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Saturday, February 12, 2011

EDITORIAL 12.02.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



Month february, edition 000753, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



























3.      FALSE ALARM?
























































































5.      ON RECORD

























4.      OYSTERS







1.      NOW WHAT, EGYPT?

2.      ABRAHAM LINCOLN, FEB. 12, 1809


















































































It is immaterial whether Mr Hosni Mubarak has left Cairo for Sharm el-Sheikh or the Bahamas. What is material and of unimaginable import is the collapse of his 30-year-old regime in 18 days. The man who ruled Egypt with an iron fist, brooking neither dissent nor discontent, has vacated both the palace and the job he has held since 1981 after Anwar Sadat's assassination by Islamists opposed to the peace agreement with Israel. The 'Jasmine Revolution' in Tunisia forced President Ben Ali to flee the country; Mr Mubarak has been more courageous — some would say, needlessly stubborn. On Thursday he declared on state television that he was going nowhere; all that he was willing to do was delegate some power to his newly-appointed Vice-President Omar Suleiman, the former chief of Egypt's intelligence agency. Obviously, behind his bluff and bluster lurked a sense of fear: Mobs on the streets baying for his blood were not to be taken lightly. Discretion, Mr Mubarak may have decided, is the better part of valour. It is equally possible that the Higher Council of the Egyptian military, popularly referred to as the Supreme Council, which began a series of emergency meetings on Thursday — the last time the council went into a similar huddle was during the Yom Kippur war with Israel — prevailed upon him to exit office rather than force a showdown with the masses. Although it has not been commented upon, Egypt's Generals were understandably uneasy about sending troops to clear the streets of protesters: The Army's foot soldiers are from the Arab street.

The jubilation in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, in fact across Egypt, is only too natural. The masses wanted Mr Mubarak to leave and they have succeeded in their mission, which was largely peaceful barring the burning down of the NDP's headquarters and some state buildings. But although there was clarity among the protesters on their objective, there is none on what they want for the future, except some vague, often inarticulate, assertions of democracy. In the absence of any organised leadership to chart the course for Egypt's transition to secular republicanism based on the ideals of democracy, there is always the danger of the other alternative, which Mr Mubarak and his men were determined till the end to keep out of the political arena, from stepping into the political vacuum that has now been created by the President's resignation. The Muslim Brotherhood, we can be sure, is eagerly waiting to step into the breach. That may not happen soon with power now vested with the Supreme Council of the military. The Generals could have their own agenda and their own ideas about how to deal with the situation that has suddenly been thrust upon them. Let us not forget that the council is packed with Mubarak loyalists. In a sense, it is premature to predict the denouement of the Egyptian story; one chapter is over, a new chapter has begun. Meanwhile, the US would be well-advised not to try and fish in Egypt's troubled waters. If the Egyptians are determined to fashion their polity according to their own aspirations, they should be left alone to do so. As for Israel, it has to prepare for a tectonic shift in the region's geopolitics. The 'cold peace' of the Mubarak decades could now be a thing of the past.







The talks between the Union Government and top leaders of the banned United Liberation Front of Asom to formally initiate the peace process in Assam is a step forward to try and bring the separatists into the mainstream, just as was done with the Mizo National Front and Tripura National Volunteers in the past. Happily, the ULFA delegation, led by its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, has let it be known that the organisation has given up its earlier precondition of holding talks in a third country in the presence of a UN observer on 'sovereignty'. This is largely prompted by the fact that ULFA today is a toothless organisation, its violent insurgency having failed to deter the Indian state. What has also worked against ULFA is the turnaround in Dhaka where authorities are no longer willing to provide shelter to insurgents from India's North-East. In fact, top ULFA leaders were handed over to Indian authorities by Sheikh Hasina's Government, marking a sharp departure from Bangladesh's previous policy. A third factor is that the organisation no longer enjoys ground level support, having alienated virtually every section of Assamese society by pursuing an agenda of chilling violence manifested in bombings of passenger trains and children's gatherings on Independence Day and Republic Day. The trail of death and destruction it left in the wake of its search for an 'independent' Asom endeared it to few, although its cadre were often used by the Congress for electoral purposes. If ULFA has survived so long, much of the credit should go to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and his cynical use of the separatist organisation to keep himself in office and the Congress in power. With the outfit now a pale shadow of its past, Mr Gogoi perhaps no longer feels the need to use it for political purposes; hence his endorsement of peace talks which will ensure the rehabilitation of those who have helped him in more ways than one.

Be that as it may, now that the Government has elected to talk to the banned organisation, it provides an opportunity to rid Assam of its scourge of homegrown terror and India of a separatist movement that was doomed to fail. To that extent, a successful completion of the dialogue would be beneficial to both the State and the nation. However, a caveat is called for. The faction headed by Paresh Baruah has declared its opposition to ULFA's talks with the Government as it persists with upholding the original charter of the organisation. This could spike the peace process. More worryingly, it could be a carefully crafted ruse: While one faction talks with the Government, another regroups the cadre and reorganises ULFA's forces to re-emerge on the scene with a bang. We have seen this happen before and there's no reason to discount the possibility.









With radical Islam on the rise, Pakistan's growing nuclear arsenal threatens not just India but also the United States.

According to a recent report in The Washington Post by Karen De Young, Pakistan's nuclear arsenal now totals more than 100 deployed weapons, which represents a doubling of its stockpile over the past several years. Another recent in The New York Times by David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, states that Pakistan has steadily expanded its arsenal since President Obama assumed office in 2009. According to it, President Obama's aides were then told that the size of Pakistan's arsenal "was in the mid-to-high 70s" though estimates ranged from 60 to 90. More significantly, the report cites experts as saying that Pakistan has now enough material for 40 to 100 additional weapons, including a new class of Plutonium ones.

Pakistan, doubtless, has denied The New York Times dispatch, with a Foreign Office spokesman saying that unnecessarily alarmist reports about its nuclear programme continued to surface occasionally. The spokesman added, "In the nuclearised environment of South Asia, Pakistan continues to follow a responsible policy of maintaining credible minimum deterrence. Pakistan is mindful of the need to avoid an arms race with India but would never compromise on its national security."

Two questions arise here. Which country threatens Pakistan's national security to the extent that it has to have a nuclear arsenal comprising well over 100 weapons? Is the spokesman's claim about the purpose of building up an enormous nuclear arsenal, credible? The answer to the first question is easy to guess. Pakistan's entire strategic doctrine is based on its projection of India as the main and ever-present threat to its security. Repeated efforts by the Obama Administration and others to convince it that this is not so, and that the main threat comes from the fundamentalist Islamist terrorist groups within, have had little impact.

These groups continue to grow with State's assistance while Pakistan continues to blame India for tension in the sub-continent. In the present instance too, Pakistan's spokesman, in a brazenly diversionary move, said that his country had consistently advocated with India the need to resume the stalled India-Pakistan dialogue, including on issues of peace and stability, saying, as a pious postscript, "In this context, Pakistan's proposal for a strategic restraint regime in South Asia, including nuclear and conventional forces as well as resolution of all issues and dispute is of extreme importance."

One would have hardly expected the Pakistani spokesman to mention that cross-border terrorism, conducted against India from its soil by State-sponsored organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizb-ul Mujahideen, constituted the principal cause of tension in South Asia. Nor could one have expected him to own up that Pakistan's strategic doctrine aimed at debilitating, if not Balkanising India, through the fomenting of violent regional secessionist movements. In case of any doubt, one only needs to look at Pakistan Between Mosque and Military, by Mr Husain Haqqani, currently Pakistan's Ambassador to the US, in which he cites a book entitled India: A Study in Profile by Lt Col Javed Hassan. The book argues that with "some encouragement, the alienated regions of India could become centres of insurgencies that would, at best, dismember India and, at least, weaken India's ability to seek regional domination for years to come."

Lt Col Hassan later became a Lieutenant General. His book, meant for Pakistani Army's Faculty of Research and Doctrinal Studies, was distributed by Pakistani military's book club. The strategy it expounded thus bears the stamp of official approval. Despite this and Pakistan's continuing insulting behavior and glaring inaction in bringing the perpetrators of 26/11 to justice, foreign ministers and foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan have met and talked. Even if Pakistan chooses not to recognise the fact that this reflects India's abiding commitment to South Asian peace, and regards New Delhi as posing the principle threat to its security, the question remains: Does Pakistan need an arsenal of 100 plus nuclear weapons to cope with that threat? Will 10 bombs be not enough for devastating India and deter the latter from attacking Pakistan? If so, the question arises: Is there any other country which Pakistan has in mind as a target?

One must look at Pakistan for an answer. The murder of the liberal Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, on January 4, and the massive demonstration of support for the assassin and intimidation of moderates that followed, once again underlined the alarming spread of the Taliban brand of fundamentalist Islam in that country. As tellingly underlined by Ms Sherry Rehman's decision to withdraw her Bill to amend the Blasphemy Act, the moderates are on headlong retreat. The long-standing claim that fundamentalists have limited support in the country thus does not seem to hold true anymore. Besides, even if they do not attain power through free and fair elections they may do so through intimidation with the help of a section of the military and the Directorate-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence, both of which have close links with that country's Islamist terrorist groups besides the Taliban and the Al Qaeda.

These elements are intensely anti-American admirers of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda, who have declared jihad against the US. The jihad's goals are clear. In his message, entitled Depose the Tyrants, (December 16, 2004) Osama bin Laden put it as banishing the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula. In an interview with Mr Peter Arnett of CNN (March 1997), he had stated that the "defensive" jihad against the US would stop only after it had desisted from "aggressive intervention against Muslims throughout the whole world" and not just with its withdrawal from the Arabian Peninsula. In his letter entitled 'To the Americans' (October 2002), he asked them not only to quit supporting Israel in Palestine but convert to Islam, reject "immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling and usury." Here is a jihad with multiple objectives meant to end only with the installation of a Taliban-type ruler in the White House.

With their surrogates ruling Pakistan, the Taliban and Al Qaeda will wage jihad through cross-border terrorism backed by Islamabad's nuclear deterrent. Not surprisingly, he told Al Jazeera in an interview in December 1998, "We supported and congratulated the Pakistani people when god blessed them with the possession of a nuclear weapon, because we consider it the Muslims' right to have it…"








The fall of America's political influence in world affairs is the biggest story at the start of the second decade of the 21st century. Till recently, Uncle Sam was a valuable friend and dangerous enemy; now his very relevance is questionable

Tahrir Square has come to symbolise over the past two weeks not only the aspirations of the Egyptian people, especially its youth, but also about the paradoxical if not the flawed nature of US foreign policies. America's support for Mubarak, it is being argued, was based on the false belief that if not for him Egypt would have gone the Muslim Brotherhood way — i.e. Al Qaeda rule. For after all, it was some members of the Brotherhood who had started the Al Qaeda, right? Mubarak or the Muslim Brotherhood? This is the dilemma that we are told shaped Washington's response to Egypt. Welcome to the messy, and according to some, compromised nature of the American response to world affairs.

American foreign policy has too long a history, and too complex a structure for one to write anything definitively without either being simplistic or plain wrong. Sure, in the hands of a Noam Chomsky it would all be about the military-industrial tail wagging the American body politic dig. With a Donald Rumsfeld or a Dick Cheney it would be all about the diluting of the American can-do spirit by a blurry-eyed left/liberal intelligentsia which has infiltrated Foggy Bottom.

But such narratives cannot hold up to careful scrutiny, though there are strands in those narratives that do lend themselves to such a telling. For after all, it was no other than Dwight Eisenhower, the hero of World War II general-turned-President, who warned Americans about the "military-industrial complex". This was a president who believed that America's goals were to "keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations." No one, except perhaps Sarah Palin and some of her Tea Party wing-nuts, believes that America has consistently pursued its vaunted goals of keeping the peace and enhancing liberty, dignity and integrity among the peoples of the world. In fact, much of the world believed otherwise till recently, and that is why the US ranked among the most hated countries in the world — till Barack Obama became president. Still, about one-third of the people in a survey last year did not rank the US favorably in terms of its influence in the world.

That number, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt because the US is most detested in Muslim countries. And since there are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and 57 member states in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the followers of Islam can skew any global survey. Given this reality, George W Bush hired a special envoy, Karen Hughes, to market America to the Muslim world, and win some goodwill after his disastrous decision to dethrone Saddam Hussein without adequate planning for keeping Iraq on an even keel thereafter. The State Department has also hired, and paid well, a host of sundry American Muslims (including the Imam who wants to build a mosque near "Ground Zero") to go spread the word in Muslim countries about America's goodness. That some of them have spoken from both sides of their mouth is another matter, but the hiring of these ambassadors is indicative of two things: American naiveté and American chutzpah. Naiveté, because the mandarins in Foggy Bottom seem to think that their charm offensive can win them easy converts in a deeply suspicious and angst-ridden Muslim world, and chutzpah because they think that the denizens of Arab Street are suckers for American snake oil salesmen.

But one should be careful about generalising on American actions and Americans. As the tens of thousands of leaked cables by WikiLeaks show, much of what American ambassadors around the world sent home seemed to be good, solid, carefully evidenced estimations and evaluations of the leaders, leadership, and of ground realities around the world. But the leaked documents also revealed how ambassadors, envoys and the CIA could be led by their noses or bamboozled by the cunning, the devious, and the corrupt. Here, Pakistan emerges as one of those countries where the Americans have been taken literally pissed upon but which nation and its leaders they cannot seem to lose faith in. Musharraf led them down the garden path like an experienced rogue seducing a beguiled virgin. No matter, it seems, because the experience with the wily general has not taught them any lessons as the corrupt and incompetent Zardari now twists both Americans in military fatigue and Americans in cashmere around his little finger.

As they bomb and occupy Muslim lands, and as they lavish those same countries with billions of dollars, American policy makers reach for a different set of tools to do business in other lands. Here, India is an interesting and apposite case. Long characterised as the land of the heathen, polytheistic snake charmers, or the poor, prickly, peace lovers whose "alignment" they either did not like or could not gauge, Indians have both been hectored or ignored by American administrations. One of the biggest hectoring sessions happened when tal Bihari Vajpayee decided to surprise the world with "Operation Shakti" in 1998.

I recall Ambassador TP Sreenivasan's visit to our university in 2007. He told me that he was the deputy ambassador at the Indian mission in DC in 1998, and that he was summoned into Senator John Kerry's office to be lectured on Gandhian ideals! And then there was Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who made some shrill comments about India "digging itself a hole".

Another aspect of the American relationship with India revolves around religion: given that India is majority Hindu, and given that many American missionaries consider India the richest land for harvesting souls, and given the fact that the majority of Americans believe America is a Christian nation, the coming to power of the BJP-led NDA government was an opportune moment for Americans to lecture Indians about freedom of religion. Undistracted by the fact that Vajpayee had Muslims and Christians in his Cabinet, and no matter that Dr Abdul Kalam was nominated by the BJP to become president of the country, many in the State Department and at the office of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom sought to lecture me on religious freedom as I went to talk to them about human rights abuses against Hindus around the world. In this context, it is useful to note that the left/liberal intelligentsia in India, and the manipulation by the Left/Congress parties have also made it difficult to get a hearing about the deleterious effects of manipulative conversion activities, and about the dangers of the well-funded propaganda by those who seek to make India weak and rob it of its unique cultural and spiritual ethos.

But the world is changing. And even bureaucrats have to adapt to changes! They are discovering that as events develop in Tahrir Square and across Egypt at "warp speed". Tahrir Square has now become almost a self-contained city, and its denizens will not leave till America's man in Cairo quits office, or when America's man decides to send in his army to bomb and cleanse the place. Whether Barack Obama is nimble and free enough to act or whether he sits out a revolution will tell us whether America truly desires "to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people" or if it is merely a military-industrial complex in decline.

-- Ramesh N Rao is Human Rights Coordinator for the Hindu American Foundation, and professor and chair of the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre, Longwood University. The views expressed here are his own.






Saturday Special examines the new hydraulics of democracy; one that has exposed the forked tongue of yesterday's champions of 'freedom'. But wait a bit, this 'tsunami of democracy' may be another wrong to right old mistakes

In a democracy, governing power is derived from the people by consensus, by direct referendum or by means of elected representation. Even though there is no specific or universally accepted definition of 'democracy', yet equality, freedom and justice have been identified as hallmark characteristics since ancient times.

We have followed verbose emanating from forked tongues on things like 'enduring freedom' and democracy in West Asia thanks to the United States and its allies for the past few decades. The Anglo-American powers tried their best to keep going for 38 years the Pahlavi monarchy in Teheran. There was no explanation how the upholders of democracy could justify a policy of backing such a brutal dictatorship. When, finally, the Iranian people took to the streets in late 1978 and eventually threw out the hated Reza Shah Pahlavi on February 11, 1979 the same "democratic" powers derided the aspirations of the people.

In neighbouring Iraq, Saddam Hussain's Baathists regime, which once showered with glowing claims for being "harbingers" of Arab nationalism and socialism, was in power since 1979 as an ally of the West in the war against Iran. In the first Persian Gulf War between the armed forces of Iraq and Iran (September 1980 - August 1988), making it the longest (by some measures) conventional war of the 20th century. Saddam was the western world's favourite among all dictatorial regimes in West Asia.

To me even today it is insane to praise Saddam Hussain. He was neither a nice man nor a good Muslim by practice. He was one of the most brutal tyrants in recent memory who gassed the Kurds with American-made chemicals. He waged war against dissidents and maintained demonic torture chambers. There is no point to show sympathy to a tyrant or to his regime. But, in the same vein, it is impossible to endorse the way in which he was ousted by those who once empowered him. The operation 'enduring freedom' or 'Iraqi freedom' against Saddam was launched on the basis of lies. The assumption of WMD by the US-led alliance would one day be viewed as the biggest con-act by nations. This war caused instability in the entire Arabian Peninsula and in a small span of time it has consumed more lives by a factor of 10 the number claimed by Saddam in his 24-year rule.

Saddam is dead now. But the US-led invasion changed him from a hated villain to a hero, at least in some Arab corners in and out Iraq. Thus, calling Iraq a 'success' after fall of Saddam, is something like a nasty joke. It ended up giving the Iraqis neither freedom nor democracy. Rather, it replaced one tyrannical government with another. The Shias who for long suffered are now the very ones inflicting the suffering. It is a vicious cycle of State-sponsored terror on civilians backed by Washington.

Of late something remarkable and extremely unprecedented has begun to unfold in the Arab world. On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi — a young man whose fruit and vegetable cart had been taken by police for lack of a permit — stood in front of the peach-colored wall of the local governor's office, poured gasoline over himself, and struck a match.

Bouazizi's act lit up the ocean of anger which manifested itself as demonstrations that spread throughout Tunisia's interior, and then to the capital. The government's violent crackdown, broadcast through social media, fueled public anger. Less than a month later the mass popular uprising forced one of the Arab world's strongest autocrats to his knees. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2011 shattering the silence he had imposed on Tunisians for 23 years.

Are the dictatorial Arab regimes and their supporters in the West really in shock over the Tunisian upheaval? Is this really a symptom for a coming extraordinary change in the Arab world? Perhaps I am wrong but a note of caution is in order. I think the answer is "yes."

The signals from Tahrir (freedom) Square of Cairo is of much optimism, it is loud and clear. Egypt, the land of Pharaohs, has to change. Sooner or later one more dictator — Hosni Mubarak and his regime which has been ruling Egypt for last 29 years by the emergency laws, has to fall. And he would fall up side down.

Israel, America and the West are helplessly watching the tsunami of real democracy. I am confident what we saw in the streets of Tunisia or are presently witnessing in the cities of Egypt from January 25 are so far 'people's revolution', external interests or even internal opposition politics has nothing much to their credits. It is people's democracy, by the people and for the people as some of the young men and women in the Tahrir are voicing. It is a history in making.

The King of Jordan, the King of Saudi Arabia and the president of Yemen are some other 'friendly' Arab regimes for the USA and Israel. However, the US is playing cautiously this time around; perhaps the significant lesson from Iranian revolution in 1979 is working.

I think the current fervour for democracy in the Middle East is unstoppable. It is for the West, for us Indian — the largest democracy in the world to take right decision at the right time — to be with people for real democracy in the region or to remain 'friendly' with undemocratic regimes for so-called 'stability'. If democracy is the governing power by the will of majority people, then let it be like this by the people only. Be it any regime, if genuinely elected by the people of a country, others should just respect it without creating hypothetical fear psychosis of an Islamist or Communist regime may take over.

-- M Burhanuddin Qasmi is an alumnus of Deoband, editor Eastern Crescent and director of the Mumbai-based Markazul Ma'arif Education and Research Centre. He can be contacted at







If televised war in 1991 and 2003 spread fear in every prospective American opponent's heart, today the same channels merrily beam home images of Egyptians defying Washington, its lackeys and its favourite bogeyman — in that order

Hosni Mubarak is using the bogey of Muslim Brotherhood to cling on to power. The protests have demolished the myth that the Muslim world did not want democracy. The Arab regimes are terrified of the activists gathered in Tahrir Square not knowing if their turn is next. Young people from the Muslim world yearn for freedom and democracy as much as anyone else. It is the US which supported the dictators, authoritarian generals and Amirs — concerned about the security of Israel and to secure their oil supply.

America feared the popular aspirations of the people of West Asia and therefore preferred to support non-democratic regimes. Prescription of democracy for the Communist block and authoritarian regimes for the Muslim world was not questioned. Condoleeza Rice, the then Secretary of State, famously admitted that it was a mistake to support non-democratic regimes in the Muslim world. However, no remedial steps were taken and the US continued to be nervous about democracy in the Muslim world and propped up oppressive regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan. Let's not forgot that the Shah of Iran and even Saddam Hussein were Washington's allies originally. The US was not worried that democracy would bring fundamentalists to power as it backs the Saudi Arabian regimes which is most orthodox and fundamentalist. America was worried that popular mandate and democracy would endanger the balance of power in West Asia.

Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1928 by an Islamic preacher and schoolteacher called Hasan Al-Banna and six other workers of Suez Canal Company. By 1948, it had about 1 million members. The core ideology of the Brotherhood was expounded by Hasan Al-Banna and later by Syyid Qutb in his book Milestones. Qutb called for complete and blind submission to all the commands of puritan Islam as Muslims did during the lifetime of the Prophet.

Qutb was opposed to later accretions which came as a response to, or under influence of western culture. Qutb attributes all modern problems like immorality, poverty and corruption to non-submission to Allah and his commands. The ideology of Brotherhood appealed initially to the powerless and subjugated lower classes. Their ideology, in the garb of religion, seemed to offer definite answers to their plight as every subjugated person needs to know the cause of her plight and a solution and also by practicing puritan Islam, the Brotherhood offered morally superior status and promise of salvation to the otherwise deprived section. As it gained support, the Brotherhood's ideology displayed intolerance and called upon its followers not to submit to secular authorities as they should obey only Allah. They also advocated violent actions to establish Sharia Law.

