to the murder. The case of Benazir Bhutto, three years after her death, continues to take new twists and turns. Till now, much of the focus of investigation had been on the Baitullah Mehsud link to her assassination. The two Blackberries that have turned up also seem to draw Musharraf a little closer to the centre of the plot. Investigators say Benazir received a threatening email from Musharraf on one of the phones, and passed this along to media contacts in the US. The latter have, in the past, reported receiving communications in which she named those who may have been plotting against her.

There are some problems inherent in all this. As times goes on, facts become distorted. Right now it is hard to say if the discovery of the Blackberries is an entirely genuine event, or if there is something not quite right about the two mobile phones turning up after all this time. A gap of so many months is bound to raise suspicions that something is amiss. Is the evidence on them completely genuine? Has it been tampered with in some way? According to phone data, no communication took place between Asif Ali Zardari and Benazir Bhutto in the run-up to her death. One wonders why this piece of information is now being stressed. Surely, some exchange between husband and wife would not be unusual under normal circumstances. As time goes on, doubts and suspicions surrounding the case seem to be growing; the mysteries appear to be deepening, and this does not augur well at all given the significance of the case. There is a real danger that it will never be solved – with the latest turn it has taken only adding to the possibility that the thread leading away from Liaquat Bagh now has too many twists and turns to ever permit it to be fully unraveled.







The disastrous fire that started at Mochi Gate in Lahore on Monday was still smouldering on Tuesday afternoon. It is said to have been caused by a short-circuit and started around 8:30 a.m. in godowns that were reportedly used for storing highly flammable goods including plastics and fireworks. By the time the fire was eventually brought under control, five plazas had been partially demolished, 22 people had suffered burns of varying severity and billions of rupees worth of goods and real estate had been destroyed. There were also reports that 1122 fire tenders had run out of water, and were having difficulty accessing the site because traders had blocked routes as they scrambled to extract their goods from the scene. These same traders were also demanding that the government compensate them for the loss of their livelihood.

Fires such as this one are occurring with depressing regularity, and the laxity in enforcing building codes and the failure to clear encroachments is creating an environment where virtually all commercial and many residential buildings are an accident waiting to happen. There were multi-story buildings, some of them residential, in close proximity to the fire. It is quite likely that very few, if any, were equipped with fire-suppression systems, fire escapes or any other form of safety devices – such as smoke alarms. Were these buildings licensed? Or were they put up by greedy developers with little thought for public safety? The godowns themselves should, at the very least, be equipped with fire alarms, and highly flammable goods should not be stored in densely populated areas. The issue of access for emergency services is highlighted yet again, and comes up every time a similar incident takes place. There is little point is having a fire brigade if it cannot get to a fire when it breaks out, and it can hardly be blamed if it is stuck somewhere far from the flames. Our cities are growing increasingly congested, and unregulated development, where residential and commercial properties are put up side by side is asking for trouble. City managers need to wake up to the reality that they are sitting on a powder keg and should not throw up their hands in surprise when one of those kegs explodes. Strict enforcement of building codes and aggressive anti-encroachment drives are the only route out of this mess. We expect no early action.







Had someone wished to conjure up an educational vision from hell, they would have needed only to come to Pakistan. A new survey by the Free and Fair Election Network has monitored 137 schools in 87 districts of the country. The picture that emerges from these government schools for girls is an appalling one. Over 70 per cent had no sanitary staff and 49 per cent lacked drinking water. We have then, before us, an image of little girls sitting in filthy settings, unable to obtain water even as summer temperatures soar. This is the reality we come face to face with only infrequently. Media focus on the social sector is limited and many of us have become indifferent to these events. But surely we all agree our children deserve better?

FAFEN has done well to highlight a key issue. The deprivation ordinary citizens suffer is a key factor in our failure to move forward as a country. Even today, well below 50 per cent of our women are literate. In some areas, this figure falls to an appalling one or two per cent. The quality of education we are able to offer even those who do attend schools is also highlighted by the survey. This part of the report discusses high levels of teacher absenteeism and the unwillingness of schools to disclose details about staffing and other such matters. The MNAs and ministers whose own children attend posh private schools must take up the matter urgently and extend the right to a meaningful education to each and every child in the country, granting them the opportunity they lack to move forward in life.









The US authorities continue to issue contradictory statements concerning the Raymond Davis case. They seem to have taken Albert Einstein quite literally when he said, "If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts." Subsequently, the Americans have tried to change the facts of the case in three important respects.

First, Davis was initially described as a staff member of the US Consulate General in Lahore. Then, without explanation, this was changed and he was said to be a member of the administrative and technical staff of the Embassy.

Second, on January 27, Crowley, the State Department Spokesman, denied that the killer's name was "Raymond Davis". Then last week, a spokeswoman for the US embassy said Crowley had not denied that the name was "Raymond Davis".

Third, the US Embassy has revised its account of the circumstances in which Davis killed the two Pakistanis. The US Embassy's press release of January 29 said he was "confronted" by two armed men on motorcycles who he had every reason to believe meant him bodily harm. Then, on February 3, the US Embassy said that the two Pakistanis had been killed following an "attack on the diplomat by armed assailants." Being confronted by armed men, as everyone knows, is not the same as being attacked by them. According to another account of the US Embassy, Davis was not even "confronted" by the two young men. The British newspaper, Daily Telegraph, reported on the basis of information provided by the US Embassy that the two men had pulled alongside Davis on a motorbike at traffic lights. He saw that one of them had a gun. Apparently fearing that he was about to be robbed, he opened fire, killing both. The claim that they had criminal backgrounds has not been proved. Even if it is true, Davis could not have known about it. Even if he had, he did not have the license to shoot them down.

To confuse matters further, the US Embassy has been using the term "diplomat" and "member of the administrative and technical staff" (of the Embassy) interchangeably to describe the killer. As anyone who has read the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Convention knows, the two are entirely different categories. The term "diplomat" can only be used for a member of the diplomatic staff, which by definition, a member of the administrative and technical staff, is not.

Yet, it is correct, as the Embassy maintains, that under Article 37 of the Convention, a member of the administrative and technical staff of the Embassy enjoys the same immunity from criminal jurisdiction that a diplomat does. The central issue therefore is whether Davis was a member of the US Embassy's administrative and technical staff. Whether he holds a diplomatic passport from his government or was issued a diplomatic or official visa by Pakistani authorities is immaterial.

The main argument used by the US in support of its claim to immunity for Davis is that the Embassy notified the Foreign Ministry on January 20, 2010 that he had been assigned to the mission as a member of its administrative and technical staff. The fact that his name had been notified would ordinarily qualify him for being treated as a member of the Embassy's administrative and technical staff. But in this case, there are four reasons why this claim cannot be accepted.

First, the Foreign Ministry asked the Embassy to provide some further information about Davis before issuing an identity card to him as a member of the Embassy staff. The Embassy did not provide the necessary clarifications.

Second, Davis' name was not included in the list of Embassy staff given to the Foreign Ministry on January 25, 2011, two days before the shooting, apparently, because at that time he was assigned to the Lahore Consulate General. This list superseded the earlier notification that he was a member of the Embassy staff. He was put on a revised list of Embassy staff submitted a day after the incident only to enable him to claim diplomatic immunity.

Third, the Embassy's press release issued a day after the shooting described him as a consular employee. This is the most authoritative statement on his status.

Fourth, and most importantly, the man has a fake identity. Whatever his true name is, it is not Raymond Davis. The notification of this name by the US Embassy does not therefore confer any immunity on the person who carried out the shooting.

The US Embassy is right about one thing though. It is for the Foreign Ministry to make a determination on the status of the person who goes by the name of Raymond Davis. This determination, as the Diplomatic and Consular Privileges Act of 1972 lays down, is to be treated as final and conclusive.

The Foreign Ministry and the Punjab government must also forcefully take up the case of the third Pakistani who was killed when he was run over by an SUV of the US Consulate General sent to help Davis. US refusal to cooperate in the investigation is a flagrant breach of the Vienna Conventions and our failure to press them harder is simply unforgivable. The federal government and the Punjab government both share the responsibility for this.

The US is obviously deeply perturbed at the fact that Davis is in Pakistani custody. The equipment and weapons he was carrying leave no doubt that he was engaged in unauthorised undercover activity. The people of Pakistan have long suspected that the hundreds of armed men who roam their streets under the US diplomatic umbrella and others who work behind the walls of US missions are here as part of some sinister plan against the country's security. Now there is a smoking gun to strengthen these suspicions and it has a name – or alias: Raymond Davis.

These suspicions could have been dispelled if the Americans had not raised hell over his arrest. Instead, Washington has resorted to crude threats. Hillary Clinton telephoned Zardari reportedly to convey to him that the US is losing patience. This is familiar language. Powerful states employ it to threaten those who do not comply with their demands. Last month, a senior US official publicly warned that US patience at Pakistan's effort to block negotiation of a treaty to ban the production of fissile material was running out. (Historically, the most famous use of the term was by Hitler. In a speech in September 1938, he demanded the cession of Sudetenland to Germany. "My patience," he warned, "has run out." Four days later, the Munich Agreement was signed permitting him to annex Sudetenland.)

It has been suggested by some of our analysts that if we do not release Davis, Hillary Clinton might not smile as broadly as she did at her last meeting with Shah Mahmood. That is possible. But we can live with that. I am sure Shah Mahmood can live with it too. Zardari's visit to Washington could be postponed, though it is unlikely. Even if it is, it will be no tragedy. Whether Zardari will be prepared for the shock is another matter.

But the so-called "strategic dialogue" or "strategic partnership" between the two countries is not under threat. The US needs this relationship as much as we do. It is not for love of the Pakistani people that the US is providing military and economic assistance to us. The Americans are doing so to serve their own national interests.

The government will do a great service not only to the nation but also to itself if it does not bow to US demands on Davis. It will give some credibility to our claim of being a sovereign country and do a lot of good to national self-esteem. God knows we need it badly. Countries that succumb to the first signs of international pressure never attain their national goals. Our problem is that our ruling class and the "liberal elite" allied with them are very comfortable in their cocoons and will risk nothing that could even remotely jeopardize their cushy life style.

The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.









 "Eager souls, mystics and revolutionaries may propose to refashion the world in accordance with their dreams, but evil remains, and so long as it lurks in the secret places of the heart, utopia is only the shadow of a dream"

(Nathaniel Hawthorne)

The romance of revolution is an eternal dream. Generations have perished working for it and, for generations, it has provided succour and sustenance. Quite often, revolution takes on the apparel of a mirage, making people suffer incessantly. But, somehow, its promise has lingered since antiquity. It refuses to go away.

Pakistan's struggle to come to grips with its destiny incorporates unmistakable elements of a romance. The more elusive it appears, the more attractive it becomes. In Pakistan, this struggle for change has crossed the mortal threshold of romance alone. It has become an enduring passion. Generation after generation, people have endeavoured to bring about a meaningful change in the ways self-serving rulers have perceived the destiny of this country. This hasn't quite paid off yet, but the struggle has only become more intense with the passage of time, both in content and intent.

The scent of the surging crowds in Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere in the North-African belt has brought a message of hope for the people of Pakistan. It has, first and foremost, rejuvenated their faith in the legitimacy of change. Facing the virtual inevitability of an impasse after the 45-day period for bringing about reforms in the structure and manner of governance in the country, they have something credible to repose their hopes in: the prospect of engineering a change through means outside the traditional realm of acceptance. This would happen as the political leaderships seem unwilling to either recognise the need for this change, or to spearhead it to its desired destination. As Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy once said: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable".


With little ambiguity remaining regarding the performance or intentions of the majority party in the ruling coalition, what are the options that Pakistan is left with at this critical juncture? One calls it critical because not only is Pakistan confronted with an unprecedented economic emergency, it also faces the twin-dragnet of widespread corruption and a wave of terror originating from points that are, directly or indirectly, patronised by the very powers that are perceived to be its allies. The undeclared tug-of-war raging between the federal government and the largest province of the country, with its damaging fallout, is another inherent flaw that plagues the national body-politic with the potential of bringing the artificial edifice crashing down, and, with it, the hopes of the traditionalists.


In the unlikely eventuality of a change actually accruing because of the PML-N reform package, there would be a million claimants clamouring for political points. There is little likelihood that any one party, including PML-N, would singly benefit from the outcome. It would be lost in the maze of claims and counter-claims. Further still, in the event that the PPP actually decides to change track and begins to deliver during the remainder of its term, of which there is scant hope, it would end up improving its image among the electorate and would stand to gain on the election-day. One should remember that, in politics, there are no definitive deliverables - more so, in times marked by bitter and unbridgeable divisions.


In a political environment at its most vile, there is little room for statesmanship. Promises have been broken. Commitments have been reneged. Dictatorial parlance has been elongated. Democratic traditions have been flouted. The judiciary has been brazenly confronted and its adjudications consigned to the bin. Corruption has been blatantly patronised. Institutions have been systematically ravaged. Billions of state wealth have been siphoned out. The concept of immunity has been misused for continuing with an absolute abdication of governance. Provocations have been hurled indiscriminately to create ethnic and religious strife. Nothing, really nothing, has been left to the imagination. Still hoping that a party that has persistently indulged in a variety of grave transgressions of its so-called mandate would amend its course and take to democratic polity is dreaming for the stars. No such thing has happened. No such thing is going to happen. What, then, are the options?

Looking at the post-February 20 scenario when the 45-day deadline is out of the way, one sees no solution that would emerge strictly in accordance with the thinking of the traditionalists. In that event, is it that one should resign to the ravages of a democratic system that stands on shaky foundations and without its natural ingredients in place? Or, is it that one should ponder the options that may keep the hope alive? This hardly presents a choice among veritable options, but such has been the fate of this country, and such will remain the fate unless serious effort is unleashed to bring about a credible change that does not hinge on the desirability of the corrupt ruling elite alone, but is moulded in accordance with the needs of the underprivileged and the impoverished. Unless that were to be so, there would be no hope, there would be no romance, and there would be no change. Time is ripe and fate beckons. Faiz stamps the inevitability of such a change in his own inimitable way:

"Yeh khoon key mehak hey key lab-e-yaar key khushboo / Kis raah key janab se sabaa aati hey dekho / Gulshan meinn bahaar ayee ke zindaann hoowa abaad / Kis simt se naghmonn key sadaa aati hey dekho"

(The morning brings a fragrant message / unleashed by somebody's scented blood / Or, perhaps, the sweet lips of my beloved / Be it the advent of spring / Or the unlocking of the prison gates / It comes echoing / Fresh musical notes)


The writer is a political analyst.










The situation in Egypt is so fluid it is hard to be one-hundred-per-cent certain if Hosni Mubarak will still be clinging to power by the time these lines are published. On Feb 2, the thug violence employed by the regime in Cairo to disrupt the sit-in at Tahrir Square raised doubts about the dramatic concessions Mubarak had announced just a day earlier. On Feb 4, the tide turned again, with the protest movement reclaiming Tahrir Square.

But why has Mubarak not yet fled the country when, in terms of popular revolt and anti-government mobilisation, the political crisis in Egypt has gone beyond the conditions in Tunisia which resulted in the overthrow of Zine El Abedine Ben Ali? This is a question on many minds.

One reason is the Mubarak regime's comparatively wider social base compared to Ben Ali's. The Mubarak regime is more institutionalised. Relying on the army, the regime was able to build a more solid base through crony capitalism. In case of Tunisia, however, the Ben Ali regime was a clique consisting of the first family and its collaborators.

The Mubarak regime is the civilian facade of the Egyptian army. True, the army has until now "stayed away" from the present turmoil. Not because it is neutral, of course, though the Egyptian opposition, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, has been sowing illusions about the army's "neutrality." If the army has not been used until now, it is probably because of the military command's fear that an intervention would produce disaffection among the rank and file and the soldiers might hesitate to act against the protesters, or disobey orders outright.

But the huge mobilisation of the "Day of Departure" on Feb 4 may lead to the army agreeing to the "soft transition" being planned by Washington, the key external player struggling to forestall the Mubarak regime's free fall.

Egypt is a cornerstone in the United States' strategic plans for the Middle East. Therefore, Washington is not merely eager to avert a revolution in Egypt, the most populous Arab country, and arguably the most influential, but is also concerned about the domino effect the change will produce in the Middle East. The Obama administration has strong reasons for that fear. The latest public statements by the United States and its Western allies indicate a change of mind.

According to Egyptian economist and writer Samir Amin, who is based in Dakar, Senegal, "the US plan for Egypt is very similar to the Pakistani model: a combination of 'political Islam' and army intelligence." Egypt's newly appointed vice president, Omar Soliman, who will take charge in the event of Mubarak's resignation, was head of the army Intelligence..

In case of elections, the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to emerge as the key parliamentary player. Washington has already baptised the Brotherhood – which favours the free-market system and took a position against the Egyptian workers' strikes in 2008 – as "moderate."

The Brotherhood is emulating the AKP of Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which came to power as a result of a democratisation process spearheaded by the military. Hence, the Brotherhood has been courting the military and is reluctant to support Mohamed El Baradei.

However, the protest movement is not restricted to political parties. A vast majority of the regime's opponents have no political affiliations. The opposition includes a vast array of forces, not just the Brotherhood. But the Muslim Brotherhood is definitely the largest force in the opposition. When, under pressure from Washington, the Mubarak regime relaxed the rules of the game for the opposition in the 2005 parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood managed to win 20 per cent parliamentary seats against all odds. In the last elections, held in 2010, the Brotherhood lost all seats but one.

There are parties like the Wafd, which emerged out of the Egyptian struggle for national liberation in the 1920s. It is what one may call a liberal opposition. The National Progressive Unionist Party, or Tagammu for short in Arabic, has five MPs, and is considered leftwing. It adheres to the Nasserite legacy. At one time the Egyptian communists were also active on Tagammu's platform. However, it was not considered a threat since it tended to be compliant towards the regime. There are also radical Nasserite and far-left groups. These organisations, though miniscule, are very active in the ongoing protest movement.

At the same time, there are social movements like Kefaya, a coalition of activists from various opposition forces as well as activists without any political affiliation. Initially, it was launched in solidarity with the Second Palestinian Intifada in 2000. In 2003 it was actively engaged in opposition to the US invasion of Iraq. It gained international attention when it began to agitate against the Mubarak regime.

Although these were ignored by the global media, Egypt saw a series of industrial actions from 2006 to 2009. As in many other countries in the region, independent workers' unions do not exist in Egypt. There are a couple of recent exceptions resulting from the social radicalisation. Despite the lack of independent unions, Egyptian workers were able to shake the regime.

On April 6, 2008, there was an attempt at launching a general strike in solidarity with the workers. The effort was crushed but it led to the creation of the April 6 Youth Movement.

When Mohamed ElBaradei returned to Egypt in 2009, after his tenure with the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) came to an end, a liberal-left coalition gathered around him. The Muslim Brotherhood adopted a wait-and-see stance on ElBaradei. With his international reputation and connections, and his Nobel Peace Prize, ElBaradei is a powerful candidate against Mubarak. Politicians regrouping behind ElBaradei formed the National Association for Change. These political players, the Egyptian protests are a spontaneous outpouring of mass resentment against the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

The key elements that triggered the Egyptian protests are strikingly similar with those behind the uprising in Tunisia: a despotic regime, economic contradictions, high utility bills, staggering joblessness and high prices. These are not confined to Egypt or Tunisia, however, and therefore have wide ramifications in the North Africa-Middle East region. That is why the Tunisian tsunami has had a strong impact across the Red Sea from Egypt, in Yemen under the long-ruling dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The writer is a freelance contributor.









In June 1976, as I stood in front of the packed classroom addressing those teens for the last time at Lycee mixte de Zarzis, I had mixed feelings; happy to be returning back home in almost two years but sad at leaving another that I had made in Tunisia. The memories of my stint at Tunisia remain fresh after a lapse of more than three decades.

Tunisia is mentioned on very rare occasions in our national media, despite the fact that Pakistan was among the first countries to recognise it after it gained independence from France in 1956. Back then, Habib Bourguiba was not only a household name in his country and the Middle East, he globally symbolised Tunisia.

When I was leaving for Tunisia after my selection as an English language teacher soon after my graduation from university in October 1974, I had no knowledge as to what lay ahead.

I landed at Tunis International Airport after an eventful three-day flight from Karachi, via Damascus, Athens and Rome, the journey involving Syrian Arab Airlines, PIA, Iberia Airlines and Tunis Air. It was little after three in the afternoon but the autumn weather was chilly, and on top of that a heavy downpour welcomed me outside the airport.

Knowing no French or Arabic, I was perplexed, and cursing myself for leaving the comforts of my home in Larkana. Since I had reached Tunis three days behind schedule due to a technical fault in a plane, the Pakistani embassy was clueless about my arrival.

A courteous taxi driver rescued me from my predicament and took me straight to the embassy in the beautiful and affluent district of El Menzah in the capital of that modern, beautiful and tranquil country. I also had the good fortune of meeting one of the finest officers of our foreign service, Toheed Ahmed, the third secretary at the embassy, who welcomed me at his home many times during my stay in Tunis.

During visits to Boulevard Bourguiba for a cup of coffee in crowded and smoke-filled Café Tunis, where middle-class young people sipped the local Celtia beer and smoked Cristal-brand cigarettes, I was amazed to see policewomen managing traffic.

One of my most cherished memories is the annual Carthage International Festival in July at the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre, where in 1975 I saw sitar maestro Ravi Shankar playing. A small town close to Tunis, Sidi Bousaid, offered tourists a glimpse into Tunisian folk culture. It contains the World War II cemetery of the soldiers of India's 12 Rajput Rifles.

The hospitality extended to me was extraordinary, and never for a moment was I a lonesome stranger or felt homesick. During term breaks I often stayed with my young colleagues at their homes in Gabes, Sfax, Djerba, Sousse and Hammamet. It was a pleasure travelling in comfortable and efficiently-run public transport on well-maintained roads.

When the news flashed about the violent protests in Tunisia, it was hard for me to believe that the same docile nation was now thronging the streets and dethroning their president who had been ruling for decades. I asked myself what went wrong.

The students whom I had taught must be in their late 40s by now. Those bright faces observed the daily 8-6 routine in their academic institutions. Now Tunisian students came out on the streets. I, for one am surprised at the images of Tunisian students rejoicing at the closure of schools. Most frightening of all was to see teachers on strike.

Let us hope that once the people's rule prevails, the social fabric will remain intact. I hope that Bourguiba's legacy of a strong education system, empowerment of women and modernisation will continue unhindered.

Having experienced the Tunisian way of life intimately, I find the current fiasco and turmoil an interesting case study for political scientists and sociologists. I am sad and depressed at the present state of affairs and fervently hope that in the aftermath of the Jasmine Revolution the situation will remain peaceful.

I hope that Tunisians, with their high literacy rate, enlightenment and modern outlook, will be more pragmatic in future and preserve their identity.







 On New Year's Day this year, I advocated a responsible optimism for 2011. Three days later Salmaan Taseer was murdered by a man that taxpayers sustain to protect them and their representatives. A day later, a man appointed by the legitimately-elected government of the PPP, Mr Rehman Malik, declared that he would kill blasphemers with his own two hands. A month later, the unanimously voted-in prime minister of Pakistan threw what seems to be the last PPP MNA with any dignity and sense of righteousness, Sherry Rehman, under the bus.

Being responsible requires a firm commitment to the truth. Any optimism we seek in Pakistan needs to be regulated by the truths that shape us. Some of these truths are deeply disturbing. We can turn our faces from them, or we can embrace them. There really isn't any more room to equivocate.

The starkest revelation in the post-Taseer scenario is that the quality of journalism in Pakistan is in grave danger of becoming entirely hostage to ratings, profits and fear. For staunch defenders of the Pakistani media, this is not a pleasant reality to come face to face with. There is very little, however, to mitigate the cold hard facts.

Taseer's position was pretty simple. He believed and stated that the Pakistan Penal Code provisions on blasphemy cause procedural lapses that endanger the lives of innocent Pakistanis. He believed and stated that there are skewed incentives, built into the provisions, for people to misuse them. Finally, he believed and stated that procedural change is required to give greater functional fidelity to the legal regime dealing with blasphemy.

This is not a particularly sophisticated position. It has long been shared by reasonable Pakistanis on all sides of the faux ideological divides we create in this country. It is a position that human rights advocates, political leaders and others have long taken.

Yet not only was this position rarely represented in the news media, it was repeatedly misrepresented. Watching young talk show hosts in their twenties make careers out of aggression is not unique. But when that aggression helps fuel paranoia and lies about someone that can then threaten their safety, we must draw a line. One such talk show host recently won the equivalent of the TV talk-show host lottery – a new job after a bidding war broke out for the host's services. The new job is a reward for having repeatedly insinuating Salmaan Taseer's blasphemous intent on a talk show. While one channel fired the host, it hardly matters. The new show will be even more bombastic. It will not fear facts, because facts often get in the way of ratings.

Of course, picking on one talk show host alone is ridiculous. The majority of the news media has treated Sherry Rehman roughly the same way as it treated Taseer. With contempt, and little regard for facts. Rehman's private member bill was submitted to the assembly but never tabled. There was nothing for her to withdraw. Yet the PPP's decision, announced by the prime minister, to not even consider the bill is being presented as an all-round victory. The bill did not even approach talk of repeal, but rather sought to give legal legs to the procedural changes required to make the provisions of the PPC work harmoniously with the objective of the law – which is to provide justice and prevent injustice.

Of course, just how the national conversation can become so deeply bereft of facts and reason is no mystery. Decades of military rule and its dangerous ideological choices have helped create an ill-informed and hyper-emotional national discourse. We don't need to discuss controversial political issues to see just how cancerous it truly is.

The narrative surrounding Mohammed Amir, the young Pakistani fast-bowling sensation that has just been awarded a five-year ban for deliberately cheating for financial gain, is perhaps the most telling parable. In an exclusive Geo News interview right after the ICC verdict, Amir is repeatedly asked how he feels. He is asked to speak to his fans and tell them everything will be all right. He is asked if he has given up hope. Repeatedly, the interviewer says, "Amir aaya, Amir chaya", but woe! What will happen now. Poor young Amir.