To Qutb, anything non-Islamic was evil and corrupt and called upon his followers not to submit to any such authority. Even democracy had become infertile for Qutb and the Brotherhood propounded that Islamic Sharia was a complete system extending to all aspects of life and could be safeguarded only under Islamic Caliph. Gradually, the Brotherhood gained support even in a section of middle class as the middle class experienced lack of freedom and their aspirations being ignored. The Brotherhood's opposition to corruption and poverty made them popular in a section. Though the Brotherhood was banned by President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his successors — Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, scores of their leaders have faced jail terms and torture, including Sayyid Qutb, who was hanged in 1966 by Nasser. Repression only led to the consolidation of the Brotherhood's image as rebels with a just cause. With repression, their base fluctuated.

The new leadership moderated and accepted non-violence as its strategy. To the surprise of the world, the Brotherhood condemned which gained it the enmity of the Al Qaeda. Though they are banned, members of Brotherhood contested elections in 2005 and according to one estimate won about 20 per cent of the popular vote and got about 88 of their candidates elected as independents to the 222-strong Egyptian Parliament. However, in 2010, only one Independent candidate belonging to Muslim Brotherhood could get elected. And everybody, including that great champion of democracy, the United States of America, knows that the 2010 election was rigged by Mubarak.

Today the Brotherhood is demanding morality in politics and promising a corruption- free governance and tackling poverty and unemployment. These are not the real and long term issues for the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood may not be the most popular organisation in Egypt now but it is the most organised. In fact, the Brotherhood has not mobilised all its members into Tahrir Square though their president, Mohamed Badie, speaks for the protesters. The activists gathered in the Square are not afraid of them. The people of Egypt are not afraid of Brotherhood — only the US and Israel are worried. The protesters in the Square are demanding democracy and urging all to accept whatever the outcome of democracy — even Brotherhood forming government — though that is not the likely outcome.

-- The writer is Director, Institute of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution








Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. However, power feet can rejoice. As UP chief minister Mayawati has shown, the feet of the high and mighty only get five-star treatment. Recently, as she alighted from a helicopter touring Auraiya, apparently distressed by the sight of mud on her shoes, personal security officer Padam Singh got down to duty, whipping out his handkerchief and polishing the dirt off Madame's footwear. Although howls of protest followed, we say, why ever not? Far from being demeaning, the sole-ful episode is just right before Valentine's Day! According to legend, Sir Walter Raleigh gallantly spread his cape over a puddle for Queen Elizabeth to cross. Today, Padam Singh has proved that chivalry is far from dead. In modern-day UP it is in fact down on all fours, prostrate before the object of its adoration.

There are delightful details to celebrate here. While displaying how very gentlemanly government servants can be, the incident also highlights high standards of health. Few other people are so extraordinarily supine, so seemingly lacking in the restricting vertebrae of the back, so able to stretch, bend and lie down flat before power feet. Baba Ramdev and all our Himalayan sages, please note; daily yoga of this kind can also achieve that desired state of perfect boneless-ness. With this 'power yoga', some people don't even need their spinal kundalini to rise, since they don't have one.

But why just congratulate Padam for his devoted kadam? The ability to achieve a 180-degree posture on the floor before power feet is alive and kicking across India. Down south, supporters routinely perform shashthang pranams before their chiefs, undertake pilgrimages for their welfare, even commit suicide for them. In a delicious 007 mish-mash, this is dying to live another way. But there's something just so compelling about power feet. Since crowns attract frowns, it's down to the toesie-woesies to show how mighty their owners are.

How better to express this than a love affair with shoes? The rishta with jootas can take myriad forms. Imelda Marcos famously possessed thousands, so quit carping about Mayawati and count the number of PSOs the Philippines must have needed. George W Bush, champion of Iraqi freedom, found lots of love sent back to him via a flying shoe, as did recently that diehard supporter of democracy, Pervez Musharraf. It really is time for Manolo Blahnik, Salvatore Ferragamo and all the uptown mochis to brave the heat and dust and fly to Lucknow. Just imagine how much free publicity they'd get the next time Madame's PSO feels duty calling. With TV shows, editorials and reportage covering such devotion, they'd hit pay dirt. And it will certainly happen again. If the shoe fits, people will clean it. And pray while doing so that they may just escape the boot.







While India's economy is on course to rival or surpass China's growth rate this year, our neighbour Pakistan can lay claim to a rather different statistical feat. It now possesses the world's fastest expanding nuclear arsenal - and probably already has more nuclear weapons than the UK.

Indian attention has typically focussed on Pakistan's 100 or so deployed nuclear weapons. When it comes to strategic nuclear warheads, Pakistan - and its ally, the US - has gone to great lengths to reassure the world that the country's weapons are safe: codes remain in civilian control, facilities secure, procedures enforced. The US has itself provided Pakistan with $100 million to build what is in effect one of the region's more pricey burglar alarm systems.

Yet Pakistan keeps America away from its nuclear lairs, suspicious of US ploys to confiscate its trophy bombs. It's the British, who have dispatched their nuclear safety technicians to Pakistan, who have voiced concerns about Pakistan's security controls, as we know from WikiLeaks.

Even if we can accept the proffered safety assurances, that's not where the real and coming trouble lies. It's in the steady build-up of nuclear materials, the fissile stuff that according to independent estimates could produce up to 100 new weapons. Pakistan is now seeking to build smaller, 'tactical' nuclear weapons for battlefield use to supplement its array of strategic weapons aimed at human settlements. To that end, it is estimated to have accumulated up to 3.6 tonnes of weapons grade uranium and 130 kg of plutonium, with the latter quantity set to rise steeply as two new production reactors come on stream at Khushab.

Such material lacks the tangible shape of a warhead or weapon. Its movements are harder to monitor and it is much easier to pilfer. (Internationally, there have been some 18 reported incidents of theft of fissile materials).

We have special reason to worry about this accumulation of nuclear material because of the condition of state and military institutions in Pakistan.

Nuclear weapons, if they are to deter, presume a high level of predictability in relations between states. In that sense, their effectiveness relies on the kind of hyper-rationality that characterised the formal regimental manoeuvres of 18th-century battle. It's hardly a level of predictability that we can assume for Pakistan.

When we think of Pakistan, we have our fixed reference points: entrenched generals, conspiratorial ISI, fanatical mullahs, jihadi extremists, corrupt and feeble civilian politicians. Yet, what might appear a settled order may not in fact be so. The wave of popular protest that has surged from Tunisia to Egypt and beyond may not this time disturb Pakistan - but it's a reminder of the vulnerability of undemocratic or weakly democratic systems such as Pakistan's.

In other words, it is not Pakistan's capacity or strength as a state that should worry India. Quite the opposite: it is the Pakistani state's vulnerabilities that pose the greatest danger. The seeping decentralisation of state-sanctioned force and its incarnation in terrorist forms should be of concern to Indians.

In recent times, Pakistan has suffered from sectarian violence as well as from natural disasters (themselves quite possibly symptomatic of systemic ecological crisis). The economy has proved susceptible to global downturn. With more than half the population below the age of 19, unemployment is estimated at 15%, with much higher rates of underemployment. Although some of Pakistan's recent celebrity terrorists, such as David Headley and Faisal Shazad, are members of the elite, neither poor nor products of madrassas, a large, young population with time on its hands generally does spell political trouble.

In Pakistan today, real local grievances feed readily into organisations signed up for global jihad. If we have our Sangh Parivar, Pakistan is spawning a jihadi biradari - literally so, in the sense that both the Pakistani army and terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), for instance, recruit new members from the very same villages and areas in Punjab.

Imagine for a moment a grim scenario. What if some of Pakistan's fissile tonnage were to slip into the hands of a group like LeT and, afloat a rubber dinghy or slung across a camel's back, make its way into an Indian city. Upon its detonation, what should - and could - our response be?

In determining our response, we could not attribute such an attack directly to the Pakistani state. Nor could we consider such an attack as a 'first strike' - which might at least doctrinally sanction India's stated retaliatory posture. Our repertoire of options is quite familiar: the military's 'Cold Start' doctrine, limited air strikes, a naval blockade of Pakistan's ports - and nuclear retaliation. Since each would have major consequences, virtually impossible to control, it is increasingly clear that our military options are limited.

In the elapse of time between attack and response, how would our political debate go? To what extent are our leaders working to prepare public opinion, and build political consensus about how to respond? It may seem paranoid to dwell on dark possibilities - but only by doing so can we expand our repertoire of options, and so imagine less grim choices. We know from recent history: to dismiss scenarios as unthinkable is all too often to be condemned, when they do occur, to react unthinkingly.

The writer is director-designate of the India Institute at King's College, London.









With his scintillating voice and endearing personality, Bhimsen Joshi held three generations of aficionados of Indian classical music in absolute thrall. Only one other vocalist can claim to rival the pan-subcontinental reach of his appeal over such a long stretch of time. That is Lata Mangeshkar, who, to our great joy, is still with us.

Though they excelled in different genres of music, the duo shared much in common. Both sang in languages other than their mother tongues but without ever abandoning the latter; both drank freely from many musical streams yet cherished the elixir they had received by way of training from their gurus - Sawai Gandharva in one case,
Dinanath Mangeshkar in the other; both retained the humility that often goes hand in hand with true greatness; and both rose above the parochial seductions that taint just about every endeavour in public life. Their phenomenal popularity bore a 'democratic' cachet, but the values they espoused had a 'republican' ring to them.

It is these thoughts that crossed my mind when my father, who turns 95 a few weeks from now, called to announce Bhimsenji's passing away. He had known the vocalist since the late 1940s. Indeed, he was present when the 24-year-old first earned the accolades of Pune's demanding audience in January 1946. In the 25 minutes allotted to him, Bhimsenji mesmerised listeners with his rendition of the raga Miya Malhar followed by the natyageet 'Chandrika hee janoo' in flawless Marathi even though his mother tongue was Kannada.

My father's devotion to the Kirana gharana - which had begun in his teens when he first heard Abdul Karim Khan, the gharana's founder, sing on the roadside somewhere between Dharwad and Hubli in present-day Karnataka - strengthened his bonds of friendship with Bhimsenji. He would show up at our home in the dead of night, ask my mother to cook one of his favourite dishes, and, while nursing a drink, give an impromptu demonstration of his formidable musical talent. And all this even as he would snipe at his disciple for a misplaced note.


Such nocturnal visits were few and far between. But they provided us with delectable occasions to listen to Bhimsenji speak about people and events that had caught his fancy. He liked, for example, to recall his concerts in Kolkata for in no other city, not even Pune, was the audience so enamoured of his music. Once, when he was inebriated and couldn't bring himself to sing a single note despite two attempts interspersed with some sleep and cold-water baths, the audience turned more and more restless. No one broke chairs, hurled stones or tried to set the premises on fire. Instead, many in the audience, feeling let down, broke into uncontrollable sobs. Some banged their heads against the wall to express their anguish. The organisers of the event, dazed by what they witnessed, could only mutter one word: Chomotkar! (A miracle!)

What impressed my father about Bhimsenji most, as it impressed those who were privileged to know him from close quarters, was the generosity of his spirit, his inexhaustible energy and his boundless curiosity. He spoke little. But when he did speak, it was to appreciate the talents of other musicians. His favourites, whose influence on his singing he readily acknowledged, included Amir Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Bal Gandharva, Kumar Gandharva, Gangubai Hangal and, not least, Kesarbai Kerkar. To gain her approval, he once transgressed the traditions of his gharana by singing three closely-related ragas - Multani, Marva and Puriya. Critics berated him, but he stood his ground.


His energy was the envy of his peers. He could give three performances in a single day, drive for hours from one city to another to take part in a musical event, fly long distances to dazzle his audiences without much rest. P L Deshpande had named him 'Hawai Gandharva'! His curiosity - about animals and insects, plants, butterflies, cars and food - too was all-consuming. That is doubtless why he found neither the time nor the inclination to systematically train disciples to carry forward his legacy. He chose to remain a disciple himself all his life. Perhaps he abided by a dictum attributed to George Bernard Shaw: "Those who know, learn; those who don't, teach."







It is unfortunate that India's tribal areas continue to fare poorly on development indices. Years of exploitation and government apathy have denied scheduled tribes access to the fruits of progress. Discontent over poor redressal of tribal grievances is being exploited by Maoists for their own ends. In this scenario, the government's keenness to see state governors play a proactive role in administration of tribal areas is welcome. Schedule V of the Constitution enables governors to direct the affairs of designated scheduled areas in nine states. By invoking the provisions of the law, the Centre can effect genuine development in these mostly neglected regions.

There are compelling reasons for governors to adopt an interventionist role. Bottlenecks to development in tribal areas have traditionally been due to exploitative policies of state governments dominated by non-tribal representation. Benefits of welfare schemes rarely reach tribal people. Compounding the problem are the prejudices of local administrative authorities, which often conspire to ensure tribal areas are kept out of the development graph. Governors are in a far better position to direct the implementation of government schemes, and guard against injustices that tribals routinely face. Plus, a direct role for the Centre in ushering in development will help mitigate the feeling of alienation among the tribal populace.

The move also makes sense in view of the Maoist insurgency in tribal areas. Tackling the menace requires a unified security response. With different political dispensations heading various Maoist-affected states, such synergy is rarely present. Governors could play a crucial part in coordination of security operations of central paramilitary forces in these areas. It is best to see the move as guaranteeing tribal welfare within the constitutional framework rather than an encroachment on states' turf. Proactive governors working in consultation with cooperative state governments is the way forward.








Citing its concern over growing leftwing extremism as well as lack of development, the UPA government is planning to create a more proactive role for governors by allowing them to intervene directly in tribal zones. However, the Centre's motives seem questionable, since it has decided to activate a dormant constitutional provision especially for nine states that have of late been ruled by opposition parties. It would seem that the UPA dispensation refuses to learn from the history of Centre-state relations in India which have been marked more by conflict than cooperation.

Among a host of contentious issues between the Centre and states, a major controversy is related precisely to the role of the governor. The recent unseemly spats between Karnataka governor H R Bhardwaj and chief minister B S Yeddyurappa is a case in point. If anything, the governor's discretionary powers should be pruned and his interventions minimised with checks and balances. This has been stressed in studies by successive Centre-state commissions, including the Sarkaria commission report. It however appears that, through proactive governors armed with Section 3 of Schedule V of the Constitution, the Centre wants to impose its diktats on opposition-ruled states.

The UPA must understand that greater concentration of powers in the hands of governors is akin to taking a top-down approach, which is against the federal spirit of the Constitution. Instead of creating another flashpoint in our federal set-up, the UPA would do well to ensure progress in key areas of reforms requiring Centre-state cooperation, such as the goods and services tax regime and critical infrastructure projects. The solution to the problems of local communities lies in a participatory, bottom-up approach, with greater devolution of power to the grassroots. The Centre must also think of governance issues, which means creating sufficient checks and balances to reduce administrative corruption and ineptitude.









It is a testimony to the remarkable patience and fortitude of the Nepali people that they are still willing to give their motley crew of politicians the umpteenth chance to form a government. For months now, we have seen the farcical attempts to elect a prime minister, after the 17th of which Maoist chief Prachanda withdrew to allow Communist Party of Nepal--Unified Marxist leader Jhala Nath Khanal to assume the post. But a week later, Mr Khanal has not been sworn in after talks on power-sharing between him and Prachanda have broken down. The Maoists have now agreed to support the government from outside. The rift is not on any matter of principle, it is simply on who gets the larger share of the pie and on how to create a security force to absorb the 20,000-strong Maoist guerrilla army. That Mr Khanal came to an agreement with Prachanda and agreed to this as well as to run the government in turns came as a shock to his own party which has refused to accede these demands. So, in effect, Nepal is back to square one.


Mr Khanal's first task will, if he is sworn in, be to get the budget endorsed. That is not likely to happen and this will plunge the country further into a financial crisis. The drafting of the much-awaited constitution which was to herald the dawn of a new Nepal has all but been suspended and there is no way Mr Khanal will be able to promulgate it by May 28.

Any which way you look at it, the one thing that is clear is that the Maoists are loathe to share power with anyone. Even though it is clear now that the people have little faith in the likes of Prachanda to lift the impoverished mountain nation out of the quagmire, the Maoists to whom democracy is anathema, have no intention of honouring their wishes.


This bickering over the loaves and fishes of office has come at a very high cost to Nepal. Its tourism industry is in the doldrums and foreign aid agencies are hesitant to give funds to a country where all institutions of governance seem to have collapsed. The democratic dividend which was to come after the exit of Nepal's last monarch King Gyanendra has simply vanished into the Himalayan mountain mist.

Prachanda and his cohorts have come up with that hoary old chestnut that foreigners are preventing progress in Nepal.

There is no doubt that India figures on top of the list. This inability to take responsibility for their country's fate is precisely what is keeping Nepal down. We have heard of people getting the leaders they deserve, this is a case of leaders getting a country they don't deserve.








This year's literary season opened with an entertaining spat between journalist and writer Hartosh Singh Bal and William Dalrymple, the public face of the Jaipur Literary Festival. It is closing with a row between the writers Pankaj Mishra and Patrick French over the latter's new book, India: A Portrait. Conducted in public, the discourse swiftly jettisoned the larger issues raised by Bal and Mishra and degenerated into a post-colonial slanging match. It's like watching a tournament in which sahibs in solar topees spar with querulous natives. And the excited spectators only want to know who's winning.

Rapid recap: Mishra trashed French's book as superficial and French hit back, accusing his critic of being a migratory champagne socialist, among other dreadful things. Earlier, Bal had accused Dalrymple of pretty much sneaking up on the Indian literary establishment and taking it hostage through a neocolonial plot known as the Jaipur Lit Fest. In response, Dalrymple screamed racism.

Shorn of the coruscating fireworks displays, the question these debates raise is: who can legitimately own Indian literature and steer the discourse on India? When perceptions of India's place in the world are changing rapidly, this is an important issue. Can Dalrymple - the Delhi farmhouse-dwelling, pyjama-clad sahib gone native - head up India's biggest literary festival? But, of course. Even if this Scotsman chooses to wear a kilt and sporran and plays the bagpipes, too.

It would be fine, if he was not projected as the heart and soul of the festival because at least a dozen other people, mostly Indians, have worked equally hard to build it. And if the festival was not projected internationally as the foremost forum of Indian literature, as it has been. Jaipur's uniqueness lies in its ability to attract talent from overseas. The festival accommodates indigenous literatures but they have been served better by other organisations, including dowdy State-funded agencies like the Sahitya Akademi.

As for French's new book, it was bound to face rough weather. It was sold as the definitive literary book on India, which it is not. Reviewers have generally found it inferior to French's excellent biography of VS Naipaul. And unluckily, it's come out when no one really needs another India book. Especially one which, though lovingly done, offers no new insights about either India shining, its main theme, or India unlit.

But the reviewers' strictures apply to just one book, and it is inexplicable why French chose to react so sharply, accusing Mishra of various crimes, including marrying into the British elite for unspecified but devilishly cunning purposes. Just as inexplicable as Dalrymple's pained cry of racism, which was plain weird and did nothing to address the specific charges levelled at him.

Ideas of race and colonialism have unfortunately come to dominate this discourse, in which the former colony is presumed to be stiffing it to the coloniser. But personally, I believe that such controversies would have arisen even if a Mandingo had attempted a portrait of India and an Ainu was the visible face of the Jaipur Literary Festival. The real issues relate to propriety and adequacy. The real questions, irrespective of ethnicity and modern history, are: who has earned the right to present India, and are they delivering the goods as advertised?

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine. The views expressed by the author are personal










Disclaimer: This article is not aimed at downgrading either economists or astrologers.

But hey, I really want to know the importance and effects (or rather side effects) of economic astrologers. Who are these people and what are they trying to do? An Indian court has recently ruled that astrology is a credible science. But what about 'economic astrology'? To explain further, this weird topic, I want to give some examples. When people with a lot of economic wisdom boldly give figures of economic significance such as GDP or inflation, poverty etc., we tend to take them quite seriously, at least the stock markets do. So one day the headlines read, for example, inflation will come down and the GDP will grow by xyz% by such and such date and the markets say 'God Bless' and shoot up. And then a few days or weeks later the same 'economic astrologers' say, no the estimated figures are now different and the stock markets say 'Oh Dear' and sing 'we all fall down'!

So what is the point of announcing 'estimates' that keep changing all the time? Do they really help consumers and producers of goods and services? Or do they simply create cycles of false hopes, panic attacks, misguided business/policy decisions and even affect people's hard-earned and invested money?

There is another area which I find hard to understand, that of presenting high profile reports using outdated data. A case in point is a December 2010 'new' report from the Water and Sanitation Programme of the World Bank that claimed that inadequate sanitation cost India about 6.4% of its GDP or the equivalent of $53.8 billion (R2.4 trillion as of today) in 2006 with a similar magnitude of losses likely to occur in later years. Now this figure seems mind-boggling, but two facts will make it feel like a drizzle rather than a thunderstorm. First, the report gives figures for 2006, which means a gap of perhaps four or more years from the present scenario. Second, according to the rural development ministry, due to the efforts of the international year of sanitation 2008 and beyond, and with the implementation of the Total Sanitation Campaign, the rural sanitation coverage, as reported by the states was about 67% in December 2010 (as against coverage of 31% in 2008 as mentioned in another World Bank report in March 2010). So how much credibility would such reports hold if they do not reflect what is happening today or give indications of the future?

Having spent years studying economics myself, one thing I have learnt is that economists do a great job in analysing what has happened, but when it comes to what is happening or will happen, this is a science or art that still needs to be mastered. Probably, then we can have some genuine 'economic astrologers' who could accurately predict current and future scenarios and give us remedies in advance to maximise the benefits or minimise the losses, perhaps through some 'economic' pujas (read paid consultancy services) to please the heavenly lords of economics.






It is hard to imagine Faiz Ahmed Faiz, that brave, vital poet, Sufi, communist and chain-smoking holder of an overflowing red glass as 100 years old. Yet, that is the age he would have reached tomorrow, February 13, 2011.

Such is the tragedy of the Partition that even one like I, born before that trauma, did not know of the magic power of this Pakistani poet's verse until 1993 when Merchant Ivory's In Custody appeared. By then, Faiz had been dead nine years. The tale of an Indian poet played by Shashi Kapoor was not on Faiz's life. But the genius of Ismail Merchant introduced into the narrative the poetry of Faiz. This transporting music and Shabana Azmi's acting lifted the film to a plane I had not expected to have to catch up with, when I saw it on the large screen and heard its songs.