Of course, as the interview proceeds, Amir is no longer Amir, the teenaged sporting sensation. Amir is Pakistan. Amir is Aafia Siddiqi. Amir is the PPC provisions dealing with blasphemy. Amir is izzat. Amir's arms are not made of muscle. They are made of enriched uranium. Amir's quick release is a Hatf, a Ghauri, a Babar. Amir is honour. Amir is pride. And the big, bad whiteys at the ICC, under direct orders of their Hindu overlords in Mumbai, are out to get Amir.

None of this is actually said. But all of it is implied. It may not be implied by the specific interviewer. It certainly doesn't seem to come from Amir. Yet it seems silently spoken because the most important truth of the spot-fixing scandal is utterly unspoken.

Three Pakistani cricket players cheated, and financially gained from cheating, at the expense of the honour of the Pakistani Test cap, at the expense of the integrity of the sport of cricket, and at the expense of the dignity of the millions of young boys and girls, mouths agape, eyes lit up, that once watched Amir and his conniving friends Salmaan Butt and Mohammed Asif.

Butt, Asif and Amir are not the victims here. Pakistan's children are. Pakistani advertisers that pay to endorse these players are. Pakistani housewives and bankers. Pakistani jingle writers. Pakistani fast bowlers. Yet if you watch the interview of Amir, there is not a single mention of Amir's wrongdoing. The viewer has no chance of hearing whether or not Amir is contrite, because within the narrative, Amir has done no wrong. If you don't raise the question of his wrongdoing, it is akin to erasing it altogether.

How then can we possibly hope for any improvement? How can we possibly be "optimistic" if we are not responsible?

Optimism doesn't mean blindness. Our patriotism should be an unstoppable engine for seeking and speaking the facts, instead of fearing them. Real optimism is about creating positive vision for the future despite the negativity of the past and the present.

Pakistan is being poisoned by false pride, self-pity and moral asymmetry. If we want Raymond Davis to burn, we should demand the same for Mumtaz Qadri. If the murder of three Lahori boys is unacceptable, we should be even more outraged by the untold death and destruction in Tirah Valley, in Bajaaur, in Orakzai, and across FATA that has been showered upon it by the Pakistani military. If we don't like drones (and we shouldn't), we must ask questions about what our helicopters and F-16s are doing in the north. If we don't like targeted killings in Karachi, we should raise our voice against them in Balochistan too.

Pakistanis are too resilient, too beautiful and too good to drown in a sea of delusions. Now more than ever is a time for Pakistanis to be optimistic. The degree of responsibility in our optimism will make all the difference between perpetuating fantasies, or stemming the rot by promoting facts and reason.







Pakistan should have its own "hall of shame," as a number of "famous" Pakistanis have managed to bring shame to the country in their respective fields. And don't even start me on politics, showbiz and sports. Presently, the country's image and reputation is down in the dumps, but that has become an accepted norm for most of us.

Courtesy three of its cricketers, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt, Pakistan is in the news (again – not that it has ever been out of it in the past couple of decades, and more). These three "celebrities" have been in and out of the news for the spot-fixing scandal that erupted last year. These national heroes have managed to destroy the gentlemen's game of cricket in this cricket-loving country, and brought shame to Pakistan. Salman Butt has been banned from playing cricket for ten years (out of which five have been suspended), Mohammad Asif for seven years (with two years suspended), and Mohammad Amir for five years.

People, including several cricket experts, think that the players have been let off too easy and that their punishment should have been more severe. But many experts have said that this punishment will act as a warning to other players not to go the same way, otherwise we'll find ourselves in another scandal in a couple of years, or even less.

At this moment Pakistan needs an efficient PR team to help improve its global image. It won't be a bad idea for us to get "foreign experts" to teach our rulers, our so-called leaders, our politicians and showbiz personalities, as well as our sportspeople – in short Pakistanis, including the educated ones – on how to go about their business in the appropriate way. And how to project themselves and their country abroad.

Pakistanis, the celebrities, in particular, need to be trained to improve their image. They must be made aware that once they are famous they are living in a glass house; the world sees everything they do, and in a way their business becomes everyone's else's business. When they are out in the world representing their country they need to be taught to carry themselves with dignity and not get involved in, let's say, unsavoury acts.

Pakistan has enough serious problems plaguing it at the moment – with terrorism, political instability and corruption probably topping the list – and no one steering the country. While our so-called leaders participate in the shouting matches aired daily on talk shows, the country is increasingly becoming vulnerable to inside and outside pressures and threats. Are they trying to make their TV careers at the talk shows at the expense of their duty to the country?

Now the vital question: Why is it that many times when Pakistanis set out in the world to make a mark, the country ends up hanging its head in shame? This is because our so-called celebrities and stars have no sense of right or wrong. Perhaps it is because they have grown up in a society where corruption is rampant, fundamental rights are trampled, the strong crush the weak, and everyone works for their personal benefit, regardless of everyone and everything else. It's weird that some countries actually follow laws! It may be something we can't comprehend, but it does happen.

So when these people, who in some cases have been almost literally picked off the streets for their talents, are overwhelmed by the attention and run around like headless chickens.

These headless chickens – err, the clueless new celebrities – are ill-equipped to handle the sudden limelight that comes with success, because of which they unknowingly embark on a path of self-destruction (that's where they really succeed, if that's the word). And in the process pull down the image of the already struggling country.

The disregard for rules is flagrant in Pakistan. Some of us learn the hard way that it is not so in other societies. Generally, misdeeds, breaking of rules, and crime are punished in most other parts of the world. You cannot scream on talk shows like our politicians do. You cannot use your contacts for undeserved personal gain. Nor can you pay bribes to evade the law or threaten and cajole people to get your way. No, siree, outside Pakistan if you break the law, you are fined and punished. Or, as in this case, face global humiliation.

The writer is a staff member.








THE death of Shumaila Kanwal, widow of Faheem who was brutally murdered in broad daylight by Raymond Davis, is a stark reminder about dispensation of justice in this country and how vulnerable have we become because of our spineless leadership. Shumaila committed suicide in frustration apprehending that the killer of her husband would be set free and she would not get justice.

Protest demonstrations held in Faisalabad, Lahore and other parts of the country on Monday, when Shumaila was being laid to rest, depicted anger and resentment of the people and the situation would surely aggravate more if the Government ultimately succumbed to the increasing pressure from the United States for release of the murderer. There is a strong feeling that previously Americans were killing Pakistanis in drone attacks and now their agents have got licence to kill people on any street and road of the country and go scot-free. One can imagine the state of mind of the lady whose husband has been shot dead cruelly and to add salt to the injuries it is propagated that the man was a dacoit poised to loot the American. And it is the height of injustice and apathy that despite availability of concrete evidence that Raymond Davis committed double murder deliberately and not in self-defence as was claimed initially, attempts are being made not only by Americans but their cronies in Pakistan administration to present things in a manner that minimize the severity of the tragic incident, paving the way for ultimate release of the killer. The pressure tactics being applied by the United States to get him released are adding to the prevailing hate for the country that indulges in all sorts of humiliating actions against a country that is otherwise described as closest of allies and a frontline State in the war against terror. We believe that the Government should not, in any case, submit to American pressure even if it means suspension of aid, as no Pakistani worth the name would welcome assistance that comes at such a degrading cost. The United States claims to be champion of human rights and rule of law but strangely enough it is not allowing the same principles to be upheld in Pakistan for its citizen who killed two people without any justification. Why not to allow the law to take its own course? In a way Raymond Davis is also responsible for the death of Shumaila and if the United States and Pakistani authorities colluded in the release of the culprit then they would be in for more loss than benefit, if any.








ONCE again the Supreme Court has resolved to recover the loans written off by Banks from 1971 to 2009. Over 50,000 people through connections with the appropriate quarters managed to fleece Rs 256 billion of the public money by violating rules and regulations.

During hearing of the all important case on Monday, Counsel for the State Bank tried to side track the issue by proposing the formation of a commission to look into the details of the written off loans but the four-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry disagreed and directed the Central Bank to submit details of the written off loans during the past two years. It was heartening that the honourable Chief Justice warned that the Apex Court could go to any extent for the recovery of public money from the loan defaulters. That is need of the hour as people have pinned high hopes on the Supreme Court that it would do more for early recovery of the plundered money and punish those who got their loans written off on political basis instead of merit. It is a fact that majority of them siphoned the money either in other businesses or transferred it abroad. The Chief Justice, fully aware of the scam, very rightly asked the SBP Counsel to tell the court about the people who had got their loans waived and were now dying of hunger. Though recovery of the loans from over 50,000 people would be a lengthy process, one is confident that the Apex Court can expedite it. We are aware that the Supreme Court is seized with many other important issues of public interest yet hope that the case of written off loans would receive due priority as the recovery and injection of this money in the national economy would help the country to overcome its present economic and financial crisis and also serve as a deterrence for others in the future.








THE Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) has reaffirmed its complete solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and its continued support for their right to self-determination. The OIC stand on the dispute was reiterated by Assistant Secretary General of the Organization Abdullah A Alim while speaking at a function held in Jeddah in connection with Kashmir Solidarity Day.

People of Pakistan and Kashmiris are indeed thankful to the representative Organization of the Muslim world for its clear stand on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and the efforts being made towards its resolution. The complete solidarity being expressed by the OIC through its different forums is a morale booster for people of Kashmir, who are waging relentless struggle to realize their birthright. The OIC believes that the people of Jammu and Kashmir, after so many years of suffering, deserve full respect for their legitimate right to self-determination. It has been trying to explore, through the OIC offices in New York and Geneva, the Human Rights Council, international human rights groups and humanitarian organizations to prevent further violations of the human rights of the Kashmiri people and work toward helping them realize their right to self-determination. We appreciate the OIC's clear and consistent position which is of the view that violence will not lead to a lasting solution to the conflict in Kashmir and that the solution lies in fostering dialogue and peaceful negotiation between the parties concerned, including the Kashmiri people. However, while commending the OIC position on this vital issue, we would urge the apex body representing aspirations of the Ummah not to restrict itself to adoption of resolutions and issuance of statements in favour of Kashmiris and their legitimate cause. It is the duty of the OIC to work towards safeguarding of rights of the oppressed Muslims everywhere in the world and take concrete steps for the purpose. OIC has 57 member States and it constitutes roughly one-third of the UN membership and it can and should make its presence felt.








Pakistan's economic growth had started slowing down from fiscal year 2007 as a result of a number of decisions taken by our commando President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to perpetuate his hold on power. He scrapped the Constitution for the second time during his rule, imposed a state of emergency and required the superior judiciary to take fresh oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order gifted by him to the nation. The large number of High Court and Supreme Court judges who refused to take oath under the PCO were placed under house arrest. Their families were similarly treated.

There was an eruption of public anger against these repressive and autocratic actions. The lawyers led the movement which ultimately culminated in the restoration of the judges, and the announcement of general elections in early 2008. The exiled leaders were able to return to Pakistan. Due to the turmoil and upheavals caused including the assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's economy went into recession.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz who paid no taxes in Pakistan either as Finance or later as Prime Minister allowed the hydra of circular debt to rise as he thought that raising electricity tariff would dent the popularity of the Q League and diminish its prospects of winning the general elections. In the wake of Benazir assassination there was a huge sympathy vote for the Pakistan People's Party. Q League lost heavily. Prospects of commando General Pervez Musharraf continuing as President evaporated. Political uncertainty loomed large.This triggered a massive flight of capital. Foreign investment had already dried up. Due to the massive deficit in the current account, the rupee began to depreciate against the dollar. Pakistan's debt repayment ability was seriously threatened. The Government of Preident Asif Zardari had made no contingency plans. It was unable to buoy up the depressed consumer credit market. No effort was made to accelerate progress of public sector programs, to curb inflation or reduce subsidies. The continuing security threat forced rise in non-development expenditure which had to be met by curtailing the public sector development program. There were no solutions in sight for the energy crisis which forced shut down of industries, led to loss of production and jobs. This also created a crisis of confidence in the investors planning to undertake new projects. For the improvement of the economy and better governance, the N League has already proposed a ten point program on which negotiations are taking place with the government. This appears to be an exercise in futility. At best some cosmetic changes will take place and both sides will rest on their laurels. The MQM on its part has proposed a 9 point national agenda which presumably has been furnished to the government and its response is awaited. It is quite likely that some other parties including the JUI (F) of Maulana Fazlur Rehman may be planning to propose an Islamization of the economy program of action for the government. There are many prescriptions that could help improve the health of Pakistan's economy. Foremost for the country's economic revival is the crucial need to improve the existing law and order situation. The country's political and military leadership must adopt the most severe measures to restore normalcy in the country. Unless this is ensured there will be no increase in investment. Output will stagnate and unemployment will continue to rise. This will threaten to tear apart the fabric of the state. Politicians both in the government and the opposition and senior government functionaries are aware that the machinery of government has contributed to the present state of affairs.

Further, due to poor governance the management of the resources available to the federation centrally and to each of its provinces has not been sufficiently strong to obtain the best value for money. Honest and diligent officials are frustrated with systems and procedures which are cost ineffective; the population is faced with a political and bureaucratic system which is not accountable and is not responsive to their needs. In these unpredictable circumstances, the entrepreneur is faced with a set of policies which contradict each other, are counter productive and are designed to assist in increasing corruption. The most glaring example is that of the Rental Power Projects where uninvited and unsolicited bids were accepted and substantial funds were advanced.