Gham na kar, abr khul jaegaa, raat dhal jaegi, rut badal jaegaa… (Grieve not, the leaden sky will open, you will see the night yield and the season change…) belonged to my experience and yet not, for I, unlettered in Urdu, had never read them and Hindi cinema had kept me from Faiz. A friend, Nasreen Rehman, gave me Victor Kiernan's translation of Faiz with the suggestion that I make my 'real' acquaintance of Faiz with his Subh-e-Aazaadi (Dawn of Freedom) written on and for August 1947.

"Ye daagh daagh ujaalaa, ye shab-gazidaa sahar Vo intezaar thaa jiskaa, ye vo sahar nahin..." (This stain-covered daybreak, this night-bitten dawn/ This is not that long-looked-for break of day).

As happens with all mundane beings, this 'rising' of Faiz in my consciousness soon receded into the background, until nearly a decade later, when I heard former prime minister IK Gujral describe the atmosphere of mutual suspicion in South Asia to a Sri Lankan. He did so with a quotation from Faiz. The visitor was innocent of Urdu but Gujral provided a translation. He said: "We are afraid of each other, we distrust each other, we live in doubt, in perpetual tension... Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the Pakistani poet... he was one of us really... by 'us' I mean all secular South Asians... has described this condition in a lovely line, Aaj meraa dil fikr mein hai... in sab se kah do, aaj ki shab jab diye jalaaen unchi rakkhen lau... which means 'Today, doubt fills my soul... say to them all, This evening when they light the lamps, let them keep the wicks turned high...' We have to reach a time when we are not bothered about whether the wicks are turned high or low. We have to light the lamps of mutual faith".

My next near-decadal date with Faiz came in 2006 when at a conference, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said something that reminded me of another immortal piece by Faiz. Those present at the meeting were expecting to hear the PM speak on security, terrorism and law and order. He did not disappoint them and gave them suggestions on how they could contribute towards addressing those vital issues. But then, departing from the written speech, the PM said he would like them to do something different as well. He said he would like them to take some time out of their busy schedules to do something about the condition of prisoners and under-trials in our jails. We need jails, prisons, 'correctional homes', he said, but we do not need to run them like they might have been in the middle ages. Listening to him, I could not but think of Faiz's long periods in jail for his political belief, including a spell in solitary confinement. And Faiz's Zindaan Ki Ek Subh (A Prison Daybreak) scrolled down my head, particularly its lines: Duur darwaazaa khulaa koi, koi band huaa, Duur machlii koi zanjiir, Machalke roi, Duur utaraa kisii taale kii jigar mein khanjar, Sar patakne lagaa rah-rahke dariichaa koi... (A distant door opens, another shuts, A distant chain scrapes sullenly, scrapes and sobs, Far off a dagger plunges into some locks' vitals, a shutter rattles, rattles, beating its head...)

I took the PM's suggestion about prisons as an instruction and visited some of them in West Bengal, an experience that might not have come my way but for that conference and its unintended evocation of Faiz. The inmates were not uninterested in the reform of conditions but their priority was release from jail. In one correctional home, one of the inmates I met was a young bearded man. Speaking in Urdu, he said, he was a Pakistani who had come with a visa on a pilgrimage to India when he was rounded up. "I am completely innocent, I have nothing to do with politics." And then came the appeal for release. "That is not in my hands," I said to him. "There is a law and it will give you every opportunity to explain what you have just said." I could see I did not convince him.

Changing the subject, I asked "How are you spending your time here?" The answer was a surprise. "The place is beautiful, as I can make out from the sky and the tree-tops that I am able to see... but I spend most of my time reading the Koran, something I never did when I was back home, free."

Faiz has a line: Sahn-e-zindan ke be-watan ashjaar (Trees of the prison yard, exiles...)

Can Faiz's centenary find ways of easing the sub-continent's procedures for each others' citizens imprisoned beyond their borders for offences which are un-linked to terror or conspiracy?

The Faiz composition that has most vitally permeated popular imagination is Hum Dekhenge (We Shall Witness). The call for a mass uprising in favour of human rights applies not just to regimes but also to tyrannies and can be seen as directed at the masterminds of terror. Few words, written in a different context, can be so powerfully resonant in changed circumstances as that ghazal, especially in the elemental and eternal voice of Iqbal Bano. It is an alternative non-geopolitical anthem, one that has seized popular imagination, as 'We Shall Overcome' has.

Some centenaries cannot pass with flowers and festschrifts alone.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor. The views expressed by the author are personal








On the 17th day, everything changed. On Thursday evening, more than two weeks after protesters occupied Tahrir Square in the centre of Cairo and turned it into "the only free place in Egypt", they gathered to listen to their octogenarian president, Hosni Mubarak, read out what they expected would be his resignation speech. For the entire day, one piece of news after another had first provided hope, which then hardened into a certainty: Mubarak would go. And so, when Mubarak's speech dashed those hopes one by one, the anger and desperation in the square were correspondingly intense. After so many days, as the numbers of anti-Mubarak protesters swelled, had nothing actually changed?

But everything already had. Mubarak claimed first that he would not leave for months, and in the interim was only delegating some of his power to his ex-spymaster vice president, Omar Suleiman — a plan the military at first defended. Yet it was impossible to ignore the sense that the 30-year Mubarak era, which so defined the politics of the Arab world, was over. Nor, in the end, could Mubarak ignore that feeling; he left Cairo, and had Suleiman read out his resignation on state TV on Friday evening. The president who had spoken to his people, befuddled and out-of-touch, was no longer a strongman of the sort who has bestraddled North Africa and the Middle East for decades. Even the military's statement of support had carried a sting in the tail: an endorsement of the protesters' demands that Egypt's 30-year emergency rule, in operation ever since Mubarak's predecessor Anwar Sadat was assassinated, be lifted.

As Suleiman woodenly announced the end of Mubarak's reign, those outside the riven country, blessed with the opportunity to try and take a longer view, found it easy to recognise the magnitude of what has changed. The sight of a strongman, shrunken and disconnected, trying and failing to hang on to power as his allies turned against him, was in its way as potent a visual marker of change as the cheering crowds that greeted news of his departure. What those in Tahrir Square believed from the beginning was a revolution turned out, to the cynics' surprise, to be something almost that. In front of a transfixed world, a voice long-suppressed has found utterance.







Starting with the first formal enrolments in Puducherry, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has now included T for transgender, alongside the male and female categories. Little by little, the state and its enumerating instruments have begun to widen their lens, and recognise the separate identity of those who do not fit the conventional taxonomy or choose not to. Until recently, they have lived in a kind of legal limbo, deprived of many of the rights granted under civil law like the right to vote, marry, possess a ration card or driving licence, as well as health and employment benefits. And much of this stemmed from the tyranny of forms that provided only two options — male or female. And these forms matter, because they are the set of documents that recognise and constitute formal citizenship. It goes without saying that they have been the victim of deep prejudice and social discrimination, even violence.

However, in recent years, sexual minorities in India have banded together to wrest their rights, and have already managed to make serious dents in policy. In 2005, the Centre introduced the "E" category for eunuchs, in passport forms. The Election Commission includes a category "O" for others, and the census forms now also acknowledge gender-variant identities.

Putting an accurate number on India's transgendered people is important. The census presents a snapshot of the population, it determines how benefits flow to various segments, it forms the basis for welfare allocations. The UID, similarly, is going to form the basis of much social policy, and so, apart from the social and official recognition it offers, there will finally be a real estimate of the number of transgendered people.





Industrial growth in December 2010 was a mere 1.6 per cent compared to December last year. This sharp decline in

Index of Industrial Production must be interpreted with caution. This is a year-on-year figure. Growth in December 2009 was high, at 18 per cent, so part of the reason why December 2010 appears to be witnessing low growth is the high base effect. Unless we see low growth continuing persistently for some months, the numbers should not suggest that policy direction should change. Or that the Reserve Bank and government should no longer proceed with tightening of monetary and fiscal policy that is necessary for controlling inflation.

The first problem with the IIP data has been its coverage. The episode of very sharp growth in July 2010 brought this to attention.

In July, IIP growth was reported to be 15 per cent. The output of machinery grew by 49 per cent. Within machinery the production of "insulated wires and cables" grew by 518 per cent. This pulled up IIP sharply. Added to this was a 57 per cent increase in the production of PVC pipes and tubes. This kind of growth was unprecedented and highly unlikely. In 2009-10, IIP placed the growth in the machinery sector at 21 per cent. However, when we compare this number to the sales revenues of corporates in this sector, we find that revenues grew by only 2.6 per cent. This suggests a discrepancy. Data from CMIE suggests that in the machinery sector companies which manufacture wind turbines and internal combustion engines took a big beating. These items are, however, not included in the IIP. Similarly, IIP for rubber, plastic, petroleum and coal products reported a 15 per cent rise in 2009-10. However, sales revenues from these companies declined by 2.5 per cent during that year. The 15 per cent rise was from PVC pipes, giant pipes and tubes and rubber tyres.










One challenge with analysing the situation in which the UPA government finds itself in its second term is that you cannot find any real parallel, or comparative reference point, for it in our political history. Governments have run aground early in their tenures despite comfortable majorities (Rajiv Gandhi's in its third year, and Janata probably from the moment it was sworn in). But those were different situations, and first-term governments. This is a coalition that only emerged stronger through a tenuous first term, and has lately lost its way.

The government is locked in mortal combat with the opposition, an inevitability, but it has visited UPA 2 much too early. It is caught in withering arguments with, or over, key institutions. In this case, notably, the judiciary.

Just a year back, the debate was about how to cleanse the judiciary of increasing corruption. But now, the political class and the executive have ceded so much moral ground that the judiciary chides them almost every day. Of course, the Supreme Court has risen in stature with the rise of a tough, no-nonsense Chief Justice in S.H. Kapadia, but that is not the only reason this newspaper listed him on the top of this year's national Power List ( news/the-most-powerful-indians-in-2011-no.-110/745646/). It was also an acknowledgement of the changed balance of power, where the executive and the political class had lost so much credibility, and the higher judiciary had moved in to fill that space. Every evening it is the judiciary's admonitions to the government that make the headlines — and even if this news-paper has most respectfully cautioned the higher judiciary against ruling by obiter dicta rather than judgments, and of the perils of playing to the sab-chor-hain gallery, the fact is, it is finding popular applause.

If you were a UPA leader you would ask why should it be so when their government has been brave enough to jail one of its own ministers. But popular opinion would give credit for this to the Supreme Court instead, under whose pressure some cleansing has begun. And yet, so peculiar is UPA 2's predicament that it is now caught in yet another hopeless argument with the same court on the CVC's appointment. Hopeless, because whether P.J. Thomas wins or loses, the government would end up looking silly, cynical and, either way, weak.

Surely the Congress party's first instinct, fighting fire with fire, has backfired. Its "nuancing" of the telecom scam under a new, and personally clean, minister has not convinced anybody. Some humility would have served the government better: of accepting something truly awful has happened and is being sorted out by a newly empowered CBI under an unforgiving Supreme Court, so let's all watch this space. The totally bull-headed rejection of the opposition's demand for a JPC, even at the cost of losing one Parliament session and thre-atening another, has only increased its own difficulties. Hopefully, that is being sorted out in a new mood of pre-budget session realism.

You can read out a sermon to the opposition as well. Just what do you expect to gain by so upping the ante so early in the tenure of a Lok Sabha? Do you want an election already? But the opposition will be the opposition, and it is its basic instinct to play spoiler. Why, instead, did the Congress need to raise the temperature of combat — with the BJP — to such a high level in a year when it is not going to lock horns with it in any state election? Of course you need to underline your ideological commitments, but you have to choose your moment. Also, if you think to be seen in constant combat with the BJP is the only way to get back the Muslim vote, you have learnt nothing from the Bihar election.

Finally, the UPA 2 has been cursed by its own inbuilt contradictions and conflicting ambitions, and for once the allies take no blame for this. The essential contradiction, of the centre of gravity of UPA 2 sitting not in the government but in the Congress party, which, it seems, has begun celebrating its "victory" of 2014 too soon, still persists. It gets even more complex when the most powerful Congressmen prefer to sit in the party office, strengthening the impression that it is not exactly their government, but has been outsourced to loyal mandarins.

But there are still more than three years to go. The prime minister says often enough that a public office is like holding public trust. You can't have it and do nothing with it. You cannot go into a sullen, can't-do-anything/ do-nothing/ what-can-I-do mode. You cannot do this particularly now, when our messy politics is threatening to damage the India story that the entire world has been celebrating and that you began to script exactly 20 years ago.

The bitter truth is, the India story is now under threat. It may have been the second India-theme year at Davos within five years, but under the hoopla, the mood was sober. There were more questions about India than excitement. About corruption, governance deficit, inability of the government to fulfil even old reform commitments made in Parliament, about shifting, inconsistent government policies, the likelihood of a change of leadership and, most tellingly, about top Indian corporates "shifting" their balance sheets overseas.

And there is no need of conspiracy theories here, because these doubts are all rooted in facts, the most telling of which are a 60 per cent fall in FDI this year, and now our stalling manufacturing. That is what our stock markets have been telling us, bucking the rising global trend.

Can UPA 2 regain its balance and authority? Can it protect the India story, and thereby the legacy of two decades of reform? You could argue that it is still possible. But then it has to try changing the headlines from tonight. No squabbling ministers, no party-government conflicts, no fighting with institutions, and finding a modus vivendi with the main opposition so at least some long-pending legislation can pass. It is a good thing that the prime minister has begun to speak out on some key issues lately. It would help if Sonia and Rahul broke their silence too. The budget fortnight is usually the best time for a government to change the headlines. And nobody knows that better than the prime minister, and his most astute and exceptional cabinet colleague, the finance minister.







Krishi Bhawan took legitimate pride in the announcement that the agricultural growth rate this year will be 5.4 per cent. The point was made that this growth is doubly blessed coming from the eastern region, and that pulses are doing well. Rice, too — the campaign for hybrid paddy seems at last to be bearing fruit.

Of course, it is true that agricultural growth after a bad year is always high, since the economy makes up for the losses of the earlier bad monsoon. However, the average growth rate for the last three years is still only a tad above 2 per cent.

Of course, for macro economy impacts, supplies will have to be counted at a 2 per cent rate hitting 7 per cent consumption growth. The thali is filling up, but given our appetite it is also half empty.

The agriculture ministry is within its rights in claiming good performance. So is the prime minister in saying that the biggest threat to growth is inflation.

The debates we are going through reflect only a dim understanding of the nature of our problems. For example, in the so-called debate on food security between the PM's economic advisory council and the National Advisory Council both relied on a normative per capita consumption of grains, say 18 kg per person per month. The only controversy was over which poverty numbers to take — and the numbers have their problems, which I know very well, having chaired the task force which designed the original poverty line.

But this debate is irrelevant, and meanwhile, the real issue is ignored. That issue is that the poor, whichever way you define them, don't want grain, but want the food they like. This no one talks about because they cannot be given that food by any sarkar.

The fact that poor Indians by now have a very low propensity to demand grain, and those who insist on giving them half a kg a day (both the NAC and the PMEAC, as well as others) are living in a world of their own. The poor Indian may have been like that when we were living from ship to mouth, but the poor Indian then was much poorer than today.

We once estimated demand behaviour separately for the rich and the poor in rural and urban areas. That work was of an enduring kind, and was used for dual pricing strategies using markets and PDS.

In those days, we found that if income went up by 1 per cent the rural poor would increase their consumption of wheat by 1.82 per cent and of rice by 0.88 per cent. The tradition of estimation we started was continued; by this century, those numbers had changed. Now, if income went up by 1 per cent, the consumption of grain by the rural poor went up only by 0.46 per cent.

In other words, if income went up, the most vulnerable in India — the rural poor — would increase their demand for grains by a third less than three decades ago.

Now income of the poor can go up by market forces, but also by NREGA and now food security — for, if they get 18 kg of grain, they will have that much more income. So if they won't eat that much grain what will they do if we give it to them?

Fortunately, we track that too. If the income of the poor went up by 1 per cent, their demand for pulses would then go up by 1.4 per cent, of fruits by 1.04 per cent, of milk and milk products by 2.36 per cent, of meat and eggs by 1.39 per cent, of sugar by 1.47 per cent and so on and so forth. It makes sense to give the poor girl child milk to keep her in school and of course an egg.

The Indian dilemma is not just food supply bottlenecks in a fast-growing economy, but pushing grain without developing the rest adequately. We need some more grain, say 15 per cent more in the rest of the decade, produced with high technology and less land.

We need everything else — a lot more — to give energy and satisfaction to all our people, particularly as the poor get their place in the sun.

If we don't do it, they will sell the grain and buy what they want. But we will destroy our capability for widespread growth, the only real food security for a billion-plus nation on the move.

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







As he inaugurated the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit recently, the prime minister cautioned against turning environmental clearances into a new licence permit raj.

Licence raj refers to quantitative restrictions on output or purchase, and conjures the imagery of unaccountable discretion, inconsistency, unpredictability and uncertainty about the timeframe of government decisions. Environmental regulation, if it has the effect of stalling investment, and if operated in an ad hoc, subjective manner, without clear timelines, clearly would have these features. But are these inherent features of Indian environmental regulation?

I am speaking only of the environmental appraisal system under the environmental protection (EP) act, 1986, and not of other regulatory processes also under the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), for example, forest clearances, or coastal zone regulation, or the forest rights act (under the ministry of tribal affairs), which may also have legitimate claims to "licence raj" notoriety, but cannot be dealt with in a brief article.

Now for some basics: the environment is about life-support — water, air, soil, living things, and must not be trivialised. A Confucian saying notes that the entirety of human civilisation rests on six inches of topsoil, and the fact that it rains. Second, environmental resources and concerns are not generic, but extremely specific as regards time, place, and the nature of the activity. A polluting power plant near the Sunderbans will not have the same impact as an identical one in Jaisalmer, and must be dealt with differently. Third, mapping activities for their impact on natural systems and on human well-being and identifying mitigation measures involves multiple disciplines in physical, natural and social sciences and technology. For example, tracing the impact of cooling water discharges from a steel mill on aquatic creatures and consequent loss of catch to the local fisherfolk, involves considerable scientific knowledge. Finally, local communities who inevitably bear much of the adverse impact would need to be taken on board. They need to be given countervailing benefits, through transparent, fair interaction. These aspects do not lend themselves to a box-ticking exercise.

And so, environmental appraisal is conducted by an environmental impact analysis (EIA), typically a 400-500-page technical report, with a summary of principal concerns, findings, and remedial measures, intelligible to the intelligent layperson, and translated into the vernacular. The regulatory process involves independent expert appraisal of the impact analysis, including its environmental management plan, the record of the public hearing and acceptance or rejection by the designated authority.

The current environmental appraisal system has been in place since a 2006 notification (with several subsequent amendments based on experience). The earlier regime, dating from 1994, had several procedural and substantive flaws, and horror stories of clearances taking up to seven years. The 2006 replacement sought to address these.

What exactly were these flaws? First, the 1994 system created a wholly centralised regime — all projects requiring environmental appraisal had to be cleared by the MoEF at Delhi. Soon, the MoEF was overwhelmed with the volume of work, leading to long backlogs. The 2006 system created a two-tier system: projects with relatively modest potential impacts(Category B) to be cleared at state levels, but with qualifications of the expert appraisers notified and reviewed by the MoEF, and involving less comprehensive impact analyses. The designated state-level authority is strictly professional, not political, with qualifications notified by and acceptable to the MoEF. Projects with potential major impact (Category A), involving full environmental impact analyses are to be appraised at the Central level by independent experts, with the final decision to be taken by the MoEF. The 2006 notification furnished lists of such projects, based on their technological processes and scale. Projects in neither category were exempt from prior environmental clearance.

Second, an environmental impact analysis cannot address all the concerns of a project that might arise. It must confine itself to the most salient. Under the 1994 notification, the environmental impact analysis consultants could only guess at what the expert appraisers might consider these to be; frequently the appraisers identified more, or different, concerns. Moreover, the appraisers did not necessarily raise these concerns at one go; they did so piecemeal — so, back to the drawing board each time. The 2006 notification requires an initial interaction of the EIA consultants with the expert appraisers, based on a checklist listing the basic features of the project, and the local ecology, during which the final terms of reference are drawn up.

Third, under the 1994 system, public consultations were virtually open-ended. Local authorities were not accountable for prior information to be given to the community, or the time taken for the hearings, or recording the minutes. The 2006 notification specified the responsibilities of local authorities, clear timelines and alternative courses of action if public consultation was not carried out in time.

In the next stage, the environmental impact analysis, together with the public consultation report, is considered by the expert appraisal committee. Under the 1994 notification there was no bar on piecemeal queries from appraisers. The 2006 regime required all objections or clarifications to be sought in one go.

Finally, the 1994 system did not place a firm time limit on how long ministerial approval/rejection could take. The 2006 notification specified the time limit for ministerial decisions at the MoEF and so that theproject may proceed in terms of the appraisal committee recommendations if the decision is not forthcoming.

The 2006 notification evolved over a three-year process with stakeholder consultations at various stages, inputs from the World Bank on best practice, and finally, acceptance by the major industry associations. So why has the concern about licence permit raj arisen now?

The 2006 notification sought to strengthen the institutional basis and professionalise environmental regulation. However, whether this comes about or not depends upon those who work the system. Here, there have been several problems.

One, much of industry is still unaware of the nature of environmental regulation and considers it to be a trivial, check-list activity. They are unprepared, even surprised, when confronted with its actual due diligence requirements. The MoEF's recent evangelism, hopefully, could be a wake-up call.

Two, the quality of environmental impact anaysis consultants in India is still very spotty, leading to poor quality analyses, and repeated interactions with the appraisers. This issue is being addressed through a process of quality accreditation. Rigidly sticking to the timelines in cases of poor quality impact analyses would mean that a majority of applications would be rejected outright.

Finally, the MoEF has clearly stepped outside the institutional framework in several significant cases, and based its decisions on apparently political, rather than scientific considerations, or the blandishments of activists. This is the true danger.

The writer is former secretary in the ministry of environment and forests







The watchdogs are chasing the lobbyists and exposing scams after scams. The activists are after the wrong-doers, asking how dare Shah Rukh smoke in the confines of his private space, and ripping down posters of Aishwarya in Guzarish. And of course don't miss the turmoil over adult themes in movies and puritans getting after Sach Ka Samna with a vengeance, Rakhi Sawant, 'Sheila...' and many others.

Bad. Bad. Very Bad. They must all be gotten rid of immediately.

As a mother I am delighted. Delighted that while all this is going on in the interest of my child, he gets the best of the kids' world from Shin Chan, Hagemaru and the best of all, Takeshi's Castle. Oh, and when I take him for the cutest of kiddy movies like Alpha and Omega (the hall was full of under-fives), it is delightful to answer kids' questions on all the sexual innuendos and overtones.

So here's my rating for each of these :

I am particularly thrilled to note a recent episode (February 7) of POGO's Takeshi's Castle with the obnoxious Javed Jaffery commentary making a clear reference to "balaatkar" when the participant is caught by the two evil-looking men in the maze round. And it's not the first time. He has entertained us with his cheap and vulgar comments in most episodes. And of course, the elan with which he often adds, "Ladkiyon ko yeh sab nahin karna chahiye. Yeh mardon ka kaam hai," and the comments on people's anatomy, that's cute, isn't it? Three cheers for POGO and Javed Jaffery. Rated: V (Vulgar).

And don't miss Shin Chan, a favourite of all parents. The constipated accent, the dissent, and a family driven by unscrupulous behaviour. Just the thing we want our children to learn. Cho chweeet? Anyone for Shin Chan as your next one's name? Rated: O (Obnoxious).

Alpha and Omega: All my time was spent in distracting the kids we went with to look away, coughing to cover up dialogues, and pretending we didn't notice the scenes that demanded explaining. Rated: S (Starved).

And finally, my all-time favourite: Tom and Jerry. We could do with clipping those many smoking scenes. Can we? SRK can't, Aishwarya can't. But Tom can?

Hey, but who am I talking to? Anyone listening? Or are you too busy with what Bollywood is up to and which adult programme to axe next? Kids' channels often serve as baby-sitting aids in many households and a meal-time distraction to ensure the child eats well. And children often watch them without parental guidance. Kids channels need to be driven with responsibility and maturity while retaining their appeal to children. The current formula seems to be to flick from elsewhere, and overlay the programming with cheap Hindi translations. Imagine the reach and influence of such programming. Children emulate these characters and sanctify what their heroes do. It is not possible for homes to constantly monitor what the child views on TV and to track such abuse. Yes, this is a form of child abuse. Abusing her innocence. Abusing her impressionable mind. All in the name of cartoons and characters.

Television needs a more stringent and careful filtering process. Here are steps I suggest, and I urge other irate parents to add to this list.

1. There must be an active censor board for children's TV programmes. This panel must comprise some parents of children of the age it caters to, schoolteachers, children's writers, etc. Not silver-screen celebrities.

2. The board must give a rating to every programme before it is aired. Much like the certification for movies.

3. An active complaint cell must be set up providing a website where viewers can upload their comments in real time. This must be maintained by an independent panel with no scope given to the channels to manipulate.

4. Rigid penalties must be in place for frequently offending channels.

5. The information and broadcasting ministry must take note of this and take action.

It's a pity that what the nation of tomorrow views is the least supervised. Our prudish mentality is forever seeking the higher moral ground not for ourselves, but for others, by keeping a fixed eye with blinkers on, on the likes of Sach Ka Samna and Guzarish. Until then — carry on, POGO.

The writer is CEO, Product of the Year', India







Reassembling the cabinet

The big story from Pakistan this week was of the federal cabinet's dissolution. Talks of downsizing the council of ministers — said to be one of the largest in the world — had been doing the rounds for weeks now. Billed as an austerity measure in financially-straitened Pakistan, newspapers have reported that the PPP leadership is aiming to bring in "honest" ministers.

The Express Tribune reported on February 11: "As President Asif Ali Zardari... accepted resignations of outgoing ministers, speculation increased... on the names that would make it to the new set-up — believed to be smaller and more disciplined than the oversized cabinet it replaces... the president would administer oath to members of the incoming cabinet, possibly as early as Friday. The PPP... authorised PM Gilani to dissolve his cabinet and form a new one with 'fewer and more honest' members."

War of nerves

Bilateral relations between Pakistan and the US could well take a sharp turn, suggest reports in Pakistan's papers. Pakistan refuses to budge from its stance on handing over Raymond Davis to the US, an employee of the American consulate in Lahore accused of murdering two Pakistani nationals. Dawn reported on February 7: "The US ambassador to Pakistan pressed the country's president... to release Davis, who Washington says was illegally detained after he shot and killed two men in Lahore."

The wife of one of the two deceased committed suicide, reported Dawn on February 7: "the 26-year old widow had taken insecticide... after learning Davis would be handed over to the US... without trial... She had told newsmen gathered at the hospital: 'The killer is being treated as a guest at the police station. I need justice and blood for the blood of my husband'."

A Congressional delegation that visited Pakistan last week to secure Davis's release reportedly suggested that Pakistan's stand on Davis could hurt its coffers. The News reported on February 8: "US lawmakers threatened... to cut aid to Pakistan unless it freed Davis... The US has already warned that high-level dialogue would be at risk unless Pakistan releases Davis... 'It is imperative they release him and there is certainly the possibility there would be repercussions if they don't,' Representative John Kline, a Republican from Minnesota, told reporters on his return (from Islamabad). 'It's entirely possible that a member of Congress would come down and offer an amendment to cut funding for Pakistan based on their detaining Davis... My guess is there would be a lot of support for such an amendment, frankly, because of the outrage of detaining an American with diplomatic immunity."

"The Supreme Court was moved to "immediately take custody of Davis... and to ensure his fair trial by transferring his case to a high court outside Punjab," reported The News on February 8.

Talks to talk

"Pakistan and Indian foreign secretaries met in Thimphu... but failed to set any dates for the resumption of peace talks between the two countries," reported Daily Times on February 7. An editorial in Dawn on February 8 stated: "There is nothing to mourn, just as there is hardly anything to rejoice about regarding the outcome of Sunday's meeting in Thimphu between the Pakistani and Indian foreign secretaries."

Staff turbulence

Pakistan's ailing national airline, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) came to a grinding halt this week. The News reported on February 7: "The flight operation of the PIA came to a near halt on Tuesday after employees went on a strike and blocked entrances of major airports... Scuffles also broke out between the workers associated with rival unions, which stand apart on the question of demanding the resignation of MD Aijaz Haroon, who sent home eight pilots on charges of misconduct. The latest setback for the PIA came at a time when it... is trying to bolster revenues through a code-share agreement with Turkish Airlines — a move bitterly opposed by the Council of Employees of PIA." The Express Tribune explained the case on February 11: "PIA's decision to give up its passengers to Turkish Airlines will turn the national carrier into a 'travel agency', president of the Pakistan Airline Pilots' Association, Captain Sohail Baluch said... PIA signed a MoU with Turkish Airlines on December 29 last year to share their passengers for Europe and Asia flights. Baluch said that by entering into this agreement, PIA was giving up all its profitable routes to Turkish Airlines."

Further trouble

Former president Pervez Musharraf has been declared an "absconder in Benazir Bhutto assassination case... He would be declared proclaimed offender if he fails to appear before the court," reported The News on February 8.






Watching President Hosni Mubarak addressing his nation Thursday night, explaining why he would not be drummed out of office by foreigners, I felt embarrassed for him and worried for Egypt. This man is staggeringly out of touch with what is happening inside his country. This is Rip Van Winkle meets Facebook.

The fact that the several hundred thousand Egyptians in Tahrir Square reacted to Mubarak's speech by waving their shoes— they surely would have thrown them at him if he had been in range — and shouting "go away, go away," pretty much sums up the reaction. Mubarak, in one speech, shifted this Egyptian democracy drama from mildly hopeful, even thrilling, to dangerous.

All day here there was a drumbeat of leaks that the fix was in: Mubarak was leaving, the army leadership was meeting and Vice President Omar Suleiman would oversee the constitutional reform process. The fact that this did not turn out to be the case suggests there is some kind of a split in the leadership of the Egyptian army, between the anti-Mubarak factions leaking his departure and the pro-Mubarak factions helping him to stay.

The words of Mubarak and Suleiman directed to the democracy demonstrators could not have been more insulting: "Trust us. We'll take over the reform agenda now. You all can go back home, get back to work and stop letting those foreign satellite TV networks -— i.e., Al Jazeera — get you so riled up. Also, don't let that Obama guy dictate to us proud Egyptians what to do."

This narrative is totally out of touch with the reality of this democracy uprising in Tahrir Square, which is all about the self-empowerment of a long-repressed people no longer willing to be afraid, no longer willing to be deprived of their freedom, and no longer willing to be humiliated by their own leaders, who told them for 30 years that they were not ready for democracy. Indeed, the Egyptian democracy movement is everything that Hosni Mubarak says it is not: homegrown, indefatigable and authentically Egyptian. Future historians will write about the large forces that created this movement, but it is the small stories you encounter in Tahrir Square that show why it is unstoppable.

I spent part of the morning in the square watching and photographing a group of young Egyptian students wearing plastic gloves taking garbage in both hands and neatly scooping it into black plastic bags to keep the area clean. This touched me in particular because more than once in this column I have quoted the aphorism that "in the history of the world no one has ever washed a rented car." I used it to make the point that no one has ever washed a rented country either — and for the last century Arabs have just been renting their countries from kings, dictators and colonial powers. So, they had no desire to wash them.

Well, Egyptians have stopped renting, at least in Tahrir Square, where a sign hung Thursday said: "Tahrir — the only free place in Egypt." So I went up to one of these young kids on garbage duty — Karim Turki, 23, who worked in a skin-care shop — and asked him: "Why did you volunteer for this?" He couldn't get the words out in broken English fast enough: "This is my earth. This is my country. This is my home. I will clean all Egypt when Mubarak will go out." Ownership is a beautiful thing.

As I was leaving the garbage pile, I ran into three rather prosperous-looking men who wanted to talk. One of them, Ahmed Awn, 31, explained that he was financially comfortable and even stood to lose if the turmoil here continued, but he wanted to join in for reasons so much more important than money. Before this uprising, he said, "I was not proud to tell people I was an Egyptian. Today, with what's been done here" in Tahrir Square, "I can proudly say again I am an Egyptian."

Humiliation is the single most powerful human emotion, and overcoming it is the second most powerful human emotion. That is such a big part of what is playing out here.

Finally, crossing the Nile bridge away from the square, I was stopped by a well-dressed Egyptian man, a Times reader — who worked in Saudi Arabia. He told me that he came to Cairo Thursday to take his two sons to see, hear, feel and touch Tahrir Square. "I want it seared in their memory," he told me. These are the people whom Mubarak is accusing of being stirred up entirely by foreigners. In truth, the Tahrir movement is one of the most authentic, most human, quests for dignity and freedom that I have ever seen.

But rather than bowing to that, retiring gracefully and turning over the presidency either to the army or some kind of presidency council made up of respected figures to oversee the transition to democracy, Mubarak seems determined to hang on in a way that, at best, will slow down Egypt's evolution to democracy and, at worst, take a grass-roots, broad-based Egyptian nonviolent democracy movement and send it into a rage.Thomas L. Friedman







When pundits wrote their 2011 forecasts around this New Year, a revolution in the Arab world played no part in their calculations. Then Tunisia happened. A jasmine movement sent its long-ruling, luxury-loving president to look for pastures elsewhere. Contrary to dominant stereotypes, this revolution was peaceful, marked by the absence of big leaders and the presence of young ones and the participation of the middle class, and guided by mobile text messages, Facebook, Twitter et al. Doubts remained whether the Tunisian momentum could really spread to the rest of the Arab world. To be straight, many pundits weren't even sure that the Arab world could "handle" democracy or, in any case, do so without disrupting the oil market. Then Egypt took off. And no matter how many people congregated on Tahrir Square, no matter how their ingenious networking defied information blackouts, world leaders kept mouthing palliatives favouring an "orderly and genuine" transition to democracy. After years of being inured behind the walls of official propaganda, Hosni Mubarak is having the hardest time understanding that he can't just pass on status quo arguments to Tahrir Square. One after another, palliative-mongers from Saudi Arabia, Israel, the UK, the US et al have had to rein in their support for Mubarak. Big pundits, by and large, have now lined up squarely on the side of democracy in Egypt. Some cite versions of the Bush doctrine, others draw up World Bank type of data to substantiate that Egypt has the structural soundness to support political freedoms. Among those who have remained silent, many have been forced to clarify why this is the case. Paul Krugman offered up a blogpost, explaining he didn't know anything, had no expertise, hadn't even ever looked at the economic situation.

Egypt's army has provided another big surprise, a big one. There were reasoned fears that it could do a Tiananmen Square. The army is a big employer, has big stakes in many key industries and is a massive power centre. Once the action intensified, everyone knew it could cast the winning card. Well, that card now appears squarely thrown on the side of the people. The "hug a soldier" campaign has gotten fairy-tale payback. Although a military coup could change all this. We couldn't have predicted today's events a few months ago. And it's impossible today to say, with certitude, what Egypt will look like over the coming months and years. But Tahrir Square's place in the history books is already assured. Jordan's king has promised political reforms and Yemen's president has vowed to step down when his term ends. Pundits are preparing to relearn their political geography.





After a long wait, Insurance Regulatory and Development

Authority (Irda) has finally issued orders for portability of health insurance policies, in much the same way you have mobile number portability today. To be effective from July 1, portability allows clients of one medical insurance firm to take her policy to another while retaining all the benefits—the insurance premium, like phone tariffs, of course will differ across players. Today, if you move from one insurance company to another, you lose your benefits; portability will prevent this. An example will make that clear. If you took an insurance policy six months ago and then suddenly had a heart attack, the heart disease will not be considered a pre-existing disease when you renew your insurance the next year. If you go to a new insurance firm, however, it does become a pre-existing disease and so doesn't get covered by insurance. Under portability, it will get covered. Of course, the usual riders will apply—so the cooling-off period in which no cover will be provided for a pre-existing disease can be a year in some diseases, two in others and so on. Ailments associated with gall bladder stones, for instance, are not covered for the initial two years after the commencement of a policy.

But to make portability work, the insurance industry will have to move to a shared database by which a company can immediately access the history of any person who approaches it for health insurance. Insurers, however, are not keen to share databases on the grounds that the data is confidential and sharing that would mean giving out potential business information to the competitors. Though Irda has asked companies to share the claim details where the policyholder has opted for portability within seven working days of a request from the renewing insurer, it is an open question if this will happen, since no penalties have been specified. Moreover, the bigger challenge for the insurance regulator is to develop standardised rates for various ailments according to the facilities being offered by the hospital. Last year, all public sector insurers had withdrawn their cashless facility as the claim ratio reached over 120% and state-insurers were not able to sustain their business. Though the cashless facility has been restored in limited hospitals, unless the issue of standardised rates is addressed at the earliest, insurance portability will further add to the confusion.





In his attempt to rationalise A Raja's spectrum scam with the ultimate objective to blame it on basic flaws in the telecom policy and trace its roots to the NDA's regime to score political points, telecom minister Kapil Sibal has done a great disservice to his core profession—the judiciary. The one-man committee constituted by him under retired Justice Shivraj Patil can only be described in one sentence—it's a monumental clerical exercise—the work could have been done equally well, if not better, by any section officer serving the government of India!

Sibal as well as his colleagues in the Congress Party may revel that the Justice has stuck to his brief—to look into the appropriateness of the decisions taken since 2001 till 2009 and if any deviations took place from the stated policies—and, in the process, found flaws with Arun Shourie-Pradip Baijal combine. However, for any objective follower of events in the telecom sector, the entire report is nothing but a compilation of why somebody spoke to someone on the phone instead of exchanging written notes or why a meeting was convened at a day's notice instead of the usual practice of seven days' notice. After all, what more does one expect from the honourable justice when the history of nine years in a complex sector like telecom has to be compiled within a span of six weeks!

Since Justice Patil has delved into history and given suggestions for future so as to not repeat the mistakes of the past, it calls for the famous historian EH Carr's observations on facts. Carr, in his monumental work What is History?, contested the commonly held wisdom that facts speak for themselves. He said that facts are like sacks and do not stand up unless something is put inside them. Meaning that there are no objective facts, it all depends on the historian to look for them and arrange them in order of his preference to suit his study. Therefore, it is now widely held that 'study the historian' before 'studying the history written by him'. The principle is equally valid for economics or literature and now even for judicial reports. While commenting on any act of a minister or a bureaucrat, it is very important to understand the context. Shorn of the context, the fact becomes irrelevant. It's here that Justice Patil's report is found wanting. While page after page enumerates events like someone spoke to somebody over phone when the norm is to exchange written notes, it fails to capture the context of the time and relate the action taken with them.

Two brief instances from the report will prove the point. One, where the report highlights the fact that former telecom minister Arun Shourie in 2003 had sought a note on awarding licences from the then Trai chairman Pradip Baijal on phone. It has even commented on the decision finally taken, which Shourie has contested, but for the moment let's concern ourselves with the observation on the mode of communication, which has been found inappropriate. Is it of any consequence on how the communication between the two took place when the final product to be commented upon is available? Further, the decision finally taken by the minister as a result of this verbal communication, was it challenged by anybody then? The answer is 'no' in both the cases. In a contentious sector like telecom where operators don't think twice before rushing to courts, if Shourie's decision was not contested by any player, the obvious conclusion is that no grave impropriety was committed.

Coming to the second instance, the report says that during the time of DS Mathur as telecom secretary, only a day's notice was given to the members of telecom commission to discuss the Trai recommendations on no-capping, when the norm is of seven days' notice, and Mathur as chairman of telecom commission should have done something about it. Since it is well known that Raja was not listening to Mathur's counsel—that Mathur had refused to sign any files later relating to licences—that the decision to advance the cut-off date was procured in Mathur's absence through proxy; can one not understand the circumstances in which the secretary was functioning and the kind of leeway he must have had? Should Mathur be judged by his final action or whether he used blue ink when red was required?

To be fair to Justice Patil, he's castigated Raja and his former aides like Siddharth Behura for all the tweaking they did to benefit operators of their choice to get licences on favourable terms. But one wishes the honourable justice did not fall into the political trap laid for him by Sibal to provide an intellectual response to Raja's crime.

How devoid is the report of the context also comes out when at one point it highlights how proper office procedures were not followed while granting additional 1.8 Mhz spectrum to some operators in 2003. Any observer of the telecom sector knows pretty well that way back in 2003 spectrum was not a scarce resource it has become since 2006. Take an arbitrary decision on spectrum allocation today and there will be a hue and cry. Nothing of that sort happened in 2003. What purpose do such references then serve other than political?

Members of the judiciary should ideally form a code of conduct to accept to head any enquiry committee after retirement only when there's a political consensus on his/her name. At least, in that circumstance, their reports will be revered much more than what they are done now. There are scores of examples of reports produced by retired justices that only serve political purpose and nothing else. How else does one explain that what Sibal was parroting all along, the same appeared in the final report?





With a little under 70% of our population in rural areas, of which 60% is dependent on agriculture and the balance 10% on non-agriculture low-income non-farm activities depending on agriculture sector for their livelihood, and agricultural holdings becoming smaller and smaller due to fragmentation, land ceiling acts and family disputes, the average family holdings for most are becoming uneconomic and unviable. In 2002-03 (latest available), marginal holdings of less than one hectare were almost 70% of operational holdings in the country. Also, the average area per operational holding, which stood at 1.67 hectares in 1981-82, had declined to 1.06 hectares in 2002-03. The end result is that these uneconomic marginal holdings are being sold and resold in the market, and rural farm and non-farm employment is not able to keep pace with the ever-increasing rural unemployment, under-employment and disguised unemployment. These figures can only be worse now. An unhappy consequence is the undirected and unabated migration of rural populations to urban areas looking for work to make a living.

Since urban areas of all types (tier-1 to tier-3 cities) come under some sort of urban planning with municipalities and town areas and are generally out of reach of rural migrants, the end result is the mushrooming of urban slums. According to the most recent estimates available from the National Sample Survey for 2008-09, there were nearly 49,000 slums in urban India, 24% of these were located along nallahs and another 12% along railway lines, and, interestingly, 57% of these slums were built on public land mostly owned by local bodies and state governments. With the share of agriculture and allied sector, including forestry and logging, in the GDP declining from 70% to under 20% in the last 60 years, the natural corollary is high incidence of rural impoverishment and mass migration from rural to urban areas. Sadly, this has not been fully understood or even appreciated by our government economists and planners.

We have initiated two massive schemes for the welfare of urban and rural poor. The first one, notified in September 2007, focuses on provision of employment to the rural poor and is called the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), with a size of Rs 1,30,000 crore. According to newspaper reports, an estimated Rs 1.06 lakh crore has already been incurred on the scheme.

The other scheme, called the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), is perhaps the single-largest initiative of the government for planned development of our cities spread over seven years, from 2005-06 to 2012-13. The mission aims at improving the urban conditions with an outlay of Rs 66,000 crore to be implemented during 2005-12. Apart from 65 mission cities, provision is kept for other small towns. Together, these two schemes are worth Rs 2,00,000 crore.

MGNREGS offers employment to one person per rural family for 100 days in a year at Rs 100 per day (recently revised upwards). The condition is that the person has to work in a scheme in the same village which should help build infrastructure but mechanical implements are not allowed. While JNNURM focuses on urban improvement and emphasises capacity building and governance reforms. The subjects covered by JNNURM include slum improvement, heritage and metro/highway construction. But on completion of the mission period, the expected results are that urban local bodies and parastatal agencies will have achieved the following:

* Modern and transparent budgeting, accounting, financial management systems, designed and adopted for all urban service and governance functions

* City-wide framework for planning and governance will be established and become operational

* All urban residents will be able to access a basic level of urban services

* Financially self-sustaining agencies for urban governance and service delivery will be established, through reforms to major revenue instruments

* Local services and governance will be conducted in a manner that is transparent and accountable to citizens

* E-governance applications will be introduced in core functions of urban local bodies/parastatal.

JNNURM does not either talk of any transfer of population from rural to urban during the seven years of its life nor does it mention creating new areas for receiving fresh rural migrants or even new cities/SEZs. It, however, mentions rural-urban ratio shifting from 28% to 40% by 2021!

When these schemes are considered from the perspective of spatial planning, these two standalone schemes make little sense in the dynamic rural and urban scenario in the country. Indeed, many urban problems are due to the problems in the rural areas, since much of the migration of rural population to urban areas is due to extreme rural poverty and lack of employment opportunities. Given the rural-urban nexus, there is a clear case for these two large schemes to be conceived as complimentary schemes to make the shifting rural to urban scenario smooth without the hiccups of slums and squatters, which is due to poor planning of a dynamic shift of population due to shifting economic imperatives and the lack of foresight of our planning mechanism. Indeed, there exists considerable scope for fostering convergence between the two schemes through the urban infrastructure component of JNNURM. While the JNNURM accepts the rural-urban shift to 60-40% in a couple of years, it makes no plan for a smooth transition of the population.