These projects have failed to make any contribution to minimize the overall power deficit in the country. In short, to achieve economic growth and to improve the quality of life of its people, Pakistan and its constituent provinces must bring about a radical change in the way in which they are governed and managed, particularly with reference to macroeconomic management, political volatility, public administration and adequacy of institutional capacity. No amount of assistance from the U.S. or loans from the IMF will help Pakistan achieve the desired macro-economic stability unless it is able to sort out some of the basic issues outlined above. The Government of President Zardari must understand that good governance in the context of Pakistan, has to go well beyond 'good' politics or even the creation of a 'decent' society. It must enable the state, civil society and the private sector to enhance both social development and economic growth as a means to greater human development and increased levels of human welfare.

—The writer is a member of the former Civil Service of Pakistan.







Imran Khan is becoming and is building his stature by hard work, commitment, dedication and honesty of purpose. He radiates hope and courage for the frustrated and the despaired. He is an achiever in the most challenging circumstances. He believes that America is viewed by many Pakistani's as an enemy of the Muslims, because of conniving with Israel against the Palestinians and for the on going war in Afghanistan. He argues that the war on terror has got America cornered and mired in the quicksand of Afghanistan, and the only way out is an exit strategy for the US. While hundreds of thousands of Afghan men, women and children have died from US and NATO bombings and air and drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, innocent people including GI's continue to die from the unending war in Afghanistan. Washington does not agree with what he says.

His ceaseless effort to rid Pakistan of corruption in high places, nepotism of the rulers and politicians has yet to succeed. He is angry at the lust for easy money, tax evasion, refusal to return billions stacked in foreign banks by important politicians, waste of national wealth, profligate life style in the midst of poverty and destitution due to inflation and neglect by the rulers. His honesty has started impacting on the minds of millions of Pakistani's, who want a change. People want an escape from the grind of misery, and shackle of injustice and poverty, and see in Imran Khan as a leader who could deliver. The rulers do not comprehend that poor governance has marginalized the common man. The poor have been made poorer, while the rulers have a lavish life style.

The prevailing system lacks the resolve to solve peoples problems. People do not see that huge foreign aid flow for the benefit of the flood afflicted millions, and the poor is benefiting them. The masses suspect that aid money including the US aid of $ 7.5 billion under the Kerry Lugar Bill meant for them, will be pocketed by officials and politicians. According to the Red Cross four million flood afflicted people are still homeless. These are besides the starving millions below the poverty line. Pakistan's development and progress has been stunted by the lack of imagination, integrity and inefficiency of the bureaucracy and the dishonesty of money grabbers wielding power. Pakistani rulers need to learn from the happenings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. They need to wakeup before the masses come on the streets.

With over fifty five billion dollars foreign debt, they have tied a permanent noose to strangle the necks of 170 million Pakistani men, women and children. Pakistan is in fiscal quagmire. The unwise economic and industrial policies, especially power and gas load shedding has brought the industry to its knees. Seriousness to correct the fiscal chaos is the urgent need of Pakistan. Imran Khan must define his party's economic recovery policy. He needs a team of experts to formulate a policy and program for jump starting the stalled industry, and for the eradication of poverty.

Indian and Bangladeshi economy is leaping skywards, while Pakistan is heading towards bankruptcy. 65 Bangladeshi Taka's equal one US Dollar, compared to 85 Pak Rupees. Bangladesh was taunted as a "basket case" ; now Pakistan is the "basket case". Therik-e-Insaf should study the Bangladesh economic recovery model. He needs to visit Bangladesh, and meet the politicians and the experts who have turned around the economy of that country.

Will Therik-e-Insaf and Imran Khan succeed in stopping the down slide into poverty, mis-management and chaos? Asef Zardari and the Sharif's are confident that the people will again vote the PPP or the Muslim League -N back into power. They are billionaires and know how to influence people who like the smell of cash. Imran Khan has a herculean task and a big challenge to face in Pakistan's money driven politics. PPP, ML(N), ML(Q) and ANP have billion of Rupees inside and outside Pakistan. Imran Khan's social, political, health and relief ventures are based on donations and charities. With lack of morality in politics, and ability of the rich politicians to buy votes, and rig elections if need be, Imran Khan needs Allah's help and people belief and trust in his commitments and efforts. PPP sympathizers predict that PPP will return with a bigger majority at the center and in the provinces. Its vote bank is getting bigger now because of the Benazir's Income Support program. PPP has strengthened it constituencies in Sind, Punjab and Balochistan by large scale distribution of Benazir Relief Cards, and financial support of the flood afflicted. Employment and re-employment of thousands of Jayalas into PIA, KESC, The Steel Mill, the Railways and other money loosing state controlled enterprises, is good for the PPP, regardless of damage to Pakistan. The media must reveal the truth and must not cover up. Zardari, Nawaz Sharif and the ANP can play the Sind, Punjab and the Pushtun cards. Imran Khan is a man of honor and integrity and will not fool the people with such underhand and misleading slogans.

Imran Khan along with the armed forces and NGO's has made an effort to ameliorate the plight of the flood victims. His flood relief work was concentrated in some parts of Pukhtunkhawa, upper and lower Punjab, and some districts in Sind. Thousands, mostly students helped the Tehrik-e-Insaf to buy, collect and distribute relief items, food and medicines, for the flooded afflicted. In August 2010 I visited relief camps setup by the armed forces in Sukkur and Jacobabad. I saw thousands of Sindhi men women and children, starving and languishing on roads and canal sides. I found that besides the well organized Air Force and Army relief camps, there were 22 NGO relief camps in Sukkur dsitrict. The provincial administration appeared paralyzed, and there was no government transportation, or officials to guide the starving and helpless Hari's towards the relief camps. The huge banners of Minister Khurshid Shah, were for image building and did not mention any help or assistance for the flood afflicted. Government was caught unprepared, but the administrations neglect in Sind during the flood crisis cannot be forgiven or exonerated. The four million shelter less flood victims are Sindhi's and Baloch.

In Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had reached every nook and corner of the province, overseeing the flood relief personally. He issued orders and ensured that every family in the flood affected areas of South Punjab are paid Rs twenty thousand each regardless of houses collapsed / destroyed. This was to prevent petty officials ripping off the poor people by "assessment" reports by Patwari's and corrupt officials. The funds were quickly disbursed. The people of lower Punjab- Multan- Dera Ghazi Khan and Bhawalpur divisions are full of praise for Chief Minister Shabaz Sharif. The compensations paid in Sind, Baluchistan and Pukhtunkhawa, need to be made public. In Pukhtunkhawa flood and rain afflicted people were advised to submit applications for relief, with certificates from the Patwari's. Such applications force people to run from pillar to post, till they give up out of frustration. The provincial governments should reveal through White Papers, how the aid money was spent. The worst thing about the present set up is that it is not accountable. Instead of attending to serious issues at hand MPA's, Members in the Provincial Assembly's exchange abuse and fist fights.

Imran Khan and PTI volunteers did a herculean job of collecting and distributing relief goods, tents and building shelters. But because of the limited means Tehrik-e-Insaf relief work was restricted to some parts of Pukhtunkhaw and upper Punjab.

In our money driven politics and elections, billionaires from the PPP, PML-N, PML-Q, ANP will buy votes and will edge out the PTI by foul and fair means. PPP's Sind card is a strong ploy. Some of the media magnates and tycoons have their own interests, which clash with national interests. The masses, especially the students, lawyers and honest media men need to come forth, to help the PTI to face the coming challenge. PTI must start its election campaign now. Alignment and cooperation with like minded parties is not a bad thing.

It might be in order for the PTI to align with a like minded political party/ parties. Shabaz Sharif during his first stint as Chief Minister was effective and popular. He even used the Army to detect thousands of ghost schools and health care centers. Thousands of corrupt teachers, fake doctors and nurses were identified. I hope such criminals were brought to justice. His dynamism and drive was stunted this time by Governor Salman Taseer. He did a good job during the floods, and has taken significant steps to reduce wasteful expenses. In politics besides integrity, reconciliation and cooperation does payoff. Every one wishes Imran Khan, well. His partymen and sympathisers pray and hope that he succeeds.


The scribe is a former Air Marshal and Pakistan's Ambassador to the Syrian Arab Republic








The sudden surge of public discontent and resistance in the Arab countries of Tunisia, Lebanon, Sudan, Jordan, Yemen and Egypt against their respective autocratic rulers who have been in power for the last two to three decades with the convenience and active support of the West -US as much as the European countries who are otherwise trying to implement democracy even in Afghanistan!!!- is a surprising event for almost all political observers especially to the people in Muslim countries, the revolt against Ben Ali started when a grocer unable to make his both ends meet was forced by circumstances to commit suicide in Tunis, this made the people come on the streets chanting anti government slogans that made the ruler flee to take refuge in Saudi Arabia. Most of us had thought that the time of revolutions has gone and that in the face of Nuclearization of the weapon arsenal one should not try to change governments by force. But practice and the people's power has taught us a better lesson.

The people's power has already made the Tunisian ruler Ben Ali run away by handing power to his prime minister, who is still unwelcome for poverty stricken people of Tunisia though most of his cronies were forced to resign: And now the throne of Egyptian Hosni Mubarak, a lackey of the West actively supported by US for last 3 decades is shaking due to popular uprising for the last ten days. Mubarak was the right hand and vice-president of Anwar Sadat who had betrayed the cause of the Palestinian people by making peace with Israel. He had to pay for that with his life. Mubarak with the help of the US took the opportunity to take over power vowing to stick to Sadat's policy which endeared him too the West. In return for this Egypt's American debt of more then 10 billion dollar was written off at the time of Gulf War, US continued to pump billions more annually to keep Hosni Mubarak in control of throne to serve Israeli purposes.

For the last thirty years he has been undermining the Palestinian cause and not only representing Western interests in the Middle East but exploiting and suppressing his own people. This has been the result of a main coup in the history of Western domination of the Middle East: Be able to replace one dictator by another one who is as much subservient to the West as the old had been. Replacing Arafat by a non-Muslim Mahmud Abbas, replacing Hariri with his son and Sadat with Mubarak are examples of this strategy, now efforts will be made to install another traitor of Arab cause against Israel Mr. Suleiman recently appointed Vice President for unfolding this drama, this time such a cosmetic change will not be acceptable to masses.

Now a new chapter of the same story is approaching, which might be designed to divide people of Egypt in pro Mubarak and anti Mubarak camp and later pitch Shia's against Sunni in the Muslim world to create a wider gulf. Mubarak has already announced to replace his government saying he cannot leave power because that will create chaos in Egypt, but it is likely that the Egyptian people wrath will not be silenced by that. They want him to go. For that case the West has dispatched a convenient replacement who might be a trusted ally of Western interests in Egypt: Mohammad Elbaradei who for as many as twelve years has served in the IAEA a US dominated international watchdog which has been preparing the ground for the US American invasion of Iraq in 2003 on the pretext of weapons of mass destruction and which has been in the forefront of denying Iran its right of a peaceful exploration of nuclear energy and has been providing the basis for international sanctions against Iran. Having resigned from IAEA in 2009 with the appreciation of the US Elbaradei and sharing the honour of receiving the Nobel Peace prize for this with Obama, Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin is now looking for another field of activity and seems to be aspiring for the post of president of Egypt a country which plays a crucial role in the negotiations for a settlement of the Palestinian conflict. The sinister role of US policy in this conflict through their own diplomats as well as through their stooges Mahmud Abbas and Saeb Erekat has just been exposed in the recently published Wikileaks documents. Those documents which have served as an eye opener internationally might also become the stumble stone in the way of Elbaradei into his new assignment. Egyptian opposition has not accepted whole heartedly but given him the task to initiate talks for smooth transition of power to the peoples representative only to the hurriedly arrived Elbaradei as their new negotiator. He had been trying to get a highly cushioned seat in Egypt last year and had failed as well being rejected by the people. Then he had gone back to the pleasant life in Austrian Vienna where he was moving in the circles of international diplomats and bureaucrats enjoying the western life style.

This second attempt to start a political carrier in Egypt may also end in fiasco as Mubarak is retaliating to the American President who had called on him to speed up his exit from power; on which the Egyptian government has striked back swiftly. A defiant statement released by Foreign Office saying 'the calls from foreign parties had been rejected by President Mubarak' and they pushed their police force in civil dress armed with petrol bombs to combat with protestors in Tehrir square aimed to incite the internal situation in Egypt, which resulted in hundreds of casualties and a couple of deaths also. This may now lead to even a bloody coup if the Arab leaders do not intervene on situation in Egypt and force Mubarak to leave power immediately. The Egyptian people will certainly find a leader out of the ashes of this revolution, who is a son of the soil and sharing the plights of the Egyptian masses.

This eventful situation in the Middle East should be serving as a provocation to the political opposition in Pakistan. There is a dire need for change in our country also. But again, the change should be for the better, meaning not only replacement of the plunderer politicians by a set of another plunderer as is in the scheme of Western thinking, who canalso serve as US-friendly stoge and who continues the policy of ruining the country by playing to the tune of American interests in Pakistan. The wind of change is blowing and it is hopefully blowing in the right direction. The unfolding of events in Afro-Arabian world will lead to final exit of super in Asia, Middle East and Pakistan. God bless the Muslim Ummah.