Sanat Kaul is a commentator and Devendra Gupta is consultant with NCAER






One of the most violent separatist movements in the country has been persuaded to call it a day, and the credit for this has to be shared widely. A preliminary round of discussions has been held between the United Liberation Front of Asom and the central government after the militant group agreed to unconditional talks. Previously, ULFA held firm to the condition that talks must include its demand of sovereignty for Assam. Over the last year, it has evolved politically to realise that this pre-condition was unrealistic. Its own military and political position had been rendered precarious by a combination of factors. Not only did it suffer reverses in operations by Indian security forces, Bangladesh and Bhutan made it clear that ULFA leaders and cadres could no longer seek safe haven on their soil. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has to be thanked for handing over a clutch of ULFA leaders hiding in her country. For their part, the people of Assam made known that they were put off by the group's violent methods that led to the death of hundreds of civilians. All this was instrumental in helping ULFA see the futility of its war against India. A statement issued by the group following the first round of talks in New Delhi suggests it has given up the idea of secession. ULFA now believes it is possible to find ways for the "protection and enrichment of the sovereignty of the people of Assam" within the Indian Constitution. The leaders of the group have also apologised for killing civilians, describing as "mistakes" the 1997 murder of social activist Sanjay Ghose and the 2004 bomb blast in which several children lost their lives.

The central government must be commended for the firm but open-minded way in which it has dealt with the Assam militancy in recent times. The agenda for the talks, which should take place in the next few months, is yet to be settled. Clearly, the two sides will talk about rehabilitation of ULFA cadres, as also lifting the ban on the group. After giving up its demand for independence, ULFA needs some time to reformulate its political goals and enter the democratic mainstream. The people of Assam have long-held grievances — the State's economic underdevelopment, the presence of large numbers of illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, and the feeling of being done out of a just share of revenue from tea and oil. Indeed, had the Centre paid timely attention to these issues, ULFA might never have come up. They will need to be addressed for a permanent peace in the State. The continued hold-out by ULFA's military wing leader Paresh Barua, who is still on the run and has pledged his opposition to the talks, poses a challenge. It is to be hoped that the force of public opinion in favour of talks will compel him to change his mind.





Salva Kiir, President-designate of the new state which has hitherto been southern Sudan, can take pride in the success of the referendum on secession from Africa's largest country. The provisional results, announced recently, show the expected landslide for separation, with a pro-secession vote of nearly 99 per cent. The week-long process was remarkably peaceful, and only 33 out of the 2,600 southern polling stations had their results quarantined, mainly for minor infractions relating to the electoral rolls. The fact that about two million southerners living in the Muslim-majority north refrained from voting for fear of rigged counting in their areas does not invalidate the result, and in any case those voters would almost certainly have been in favour of secession. About 120,000 of them have already anticipated the partition and moved back across the border, and more are likely to follow. Muslims in the largely Christian and animist south, for their part, are moving northwards. So far, fortunately, the migrations have been free of violence.

Mr. Kiir and his fellow-citizens will face formidable problems. Their country, which is due to come into being in July 2011, has 80 per cent of undivided Sudan's oil, but the pipelines run across the north to Port Sudan. The south will want more than its current half-share of the revenues but Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir is likely to insist that the new regime in Juba share the €28-billion national foreign debt. Secondly, the 5.6 million southerners have almost no infrastructure; there is only one hospital, and the sole bridge across the region's 1200-km stretch of the Nile is in the capital. The south's functioning industries produce nothing but drinking water and beer. As for politics, the President-designate has persuaded local warlords to cooperate. But questions persist about the role of the Sudan People's Liberation Army in the new state; there will soon be tens of thousands of ex-soldiers looking for work. Furthermore, the status of Abyei, the oil-rich border region, is still undecided, as the local referendum on whether or not to join the south was derailed by deadly clashes. The new country already enjoys de facto recognition; Egypt's state airline now flies to Juba, and water-sharing negotiations with Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda can be expected to start soon. That should also remind Khartoum that it will need good relations with its neighbour. This partition gives southern Sudan a new lease of life.






International student mobility is big business. Approximately, 2.8 million students study abroad, distributing an estimated $50 billion around the globe annually. Most international students come from developing or middle-income countries, the majority from East and South Asia; most are self-financed. They contribute major revenues to the institutions and countries where they study and represent a key part of the internationalisation of higher education.

The number of students pursuing opportunities abroad is expanding and no longer limited to individuals from elite backgrounds. This larger pool has less international exposure and fewer personal sources of information than earlier generations of mobile students. These students are looking for help and willing to pay for it. Universities now see these students as important sources of revenue as well as contributors to diversity. Competition for international students has increased greatly. As a result, new enterprises have appeared to address the demands of this growing market.

Recruitment agents are not new operators in higher education, but their participation in the university admission process has always been controversial. No data are available about how many agents operate worldwide, but their presence is growing and an increasing number of universities are using these services. For now all available information is anecdotal, since no research exists on this topic.

Recruitment agents: Recruitment agents act as local salespeople for one or more universities overseas. They are not university employees but their presence on the ground ensures that the institutions that hire them are more accessible to students interested in going abroad. Agents act as local promoters and a conduit of international applications for their university client(s). They are typically paid a commission that ranges from 10 to 15 per cent (but may go as high as 25 per cent) of the first year's tuition. The agents may but do not necessarily receive any professional training from their university clients, nor are formal mechanisms generally in place for keeping them current on programmes or policies.

Agents may also act as counsellors, helping students sort through the overwhelming amount of information available on the Internet. However, their motivation does not consist of providing impartial information but rather to steer students to specific institutions — something that may not be entirely clear to a student who consults them.

The primary client for agents is the institution that hires them. In order to be successful, they must deliver an acceptable number of students to their sponsoring institutions. It is not known how frequently agents accept payment from students as well as from universities and colleges, although anecdotal evidence indicates that this does happen. The key here is that the extent of their activities, source of their fees, and propriety of their services lack transparency, particularly to students.

It is not possible to confirm the extent of services provided, but they include activities required to match student clients with university clients. Many universities suspect that agents sometimes complete applications and write essays for their student clients. Although it is not possible to generalise, sufficient anecdotes have been reported to cause concern.

Other information sources: Another service available to internationally mobile students is offered by a growing number of private independent advisers. This service is hired by students to provide guidance in matching their goals, objectives, and academic profile to appropriate institutions overseas. Private consultants do not have contractual agreements with any university that would influence the advice they provide.

To be successful, these professionals must cultivate a local reputation for providing excellent service to students, not institutions; they must be well informed about a wide range of colleges and universities, academic programmes, and admissions requirements throughout the world. They welcome contact with institutions, meet with travelling representatives, contact alumni, and often visit campuses abroad. In fact many universities seek out these advisers and provide them with information to build a "triangle" of communication that works to everyone's advantage.

Advisers and extensive information are also offered to students in many countries at non-profit advising centres operated by the British Council, the U.S. State Department, and other governments that provide a basic orientation to higher education in their respective countries. Yet, staffing at these agencies is inadequate to serve the growing international student market.

Perverse incentives: The dynamic between an intermediary, an institution, and a student is inevitably influenced by the incentives and rewards that shape it. A recruitment agent's income depends on directing students to specific institutions. While this action may result in a good match for the student, the incentives are not set up to ensure the best match for the student or, for that matter, to work in the student's best interests.

Agents are entrepreneurs who earn their income from providing a service to two entities whose best interests may, or may not, be the same. The rewards arise from the relationship between the agent and the institution that hires him or her, not from the service provided to the student, presenting a potential conflict of interest that no professional standards or guidelines can eliminate. In fact, as long as the incentives favour the interests of the institution and agent over the interests of the student, professional standards will have limited effect.

False arguments and lost opportunities: Most of the arguments in defence of overseas agents are somewhat hollow — such as, students cannot be expected to sort through vast amounts of information on their own; small institutions do not have staff or resources to launch effective international marketing campaigns; since agents exist, standards should be set for their behaviour; and the market will weed out unscrupulous recruiters.

Given the investment and consequences of their choice, students should be required to participate actively in the research. It is too risky to allow someone else to make (or influence) decisions if the student lacks the knowledge needed to judge advice fairly. It is inappropriate that a recruitment agent, motivated by economic gain, should be the source of all information.

When institutions work through agents, they sacrifice the benefits (and necessary information) that result from the direct engagement of university administrators and faculty in recruitment, which ensures a necessary flow of information — about foreign cultures, foreign education systems, and international student needs. Similarly, direct communication with institutional representatives helps students receive accurate and up-to-date information.

Alternatively, college administrators can travel with a number of companies that organise international recruitment trips; they can participate in overseas education fairs. Institutions with limited budgets have found creative ways to increase their visibility overseas. Numerous examples of recruiting successfully exist including working with students on study-abroad programmes; faculty who travel; combining efforts (and budgets) of multiple offices such as admissions, alumni relations, and development to send a single administrator abroad to represent the institution; Webinars (live Web-based seminars) and other online events. Private consultants (professionals hired by students) welcome contact with international institutions.

Not knowing what agents actually tell their clients leaves students (and universities) very vulnerable. It is unrealistic to expect that "the market" will regulate quality or that unethical agents will be unsuccessful. The "market model" assumes that students (as consumers) have the knowledge and experience necessary to choose the best-quality service, and that is unrealistic. Adequate oversight is impossible, and professional certification will only provide "ethical cover" and a false sense of security to institutions and students alike.

Conclusion: New enterprises have responded to the opportunities from the growing numbers of mobile students. Still, not all businesses that have found markets for their services should be welcomed. The use of recruitment agents is clouded by many factors. Their activities cannot be adequately monitored to guarantee that student interests are protected. No international standards can guarantee local activity or that the relationship between an agent and a university will be entirely transparent to the student. Furthermore, the incentives and rewards do not depend on ethical behaviour.

Some universities are participating in a process to certify agents who adhere to ethical standards. Yet, ethical behaviour is interpreted differently in various cultures. Who will mediate cultures to ensure compliance with standards as they are intended?

By "outsourcing" recruitment, institutions trust their reputation and vital communication with students to a third party, and this is a serious mistake. Students heading overseas must take an active role in the research, ask good questions, and make informed decisions about where to study. Alumni of foreign universities can help. The Internet is a good tool; visits to education information centres or education fairs can help; and direct contact with staff at prospective universities is essential.

Agents are a strong presence in many countries. However, the issue of employing agents merits more public discussion, and it would be most unfortunate to forego the debate and proceed on the basis of "if you can't beat them, join them."

( Liz Reisberg is research associate at the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College. She has 30 years of experience in international admissions. Philip G. Altbach is Monan professor of higher education and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.)






This week in New Delhi, nearly 1,000 international officials, scientists, advocates and development specialists are coming together to discuss how agriculture can be leveraged to improve nutrition and health.

Nearly one-sixth of the people in our world are affected by chronic hunger. At any time, around a quarter of all children suffer from under-nutrition. Not only are they more likely to die, but also they do less well in school and, later in life, earn less than those who were well nourished. Proper feeding during the period from conception to a child's second birthday is critical.

Such evidence on the impact of under-nutrition on the long term prospects of children is compelling. This alone is reason to act. More importantly, we know we can make a difference when we do act. There is a widespread recognition that we have a series of well-tested and low-cost interventions to address under-nutrition.

We have a window of opportunity for action now. Countries want to act. They want their people to enjoy better health, education and productivity through improving levels of nutrition. In September, 2010, in New York, a movement to support national efforts to Scale Up Nutrition (SUN) was launched. World leaders — including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Ministers from developing and industrialised countries, leaders of development organisations, European Commissioners — committed to action and results within 1,000 days — by July 2013. A room full of leaders saying that "Nutrition's time has come".

Under SUN, each country will address the challenge differently. There is no single prescription or top-down control. But outside support, where offered, must be responsive to what countries need, and it must be properly coordinated.

On September 24, 2010, development partners committed to provide this coordinated support. They are now working with senior officials from developing countries to take this commitment forward — analysing how they will raise the profile of nutrition within their development programmes.

The SUN movement has gathered momentum. It is starting to support action in countries, coordinate regional and global support functions, and stimulate financial support. It helps bring different professional groups together with a single purpose. It will enable hundreds of stakeholders to work together for measurable results within 1,000 days. And results are what SUN is about: helping mothers and children access the nutrition they need for a productive life. And success breeds success. The more SUN practitioners can show that they are effectively tackling under-nutrition, the greater the political and financial support to extend this work.

Effective results require the SUN movement to get to the roots of the problem of under-nutrition. In many places, agriculture and food policies are not designed to enable all people to get the balance of nutrients that they need. Women and children from households with low incomes may only be able to access some nutrients for some months each year. Women need year-round access to nutritious food, the time to feed and care for themselves in pregnancy and their small children when they are young. They need better access to water, sanitation and basic healthcare so that disease rates are reduced. Then they will be able to reduce stunting and improve micronutrient levels in their newborns and children under two.

This is why the SUN movement focuses on nutrition-sensitive agriculture, food systems, safety nets and employment policies. The priority needs to be on women's working conditions and on their access to basic water, sanitation and health services.

This week's meeting in New Delhi marks an important moment for the SUN movement. Our aim is to focus on how best we can advance SUN so that it is a powerful force for practical change. Scientific research will be crucial to this: it must be robust and in a form that can readily be turned into pragmatic intervention.

With science, self-confidence and synergy the SUN movement should make a real contribution to the sort of agricultural transformation that is needed to tackle under-nutrition. This transformation will require political leadership, an openness to bring in expertise from a variety of areas, and a systematic approach to ensuring that real progress is being made and can be sustained. This will involve a wide range of actors: from farmers, civil society organisations to financiers, government and — most importantly — the very people who need support.

This week's groundbreaking event in New Delhi will add momentum to the SUN movement and help us all reach the elusive Millennium Development Goal of reducing hunger and under-nutrition by 2015.

(The writer is United Nations Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition.)





After seven months of living with a caretaker government, Nepal's Parliament on February 3 elected Jhalanath Khanal , chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), as the Prime Minister, with the support of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). He spoke to Prashant Jha at the prime ministerial residence in Kathmandu on February 10. Excerpts:

What'll be your priorities?

My first priority is to complete the ongoing peace process. Second, my aim is to help complete the Constitution-writing process. Third, I'll strengthen the institutions of governance, improve law and order, and guarantee security to the common citizens. Fourth, my focus will be on taking the country towards an economic revolution through development, reconstruction and socio-economic transformation.

Your predecessors had similar priorities, and had pledged to complete the peace and constitutional process. What's different about your government?

From the outset, I've focussed on the mission, and not on power. This government was not an effort to get power, but to complete the mission. Our main aim is to finish the peace process and write the Constitution. I'll make all efforts to build a consensus. Without a consensus this is not possible. The support that I'm getting now gives me the hope that I'll be able to succeed in the mission.

You mentioned consensus, but the seven-point agreement you signed with the Maoists before getting elected has already generated distrust and opposition. Can you tell us why you signed it?

The country was in a political deadlock for seven months. To resolve this, it was essential to have an agreement between the key political forces. This is the background. One, it broke the prolonged deadlock. Two, it gave the country a new government. Three, it has given me an opportunity to deal with the challenges. Four, we're now very close to a two-thirds majority. Five, the formation of the government has increased the prospects of consolidating peace and writing the Constitution. There are issues which have become controversial, but we can resolve them and move forward according to the spirit of the agreement.

Peace process

One of the controversial issues is the provision that either a separate force of Maoist combatants, or a mixed force of Maoist combatants and personnel of other security organs, can be created. Critics say this would allow the Maoists to retain a parallel structure.

Nepal is not the only country to have gone through a conflict. In the process of conflict-management and transformation, many models have come up across the world. In our case, what can be the basis for the integration of Maoist combatants is an important element of conflict-management and transformation. Out of the many modalities, the seven-point agreement discusses two. But we can decide on another modality. This is a mere proposal. Unless there is an agreement in the special committee with all the other parties, we cannot resolve these problems.

What are the next steps in the peace process? Have you thought of a timeline?

The Maoist combatants are now under the state. This is a big achievement. First, those who go for integration and those who go for rehabilitation have to be regrouped. This regrouping has to finish in 30 to 45 days. Second, we've to decide on a modality of integration. Third, we've to decide the criteria for those combatants who will be integrated. And finally, we have to implement the process of integration and rehabilitation.

Can this happen before the May 28 deadline to write the Constitution?

If we move actively, this can be done within 75 days.

The Nepal Army has been a sensitive issue. The Maoist Prime Minister had to resign when he tried to dismiss the Army chief. What will be your approach to the Army?

The Army is the strength of the nation. We're committed to taking it forward in a proper, professional, prestigious, and correct way. The Army was earlier under the king. But now it's under a democratic government. When it was under the king, there may have been political influences on many issues. But now the Army has to be based on professional values and norms. We also have to respect the sentiments and sensitivities of the Army. We're currently in the process of restructuring according to the principles of the democratic state, and the Army has to be an active element of that restructuring.

Do you think you could face challenges in reconciling the interests of the Army and the Maoists, especially their military apparatus?

The Maoist army combatants are under the state now. The other day, during the PLA handover at Shaktikhor, the Maoist combatants saluted the Army chief, General Chhatraman Gurung. Keeping this in mind, we've to respectfully integrate them. That's when the process of conflict management and transformation will end.

Political consensus

Another controversial clause in the seven-point deal is the reference to rotational leadership between the two parties. How do you reconcile your emphasis on consensus with such a power-sharing deal that many feel would lead to a polarisation between the Left and other forces?

First, Nepal is not in favour of any polarisation. The Nepali people and Nepali political forces do not see the need for such a polarisation. All those forces in favour of a democratic republic have to move forward in the spirit of unity, understanding, and cooperation. Neither Left polarisation nor a right wing nor the so-called democratic polarisation benefits the country. As far as rotational leadership is concerned, this is an agreement based on a principle. It's not merely between the two parties, but [among] all the parties who are and will be a part of the alliance.

The last government was perceived to have been formed in order to isolate and bar the Maoists. There is a fear that your government is one that is aimed at isolating the Nepali Congress. How can you move forward without them?

We're not in favour of isolating any party. Even today in Parliament, my primary emphasis was on a broader unity. I've appealed to other parties to join the government. The past experiment of isolating one major force has proved unsuccessful. We've to learn our lessons from there.

But let alone national unity, even the Maoists have said they wouldn't join the government. They've accused you of backtracking from the seven-point agreement. Do you see a resolution?

I'm confident this is only temporary. They asked for the Home Ministry and decided to stay out because that demand was not met. But I'm confident I can convince them through negotiations. There can be some give and take. We'll be firm on major policies and principles, but flexible on practical issues.


Do you think the Constitution can be written by the extended deadline of May 28?

I believe that by May 28 we can complete the Constitution-writing process, because the 11 thematic committees in the Constituent Assembly have given their reports to the Constitutional Committee. The Constitutional Committee now has to examine the reports and prepare a draft. The basis for writing the Constitution has already been created. To create a draft it'll not take the specialists more than three months — they can do it before that. We'll then have to take the draft to the people, consult them, and take their advice. On that basis, we'll prepare the final draft and the Constituent Assembly will promulgate it. These steps can be completed in three months.

If it is not done, is there a chance of another extension?

It'll not be wise to think of that right now. We've to move honestly and with integrity. If people feel we are committed and working hard, then on the basis of unity we can think.

So the option of extension is open?

Yes, the option will be open.

Nepal-India relations

On foreign policy, what will be your approach towards India?

I'll work to strengthen relations with the rest of the world in the new context. This'll begin with neighbours. Among neighbours, we share an extremely close relationship with India. My aim will be to develop this relationship and deepen the cooperation with India.

One of the points in the seven-point deal is the emphasis on 'national independence'? Is it targeted at any country?

This is not targeted at anyone. Any citizen of a country cherishes the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of his country more than his life. We in Nepal are the same, and the agreement between our two parties reflects that sentiment.

Many Maoist leaders have said they supported you because India did not want you as the Prime Minister. Did you ever feel that India did not want you or was trying to block your prospects?

Nepal is small. When there're conflicts internally, there're suspicions. That is not unnatural. But I firmly believe that Nepal's problems can be solved only by Nepalis, through a Nepali way, a Nepali process. Our neighbours, or other countries, may have an interest. They may enquire, they may also give reactions, but these are contextual. If we Nepalis focus on developing our country, we have a vision, programme, and work plan of our own, then we do not need to panic because of any comments emanating from other countries.

Do you have any message to Indian policymakers about their Nepal policy?

It's up to the Indian policymakers to review their Nepal policy, how is it conducted and how much India has benefited from it. What I want to say is that our bilateral relations are deep and friendly and there should be cooperation across sectors. But while doing that, we should respect each other's independence, sovereignty and interests. We may be small or big, but we are equal. That has to be the guiding principle and sentiment in building the relationship. If we move forward like that, then the anti-India sentiment that is sometimes seen in Nepal will disappear on its own.

What will be your approach to India's security interests?

We never forget we are in the middle of two big neighbours. Some of the criminal acts that we see here in Nepal may be related to India's interests sometimes. We're aware of India's security interests. During my tenure, I'll try my best to address these concerns.

Do you see a challenge in balancing Nepal's relations with India and China?

We want to take Nepal forward independently. We cannot copy anyone. India and China are Nepal's very close friends. We've to learn a lot from both the countries. But Nepal will chart its own independent course and move forward in that spirit.






It used to be speculated that if another Mumbai-type terror attack was launched against this country from Pakistan, India would retaliate militarily. According to WikiLeaks, this was communicated by former British foreign secretary David Miliband to the Americans after his conversations in New Delhi. Today, however, we can't be sure. At the foreign secretaries' Thimphu meeting earlier this week, India agreed to restart talks with Pakistan on all bilateral issues, including Kashmir. The two countries earlier

called all-ranging talks a "composite" dialogue. These were suspended by India after 26/11 in Mumbai. New Delhi's position was that the dialogue could resume once Islamabad provided concrete proof that it had taken meaningful steps to bring the jihadist authors of 26/11 to book. That has not happened. India has eaten crow and is gamely trying to move on. The hard fact is that elements of Pakistan's ISI were associated with the Mumbai carnage in every meaningful way. Islamabad therefore will never be serious about pursuing the matter. Without acknowledging this publicly, Thursday's announcement on resumption of the composite dialogue in all but name suggests that India has come to accept that Pakistan won't move on Mumbai, and it has no option but to re-engage that country. If anything is said to the contrary, it is for the birds.

Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, once famously described Pakistan as a "headache". Other than China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, probably all countries which deal with Islamabad on a sustained basis are likely to endorse this view, and yet must continue engaging this rogue-type nation that is often called the "epicentre" of international terrorism run by dodgy intelligence services and the military, which is constantly doing deals, and deals-within deals, with the most nefarious elements conceivable. If they don't, Islamabad often drops hints that it might do something outrageous that could just lead to a conflagration. The Americans, for one, even keep the Pakistani military well supplied with arms and cash so that it may not do the unthinkable. India, however, is a different category. Unlike other key powers, it is subjected to repeated jihadist attacks from Pakistan. How feasible is it then for this country to molly-coddle Pakistan all the time, which many might regard as another name for appeasement from a position of weakness?

In July 2010, external affairs minister S.M. Krishna was publicly insulted in Islamabad by his counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi (who was left out of Pakistan's reshuffled Cabinet on Friday) for not agreeing to a composite dialogue straightaway but subscribing to a step-by-step approach (aimed at giving Islamabad time to pay more serious attention to bringing the Mumbai accused to book). On many occasions after that, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India would readily re-engage Pakistan if the latter showed signs of taking steps to punish the Mumbai attackers. This has manifestly not happened, and yet India has returned to the talks table as though nothing happened. Does this give Pakistan any reason to move against the 26/11 attackers? Engaging even an adversary is an essential element of the toolkit of diplomacy, it goes without saying. But for that instrument to be used with some promise of success, a country must have a modicum of leverage with its interlocutor. India has none with Pakistan and has not cared to develop any. It is in no position to let Islamabad know that any hostile act would carry a greater than proportionate cost. Ergo, India has chosen to succumb. Composite talks have been broken even before the Mumbai attacks on account of terrorist acts such as the assault on the Indian Parliament. It is hard to see that Pakistan-bred terrorism won't once again upset Indian public opinion. But this is par for the course for our rulers.






Unbelievable as this sounds, it was not all that easy to forget "Balwa ka jalwa" and former Union telecom minister A. Raja's manifold deals in distant Macau. I mean, I gawked at all those impressive buildings, the eye-popping flyovers — the infamous casinos that are the size of mini-cities and wondered who ran this show… and how

many Balwas were lurking in the shadows of this surrealistic destination that is giving Las Vegas a serious complex, plus a run for its money. Macau has a compelling, almost sinister charm over visitors. Even for idiots like me — someone who doesn't know her Baccarat from Black Jack, and hates to use the word "craps" because it sounds dirty. I am not poker faced enough to attempt the game. And Roulette is something I associate with Russians holding a gun to a victim's head. Macau is not meant to be my kind of town — but guess what? I loved it! On a much-needed break after months of majdoori, we decided to spend Chinese New Year in Hong Kong (yes… Kung Hai Fat Choy to you, too).

While in Hong Kong, a friendly ghoul suggested a decadent weekend in Macau. It's only a one-hour turbo jet ride away, we were told. Just go! That was it. And off we went to check out this high roller's den, which saw the best and brightest from Bollywood at the fabled, entirely OTT "The Venetian" for an awards ceremony a while ago. But in Macau nobody cares a fig about movie stars, no matter how big. This is a destination for people with a single point agenda — gambling. Forget the bizarre, surrealistic architecture (come on… Venice in China?), the vast, vaulted ceilings of the casino with gaudy versions of the Sistine Chapel — and focus on the people working those tables and slot machines. They never take their eyes off the main game and barely look up from the cards they clutch on to like their lives depend on the hand that's been dealt. In fact, some of them forget to go to the loo, drink water, eat or sleep for hours at a stretch. They wouldn't blink if Kim Kardashian roller bladed into the place, wearing nothing but a sexy fragrance. Better still, if Amar Singh performed the full monty as he threatened to this week (but seriously, in case of such a calamity, we would all need to shield our eyes). As we strolled through those garish halls, watched by beady-eyed bouncers and maybe thousands of CCTV cameras, it was a liberal education of sorts. Macau is the perfect example of how the Chinese execute megaprojects — emphasis on "execute". Macau is the apt symbol of mean Chinese ambition.

I have no doubt modern day Macau was created by a Chinese Kalmadi. Someone who saw a gigantic opportunity in positioning this tiny island as a heaven and haven for good time gamblers with enough lolly to blow up a nuclear plant. The financials were obviously calibrated to the last yuan or Hong Kong dollar. The humongous investments are there for all to see… and enjoy. From the crazily-constructed Grand Lisboa, to the super swish "The Wynn", and the magnificent MGM Grand, Macau has put up monumental, futuristic buildings (many more are coming up) that rival the best in neighbouring Hong Kong. The infrastructure is faultless — from the time visitors show up at the busy jetty in those bright red turbo jets that ferry them to and from Hong Kong every half an hour, to the limo pick-up at the airport as Russian tycoons (molls in tow) arrive in spiffy private jets. Floor length minks complement limited edition bags and serious rocks, as pampered ladies float into the dazzling lobbies of these monstrous hotels ("The Wynn" plays wrap around Frank Sinatra through cleverly concealed speakers in the shrubbery… his velvety voice catching visitors off guard). I swear I saw several Chinese men sporting Fedoras and resembling Oriental Bogarts from another zamaana. Yup, it's that lunatic! The main thing about Macau is that everything works! It's all good and tickety-boo at every level. Perhaps we should have packed off Suresh Kalmadi and gang to Macau before handing over the Commonwealth Games on a platter to them… and getting royally ripped off. Not that it would have helped… mainly because Mr Kalmadi would still have messed up. You and I know why. Chinese bosses are not pussycats and weaklings. Had Mr Kalmadi's counterpart in Macau not delivered, he would have been chopped up and fed to the sharks in the South China Sea. So would his cronies and contractors. You really don't want to mess with those guys… the level of efficiency and security one encounters at every stage is evidence enough of that. There are water tight systems in place and the message is loud and clear. The place bristles with menacing looking cops (the only people who understand English) who are constantly on the move through those unbelievably crowded shopping areas in central Macau.

Talking of security, just two days after I got back from Hong Kong, I travelled to Baroda. Idly, I looked at my boarding card and saw to my horror that I was identified as a male and my name appeared as Mr S. De. Not a single person noticed it — not the airline staff, not the cops (who often stare intently at boarding cards they are holding upside down). My ID was nothing more than a club membership card with a blurred, old picture in a corner. No problem. I was waved through regardless.

I remember Vilasrao Deshmukh's constant band baaja about converting Mumbai into Shanghai. Unfortunately, for Maharashtra's ex-chief minister he ran straight into me a few days after I'd returned from Shanghai (this was a few years ago). I pounced on him and asked how he could make such outrageous comparisons. He smiled and smiled (the man is amazing — he smiles through any and every embarrassment), and answered calmly, "But madam, I have never been to Shanghai myself!"

I rest my case.

Just hoping and praying Prithviraj Chavan doesn't talk about making Mumbai into another Macau. Though… why not? If we can get great roads, clean public spaces, super efficient policing, dynamic bureaucrats, no water and power cuts… plus, casinos! Hey… that's a good plan.

Chalo Chauhanji… Mumbai ko Macau banao!







Who said anything about growing old gracefully or that courage has anything to do with age? If any proof was needed to the contrary those of you who, this week, haven't seen the video of "Supergran" Ann Timson, 71, the "have-a-go heroine" using her handbag to bash up six young men trying to rob a jewellery store in Northamptonshire,

I urge you to do so. It is the funniest (and possibly the most uplifting) sight I have ever seen. Each time the news channels have played it I have fallen down on the floor laughing because she is so brave and incredible.
In fact, the whole video clip is almost unbelievable: six masked men are coolly breaking the windows of the store on a crowded street without anyone trying to stop them. The storekeepers themselves are huddled inside the shop, reluctant to do anything in case it leads to violence, and on the street the traffic carries on normally. It's the usual city life where people are more concerned about their personal security than getting involved in a fracas that has nothing to do with them. The thieves are almost getting away when this "little old lady" in a red coat rushes in and starts swinging her large handbag at them. She sprints down the road like a guided missile with the sole intent of stopping them somehow. The amazing thing is that she succeeds. Within minutes the men are shown running for their lives and one of them even falls off his scooter as "Supergran" lands a felling blow on him. The other astonishing thing is that people are standing around taking pictures and filming the whole incident but no one comes up to help her till she has the men on the run. Then a few people come in and pin the robbers down and four of the six were caught on the spot thanks to this innocuous, frail-looking grandmother. Her first response was that she did not want her son to know about what she had done because he was always worried she was constantly getting into these scrapes.

But, in fact, the whole episode raises the question whether we are, worldwide, becoming "YouTube" addicts more ready to film anything happening with our mobile phones than actually participating in it or even trying to help in any way.

Ms Timson herself was extremely modest after the event and admitted that she didn't quite know what got into her. Once she got home, she sent a wry message out to the media —which was anxious to interview her — that she was going to dye her red hair green and put away her "bruised" handbag. Yet, it was a fabulously courageous sight and an enormous blow to ageists all over the world.

Meanwhile, now that the Oscars are coming around, it's as though this entire nation is ensuring that The King's Speech (a rather mediocre film) sweeps the awards. (If Aamir Khan is really serious about reaching for the Oscars, he will have to learn the not-so-subtle art of impressing delegates, grabbing eyeballs and canvassing votes whilst not breaking any rules). Yet the film hasn't been without its share of controversy, especially in the manner in which it has distorted history in order to whitewash King George VI and make him into the heroic figure required to make us sympathise with him. Otherwise, if we did not like his persona the entire premise of the film would fall flat. It has also been critiqued on its deliberate obfuscation of changing Winston Churchill's role in the entire abdication saga.

Churchill is depicted in the film as being sympathetic towards King George VI, urging him to take over the throne from his rather spoilt brother Edward VIII, an admirer of Adolf Hitler. In reality, Churchill had supported Edward VIII almost to the end, even saying that the king would "shine in history as the bravest and best beloved of all the sovereigns who have won the island Crown".

Further, in the film, King George VI is depicted as giving that brave last speech about leading the country to war against Hitler, but again historians point out that there has been some clever airbrushing. Actually King George was not as heroic in all his actions. For instance, when Neville Chamberlain had managed to hand over to Hitler the Czechoslovak people, he actually received a warm welcome from King George VI on his return and was even brought onto the royal balcony in front of cheering crowds. It has been noted that this "royal assent" was given even before Chamberlain could justify his actions in Parliament. Thus, not only did King George VI give his support to an action which would be later considered despicable, but he had also done something unconstitutional.

However, unsurprisingly, supporters of the film are sweeping these criticisms under the carpet using the oft-repeated argument that feature films are not meant to be documentaries, and that, in cinema, real-life situations and people are placed in plots which push the central theme forward. Those episodes which do not support the central theme are written out. In this case, the film is about how King George was cured of a terrible stammer and we have to be able to "feel" for him. We would rather be less sympathetic if we saw him as someone who had not been wholeheartedly in favour of Hitler's early exit.

At the same time, many of us still remember the huge controversy when Shekhar Kapur made his film on Queen Elizabeth. At that time, reams of newsprint and many hours on the airwaves were spent discussing whether this "distortion" of history should be allowed. I am wondering if this was because Kapur was an Indian filmmaker attempting British history? Would people have been as kind as they are being to The King's Speech if that had been made by a British filmmaker?

However, more importantly, the present Queen Elizabeth has actually liked this film about her father. The only condition which her mother had put on the making of this film was that it should be done after her death as some of the moments depicted in the film as the King struggles with his speech impediment were too painful for her to remember.

Overall, it is obvious that no matter how much one protests, it is apparent that the British still love their royalty… and for those of you who haven't yet booked your tickets remember April 29 is when Kate Middleton weds Prince William.

The writer can be contacted at






"An ant can walk through an elephant trap..."

From Size Matters by Bachchoo

Outside our house in Pune, under a spreading neem tree, every day of the week, Raghunath would set up his stall which was no more than a handcart fitted with four b

icycle wheels and tyres. It had a glass case from which he sold the chikki he or his consorts and cohorts had made. For those not familiar with this confection, which is called different things in different parts of India, it's brittle toffees made of peanuts and jaggery or sesame seeds, cashew nuts, even lentils and jaggery. These he dispensed in scraps of paper while squatting cross-legged on the vacant part of his handcart.
Attached to the cart was a rope at the end of which Raghunath's goat named Shambho was tethered. The animal was Raghunath's constant companion and was brought to and from this sales pitch each day. Shambho was occasionally fed from a bag of grass or fodder which was tucked into the metal frame of the cart. Raghunath also carried a long menacing stick.

He would sing songs to himself to pass the time between customers. We regulars knew why Shambho was subject to this standing and waiting each day. He (we presumed he was male and therefore not useful as a provider of milk) had a bit of leeway on his rope and would wander a few feet from the handcart on occasion. Raghunath would at times worshipfully pronounce his name out loud, to no one in particular, as though he was testing his voice against the power of the ether:

"Shambho hai, Shambho! Jai Shambho!"

The last phrase in a quavering trill of a soprano.

But Shambho's real function was darker. Even while serving customers, Raghunath would abandon all restraint, raise a thigh and let out a resounding fart. He would immediately pick up his stick and strike the poor goat with it, shouting in Hindi "Oi, kahan sey gobur kha key aatha hai..."

The trick fooled no one, but when in my reading I first came across the word "scapegoat" I knew exactly what it meant.
And now one hears that Malawi has passed a law banning farting in public. In India, in any town or city one is used to seeing notices which implore or threaten citizens against spitting or pissing. I notice that these imprecations have become more explicit. In my youth they were more discreet and said "Commit No Nuisance". The subtlety of such a message caused a lot of misunderstanding and it was evident that people "committed nuisance" in considerable numbers.

As far as I am aware, Malawi is the first state to actually ban the passing of wind from that particular orifice. I don't suppose the law extends to belching — that would be tyrannical. Some might say "about time" but the first difficulty of the law is that all are guilty. Who then is entitled to cast the first stone?
I read somewhere — probably on some lying Internet site — that every human being releases eight pints of gas a day from their intestines. After reading that I kept a very close eye on friends and companions — obviously mostly in their waking hours — and could find no corroborative evidence for this rather startling statistic. One wants to think of one's near and dear as exceptions to this physiological truth, if indeed it is a truth.
Nevertheless, even if one disregards the quantitative statistic, there is no doubting that passing or breaking wind is not acceptable in most societies, though I have been in third class sleeper carriages in India in which one or other fellow passenger, having changed into the lungi he slept in, began to regard the railway compartment as no longer a public space and resorted to loudly expressing this intestinal hydrogen sulphide. No doubt he regarded it as a natural function, like breathing, and suspended all consideration of the olfactory inconvenience or disgust this could cause his fellow passengers.

Other societies, presumably Malawians among them, take farting more seriously. My father, who served as an Army officer in the North-West Frontier Province before the Partition of India used to tell us that in certain Pathan tribes farting in public was the deepest shame and the offender would be required to leave the company and kill himself. My father was prone to exaggeration, but there must have been some grain of truth to the story which he told in order to instil in us a fear of such public disgrace.

I predict that the Malawian police (have they set up a special squad for the detection and punishment of the new crime? The "Gastropol"?) will soon learn that one of the characteristics of civilised societies is the working out of strategies to avoid being detected as the farter in the pack. Which of us has not exercised instinctively-guided muscle control to minimise the vibration and therefore the sound of the passage of gas? Which of us has not been embarrassed when such muscle control fails and the breaking of wind is accompanied by an inaesthetic honk or murmur?

The stratagems to avoid being detected are obvious to anyone who has travelled on a crowded train, especially an underground one without windows, gone up or down in a busy lift or been in some other enclosed space. Having mastered the art of suppressing the sound element, culprits attempt to disclaim responsibility for the unleashed noxious miasma, pretending to get on with their Sudoku, staring into the distance, or attempting to shift suspicion by wrinkling their nostrils to imply that anyone displaying their displeasure couldn't possibly be the guilty party.

There is almost always a doubt about who perpetrated the silent emission. The exception is when there are only two people present in the lift, the compartment or even under the same quilt. Both know.
It is very likely that the University of Malawi's forensic science school is, even now, working on a way or spray to make intestinal gas emissions visible. There is an old British schoolboy joke:

Q. Why do farts smell?

A. So the deaf can enjoy them too!

With the possibility that Malawi's researchers will succeed in making farts visible, I would urge them to resort to bright colours like the gay powders at Holi so that the negative of stink can be off-set by the positive of bright and rising displays.








An Indian Administrative Service (IAS) couple in Madhya Pradesh was recently hauled up for amassing property worth more than Rs300 crore.


A raid at an IAS officer's residence in Mumbai, who is involved in the Adarsh housing scam, yielded more than Rs30 lakh. A former chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh was recently convicted under Prevention of Corruption Act for showing undue favour to an industrialist.


These are only a few cases that have come to public notice. There must be hundreds of other such cases that lie buried and which may never come out in the open.


This is a sad state of affairs, which brings ignominy to the whole nation. If a group of young men and women, chosen through a special competitive examination from among 2,00,000 aspirants and are generally paid well, cannot resist the opportunity to make money the wrong way, who else in the country can you can expect to be honest?


Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the greatest votary of civil services and who saw to it that ICS and IP were not scrappedimmediately after Independence, as demanded by some in the Congress party, must be turning in his grave. I do not think he would ever have visualised this kind of decline in the higher echelons of bureaucracy.


The general belief is that civil servants' corruption goes hand-in-hand with political corruption. On the face of it, this is not illogical. In many states where governments are perceived to be more corrupt than others, we know the bureaucracy is intimidated into gross irregularities.


But I refuse to buy the theory that civil servants are coerced into corruption and that, left alone, they will not stray into dishonesty. I know of a number of cases where senior officers caught for receiving bribes were acting on their own and there was no illegal direction from their ministers.


Take the case of a director in the Union home ministry who got himself compromised while handling various internal security issues, including the one involving proposed restrictions on Blackberry traffic.


An IPS officer who had worked in Narcotics Control Bureau was arrested a year ago for dealing in drugs. It is, therefore, too simplistic to describe civil servant corruption as the offspring only of dishonesty in the ministerial ranks.


There is something fundamentally wrong either with the recruitment method or the training programmes immediately after induction.


This perception is plausible because many of those investigated for corruption in the recent past are relatively young and have spent just about a decade or less in government.


I wonder whether the prime minister or the cabinet secretary have analysed the situation on this basis. I know they are concerned at the deteriorating situation. But I wonder if they have done enough to go to the root of the problem and stem the rot.









Egypt is the unofficial capital of the Arab world. There is an Arab saying: Cairo writes, Beirut prints and Baghdad reads. Today Cairo is writing and not only the Arabs but the entire Muslim world has to read. Within the short span of one month, four heads of Middle East Muslim states took the unexpected decision of quitting power. Compulsions for them are overwhelming. The musical chair game started with Tunisian President Zain-al-Abidin Bin Ali who has stepped down and now gone in e exile to Saudi Arabia. 83-year old and ailing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced he would not be a candidate for Presidency election in September 2011, which would have been sixth round. He sacked his Prime Minister Ahmad Massif and said he would not bequeath power to his son. Now the grapevine has it that he has decided to step down and handover power to his Vice President. On February 2, sixty-eight year old Ali Saleh, the President of Yemen announced he would step d own in 2013. Sixty-one year old Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Makki decided not to seek re-election in 2014. Jordanian Prime Minister Samir al Rifaii was toppled and so was the case with his Lebanese counterpart Saad al Hariri. In Tunisia, Ben Ali tried to overcome people's upsurge by using muscle power or by arresting the protestors. His days were numbered. Mubarak's musclemen beat mobs with clubs and swords. Police was ordered to fire on them but the uprising remained resolute. Significantly, in all these instances of street power, the actors were the youth mostly below 25 years of age. Student community forms the largest chunk of protesting youth in all of these countries. Most of Cairo mobs who rattled the Tahir Square were students below 25 years of age, unmarried with no encumbrances. These youngsters are fed up with corruption, nepotism, poverty and total neglect by the regimes. For example, in the case of Hosni Mubarak the press laughingly said that he was worth 70 billion US dollars while millions of Egyptians make less than 2 US dollars a day as their wages. According to a conservative estimate in last three decades the US gave nearly 30 billion dollars only to the ruling oligarchs in the Middle East. The fact is that in the case of countries where unrest surfaced and forced the highest authority either to quit now or promise to quit within a specific time, there was not a single leader at the head of the opposition to give direction to the street mobs and harness their energy of defiance. This was true about Tunisia as well as Egypt. But this is not the only specification of the revolution simmering in these two countries. There are other benchmarks which are of vital importance to the Muslim world at large. An Israeli intellectual once said that if these Arab despots do not reform, their people will one day force them to reform. It is becoming true. Interestingly, the mob upsurge in the Middle East countries is not the result of any ideological or religious drive. It is not as yet Islamic, communist, Marxist or capitalist. There are no turbaned clerics guiding the crowds to bring down an autocratic and despotic regime. On the streets of capital cities brimming with protest slogans we don't find rumbling tanks and armoured vehicles as was to be found in Iraq in 2003. No propaganda literature is circulated and no secret meetings are reported. All that is passed on from person to person is a short SMS. Yet the mass movement is on ascendency. Is this the beginning of the end of Arab adherence to totalitarian regime? Is this re-assertion of Arab identity and individuality? Certainly the movement led by Tunisia and Cairo will create a new thinking among the Muslim world that their survival is not conditional to external support and crutches. The US factor has been the common denominator in the case of most of the Middle East Arab countries. The only exception to the emerging street power phenomenon is Syria where 44 year old President Bashar al Assad has become very popular with the younger generation of his country. It has to be remembered that 60 per cent of Syrian population is below 25 years of age. An Egyptian journalist once said that he wished Egypt had a President like Bashar al Assad of Syria. Therefore the message that Tunisian and Egyptian uprising is giving to the Muslim world is that their leadership must learn to live without the crutches provided by a super power, and the myth that Arabs cannot survive without the support of a super power has to be exploded. Democracy has to grow by itself and is not to be thrust from outside.







The police report is that of late Kashmir valley has become the destination of human trafficking networks. A Bhutanese boy was reportedly kidnapped from his native place and sold to agents who shifted him to Kashmir where a local resident hired him for domestic chores. Human trafficking is prohibited by law, and especially child trafficking is a serious crime. Kashmir valley is increasingly faced with labour shortage and there is growing demand for domestic servants particularly in more affluent sections of the population. Reports say that teenaged boys and girls coming from poverty-stricken families in Nepal, Bhutan and Garhwal areas are kidnapped by professional human traffickers and brought to the valley through their agents. Since the police have reported the matter, it merits further investigation. The risk of engaging a person as domestic helper without checking his antecedents has often led to crime and other offences. If the kidnapped teenagers are actually from contiguous countries, it makes the matter still more badly. It can have bad impact on relations with those countries. Shortage of labour is no excuse to encourage human trafficking especially of teenagers which is a serious crime. The police would do well to expose the human trafficking mafia involved in this crime. Their network should be busted. Before these helpless teenagers are implicated in smaller crimes like theft of household goods or stealing of monies and gold ornaments etc. they should be brought under protective umbrella of the law.









Sounds boring, the diplomatic jargon emanating from each and every Indo-Pak encounter. It was no different this time over when the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries met for the umpteenth time, now in the Bhutanese capital, Thimpu. For someone who has watched the futile turns and twists of the innumerable Indo-Pak encounters at all levels of governance between the two for over four decades, I confess that friendly relations between the two must remain a mirage.