There are anarchists in every society, it is for the state to control them through law and force! One of the greatest achievements of human civilization is the value of rule of law, as against the rule of man. Let it be clear here that whether it is rule of some ideology or faith, in the final analysis it is rule of man. In primitive societies also, it was sort of rules used to be imposed through heads of clans or Panchayats. This brings home an inherent regard for the life and liberty of each person; in sum his right to live a life of his choice. It is as simple as that – that as against man, rule of law is tolerant and accommodative of all the individual differences of mind and body found in human beings.

The notion of rule of law looks upon each and every person as by birth endowed with certain inalienable rights; it treats him as equal and without any discrimination; it provides equal protection of law to all; it gives every person right to be prosecuted under due process of law and prove himself innocent. That bestows the value of rule of law with an over-riding status.

Human history is replete with examples of rule of men, their ideologies and faiths, and men warring against each other and killing each other in order to impose their ideologies or faiths on others. As they gradually learned to live together with each other's differences intact, the recent history came to look much different from those bloody days. Thus, it is rule of law which brings order in an environment imbued with anarchy of conflicting cultures and creeds. In other words, it is rule of law that lets various cultures and creeds to exist side by side.

As since 1947 to this day, military might has been trampling rule of law with intermittent civilian governments also manipulating the law to their benefit, and as in the absence of rule of law the anarchists of every hue, including of religious type, found a vacuum sufficiently fertile to their flourishing, Pakistan was degraded into an anarchist state.

Actually, both dictators and civilian rulers used religious entities unsparingly to strengthen and prolong their rule and to promote their elitist interests — of course, at the cost of constitution, rule of law, and fundamental rights of the ordinary citizens; so much so that these values did not remain part of whatever little political discourse we had. The successive military takeovers and dictators' coercive rule on the one hand and incompetent, short-sighted and self-seeking politicians of manipulative temporal civilian governments on the other paved the way for anarchists to rule the roost.

What started during the last days of Pakistan Peoples Party's government (1973-1977) General Zia-ul-Haque's dictatorship actualized to its utmost potential! In order to save his and his government's skin, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in utter disregard of the constitutional values, ceded much space to religious entities. Instead of promoting the "progressive and liberal" agenda he and his party claimed to follow, he and his party's politics and style of government infused new blood into almost defunct religious entities. It seems General Zia-ul-Haque's declared agenda had its roots in the policies of its predecessor government!

It is under the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haque that state, government and religious entities merged into one. Everything underwent a check-up, if diagnosed negative, declared so, operated upon, and made to look and behave as he and his team of ideologues wished them to. The US-sponsored Afghan Jihad against the Reds proved like manna from the heavens. On it nourished the nonentities of yesterday and became leviathans of tomorrow, the militants of today, the Taliban.

General Musharraf's dictatorial rule made use of the liberal anarchism relished in the elite classes of Pakistan. No one more than him caused serious set-backs to the purpose of rule of law. He by using the launching pad erected by General Zia-ul-Haque threw Pakistan away into a wilderness of anarchy where Taliban and their covert and overt supporters seem to enjoy the sway.

This cursory look at the phenomenon of rise of anarchy coupled with its support from the military and political classes shows how instead of establishing rule of law, the anarchists were appointed against the values of rule of law and fundamental rights. On the social side also, it's sort of a daily experience how the anarchists defy law and rule of law. Not only they seem to have a sort of inborn disregard for law and rule of law, they cultivate and promote it in the coming generations also.

It's a matter of common observation how from pulpit to political and military class no respect for the law of the land is shown or taught. In addition, probably the greatest tragedy that happened to Pakistan is that the religious factor succeeded in putting everything and everyone on defensive.

How under such circumstances a value like rule of law could take root? The fire that political and military classes kindled has already reached them. This is high time they awake from their slumber and mind the responsibility the state must fulfill: to extend protection of law to each. At the same time, rule of law needs to be the only value the state must adhere with zero tolerance to save the people from falling prey to the anarchists. This should be the one-point agenda of the civil society also: to make the state fulfill its responsibility of establishing rule of law! The freedom the anarchists of all hues have been enjoying since the first day in Pakistan now needs to be brought under law; otherwise we should be ready to face a wholesale anarchy!

The writer is founder/head of the Alternate Solutions Institute.







In the face of reported global abuses, it's tempting to bemoan the lack of human rights progress. But even before protesters in Egypt and the Middle East took a historic stand for freedom, human rights has actually made big gains. Shortly before I left my position as head of Amnesty International in 2006, I gave a lecture at Syracuse University on the state of human rights around the world. At a dinner beforehand, the university president asked faculty members whether human rights were better or worse off today than they were 200 years ago. With one exception, the faculty all insisted that human rights were in worse shape. The one person who demurred from that judgement was David Crane, professor of law and former prosecutor of the War Crimes Tribunal for Sierra Leone. He pointed out that the notion of bringing perpetrators of war crimes before an international court would have been inconceivable in 1806. I added that, in fact, the notion of universal human rights was not even a recognised concept then.

I often think of this conversation when listening to people bemoan how little human rights progress the world seems to be making. Of course, it is true that terrible human rights violations continue to occur on a daily basis, and no one would deny the need for far more effective enforcement of human rights laws.

But when I reflect on all that has changed in the first decade of the 21st century alone, I cannot help but agree with Martin Luther King, Jr.'s popular summary of Theodore Parker's idea that "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

Middle East unrest a sign of progress In this new decade, today's unrest in the Middle East – however complicated with violence and uncertainty – may be another testament to this progress, depending on what comes after each regime. The wave of popular uprisings now threatening autocrats across the Arab world appears to represent an extraordinary step toward greater freedom and improved human rights in the region.

Just a few months ago, not many would have thought the ouster of Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to be possible. In Egypt, even as pro-Mubarak supporters launched a violent crackdown against activists, human rights representatives, journalists, and citizens, anti-government protestors persevered in the message that has already earned unprecedented concessions from the Egyptian regime. While struggles in the Middle East and other parts of the globe continue, it's encouraging to take stock of how far the cause of human rights really has come.

The Christian Science Monitor









IF Wayne Swan's declaration that "fiscal discipline is the rock on which we build" is to amount to anything more than rhetoric, Penny Wong must be a rigorous Finance Minister in the mould of her predecessor Peter Walsh, the "Dr No" of the Hawke-Keating governments. Senator Wong will need to stare down cabinet colleagues intent on more funding for pet projects if the government is serious about returning the federal budget to surplus by 2012-13. The dent to mineral and agricultural exports from this summer's natural disasters and the cost of rebuilding make the fiscal challenge harder. But it is encouraging that the cuts already made, such as "cash for clunkers", are from her former portfolio, showing she has turned a critical eye to programs she administered.

The appointment of former Liberal finance minister John Fahey to lead the inspectorate to avoid waste in Queensland's flood and cyclone recovery is a tacit acknowledgement that Labor failed to provide taxpayers with good value for the $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution and other stimulus programs. The appointment is also slick politics, designed to allow Labor to sidestep any criticisms of the recovery programs.

Beyond managing the impact of the natural disasters, Senator Wong needs to reverse years of profligate spending by the Rudd government and the Howard government in its later years. Spending must be slashed and the proceeds of the boom reinvested in productive infrastructure and building national wealth. Her department's Red Book pointed to the need for welfare reform, an area in which Mr Walsh excelled when he means-tested the age pension and set out to differentiate between the truly disadvantaged and "rent-seeking spivs" and "hairy-legged Stalinists". Senator Wong should also heed Mr Walsh's quip that the Rudd government's industry policy was reminiscent of communist Russia. Propping up the car industry with billions of dollars in protectionism is an unproductive drain on the public purse.

And she has wide scope to act on the Auditor-General's report, which warned that taxpayers may be getting poor value in three-quarters of government purchases, with agencies failing to compare prices when buying goods and services worth more than $10bn a year. Senator Wong's rigorous scrutiny of spending will be vital if the government is to manage its immediate challenges and achieve lasting reform.






Leading the federal opposition is said to be the toughest job in the country, and there is a felicitous reason for that being so. The myriad trials of the job are well suited to preparing the incumbent for the most important position in the nation, the prime ministership. So far, Tony Abbott has demonstrated a visceral understanding of the antagonistic aspects that are crucial to an opposition leader's task, and that took him to within a whisker of election victory. As he aspires to lead the nation, his challenge is to broaden his range and demonstrate there is more to his political persona, that he is not a one-trick Tony.

The Australian has declared its support for the government's proposed flood levy on the basis that it is economically justifiable and politically smart. One-off levies have been used effectively by governments in the past, receiving bipartisan support along the way. The Opposition Leader proposed a levy himself at the last election to fund his generous parental leave promise. The flood levy will cover some, but not all, of the financial pain of the summer's natural disasters; it demonstrates to the people of Queensland that the entire nation shares their suffering; and it helps to ensure that in the future we do return to a balanced budget.

Mr Abbott's knee-jerk rejection of the measure (which he rather defensively volunteered yesterday was approved by a full Coalition leadership phone hook-up) has helped to focus attention on the government's financial management. But that was an issue the opposition had already successfully highlighted, as evidenced by Julia Gillard's pre-emptive appointments of Brad Orgill and John Fahey to oversee the new spending. The Coalition still could have remained vigilant on all recovery spending, even with renewed vigour, as a consequence of giving the government its way on the levy. In doing so, Mr Abbott would have protected the integrity of his signature line about "stopping the great big new taxes" by seeing his way clear to support, in the national interest, a small, temporary impost. As our Newspoll showed this week, a clear majority of Australians is relaxed about the proposal. These people will be tempted to see the opposition's rejection as an affront to their own generosity. Instead of embracing this opportunity, Mr Abbott has forced himself to find replacement budget cuts for the levy. So, with the government under considerable pressure to deliver, he has committed the cardinal political error of turning the focus on to himself.

He has also exposed divisions and dissatisfaction within his own ranks. Liberal MPs were right to be concerned about these cuts focusing on the low-hanging fruit of foreign aid. The Australian would always support the stringent assessment of foreign aid spending, demanding value for money and tangible benefits both for the recipients and our own national interests. To this end, a close examination of African aid (perhaps aimed more at Labor's UN Security Council ambitions rather than our own national responsibilities) would have been most prudent.

Cutting education aid to the nascent Muslim democracy of Indonesia, our close neighbour and partner in crucial trans-national issues such as people-smuggling, appears short-sighted and self-defeating. It puts the spotlight on Mr Abbott's foreign policy credentials and has left some of his own MPs shaking their heads. The Opposition Leader needs to arrest this internal dissent, which has bubbled to the surface since the seemingly trivial faux pas of his call for donations in a party newsletter exposed tensions about the relationship between his office and Liberal Party headquarters.

The genius of Mr Abbott's political aggression mostly has exposed the government's weaknesses. However, at the start of a testing parliamentary year, he must show that he can match the Prime Minister's reform agenda and convince the public he should be their next prime minister. The Coalition would be foolish to pin all its hopes on an early transition to government at the whim of the independents. It would be wiser to work on a two-year plan of policy and personnel development, to make the case that they can govern more effectively than Labor. In order to do that, Mr Abbott will need to show he can propose as well as oppose.







The only positive thing to be said about the ferocious bushfires that destroyed 72 homes and burnt out more than 1170ha of the Perth foothills east of the city is that no lives have been lost. When the danger has passed, the West Australian government has serious issues to investigate, especially whether sufficient controlled burning was undertaken to control the build-up of forest fuel, and if not, why not. Lack of back burning has contributed to fire problems in other states.

Serious questions must also be asked about the performance of the state's Fire and Emergency Services Authority's telephone and text warning system. Some residents reported that it worked well, but others did not receive messages or received them long after they had been forced to evacuate their homes. After a hot, dry summer, the blaze moved rapidly, but the emergency warning issued at 1.30pm telling residents to move immediately as their homes would be affected in just 20 minutes gave minimal notice. The FESA website also appeared tardy in updating residents as the disaster unfolded on Sunday. In analysing the response and preparing for future fires, the WA government will have much to learn from the recommendations of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission inquiry into the tragic 2009 bushfires that killed 173 people.






THE Leader of the Opposition, Barry O'Farrell, has dipped a toe in the turbulent waters of the maelstrom that is planning in Sydney. He told a forum in western Sydney yesterday that he would change the balance in the Keneally government's plans for metropolitan-area development. Present plans foresee infill development - medium-density and high-rise housing replacing detached dwellings or former factories in existing suburbs - housing 70 per cent of Sydney's extra population, and new housing only 30 per cent. O'Farrell wants to set the balance at 50:50.

He is motivated in part by the experience of his own constituents in Kuring-gai, where infill policies have brutalised parts of a garden suburb with insensitive development to take advantage of existing transport and other infrastructure. O'Farrell argues, rightly, that infill development does not remove the need for new infrastructure. He cites passenger loads on the North Shore line, now 150 per cent of capacity during peak hour. Roads too are clogged. And new residents need more parks, playgrounds, schools, libraries too - wherever they are. Infill development is not - or rather, should not be - the cheap option.

But his rebalancing of development towards already nominated growth areas in the north-west and south-west means faster development on the fringes - not an ideal trend in spread-out Sydney. It explains, too, the priority he has assigned to rail links to those areas before the missing Parramatta-to-Epping link is built, which Canberra backs.