There have been occasions when one was tempted to imagine oneself witnessing history being remade but in retrospect nothing of the sort occurred nor is there any hope of an immediate return to normality, of living as friendly neighbours. Kashmir somehow continues to remain a bone of contention which need not have been so had the dramatis personae on our side, in the immediate post-independence years, relied more on their head than their heart.

Kashmir need never have been a disputed land had the leadership of the era cared to nurture seedling of mutual trust between New Delhi and the State instead of letting it wither away because they did not know better.

Be that as it may, the word from Thimpu now is that the

Foreign Ministers of the two countries will meet (probably) in July this year. Why July? Why not April or May? obviously that sense of urgency is not there and both sides know it is going to be yet another outing for the ministers, their staff and mediamen. I tried to find out what was really new, the Foreign Secretaries has discovered or agreed upon in Thimpu. I read their statements below the lines, above and between these. Absolutely nothing new. A repetition, exactly very nearly that, of similar statements made every time the diplomats meet. The verbiage may change if the talks are held at a higher level but in the end turns out that words have lost their meaning when it comes to Indo-Pak exchanges.

I recall a senior a foreign dignitary telling me once how scared he was of having Indian and Pakistani diplomats serving together on any multinational committee of which he was a part. "Their capacity to fight long verbal duels on the placement of a mere comma or a semicolon was not amusing" he told me.

Personally I feel this obnoxious tendency owes its origin to the fact that it was passed on down the line by a succession of the British-trained peers. Obfuscation has since been developed into a fine art. That apart, you can always see how self-consciously the rival diplomatic delegations look into the cameras of the visual media, shaking hands in mock seriousness: there is not an iota of sincerity visible. And at the end of their labours you approach them as a group at the end of round one you can be sure to be told the talks were conducted "in a free, frank and friendly manner". I remember Atal Behari Vajpayee, then Morarji Desai's foreign minister telling me after one round of his talks in Pakistan: "arre, wohi free, frank and friendly vatawaran likhiye". This, when the talks had really neither been frank nor friendly.

Call me a pessimist, I don't really expect much to come out of the promised July talks, if these are held at all. One would of course have loved to see the two Foreign Ministers giving a positive direction to the broken dialogue but the odds are against it. The much bruised Manmohan Singh government would of course love it if Pakistan chooses to make the right moves.

The truth though is that the present government in Pakistan stands on a very shaky ground. Given its weakness, the fear is that it may even try to put the process into the reverse gear. For everything it does or doesn't do it must first have the Army's okay. And, General Kayani, unless he has changed his spots, is not keen to be seen as a promoter of Indo-Pak peace. When you speak of Kayani you include General Pasha, the ISI chief, in it.
The Lashkar chief Hafez Saeed only last week promised to wage war against India (Kashmir) if we do not let him have his way. That Kayani is not bothered by the fact that the International community has declared Saeed a terrorist outlaw does not bother him. Add to this the twin facts: the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and its leader Nawaz Sharif barely tolerate the Asif Zardari dispensation and the country's judiciary in any case hates his very name.

The Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, Justice Iftikhar Choudhary in his inaugural address to the 17th Commonwealth law conference in Hyderabad (India) virtually declared war on the "undemocratic" government headed by President Zardari, whom he accused of not having undone the many Constitutional wrongdoings of the Military ruler, General Musharraf. The Chief Justice in effect put the Zardari government on notice that it act quickly to nullify the various proclamations made by General Musharraf, having already shot down many of these in the Court chamber itself. It was the judiciary that had brought an end to the Constitutional deviations of the former military ruler. Justice Choudhary even hinted that the judiciary might intervene yet again to correct the government's many Constitutional failures.

Zardari, let me recall, was a major beneficiary of Musharraf's proclamation absolving the former of all the alleged crimes committed by him during his wife Benazir's terms of office as Prime Minister.
The judicial threat weakens the Zardari government even further. This in fact makes the President almost powerless in tackling the Army Chief, General Kayani who only recently gave himself a three-year extension as the Chief. The PPP Government in Islamabad cannot but be aware of its helplessness in the two-pronged threat their leader and President, Asif Zardari is faced with. Which to my mind makes it impossible for him to pursue any path other than one of confrontation against India. That keeps the Army and the ISI happy for the moment. That may also be why his government appears to be helpless against the jihadi forces led by men like Hafez Saeed of the Lashkar-e-Toiba.








The search for a prime minister in Nepal that began with the resignation of the then incumbent last June ended after nearly seventh months in February 2011. The newly elected Prime Minister, Jhala Nath Khanal, who belongs to the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist, owes his victory to the Maoists of Nepal (Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists), who had failed by a whisker to obtain absolute majority in a Parliament (interim) of over 600 members.

That had not deterred the Maoists, especially its leader Pushp Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, known for his provocative anti-Indian and passionate pro-Chinese rhetoric, from trying to dictate the course of events in Nepal, even rubbing the other political parties the wrong way in the process. He had clear ambitions of becoming the prime minister with the support of all seven parties that are part of the 'peace process.'
He failed repeatedly to meet his ambition in the prolonged process to elect a new prime minister because the other parties did not share his self-estimate as a Messiah of Nepal. They are not sure of his commitment to democracy and freedom of speech. He gave up after 17 attempts at electing the prime minister by ballot had failed and announced that he was making a 'sacrifice' by withdrawing from the contest in favour of Khanal.
The 'sacrifice' by Prachanda, in which he backed a candidate from another party, was his show of defiance against India which was allegedly 'interfering' in the process of selection of a prime minister and wanted one who is benign towards New Delhi. It is no secret that Prachanda and the Maoists want a pro-Chinese leader in the driver's seat. They have little love for India even though it is the country where they seek refuge and safety when running away from the law.

However, the 'sacrifice' by Prachanda won him few encomiums from the other parties within Nepal. It enabled him to install a prime minister someone who would be his proxy and follow the roadmap for Nepal that was prepared by the Maoists. It is undeniable that the Maoists will have a big say in running the government by virtue of their large presence in Parliament.

Undoubtedly Khanal's election was made possible after a 'secret deal' between Prachanda's Maoists and the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist, an 'agreement' that was signed reportedly without consultations with seven parties in the present coalition that is working to complete the 'peace process' in Nepal.
The Maoists in Nepal are gloating over the success of their move that had Khanal elected with their support. But they may be celebrating a bit too hastily. Some parties, notably the Nepali Congress, which is the second largest party in parliament after the Maoists, have already expressed reservations about the 'proxy' rule of the Maoists. Most of the Madhesi parties (of people of 'Indian origin') said they would not join the cabinet led by a Maoist proxy.

The Maoists believe that their successful strategy in the election of the prime minister took India by surprise. The Indian foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao, was in Kathmandu just days before what proved to be the final round of election for the prime minister. The Nepalese media speculated that she had come to ensure that Nepal elected a pro-India candidate, but the result proved the failure of her 'mission'. This is supposed to have upset the government of India which is now 'confused' and does not know how to react to the election of the new Nepalese prime minister, going by reports in Nepali media.

It goes without saying that New Delhi cannot be too pleased to see a Nepalese Prime Minister in office who is backed by a party as patently anti-Indian as the Nepalese Maoists and enjoys the backing of forces in Nepal that want to forge a strategic relationship with China at the cost of India. But there is no need to reach an alarming conclusion at once.

The game of playing India against China in Nepal can create a Frankenstein monster, much like the one visible in India's western neighbourhood where the jihadi forces nurtured and tutored to take on India are turning on their masters. India and Nepal are bound by strong historic ties and the two countries are deeply entwined in more ways than one. No Nepalese leader would help his country by working to embitter relations with India to the extent that they become like those between India and Pakistan.

A fresh look at the much vilified treaty of friendship with Nepal is unlikely to upset India too much, having said more than once it is ready to revise the treaty (even though there is no provision for it). The clauses in the treaty that are seen as 'unequal' can be removed or modified.

On the other hand, Nepal would not like to see the abolition of clauses that accrue economic benefits to Nepal, including the provision for free movement of Nepalese into India for work and permanent migration. The issue of river waters flow is tricky, but not outside the scope of a settlement, provided there is a spirit of give and take on both sides.

It was an interesting coincidence that the Nepalese President, Ram Baran Yadav, was in India as Nepal went into what turned out to be the last round of electing a new prime minister. He had meetings with nearly every important Indian leader, including Dr Manmohan Singh, who assured him that India wanted continued friendly ties with Nepal which were based on equality and mutual respect. The visiting dignitary gave no indication that he disbelieved what his hosts had told him.

Two pressing tasks for the new prime minister will be drafting a constitution by May (original date for doing so was May 2010) and integrating the armed 'People's Liberation Army' of the Maoists with the regular army. Neither is an easy task, especially the question of integration of the PLA.

The army in Nepal is suspicious of the PLA which after a decade of experience in guerrilla warfare and use of violence to quell dissent will find it difficult to observe the apolitical and professional code of conduct of a regular government security force. (Syndicate)








There is no such thing as a 'perfect' Government but we do have a stable and a very vibrant democracy and as we see events unfold in the Middle East it is time for us to reflect on our immediate past and pay a silent tribute to the Indian voter who has over several elections at multiple levels helped us preserve our democratic institutions and any form of excess has been punished at the ballot and corrective action has followed. We witness turmoil in the Middle East and our hearts and thoughts are with the people of Egpyt and with everyone else who struggle for democratic values and what we have witnessed in the past fourteen days has been the power of the people who express their aspirations for a democratic existence and now for the next fourteen days we will witness 'power play' by the USA and their multiple lobby system [Israel and the oil lobby] and along the Western World they will try to cobble together a stable combination in Egypt to safeguard their interests and while everyone will say the right thing the aspirations of the people of the Middle East who live under 'absolute' rule will always come behind the 'strategic' interests of the Western World. The Government of India gives a measured response and we also have to keep our interests intact and President Hosni Mubarak despite many a concession will find it difficult to last till September 2011 and with the volatile situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the uncertain future of Iraq and our growing influence in the area it is in our interests to play a constructive role and as a member of the G20 with a voice heard with some strength in global affairs our balanced views may well carry a great deal of credibility with the people of Egypt.

The Middle East and many parts of North Africa are in turmoil and all you have to do is to sit with the map of the area and a complicated situation begins to make a great deal of sense and the winds of change sweeping across the area's cannot over a period of time be contained to suit either the objectives of a external super power or internal power centers based on 'absolute' rule. The map of North Africa has Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt and towards the South are Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen and Somalia and in the Middle East you have Saudi Arabia ringed by Jordan on one side and by Iraq and Iran on the other side with the Gulf States squeezed in between and in this cluster with a record of past conflicts a flash point can come at any given time and the 'freedom' virus in a area known for restrictions on individual freedom can bring about a revolution of sorts in the area . The past is important as we study future trends in the Middle East and many parts of North Africa which went through Colonial rule in the 19th and early part of the 20th century have never really moved towards a democratic structure and the Western forces who controlled this area for their own political and commercial interests set up a mixture of puppet regimes and 'absolute' rulers who were careful not to conflict with their interests but it did not always work as we have seen in Egypt, Iraq and Iran and in each case it resulted in a conflict with a regime change and with its strategic relevance the Middle East drew the Super Power attention with the USA and the USSR.

The situation is complex and cannot be explained in a few paragraphs and as an example during the bitter and wasteful Iraq and Iran conflict from 1980-88 which resulted in close to 600,000 fatalities and an equal number wounded and maimed the USA and the USSR both supported Iraq under Saddam Hussain but covertly the USSR also assisted Iran in exchange for neutrality in Afghanistan and the USA used Iran to fund anti- Communist forces in Nicaragua and also certain elements in Lebanon. Much has happened since then as Egypt witnessed a 'peace accord' with Israel brokered by the USA and President Anwar Sadat was assassinated and was succeeded by President Hosni Mubarak and has continued as a staunch ally of the USA, and Iran after the exit of the Shah of Iran in 1979 has remained hostile to the USA and in Iraq the ambitious Saddam Hussain was humbled and hanged after a war based on false pretences and opposed by the UN and many in the Western World and Iraq war since then have seen frightful losses on both sides and sadly suicide bomb blasts occur on a daily basis and the presence of US troops has bought little stability to the area. Egypt continued under the absolute rule but then Tunisia exploded and within days the President Zine El Ben Ali fled with his billions and the movement spread to Yemen and to Egypt and then to Jordan and suddenly 'change' is in the air and the speed with which events have overtaken decisions signals a new approach for the future.

We speak of 'change' and we have seen and felt the information technology revolution around us often written and we have seen the spread of the social networks and their impact on our daily lives but I think for the first time we have seen the power of all these tools as they demolished the strong arm tactics of President Hosni Mubarak and have prevented a virtual catastrophe in Egypt. The entire global community watched in shock and horror how camels and horses with goons armed with swords attacked the peaceful protesters, we all saw the Vans stolen from the US Embassy mow down and kill people on the streets of Cairo and after a few minutes the Global opinion erupted and all the absolute powers of President Hosni Mubarak along with the Army and his secret police was neutralized by the power of the people cutting across Continents. We saw graphic video images via Mobile phones. You tube and both Face book and Twitter reported events by the minute and this has changed the way we think and act and more than anything else it will raise change the way governments will function and there will be greater accountability and the 'fear' factor no longer exists as we saw on the streets of Cairo.



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





President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt ultimately read the writing on the wall when he decided to relinquish power on Friday after an 18-day wave of protests against his tyrannical rule. He, perhaps, got a clear hint from his armed forces that now he must bow to the wishes of the people or get ready for the worst that could happen to him and his country. His Thursday's address to the Egyptian nation had further angered the people, who wanted nothing less than his immediate resignation. His offer of delegating most of his responsibilities to Vice-President Omar Suleiman was a ploy to cling on to power. The people, yearning for democracy, saw through his new game-plan and intensified their protests at Cairo's Tehrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt. This led to what they had been waiting for — announcement by Mr Suleiman that Mr Mubarak was no longer the President of Egypt.


The Vice-President is unlikely to be acceptable to the Egyptians as Mr Mubarak's replacement. He has been known for his closeness to the Egyptian dictator and for being in the good books of the US. Both factors make his credentials doubtful in the eyes of the public. If people cannot trust anyone close to Mr Mubarak, their strong anti-American sentiment also comes in the way of Mr Suleiman finding their favour. Former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed El-Baradei, who initially appeared to be the most preferred replacement for Mr Mubarak, does not fit in with the scheme of things of the Egyptian armed forces and the US.


Who will then be allowed to hold the reins of administration as a stop-gap arrangement? Under the prevailing circumstances, much depends on who is favoured by the Egyptian military. The powerful Muslim Brotherhood may also enter the fray. There is little possibility of the military capturing power as the pro-democracy protesters have been openly voicing their opposition to such a scenario. The situation is so surcharged that no one can think of thwarting the people's march to democracy. The rulers in the neighbouring countries too must be feeling uneasy after the victory for democracy in Egypt. It is a historic development, indeed.









Before yearend, the government is expected to sign one of the country's most expensive defence deal estimated at $11 billion for purchasing 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (equivalent to seven squadrons) for the Indian Air Force (IAF). The induction of these aircraft, proposed several years ago, is aimed at replacing some of the IAF's antiquated fighter fleet. It should also assist in making up for a steady depletion in the number of the IAF's fighter squadrons.


Considering the huge monies involved and the significant post-Cold War improvement in India's relations with the West, notably with the US, New Delhi is being offered top of the line fighter aircraft from five companies — Boeing and Lockheed Martin from the United States, Saab from Sweden, Dassault from France, the European consortium EADS and the Russian MiG-RAC. As India gets underway with negotiations, the months ahead are likely to witness considerable lobbying by these companies. Offers of bribe and kickback are not uncommon, especially when big sums of money are involved. The government, therefore, needs to tread cautiously in the next few months during negotiations. India is already lagging behind in modernisation of its considerably antiquated armed forces, and it can ill afford a controversy that could lead to cancellation of such a deal and hence delay.


For almost a decade India was haunted by the Bofors episode in the late 1980s. Unnerved by the spate of inquiries and adverse media reports following allegations of kickbacks, successive governments at the Centre suffered from a near paralysis in making defence purchases for almost a decade. This, in addition to other reasons, resulted in a major setback to India's defence modernisation process. In recent years, India has either cancelled or aborted three major deals - artillery guns from South Africa, light howitzers from Singapore and helicopters from Europe - following allegations of unethical practices. In addition, the Scorpene submarine deal is already under investigation following similar allegations. The government must tread cautiously and as transparently as possible while equally being mindful of the need to be strategic while finalising a deal of such magnitude and importance.

















If more and more people in Punjab now opt for a train instead of a private or state roadways bus to reach their destination, the reason is simple and well known: it is cheaper. For the past seven consecutive years, the rail fares have not been raised, thanks to populist railway ministers like Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mamata Banerjee. This is despite a steep hike in the operational costs, including the prices of diesel and electricity. That this had an adverse effect on the railway finances and the quality of civic amenities for the travelling public is another story.


But as a result, the train has emerged as the favourite mode of travel for the common people, particularly in states where the cost of road transportation has steadily gone up in keeping with the oil price hikes. In fact, some of those used to travel by air have also shifted to trains to cut costs. While this has aggravated the problem of congestion in trains and increased pressure on the railway amenities, the public shift to trains has its advantages — the most prominent being less traffic, congestion and pollution on roads.


The bus journey in Punjab is becoming increasingly expensive. Since politicians own and run private bus services, they are quick to hike bus fares. The recent hike was carried out even when the diesel price had not been raised. While private bus owners make profits, public transport is in the red and the state Transport Minister recently blamed the politicians in transport business for its sickness. Private buses run on key routes and often evade taxes. Punjab Roadways and PRTC have been sidelined. Trains, even if crowded, do serve the public need but up to a point. They largely operate on limited, inter-city routes. There is dire need for a reliable, efficient, comfortable and affordable public transport so that people are discouraged to use personal vehicles. This will reduce accidents and traffic snarls on roads.









AN examination of the history of social and political dissent brings out that there have been loyal, upright and law-abiding citizens like Binayak Sen with the belief that they have been driven by their conscience to act in support of the deprived. Mahatma Gandhi, too, had believed in "preaching disaffection towards the existing system of the government" and mere disaffection, he thought, was not a crime if it did not incite violence. As expressed by Noam Chomsky, who has led the international protest against Binayak Sen's sentence, "The tendency to marginalise dissidents is always there and will always be there as long as grave inequalities in actual power and domination exist. When the actual power to make decisions is narrowly concentrated, then that power will be exercised in the doctrinal institutions as well."


On the one end is the notion of knowledge as power; on the other is the notion of knowledge and belief as a liberating experience, a means of presenting numerous views without the significance of the established law ever restraining individual freedom. This could be the broad definition of dissidence. The polemics between the individual and society has always generated conflict for the enhancement of freedom. State intrusion always results in either resistance by the individual or submissive conformism that marks any neo-right wing system. Society's methodical and systemic ideals stand challenged wherever individual freedom is put under any restraint. Disagreement with the meddling of the State embodies maverick tendencies that are often non-conformist and crucial to the extent of never stooping down to knowledge and outdated law that emanates from the centre.


"You do not become a 'dissident' just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society." These words of playwright Vaclav Havel, former President of Czechoslovakia and a liberal intellectual, are pertinent to the case of Binayak Sen, who was recently sentenced to life imprisonment for supposedly acting as a courier for Maoist leaders, evidence for which is flimsy and mere hearsay. Much condemnation and outrage has rightly been expressed towards the tyrannical court decision in Chhattisgarh for giving the inconsiderate sentence to Sen, drawing attention to the possibility of the verdict being an outcome of the paranoia of the state against the Maoist rebellion ostensibly with the purpose of outlawing non-conformists, who believe in justice and freedom and who are not afraid to raise their voice against the displacement of thousands by corporate mega-projects usurping their land and their natural resources.


It is indeed a sad day in the history of jurisprudence that those who wage a struggle to uphold the rights of the neglected are sent to the gallows instead of being complimented. Distinction between hardcore Maoists and progressive intellectuals like Sen cannot be ignored when adjudicating over cases involving sedition. As a mark of a nation-wide protest, the People's Union for Civil Liberties sent out a call to the people of India to court arrest on January 30 in order to draw attention of the state to the brutal incarceration of Sen on the very day Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, thereby demanding the repeal of Section 124A, IPC, which "is designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen" and under which Gandhi was also arrested.


In this sense, it is the outdated colonial law setting out to define sedition with the underlying design of subverting the freedom of action. The intention is not so much to harass a man who has stood for human rights but to inculcate a deep-seated fear of punishment for believing in a particular ideology and by denying people the right to explore their own histories and cultures. It is, in effect, about the eradication of freedom as is clear from the exercise of such an undemocratic law employed during the colonial "raj" when it was blatantly used against Gandhi and Tilak. The issue of justice is all the more compounded when seen in the light of an action that does not, in any way, incite violence and thus does not amount to sedition.


Binayak Sen is a genuine civil liberty activist, known for his sincere social work for decades and his unconditional support for the downtrodden. His ideological leanings along with his professional credentials are tangibly of relevance to any decision that the law takes on his actions. And as evident, his actions have never advocated violence. As if to add insult to injury, the law of the land barely makes a pretence to hide its motives of anti-liberal subversion of an intellectual expression of an ideology, thereby laying bare some of the more stark and sinister aspects of its potential application in a state where the Maoists along with the tribals have taken a violent anti-state stand. The nation-wide debate and backlash on the issue of sedition in the case of Sen calls for the reinvention of the framework of the existing institutions which would be very valuable for people as well as be of priceless service to democracy.


The intellectual in India, therefore, has to chastise the system to show his anger against the laws of sedition so as to look into the future as a visionary of a civil society free from abuse and control. Each spirited and angry individual must strive for this hope to be "moral agents, not servants of power". The only path to the affirmation of the self is to perform, as Edward Said argued, to manifest one's will, to generate new sets of laws by taking up anti-authoritarian gestures that would face up to not only the middle-of-the-road trust in transcendent values and non-aligned truths, but also to all institutions which thwart unswerving critical work. These, I think, have been Binayak Sen's motives based on an ideology that he believes in even though they might conflict with state policy.


As long as his work projects an intellectual idea without the belligerence of a terrorist, it cannot be silenced or punished. People like him always partake in justifiable political protests against their government out of conviction and allegiance to the cause that the world can be made a better and stronger place through dissent.


In fact, we are all dissidents at one time or another. Protest against any kind of exploitation or military dominance has to be allowed in society, as we live in a world that is constantly changing, and it is by protest that the laws are changed for a better future. Public protest or supporting a cause is indeed a right and if intellectuals like Chomsky, Amartya Sen and Arundhati Roy have protested against the sentence of Binayak Sen, it only shows that a bad law cannot be allowed to exist. People have the right to have it abolished or changed. Howard Zinn allows "one to be suspicious of centralised authority, to insist on individual freedom, to be sceptical of all government and to insist on grassroots democracy."