So far, so partisan. If that were all, an O'Farrell government might appear not much different on planning questions from any of the different administrations that have washed through Macquarie Street as the Labor leadership has changed: each leader brings a new approach and different priorities; vast projects are proposed, started and then cancelled, often at colossal expense.

O'Farrell, though, is proposing to end this wasteful confusion by establishing a body, Infrastructure NSW, that will establish 20-year priorities and a more immediate five-year funding plan. By setting decisions at one remove from politics, he hopes to achieve something approaching a consensus about development projects. Anyone who has observed the NSW Parliament in session will have doubts about whether consensus on anything is possible here - but let us hope those doubts are unfounded. It is a good idea. It will be even better, too, if O'Farrell can bring the budget of the Roads and Traffic Authority under Infrastructure NSW, so transport planning can be genuinely balanced between roads and other modes. But that clean sweep may be asking too much of even the newest new broom.






FOUR people die and 80 are seriously injured every day on Australia's roads. Bad as those figures are, they represent a marked improvement on the casualty rate two decades ago, when with fewer cars on the road almost twice as many people were dying. Despite random breath testing, drink is still a factor in 30 per cent of the deaths and 9 per cent of the serious injuries. When Australia's transport ministers next meet, they will be discussing a draft national road safety strategy to reduce the death toll further. If they adopt it, the aim will be to reduce fatalities and serious injuries on the roads by 30 per cent by 2020.

One proposal, as we reported yesterday, is to cut the blood alcohol limit for drivers up to age 25 from 0.05 per cent to 0.02 per cent. According to the draft, it has been claimed such a reduction would have a similar benefit to raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21, without the same level of impact on the community. Precisely what the phrase ''level of impact'' refers to is unclear - nor is it clear why the effect would be comparable if the two age groups are so different. The draft also suggests that new cars be fitted with alcohol interlocks - a breath test that would prevent a car from starting if the driver was over the limit. Interlocks can now be fitted at the discretion of a court to cars driven by those convicted of drink-driving.

The draft is thus suggesting the introduction of a whole new, stricter level of sanctions against drink-driving. It raises the possibility that the new 0.02 limit will be extended to all drivers. Presumably the young would be the first in line, and then if fatality statistics improve, it could be extended to the rest.

It may seem perverse to argue against any measure that preserves lives on the roads, but we believe targeting young people for this stealthy innovation is unfair and possibly counterproductive. Already rules that ban young drivers from carrying more than one passenger late at night appear to have had unintended consequences. The evidence is only anecdotal, but the practice of hiding passengers in a car boot - with all the dangers involved - appears to have become more common since the one-passenger rule came into force. We can expect similarly unintended consequences from age-based blood-alcohol limits. If the 0.02 limit is worth having - and the community has yet to decide - it should apply to all drivers.





PEOPLE are surprisingly poor in their assessment of risk and their ability to manage it. Recent natural disasters across Australia have provided all too many tragic examples. More lives are lost, however, as a result of a mundane, but very common, example of poor risk assessment: the use of mobile phones by drivers. Victorian Police Minister Peter Ryan has swiftly rejected a proposal to the nation's transport ministers to ban hands-free devices, saying this would disrupt ''the way in which people live their lives''. Public opposition to such a ban would probably be so strong as to bring the law into disrepute, but that does not alter the inherent dangers of distraction while driving at speed a vehicle weighing a tonne or more.

The draft national road safety report states: ''There is evidence to support bans on all mobile phone use while driving.'' That evidence shows a ''significant increase in casualty crash risk, regardless of whether the phone is hand-held or hands-free''. Local and overseas studies show that using mobile phones makes drivers about four times more likely to crash and the effect on their driving is equivalent to a blood-alcohol level of .08.

More alarmingly still, about 70 per cent of drivers between 18 and 25 admitted using text messaging while driving. The 2009 survey was conducted by Monash University Accident Research Centre, which also used a simulator to test driver reactions. Texting increased the time their eyes were off the road by more than 400 per cent. In the US, a study of actual driving situations found texting makes a motorist 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near-accident. Clearly, this is an utterly unacceptable level of risk, but any mobile phone use does increase crash risk.

For years, police have observed that the main causes of road deaths are speed, alcohol and drugs, fatigue and mobile phones. A generation ago, drinking and driving was a way of life, until the soaring road toll forced the community to change its ways. Today, the use of mobile phones and related technology presents a similar obstacle to reducing Victoria's annual road toll of just under 300 deaths.

The law was changed in 2009 to stop drivers using hand-held phones. Even before the tougher restrictions, more than 40,000 drivers a year were being fined for using mobile phones, making this one of the top three driving offences. As for the hands-free law, any road user can see that it is widely flouted. In every police traffic blitz, the number of drivers caught breaking this law is two to three times the number over the alcohol limit. Just outlawing the behaviour is not enough to change attitudes.

A way must be found to reinforce the message that distracted drivers are deadly. The Age notes that the legal penalties attach significantly more weight to drink driving than to mobile phone use. Phone offences incur three demerit points, whereas a driver who exceeds the .05 limit incurs 10 demerit points and three penalty units, for a fine of $358.35. A blood-alcohol level of .07 to .15 incurs licence cancellation.

Safe driving depends on prompt reactions to any road hazard. This requires drivers to be alert and to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Hands-free mobiles are less of a visual distraction, so many people see them as no different from chatting with passengers. Yet crash risk still rises - studies differ only on the degree of increase - but Mr Ryan is probably right in his assessment that drivers will refuse to accept a total ban. In time, other technology may reduce the risks by detecting hazards, alerting drivers when a vehicle strays off course or blocking calls in heavy traffic.

The driver still bears the ultimate responsibility for road safety. As with drink-driving and speeding in the past, a change of attitudes is needed, so more drivers acknowledge the inherent dangers of distraction and strive to minimise their phone use. Nothing - and certainly no phone call - can be more important than the lives of road users.






IF LEADERS are defined by their response to crises, Tony Abbott's performance during Australia's summer of natural disasters is cause for concern. On the question of how best to pay for the rebuilding of the swaths of Queensland and Victoria damaged by floods and cyclone Yasi, the Opposition Leader has displayed an unhealthy combination of mean-spiritedness and populism.

The Age has reservations about the Gillard government's decision to seek to raise $1.8 billion through a flood levy; we are yet to be persuaded that the money could not be found within the confines of the budget, through extra spending cuts, increased borrowing, or a combination of both. Certainly Mr Abbott is entitled to argue there should be deeper cuts and no levy, although his quick condemnation of the latter as another ''great big new tax'' from the Labor government was inconsistent, to say the least, given that as recently as last year the Coalition had proposed a levy to pay for its paid parental leave policy.

But some of the spending cuts proposed by Mr Abbott raise worrying questions about the sort of principles he would bring to policy debates in government. Detailing his alternative floods fund yesterday, the Opposition Leader advocated cutting into Australia's foreign aid budget. He wants to save $400 million by deferring Australian government assistance to Indonesian schools. That is another inconsistency from the Liberal leader; the schools program was introduced by the Howard cabinet.

More disturbing still is the revelation that in the shadow cabinet debate that preceded yesterday's announcement, Mr Abbott proposed cutting Australia's foreign aid to Africa. That is an appalling proposition from a First World political leader. The deprivations of Australians pale beside those of millions of Africans who lack food and clean water, and Australia's moral obligation to help the poorest continent on earth is not diminished by the fact that our country is prone to floods, fires and cyclones. Indeed, as Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop pointed out to Mr Abbott during the shadow cabinet debate, the Coalition went to last year's election promising to increase Australia's foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2015 - still below the 0.7 per cent goal long advocated by the United Nations. In seeking to explain away this latest inconsistency, Mr Abbott said yesterday: ''We believe that charity begins at home.'' Such glib populism is unworthy of an alternative prime minister.








Floods, fires and even earthquakes and volcanoes have become political events all over the world, polarising public opinion and sometimes contributing to the fall of governments. Now that the line between natural and man-made disasters has been blurred by a changed understanding of our impact on the planet, every disaster sets off a search for causes and culprits. This is made more contentious by arguments over the degree of human responsibility that have increased the tension between right and left in many countries. The inevitable result seems to be that political leaders are finding themselves more and more in the firing line when nature springs its nasty surprises.

The war over the causes of climate change, in particular, has been waged nowhere more fiercely than in Australia, a country whose knife-edge ecology makes it especially vulnerable. Floods in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales, Cyclone Yasi, and now a dismal coda with bushfires around Perth in Western Australia, have made disaster control and prevention the issues of the day in what is normally Australia's switched-off summer holiday period. Even so, it is surprising that support for the Australian government has tumbled so precipitately. If an election was held today, prime minister Julia Gillard and the Labor party would be swept from office, according to a poll published in the Australian.

From afar the prime minister has looked to be making not too bad a fist of it. She organised federal resources reasonably effectively, and has come up with a reconstruction tax on wealthier households that has won the approval of the majority of Australians. But they seem to feel that she has not sufficiently felt their pain, though the tears this normally rather wooden politician choked back in the Australian parliament yesterday may shift that view. She has not mismanaged the disasters – far from it – but she has not emerged from them as an inspiring figure in the way that Rudolph Giuliani did from 9/11, or even Gordon Brown did, briefly, from a combination of bombs and floods at the beginning of his premiership.

The broader context is of an Australian political class which has been timid in dealing with environmental matters. Lack of support in his own Liberal party for an emissions trading scheme brought down Malcolm Turnbull, while the former Labor leader Kevin Rudd lost his job to Ms Gillard for a similar reason. She has now taken up the cudgels for emissions trading in a determined way. But all the trimming and the U-turning has taken its toll. As Australians grasp how big the environmental challenge is, they may be indicating at some level that they want their politicians to be as big as the challenge.






They were "spivs and gamblers", boomed business secretary Vince Cable last September. Bankers, he told the Lib Dem faithful at their party conference, had done "more harm to the British economy than [RMT union leader] Bob Crow could achieve in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies, while paying themselves outrageous bonuses." He went on: "There is much public anger about banks and it is well deserved."

Vince Cable was not speaking from the Olympian distance of opposition, but as a cabinet minister. And while the onetime scourge of the bankers may have put matters more plainly than his coalition colleagues, David Cameron and George Osborne had also stuck it to the Masters of the Universe. For the Conservatives, the readiness to talk tougher to the City than Gordon Brown was a big part of their campaign to show voters how they had changed. Yet just nine months after taking office, the righteous anger of the prime minister and his chancellor has given way to warnings against "banker-bashing". The big pledges to remake finance have also been dropped – less than three years after the biggest banking crisis since the 1920s. Instead, the government touts its heavily watered-down reforms as strong stuff, makes weak policy on the hoof and is reduced to pleading with top bankers to pay themselves less. Far from taking unruly financiers by the scruff of the neck, Mr Cameron and his ministers are struggling to catch up with them.

There are three big areas of immediate concern in British banking, which could be defined as taxes, pay and lending. On all of them the government's performance has been weak. Let us begin with the issue of taxing banks. Yesterday the chancellor made much of his decision to raise the levy on financial institutions by £800m. While the new total of £2.5bn sounds a lot, it is roughly the same as the pool for bonuses at just one British bank, Barclays. It is less than the £3.5bn raised last year by Labour's bonus tax, and about a fifth of the money that will be paid by shoppers and businesses as part of the coalition's VAT rise. Scrambling around for new policies, all Mr Osborne managed was to bring forward a tax rise that he had already announced last summer. So much for a new toughness.

The second issue is pay. Next Tuesday Barclays will reveal how much it is paying in bonuses – the day before the latest unemployment figures come out. If the numerous reports are true, new chief executive Bob Diamond is set to scoop a £9m bonus, even while nearly a million youngsters are on the dole. Needless to say, ministers are not blind to the politics of this. Back in the summer of 2009 George Osborne told this paper: "It is totally unacceptable for bank bonuses to be paid on the back of taxpayer guarantees. It must stop." Barclays enjoys precisely those guarantees that the former shadow chancellor was talking about but, far from stopping such payments, ministers have been reduced to pleading with bankers to show greater restraint. Fat chance. Even the most minor measure proposed by Labour of getting banks to reveal how much they pay out to top earners has been all but shelved.

The government was meant to have unveiled a plan weeks ago to get banks to lend more to businesses. Yet the details of Project Merlin, as it is codenamed, have still to be finalised. In all likelihood, it will amount to a commitment by financiers to lend to creditworthy businesses at commercial rates of interest. These are vague terms that the bankers will surely use to explain their current miserliness with credit – after all, creditworthiness and commercial concerns are in the eye of the beholder. Yet again, the coalition has been outsmarted by the City.

"Cash for the economy – not cash for the bonuses," promised Mr Osborne in one of his many tough speeches as shadow chancellor. In office, however, he and Mr Cameron have presided over the very opposite.








Charles James Fox began his Essay Upon Wind with this disclaimer: "I think I hear the Curious Reader exclaim, 'Heavens! That the brain of man should be set to work upon such cursed nonsense – such damned low stuff as farting; he ought to be ashamed of straining his dull faculties to such a nasty absurd subject.'" Yet the brain of man remains as fascinated with the subject today as it was in Fox's time, to judge by the number of hits which internet items on Malawi's supposed ban on farting have attracted. One says "supposed" because that country's justice minister appears to have been speaking either in error or in jest when he said a provision to criminalise farting was included in a new law. He may even – who knows ? – have been trying to cover up an emission of his own by a sudden burst of chatter. That is one of the many techniques used to distract attention in such a situation. The most obvious is to look pointedly at another person, sometimes combining this with a batting motion of the hands. However, farting etiquette hardly ends there. If you are in audience with a royal person who breaks wind, for example, the subject apologises, not the prince. And the fart can be art, as was recounted by the Guardian's Paris correspondent Peter Lennon in a famous 1960s piece on the French music hall performer Joseph Pujol. Suppressing farts, Jonathan Swift believed, leads to congestion of the brain, adding: "If in open Air it fires, In harmless Smoke its Force expires." Malawi ministers, take note.






This week marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan. While Ronaldus Magnus (as he is known among some admirers) was not made president for life and beyond like North Korea's Kim Il Sung, 23 years after his term in office ended he remains the lodestar for U.S. conservatives and the Republican Party. That is darkly ironic since honest conservatives concede that Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today. Still, understanding Ronald Reagan, the man and the myth, is essential to understanding the United States.

Ronald Reagan was born Feb. 6, 1911, and grew up in Illinois. He struggled as an actor, discovering eventually that his political instincts were better than his skills as a thespian. A self-professed Democrat in his early years, his tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild and role as pitchman for General Electric pushed him to the right in his politics. He debuted on the national political stage in 1964, backing GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater at the Republican National Convention. He was elected governor of California in 1966 and won a second term four years later.

In 1976, he made his first bid for the presidency, losing out to Gerald Ford, who was then defeated by Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter on a tide of anti-Watergate sentiment. He spent the next four years consolidating his position as leader of the conservative movement and won the GOP nomination and the presidency in 1980. He occupied the White House for two terms, in many ways redefining the terms of U.S. politics. Here the legacy gets tricky.

For his disciples, Reagan the president governed according to simple and consistent rules. As he explained in his 1980 inaugural address, for him government was the problem, never the solution. Small government solutions were always preferred. That view led him to oppose taxes — to unleash the power of the American capitalist and "to starve the beast" — as well as to shrink Washington's authority via deregulation and the devolution of power to state and local governments. At the same time, he was a cultural conservative who brought religious groups into the GOP and shifted the party away from its traditional promotion of individual liberties to taking a side in the culture wars.

In foreign policy, Reagan was a fierce nationalist who dismissed detente as acquiescing to evil; he was the man who called the Soviet Union "the empire of evil." A resolute, hardnosed and principled strategist, Reagan demanded that Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev "tear down" the Berlin Wall, opposed the return of the Panama Canal and promised to fight communism wherever it appeared. For Reagan, freedom was an absolute value to be defended and extended at all costs.

That is the Ronald Reagan that Republicans remember and venerate. Every GOP candidate invokes his name. At a presidential debate among Republican candidates in January 2008, he was referred to at least 53 times. Everyone with an eye on the 2012 nomination, from former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin to Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, pledges to govern in his spirit.

The problem is that Reagan the president governed by a much more complex formula and those principles were quickly jettisoned when they proved inconvenient. Democrats, for example, are quick to point out that Reagan actually increased taxes in 1982 and even raised capital gains taxes and closed tax loopholes in 1986. In fact, he raised taxes seven out of the eight years he was in office.

The opponent of small government increased the size of the federal government — adding a new Cabinet-level agency — and the budget. The avowed enemy of big government tripled the size of the federal deficit while he was in the White House. He even signed a bill offering amnesty to illegal aliens, a move that would be apostasy among conservatives today.

On foreign policy, he met with the enemy — remember Iran-Contra and the birthday cake in the shape of a key? — and even broached the prospect of a world without nuclear weapons during one of his meetings with Mr. Gorbachev, leader of "the evil empire." He agreed to negotiations with terrorists to secure the release of U.S. hostages, a gambit that ultimately failed.

In short, the real Reagan legacy, say real students of his life, is pragmatism. As president, Ronald Reagan was prepared to solve problems, even if that meant reaching across the aisle to work with his adversaries and abandoning the bumper-sticker rhetoric. He was tough, but he was also flexible. He had convictions, but they guided him, rather than constrained him. Even Democrats embrace this Reagan. In his last State of the Union address, observers highlighted President Barack Obama's "Reagan-like optimism."

Here perhaps is the most important element of the Reagan legacy. In office, Reagan liked to refer to Thomas Jefferson's notion that the U.S. was "a shining city on the hill." That spirit was captured in the 1984 re-election campaign ad that proclaimed it was "morning in America." Ronald Reagan was an optimist who refused to believe that his country could not and would not be better. That belief sustained him and his country. His willingness to make that potential real — even if it meant shaving his principles — made Ronald Reagan a success. That may not fit the myth, but it is the man — and should guide all those who seek to claim his mantle.






SINGAPORE — Even as global food prices hit record levels, rising in January for the seventh month in a row amid concerns about future shortages, fish farming is a bright spot in the generally challenging outlook for food production. This is why Japan and many other Asian countries are so interested in aquaculture.

In the past, most fish have been caught in the wild. However, in recent decades, a rapidly growing volume and range of fish have been raised in tanks and ponds on land, or in cages and nets in oceans, lakes and rivers, helping to meet growing demand for protein. Aquaculture is now a $100 billion industry.

Asia has led the way in production and exports of both wild capture and farmed fish, making an increasingly important contribution to the region's food security, while providing expanded employment opportunities and alleviating poverty.

Southeast Asia accounts for one-quarter of all fish for human consumption produced in Asia. Worldwide, fisheries support the livelihoods of about 540 million people, or 8 percent of the population.

But the most striking development has been in fish farming. The latest estimate from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is that aquaculture will meet more than half of all food fish consumption by next year.

Most traditional wild fisheries are being over exploited or harvested at the maximum yield at which stocks can be sustained. So fish farming is seen as a key way to increase supply in a world hungry for protein. The growing supply of affordable fish in Asia has contributed to rapid urbanization and industrialization, and thus to economic growth.

Global production of food fish from aquaculture, including fin fishes, crustaceans, mollusks and other aquatic animals, reached nearly 53 million tons in 2008, according to the FAO's annual report on the state of world fisheries published Jan. 31. In 1950, production was less than 1 million tons a year.

As demand grew and technology improved, aquaculture output rose at an average annual rate of 8.3 percent between 1970 and 2008, while the world population increased much more slowly at just 1.6 percent a year.

As a result, the average annual supply of farmed fish has risen 10-fold, from less than 1 kg in 1970 to nearly 8 kg in 2008. Aquaculture production has been growing at three times the rate of world meat production since 1950.

In China, the world's largest fish farmer, just over 80 percent of fish consumed by humans in 2008 was from aquaculture, up from 24 percent in 1970. Asia as a whole accounts for nearly 90 percent of global production from fish farming and over three-quarters of its value.

Of the 15 leading producers, 11 are Asian economies. The top six are all in Asia. While China is by far the biggest, it is followed by India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh.

The expansion of fish farming in Asia has been impressive. But will it continue? The Global Aquaculture Alliance, a trade association, says that output must double in the next 10 years to keep pace with demand, particularly from a growing middle class in Asia and other parts of the developing world.

Ideally, as fish farming expands, it should provide a breathing space for wild fisheries to recover. "In a world likely to face a future of increasing food prices and decreasing food security, it is becoming more and more apparent that running down one fishery after another is a disaster in the making," says Alfred Schumm, a fisheries specialist with the WWF conservation group.

The FAO report found that the proportion of marine fish stocks estimated to be under exploited or moderately exploited declined from 40 percent in the mid-1970s to 15 percent in 2008, whereas the ratio of over exploited, depleted or recovering stocks increased from 10 percent in 1974 to 32 percent in 2008. The proportion of fully exploited stocks has remained relatively stable at about 50 percent of the total since the 1970s.

"That there has been no improvement in the status of stocks is matter of great concern," said senior FAO fisheries expert Richard Grainger, one of the report's editors. "The percentage of over exploitation needs to go down, although at least we seem to be reaching a plateau."

Aquaculture is not as separate from wild fishing as it may seem. This is because wild fish are widely used to make the fishmeal and fish-oil components for feeding farmed fish. Availability and high cost of feed is one of the constraints to future aquaculture expansion. Pollution and environmental degradation are problems. So, too, are shortage of land, fresh water and suitable baby wild fish to build stocks of farmed fish.

Meanwhile, in Southeast Asia the trend in fish farming is to go offshore because most countries in the region have extensive coastlines. As a result, mariculture has become the fastest growing part of the business.

Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore.








Special to The Japan Times

HONG KONG — It's official. Japan, which economists and other pundits predicted 20 years ago was heading to the very top of the global league by about now, has in terms of 2010 gross domestic product slumped to No. 3.

The U.S. is No. 1, but sickly, running the biggest budget deficit ever recorded, a huge $1.5 trillion. China is No. 2 and aggressively rising.

Japan is an also-ran headed to the second division any way you measure its prowess: by sheer economic numbers, by industrial might, political weight, diplomatic influence and military muscle.

Of course, GDP numbers and league tables are bogus. What really matters is how comfortable people feel, their quality of life, having a job and sufficient income to eat, pay bills and save for a rainy day, being able to confront sickness and old age without being forced into destitution, with a secure political umbrella, and leaders who are respected and not pushed around.

Japanese immediately retort that their lifestyles are the envy of anybody anywhere and their streets the safest in the world, though they hesitate about expressing confidence in their politicians. But the situation is changing rapidly: Japanese are like a frog swimming in a comfortable warm bath unaware that the heat is being turned up.

It is not merely the massive government debts, twice GDP, nor the heavy budget deficit, nor the rapidly aging population — 22 percent already over 65 — which will add cripplingly to government health and welfare bills, but the continuing hollowing out of Japan's industry, the lack of new job opportunities and the failure of political imagination to see a way of breaking the stranglehold of vested interests on economic and social life.

Hard-pressed Prime Minister Naoto Kan has woken up to some of the problems and is trying desperately, waving and perhaps drowning, to signal that it is time to get to grips with the government's massive debts. He has appointed a renowned "fiscal hawk," the curmudgeonly Kaoru Yosano, to be economic and fiscal policy minister tasked with putting Japan's fiscal house in order and raising the 5 percent consumption tax.

He has asked other political leaders to help him solve the intractable problems of a heavily indebted economy through a grand brainstorming debate. He's also tempting big business with promises of reducing the 40 percent burden of corporation tax, one of the heaviest burdens in the world.

For this show of grit, the Japanese public has rewarded Kan with approval ratings that have risen to 32 percent. That's probably about right, a lot better than his string of predecessors, but not a mark for a man on top of the job.

Even an innumerate can work out that doubling the consumption tax from 5 percent will not do much for the popular mood and will depress the economy — yet some economists say that a tax of 20 percent may be necessary really to fix the black hole in the budget.

In any case it is not going to happen easily. Kan's many opponents, outside and inside his Democratic Party of Japan, are not going to go to his brainstorming party. Their priority is to turf him out of power, even before attending to the budget and deficit problems. Robert Feldman, chief economist of Morgan Stanley MUFJ, lists 10 contradictions covering almost the whole battlefield of Japan's political and economic life that pose insurmountable problems.

Just to take his efforts to clean up Japan's household finances, Kan cannot pass the budget implementation bills without a stable coalition; and he cannot create a stable coalition without disrupting the unity of his own party. He cannot keep the party together unless the widely hated "Shadow Shogun" Ichiro Ozawa stays inside; yet Kan will be unable to gain popular support unless he kicks Ozawa out.

Slightly beyond that, Kan cannot get to grips with Japan's underlying economic problems without a consumption tax hike, spending cuts and growth policies that undercut vested interests; but he would have to show guts and leadership qualities rare in history to win an election based on tax increases and spending cuts.

Then there is a whole obstacle race of contradictions further ahead, involving relations between the bureaucracy and politicians, election reform, economic progress, the future of industry, international trade, and defense relations under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The economic pressures on beleaguered Japan grow daily. Akio Toyoda, president of the flagship Toyota Motor Corporation, has warned again that with the yen at 82 to the dollar and creeping again toward all-time highs of 80, his company will have to take a hard look at how many of its vehicles can profitably be made in Japan. Companies are squeezing on new hiring, and almost a third of fresh college graduates have been unable to find jobs. Economists running the gloomy numbers have projected that Japan's economy may fall behind South Korea, which has only 50 million people against Japan's 126 million, by 2022.

The logically classic way to deal with dilemmas is to escape between their horns. In Japan's case, this would mean going for growth, that would promote well-being and jobs and revenues to counter the effects of cuts and tax increases. But growth and seizing new opportunities seem far from Japanese minds.

I asked Mikako Hayashi, a clinical, teaching and research associate professor of endodontology at Osaka University, who is one of the most thoughtful Japanese. Her job allows her to listen to the dreams and fears of patients and to survey the attitudes of the next generation of bright students, while she keeps a close eye on international trends through her own research.

"Japan is becoming a nation of 'shoganai,' " she said. "The word literally means, 'It can't be helped' or 'nothing I can do', but it has negative connotations of being determined not to do anything, just happy to be stuck. It is a depressing attitude, seen in large numbers of teenagers who are taking to wearing flu masks because they want to live in their own worlds." She added another phrase that is in vogue, "the Galapagos effect."

"It usually refers to very high-tech products, such as mobile phones, electronics, electronic money, designed only for the Japanese market, which leave the rest of the world behind. The trouble is that it is Japan that is being left behind by these self-centered views.

"It is time we looked in a mirror that allows us to show ourselves and compares us with what is happening elsewhere, especially in China and Korea. They may not have our cutting edge products, but they are going round and behind and developing good and profitable products that the world wants to buy.

"We in Japan have much to offer and much to learn. If we don't, Japan is going to be a very uncomfortable place, especially for the diminishing numbers of our children and grandchildren."

Kevin Rafferty is a veteran journalist.







It was only two days after the brutal attack on Ahmadis in Pandeglang, Banten, that killed three people and only hours after a bus plunged into a 20-meter-deep ravine in Temanggung, Central Java, killing 11 of the passengers on board, that a large crowd of people in the same Central Java town took the law into their own hands on Tuesday.

The violence erupted immediately after a hearing session at the Temanggung District Court commenced and one of the prosecutors had just finished reading their five-year sentence demand for 58-year-old Antonius Richmond Bawengan, a Christian, for allegedly committing blasphemy when he distributed books and leaflets that "spread hatred about Islam". But according to local Catholic priests, Antonius also offended Catholicism.

 We strongly condemn the crowd's violent acts as they were not only unlawful, but also shameful because they occurred in front of the watchful eyes of on-duty police officers and immediately escalated and nearly paralyzed the usually quiet town, ransacking at least three churches, two police stations and setting ablaze a number of cars and motorcycles.

It is true that enforcement from the Central Java Police's Mobile Brigade elite troops came two hours after the violence broke out and managed to restore order, but the angry mob's violent acts could have been prevented if the police had deployed reasonable number of officers at the Court. The Police's incapability to immediately restore security in the uphill town was also due to their failure to anticipate the potential violent acts of the mob as some attendants have indicated such violent behavior in the previous court hearings.

Apart from the police's poor performance, Tuesday's violent mob was another display of the public's decreasing trust in the country's existing legal system and judiciary as they had demanded a much stiffer punishment for Bawengan — the death sentence — although the Criminal Code clearly stipulates a maximum of five years' imprisonment for such religious blasphemy. It also showed their sudden explosive reaction amid their continuing apathy toward the government's serious commitment to tackle law-related violations and crimes rampantly committed by officers and officials within the legal and security circles, like the courts, the Attorney General's Office and the police.

So corrupt, unlawful and incapable our law enforcement officials are that people even wonder where to start the fight against such irregularities. But there must be a beginning, and this beginning can come in the form of preventing any repetition of such intolerable violence; starting now.




There are many ceremonial days in our calendar, most of which are significant only for those who would attend or are otherwise involved in the usually overlooked occasion itself. Today's National Press Day is, perhaps, one of those occasions.

Most journalists can't recollect the meaning of Feb. 9, and even fewer Indonesians know that we have been commemorating National Press Day for over a quarter of a century.  

The trials and successes of this nation mirror that of the development of professional journalism here. As young Indonesians bonded and solidified their diverse views of nationhood at the turn of the century, so the media did the same.

In the pre-independence era, pioneers of journalism were interchangeable with celebrated names forging a national identity — names like Tirto Adhi Soerjo, Ki Hadjar Dewantara and Haji Agus Salim. 

In this progressive age of reformasi, we take the basic liberties of expression and the press for granted, so much so that the media is often regarded as a scourge on societal fabric and at times regarded as a menace rather than a public asset.

We argue that while there are many things wanting, the mainstream Indonesian press continues to admirably perform its most important function of "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable".

Many in established media organizations take great pains and make significant investments in training and education for the most important asset in this endeavor — the people holding the pen (or behind keyboard in this digital age).

We also argue that ultimately the media is a reflection of the society it supports. Hence, if the public and media consumers clamor for gossip, innuendo and articles on the short and banal, then ultimately that is the direction by which the world of Indonesian journalism will gravitate.

In this age of digital immediacy, we believe that the role of established media institutions, including this newspaper, is all the more important in sustaining the values of traditional journalism. We believe that these values are essential to the functioning of qualified free expression in a democracy, no matter what the platform, digital or otherwise.

Values which incorporate objectivity and verification has been, is, and should remain the qualities defining Indonesian journalism, as opposed to the bellow of a digital mob.

The media provides a sense of empathy for the voiceless who find no sympathy in our courts or assistance from the authorities or state institutions. The Gutenberg press, the mechanical foundation promulgating critical thought and modern journalism, preceded modern democracy by three centuries.

Suffice to say that democracy cannot exist without a free press.

We put forward now that a quality press embedded with the values of traditional journalism is a prerequisite for a functioning modern democracy. And no matter how we in the journalism profession endeavor, we must honestly say that such a Fourth Estate cannot be realized, survive and prosper without the pecuniary support of the market.

Like this newspaper that you hold, the future is in your hands.






In America's Yosemite National Park, one major attraction is Half Dome. The tagline exhorts: "It's half rock and half gone!"

Indonesia's press freedom can also be measured by half. Bambang Harymurti, deputy chair of the independent Press Council, states the status of Indonesia's press is half free.  

In the 2010 press freedom index of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Indonesia ranks 117 out of 178 nations surveyed.

The ranking dropped significantly from 100 posted in the 2009 index. The young nation of Timor Leste fared far better at 93rd. In the top tier are Northern European nations.  

Indonesia's 1999 Press Act allows press freedom. This means no more licenses, no more censorship, no more bans common during the authoritarian rule of former president Soeharto.

Despite the state's commitment against interference, press freedom violations continue to occur. This gives Indonesia its lamentable ranking in the press freedom index. What is the cause?

The Press Council, in its year-end statement issued Dec. 29, records 25 cases of violence against journalists and the media throughout 2010.

The violence took the form of intimidation, verbal abuse, damage to reporting equipment, pro-perty damage, prevention of co-verage, lock-ups, physical harm and murder.

The perpetrators are diverse: public officials, government office employees, artists, members of the public and thugs who may have been hired by disgruntled business people or state officials.  

The Alliance of Independent Journalists, AJI Indonesia, counted 46 acts of violence against journalists in 2010, up from 37 in 2009. It cited one murder and three mysterious deaths.

The murder of Ridwan Salamun, a cameraman of the Jakarta-based Sun TV, has not been fully investigated by the police. Ridwan was hacked to death in Tual, Southeast Maluku, on Aug. 21 while he was covering a clash between rival villages.  

The cause of death of Alfret Mirulewan, chief editor of the Pelangi weekly in Kisar Island, Maluku, is inconclusive.

Alfret, who was investigating illegal fuel trading, was found dead on a beach on Dec. 17 three days
after he went missing. An autopsy showed he was a victim of violence.  

The circumstances surrounding the death of Adriansyah Matra on July 30 remain unresolved. The body of the Merauke TV reporter was found in a river near Merauke, Papua. He had been covering an illegal logging ring.  

Muhammad Syaefullah was found dead July 27 at his home in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, with froth around his mouth. Syaifullah, the local bureau chief of the highly regarded national daily Kompas, was known for his critical coverage of deforestation.  

AJI notes that in only one act of violence in 2010 was the perpetrator brought to court.

An Army lieutenant went on trial for beating Rakyat Aceh daily reporter Ahmadi after Ahmadi filed a May 21 story linking the officer to an illegal logging scam in Simeulue, Aceh province.

Although the Ampatuan massacre of 32 journalists in the Philippines in November 2009 overshadows the deaths of the four Indonesian journalists, the impunity enjoyed by those responsible for violations of press freedom is common.  

"While Thailand and the Philippines, together with Indonesia, are the region's strongest democracies, advocates have expressed concern over the trends of impunity, physical threats and legislative controls that could derail years of work to build a free and safe environment for the media to operate," the Southeast Asia Press Alliance, SEAPA, noted in a Feb. 4 statement on Southeast Asia's press freedom challenges in 2011.

In Indonesia, other challenges to press freedom include the filtering of Internet content decreed by Communications and Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring.

The aim is to block online pornography, but the move could collaterally block out non-pornographic material.  

Another challenge is a state secrecy bill drafted by the Defense Ministry.

The concern is that it could be at cross purposes with the 2008 Freedom of Information Act that came into force in April 2010.

Other issues are the Information Technology Criminal Offense Bill (RUU TIPITI), ostensibly to fight cybercrime, and an amendment to the Broadcasting Act that could further regulate the airwaves.

Given all these challenges, and more, the eminent rise of Indonesian journalism calls on reporters and editors to meet the obstacles head on.  

"Journalists must be at the forefront to clear away the trepidations of the nation by providing factual, accurate, comprehensive and meaningful information. Journalists must meet the challenges of the times by having competence, including adherence to the journalism code of ethics," Jakob Oetama, founder and CEO of the Kompas Gramedia media combine, said before the National Press Day organizing committee before they departed for Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, to observe the annual event on Feb 9.

The writer teaches journalism at the Dr Soetomo Press Institute (LPDS) in Jakarta.





I will never forget visiting Egypt in 1994. To set foot on the land of one of the oldest civilizations was a childhood dream come true.

As I stood before the majestic pyramids of Giza with the enigmatic, crumbling Sphinx nearby, I felt transported to the ancient land of Moses and the Pharaohs.

Seventeen years later, reading about the turbulent anti-Mubarak demonstrations in Cairo, I was transported not to ancient Egypt, but to the streets of Jakarta in 1998. Rioting erupted before Soeharto, the authoritarian general who ruled us for 32 years, stepped down.

It was a familiar scene: A des-potic ruler facing massive popular protests. The situation in Jakarta then was nerve-wracking, with violence, international pressure, unexpected turns of events and an uncertain outcome. Now it's happening in Cairo.

Like Soeharto, who conceded that it would be "difficult to carry out [his] duty as the country's ruler", Mubarak, who has also ruled for three decades, admitted in an interview with ABC's Christiane Amanpour, he was "fed up with being president". He added, however, that he was worried that without him the country would sink into chaos and the "Muslim Brotherhood [MB] would take over". And there lies a difference between Indonesia in 1998 and Egypt today.

Indonesia's 1998 Reform movement was about democratization, and the opposition involved a wide range of groups, including some of Indonesia's famously divided Muslim organizations.

But since the banning of the Masyumi Party in 1960 there has not been a single Muslim political organization that the majority of Indonesian Muslims have been willing to support. In fact, votes for Indonesia's Islamic parties have steadily declined since 1999.

Today, the main opposition to President Yudhoyono's Democratic Party comes from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Golkar Party, the former ruling party, both secular nationalist parties.

The MB is a different story. Founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, it's been officially banned for the past 30 years. Despite the fact that its members have been jailed, tortured and executed, it has steadily grown.

Now it is a transnational movement and the largest political organization in many Arab states. In Egypt it is tolerated as the country's most popular NGO, providing much-needed hospitals, schools and other social services.

Its members even run for office, circumventing the ban by running as independents.

The current crisis gives the MB the opportunity to emerge as a major political force in Egypt.

So far the Brotherhood has taken a low profile, claiming its aim is participation, not a takeover. Hmm, we'll see, but as events unfold it's a safe bet that they will be part of the political panorama — and perhaps the biggest part.

While the MB now condemns violence as un-Islamic, it has been involved in terrorism in the past.

It is also the fountainhead for modern militant Islamist movements, including al-Qaeda under
the leadership of Osama bin Laden and the Egyptian Ayman Al-Zawahiri, as well as Hamas in Palestine.

Even Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, who founded the militant group Jamaah Islamiyah here, were inspired by al-Banna and his successor Sayyid Qutb.

The spirit of the Egypt protests is now spreading to Yemen, Algeria, Syria and Jordan.

And Lebanon and Palestine are already dominated by Hezbollah and Hamas, both militant Muslim organizations. So, clearly, what happens in Egypt will affect the rest of the Middle East.

Just take Israel for example. Egypt recognizes Israel. When the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty was signed by President Anwar Sadat and Israeli PM Menachem Begin in 1979, the US responded with military and economic aid to Egypt (just as it did for Indonesia after Soeharto and the army annihilated the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965).

Many Arab states considered the Arab-Israel Peace Treaty a stab in the back, and in 1981 Anwar Sadat was assassinated by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, an offshoot of MB.

Nevertheless, the treaty has survived for the past 30 years, and Egypt has become an important strategic partner for both Israel and the US. Will that change when Mubarak goes? It certainly will if the MB takes over. What will the US do then?

Muslim political moderation seems to be collapsing from Pakistan and Turkey, and the Arab world is likely plunging into a sustained period of instability that may well lead to the rise of Islamist governments. So, where can the US look for friends in the Muslim world?

Indonesia and, begrudgingly, Malaysia, are the two most democratic nations in Asia that have both legitimate governments and Muslim populations.

If Indonesians and Malaysians don't like their governments, they're more likely to make changes at the ballot box than by rioting.

So, Mr. Obama, perhaps now is the time for you to cuddle up to Indonesia for your country's sake, not just because you spent four years of your childhood here.

Perhaps you could even kill two birds with the one stone? You'd get a moderate Muslim nation ally (with the largest Muslim population in the world) and perhaps also a friend who could help offset China's rise in the region as well.

As for Egypt, and its fallen pharaoh Mubarak, I fear my childhood dream may well be turning into a nightmare for Eg