In the case of Binayak Sen, the whole question of judicial reform and opposition to the indifference of the State towards the poor is related to desiring freedom. Committed intellectuals like him are genuinely interested in change. Independent thought and expression cannot be allowed to be smothered by any assault on one's constitutional freedom.








Seventy years ago in the month of April, there was a flurry of activity in the then capital of the Punjab at Lahore. There was guesswork, prognostications and assessments regarding the successor to Sir John Colville, the Governor of Punjab.


Ultimately, the name of Sir Bertrand James Glancy, a 1906 batch ICS Officer, was announced. He had served as Deputy Commissioner of Ambala and Lahore in his long and illustrious career. One of the close friends of the Governor was Dr Devki Nandan Aggarwal, head of the radiology department in King Edwards Medical College, Lahore.


The Governor took oath on 18th April 1941 and the next day, there was a lunch hosted by Dr Aggarwal at his Model Town residence. Several prominent doctors, judges, bureaucrats and other important dignitaries attended it.


The newly appointed Governor enquired about the deficiencies in the Governor's House and was informed that there was a grave shortage of Khidmatgars (attendants) in his office.


Sir Bertrand instructed his Military Secretary, Major H. Barlow, to recruit 20 more Khidmatgars. Nagrath was one of them. He belonged to Gujranwala district. He was very proficient in music. Time passed by. In October came the Dasehra festival and Sir Glancy was the chief guest at one such function and to his utter amazement, he saw Nagrath playing the harmonium most impressively. People were spell bound.


Next day, the Governor called Khidmatgar Nagrath and interviewed him about his musical skills. He decided to recommend his name to Governor, Bombay Presidency, Sir Roger Lumely, one of his close friends and batchmates. The Bombay Governor on his part sent Nagrath to the then topmost music director Khwaja Khurshid Anwar. Khwaja Sahib agreed to take Nagrath as his assistant. He had other youngsters like Prem Dhawan, Ghulam Mohammad and Rashid Atray as his juniors. After 1949 Khwaja Khurshid Anwar went to Pakistan. All his juniors started working as independent music directors though Rashid Atray went with him to Pakistan.


Nagrath, whose full name was Roshan Lal Nagrath, came to be known as music director Roshan and rose to be one of the foremost composers in the film industry. His son Rakesh Roshan became an actor, whereas the other Rajesh Roshan became a music director. Rakesh Roshan's son, Hrithik Roshan, is also a famous actor these days.


Sometimes I wonder what would have been the status and position of this family had the then Governor of Punjab, a Britisher, not shown his magnanimity in abundance. Can one expect such gestures now, from our own Indians?








Hydroponics is a water-based, soil-less way of cultivation. People can grow food in places where traditional agriculture simply isn't possible such as arid, rocky, snow-bound and dense urban areas


Food is made available to a city by land, sea and air from across a huge hinterland which spans the globe. Over 60 per cent of the human population now lives vertically in cities. The time has arrived for us to transform our traditional techniques of growing food. Vertical farming (VF) is now envisioned as a solution to maladies afflicting agriculture by scientists at Columbia University.


The vertical farm project was conceived as a response to increasing pressures of diminishing land resources and fast-changing climatic conditions to reliably produce food at reasonable financial and environmental costs to fulfil global food demand for a conservatively-estimated world population of 9-10 billion by 2050.


The idea is simple enough. Imagine a 30-storey building with glass walls, topped off with a huge solar panel. On each floor there would be giant planting beds, indoor fields in effect. There would be a sophisticated irrigation system. And so, crops of all kinds and small livestock could all be grown in a controlled environment in the most urban of settings without soil. The idea of vertical farming was first proposed 11 years ago by Dickson Despommier, Professor of Public Health at British Columbia University.


Big vertical farms do not yet exist, but could be a reality soon. These "vertical farms" would produce crops, poultry and fish year-round in a controlled environment free of pollutants, parasites and dangerous microbes. Despommier suggests that a 30-storey building with a basal area of 5 acres (2.02 ha) has the potential of producing crop yield equivalent to 2,400 acres (971.2 ha) of traditional horizontal farming.


Despommier is now conceptualising several projects with administrators around the world. He does not quite divulge details but says that administrators from Chicago and New York are interested, and that he is working with people in other countries as well. Companies are also trying their own variations in smaller scales.


The vertical farm is more than just a produce factory. It also offers an alternative to rebuild a city's infrastructure to mimic natural-resource cycles in the tower's basement, where sewage provides the farm's most crucial resources: energy and water. The surrounding city's sewage system would be redirected to the farm where half of it would enter a "SlurryCarb" machine developed by EnerTech, a green-energy start-up in Atlanta. The device heats and pressurises the sludge, breaking it down into its base components-carbon and water. The machine extracts the water and the solid, coal-like slurry burns to power steam turbines that generate electricity.


The rest of the sewage is treated with bacteria-killing chemicals and turned into topsoil through a heating and drying process developed by N-Viro, an Ohio-based biosolids-recycling company. Water extracted from both processes is filtered through natural "bioremediators" such as zebra mussels, cattails and sawgrass that clean it until it's suitable for agriculture or further refine it for drinking. Any farming waste is composted to make fertiliser and methane gas, which can utilised for energy production.


The basis of vertical farming is hydroponic (water based and soil-less) culture in nutrient solutions. For hydroponic cultivation, the nutrients consist of five macro elements (required in large quantity) and six micro elements (needed in small quantity). For the fixing of roots, a variety of inert supporting media like sand, gravel, coco coir, vermiculite, perlite, rookwool, and dihydro are used.


Two types of hydroponic systems employed are: passive or open system where nutrients are not recycled and do not use any power or pumps. The drawbacks of such a system are that it requires less care but are used for small plants with little produce and fresh items like salads and other greens. The active or closed systems involve power driven with pumps for the circulation of nutrients solutions through roots. These are more efficient but require more care and are used for large-scale cultivation. The active systems may (ebb and flow, drip irrigation) or may not contain the root supporting media.


Though hydroponics is the technology-based farming method for future, it has been utilised for hundreds of years by a variety of people. As noted in "Hydroponic Food Production" (fifth edition, Woodbridge Press, 1997, page 23) by Howard M. Resh: The hanging gardens of Babylon, the floating gardens of the Aztecs of Mexico and those of the Chinese are examples of hydroponic culture. Egyptian hieroglyphic records dating back several hundred years B.C. describe the growing of plants in water.


Vegetables are being cultivated successfully in space, South Pole and atomic submarines through vertical farming using hydroponic systems. Anna Heiney of


NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center says "NASA has extensive hydroponics research plans in place, which will benefit current space exploration as well as future, long-term colonisation of the Mars or the moon. As we haven't yet found soil that can support life in space, and the logistics of transporting soil via the space shuttles seems impractical, hydroponics could be the key to food for astronauts thousands of miles from earth". They could grow crops that would not only supplement a healthy diet but also remove toxic carbon dioxide from the air inside their spacecraft and create life-sustaining oxygen. "If you continually re-supply and deliver commodities like food that will become much more costly than producing your own food," says Ray Wheeler, Plant Physiologist at Kennedy Space Center's Space Life Sciences Lab.


In fact, hydroponics was chosen as the food production technology at the South Pole but the 1978 Antarctic Conservation Act prohibits the importation of soils to the continent. However, with so much fresh water available in the form of ice, the soil-less culture of hydroponics could be a perfect fit. The McMurdo food growth chamber provides the 200-plus station personnel with fresh salads and veggies like cantaloupes, pepper, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumber, besides a bright, green environment that is missed during the dark months when working through the Antarctic winter.


First, hydroponics offer people the ability to grow food in places where traditional agriculture simply isn't possible. In areas with arid climates like Arizona and Israel, hydroponics has been in use for decades. This technique allows people to enjoy locally grown produce and enhance their food production.


Similarly, hydroponics is useful in dense urban areas. In Tokyo, hydroponics is used in lieu of traditional soil-based agriculture. Rice is harvested in underground vaults without the use of soil. Because the environment is perfectly controlled, four cycles of harvest can be performed annually instead of the traditional single harvest.


Hydroponics is also useful in remote locales such as Bermuda. With so little space available for planting, Bermudians have turned to hydroponic systems which take around 20 per cent of the land usually required for crop growth. This allows the citizens of the island to enjoy year-round local produce without the expense and delay of importation.


Finally, areas that don't receive consistent sunlight or warm weather can benefit from hydroponics. Places like Alaska and Russia where growing seasons are shorter use hydroponic greenhouses with controlled conditions.


Interestingly, after a strawberry farm in Florida was wiped out by hurricane Andrew, the owners built a hydroponic farm. By growing strawberries indoors and stacking layers on top of each other, they now produce on one acre of land what used to require 30 acres. In the US, hydroponic tomatoes yield 150 tonnes per acre annually, which is 18 times of what is produced through conventional soil methods. A 10-acre site can yield 3 million pounds annually. In Canada, the average per capita consumption of tomatoes is 20 lbs. Thus, with a population of 20 million, the total annual consumption of tomatoes is 400 million pounds (200, 000 tonnes). Enough tomatoes for the entire population of Canada for a whole year could be grown hydroponically on just 1,300 acres of land!


The Institute of Simplified Hydroponics (ISH), USA, along with the Institute of Simplified Hydroponics, India,

launched the "Pet Bharo - Hydroponics for sustainability" project in Bangalore and the "Women of Hope Project" in Hyderabad in January, 2009. These projects were launched to empower the people of India by making available low-cost, easy-to-learn hydroponics or soil-less production. The major goal of the ISH is to remove hunger and malnutrition and generate some income for the poor and less privileged families.


This writer has some experience in growing "hydroponic tomato" and does not find growing vegetables in soil-less culture using nutrient solutions very expensive. Indeed, this type of simple farming would be a boon to entrepreneurs in the remote and snow-bound areas of the North-East, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh which remain cut off from the rest of the country during winter months. People in these areas, while confined to their four walls due to adverse climatic conditions, can produce fresh vegetables and salads. The defence forces, too, can make use of this technology for their personnel in inaccessible areas during the inclement weather.


The writer is a Professor of Plant Physiology at Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University, Palampur








Even though it sounds like replay of a familiar worn-out voice track, the latest announcement of an 'agreement' between India and Pakistan to re-start bilateral dialogue process for 'discussing' all outstanding issues qualifies to be welcomed for its immediate audio effect, if nothing better than that. The expressions and terminology used to package the announcement is so very familiar that there is really nothing new about it, except the fact that it has taken so unduly long for the two countries to just agree upon sitting across the table. Their track record in this matter is anything but encouraging in so far as expecting some kind of a breakthrough is concerned. The type of the dialogue process intended to be given yet another start has been held in the distant as well as nearer past but invariably without any result. Despite this fact if still there is some hope being associated with the latest repeat-performance it is because even the hopelessness has crossed all limits. Some of the issues, like troop pullback from Siachen and mitigating human sufferings on account of uncivilised restrictions on travelling between the neighbouring countries, ought to have been got out of the way a long time ago. There are no convincing reasons to let such issues continue to hang fire and impede progress in the bilateral talks towards grappling with more complicated issues like the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. Deliberate failure or lack of will to get them out of the way means that there can be no purposeful dialogue or any progress in normalising bilateral relationship, notwithstanding these periodic half-way engagements. The text of the announcements emanating from New Delhi and Islamabad on Thursday is full of details conveying specified agenda points from 'terrorism' to 'Kashmir'. That way it takes due note of concerns of both the countries regarding what each considers being its 'core' agenda. To arrive at this simple conclusion the two governments have wasted more than a year.

It was in January 2010 that Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani had met at Thimpu and subsequently directed their respective ministers and officials to prepare a road map for resuming the dialogue process. It has taken thirteen long months to come out with nothing more than what could have conveniently been said on the following day of Singh-Gillani meeting. No new issues have been brought on to the agenda nor has any course correction been indicated from the earlier road map which was unceremoniously abandoned in the wake of the Mumbai attacks in 2008. The time wasted between January 2010 and February 2011 cannot be justified by the contents or context of the announcement made now to revive the old channels of communication. Another baffling aspect of this scenario is that India seems to be unduly touchy about certain expressions like 'composite dialogue'. That was the mutually agreed definition of the process till November 2008 and which had yielded fairly positive results in at least improving general atmospherics. Multi-lateral engagements in that period had generated a favourable atmosphere to come to grips with even some of the harder issues. Yet the definition of the format-'composite dialogue'-became the only issue because India did not like the term any more.

After all the useless give and take over this controversy practically it is back to square one. The issues proposed to be discussed are the same; so is the order of their priority in the list. The levels and channels of communication relating to the agenda points also remain unchanged. The only difference is that the word 'composite dialogue' has been omitted. Even hair splitting has a limit.

All said and done the proof of the pudding is in eating it. If and when the two sides really get together to do business as they have committed for the umpteenth time to do the real worth of their verbal commitment would become known. Unfortunately, track record of both the countries is such that there is a huge credibility deficit. They have contributed more towards losing opportunities than grabbing any. Pettiness has generally overwhelmed sagacity in this process. Larger interests of the people in both the countries, known to have more in common than that separating them, warrant a broad vision at the top. Absence of visionaries has contributed a lot towards creating this mess. India and Pakistan have too many politicians strutting about the scene but no visionary to lead and show the way out of this destructive course. History has once again offered a chance for the visionary to stand up and be counted. Nothing short of that miracle can make any material difference, no matter whether and when the latest edition of the 'road map' gets underway.







Sudden spurt in the exhibitions of handicrafts and handloom items in Jammu and Kashmir towns and elsewhere in the country makes it appear that the government and its agencies have woken up from deep slumber to promote these products during the winter season. Day in and day out there is news about showcasing of products on display at various places in the country while there is hardly any such activity in rest of the year. The industrial exhibition organized in the 50-year old premises of Exhibition Ground appears to have lost its sheen due to congested area and lack of parking space compared to the previous years. The entertainment shows are perhaps the only attraction for the visitors to the Exhibition Ground during the past few years. Since the entire affair appears to be a half-hearted effort on the part of the government, there has been no major attempt to create a new area for such purposes. The demand for this sector to have a spacious area to showcase the local products has fallen on deaf ears during the past few decades. This is perhaps the main reason why exhibitions on a medium and large scale are always taken away from Jammu city to other towns in neighbouring states, which have better infra-structure for such activities. Even otherwise also most of the big and medium industrial houses have shied away from J&K for organizing exhibitions of their products which have become a routine in rest of the country on monthly and weekly basis. On the other hand, the handicrafts and handloom products find attractions only for a limited period because these activities are not well publicized by the concerned government agencies. Instead of organizing occasional exhibitions, the government needs to have a permanent exhibition centre and raise necessary infra-structure for this purpose. Showcasing of crafts in make-shift places does not solve the purpose for which such events are organized. Lack of marketing support throughout the year for such products is another hurdle in making them available to the buyers in various parts of the country. It will not be out of place to mention that J&K has hardly made a serious effort in marketing its products all over the world where they are in big demand but fail to reach the end user. Moreover, absence of technological innovations in this sector have already sounded a death knell for the industries which were being run by the government owned corporations.









Too little to late. This in a nutshell encapsulates the Raja saga of the infamous 2G spectrum scam ending in his arrest. The former telecom Minister joins the 'illustrious' national hall of shame like Madhu Koda, Shibhu Soren, Sukh Ram et al. Yet nobody is either applauding or buying Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh diatribe of belling the big fat cat of corruption. Indeed, Mahan is our corrupt democracy!

All know that Raja and his cohorts' arrest was inevitable, not because the Congress-led UPA Government wanted to erase its credibility-governance deficit and taint in the wake of the scams but the CBI had to meet the 10 February Supreme Court deadline to submit its progress report. Failure to nab anyone would not only have invited adverse comments but also fresh trouble.

Undoubtedly, Raja's arrest instead of stemming Congress-UPA II's slide in the popularity sweepstakes, taking the sting out of the Opposition's campaign for a JPC probe and short-circuiting the aam aadmi's anger has only added to its woes. It underscores the inherent weakness of the personal arrangement between Manmohan Singh as head of Government and Sonia as Party Chief which has contributed heavily in the making of this scam. Exposing the Prime Minister as weaker than the Party.

True, none doubt Manmohan Singh's decency, honesty and intellect. But as Prime Minister why was he silent on the "loot" that engulfed his Administration? Why did he first deny the scam, only to defend Raja in Parliament when facts were to the contrary? Why did the Government debunk the CAG report of an Rs 1.76 lakh crore loss? What's the reason behind the delayed action? If Raja had done nothing wrong then why did the CBI arrest him?

It is all very well to lackadaisically assert that corruption is systemic. But can a Prime Minister afford to hide behind his natural reticence of an economist-turned accidental-politician? Or does the Office dictate that he take the bull by the horns and throw out the corrupt. After all, it is not a question of personal honesty, the Prime Minister has to uphold the sanctity of the institution of the Office of the Prime Minister.

Remember, the Ministers in the Union Cabinet function at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. He is the boss. The custodian of the Indian people's interest. Under the Transaction of Business Rules, 1961 the Prime Minister has unrestricted right to get any file, any record from any Ministry. He has absolute power in running the country. He could have undone the decisions in no time even if Raja had flouted the rules and code of ethics.

No IAS officer would defy a call from the PMO. Therefore, if the PM was serious about removing corruption, then he should have removed Raja long back.

Neither can the Congress preen that 'we are not like BJP'. It tried every trick to de-link Raja-DMK from the UPA. When that didn't work, it changed tack and began differentiating between the Party and the Party-led Government. Notwithstanding, Singh is the most 'loyal' Congressman. But left with no option, it took action to maintain Sonia's leadership clout. Will she save her Party first or the reputation of the PMO?

As the sleaze tale unfolds the climax is still far away. Needless to say, Raja who is fighting for survival will have high nuisance value. Already, he has clubbed all his acts of misdemeanour to the PMO. The DMK continues to back him. He has been arrested but not pronounced guilty," asserted Karunanidhi.

Clearly, Manmohan Singh unblemished credibility has taken a big hit. It is all very well for him to assert that it was compulsions of coalition politics that forced him and Sonia to go slow on either shifting Raja from telecom or sacking him. But this will not cut ice and could prove very costly for him and his Party.

As for the Gandhi mother-son duo the less said the better. Both are selective about the issues they espouse on. Hear their deafening silence on bribery. Be it CWG, Adarsh, Raja, CVC Thomas or the black billions stashed in foreign banks. Rahul's assertion that the money in off-shore banks belongs to India's poor makes one laugh.
What initiative has he taken as an elected MP to demand that the Government take up the issue with the Swiss authorities? What about questioning Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on his procrastinations that the Government is bound by secrecy and cannot reveal the list given by Germany in 2008. Really? How did the media disclose the list? Think. If both US and Germany could arm-twist the Swiss what stops India? They don't want to do so. There is no will. Guys, get real. How can they expose their ilk?

Arguably, even as Congressmen view Raja's arrest as a game-changer, they fail to grasp that it is not Raja detention, but the aam aadmi's thinking that has undergone a sea-change. He is so sick of the endemic corruption that one arrest is not going to take make any difference in the gargantuan ocean of sleaze. As prosecution leading up to conviction and punishment is rare. Glibly, described as 'law taking its own course'.

What next? Raja and his cohorts need to be punished and brought to book. But one swallow does not make a summer. It is unlikely to deter other offenders, given that corruption is in the blood of our politicians and civil servants who amass hundreds of crores of unaccounted income. They loot the exchequer, sell State patronage and use State power to extort money. Until they too are taken to task nothing will change.

Also true, the brouhaha over Raja will soon die down, but if the Government thinks that it can heave a sigh of relief that public memory is short it would be fooling itself. For nobody will believe that the Government is getting strong just because one scamster has been brought to book. The issue of corruption is already assuming such proportions that it may endanger the stability of the Government.

It's all very well for our netagan to tom-tom that we are the world's largest democracy. But are we really? Besides getting to exercise our vote every five years to elect those who govern us, what else have our netas done for us? Provided good governance? No. Honest Administration? Never.

There is daily haranguing by our leaders on anything or everything. Right from segregating the khaas log from the aam janata by having different entry gates to the House of the People, down to clearing roads to make way for our netas to ride trouble-free. Reminiscent of the times we bowed before the feudal Maharajas.
India's tragedy is that the oligarchy of yester year has been replaced by a feudal set-up with democratic trappings. Clearly the time has come to put an end to this perversion of democracy. The people have to rip away the façade of being "citizens" Whereby we might call ourselves citizens of India but in fact our netagan have reduced us to mere "subjects" like yester years. How long will we suffer in silence? Think about it!







Here, when a child is born, the parents distribute sweets to everybody, and as soon as I saw the sweets on my table, I wondered who had come while I'd been out, "Mamajee's become a grandfather!" said my wife, "And he's trudging to every house in the colony, delivering sweets!"

Mamajee is a favourite among the residents of my neighborhood and as I thought of him as a grandfather, I found that there were many writers who had their own views of what a grandparent is:


Grandmas are moms with lots of icing. ~Author Unknown

What a bargain grandchildren are! I give them my loose change, and they give me a million dollars' worth of pleasure. ~Gene Perret

Grandmothers and grandfathers are just antique little girls and boys. ~Author Unknown
Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild. ~Welsh Proverb

A child needs a grandparent, to grow a little more securely into an unfamiliar world. ~Charles and Ann Morse
A grandmother is a babysitter who watches the kids instead of the television. ~Author Unknown
What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And most importantly, chocolates! ~Rudolph Giuliani
Every house needs a grandparent in it. ~Louisa May Alcott

Our grandchildren accept us for ourselves, without rebuke or effort to change us, as no one in our entire lives has ever done, not our parents, siblings, spouses, friends - and hardly ever our own grown children. ~Ruth Goode

Never have children, only grandchildren. ~Gore Vidal

There's no place like home except Grandma's. ~Author Unknown
Being grandparents sufficiently removes us from responsibilities so that we can be friends. ~Allan Frome

When grandparents enter the door, discipline flies out the window. ~Ogden Nash
Grandma always made you feel she had been waiting to see just you all day and when she saw you her day was omplete. ~Marcy DeMaree
Grandmas never run out of hugs or chocolates. ~Author Unknown
Grandparents hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever. ~Author Unknown
A grandfather is someone with silver in his hair and gold in his heart. ~Author Unknown
So all you mothers and fathers, there's another life of joy and happiness just waiting for you round the corner..!



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So what caused the French Revolution? Food prices did. A hailstorm destroyed French crops, food prices rose 88 per cent in one year, and hungry Parisians turned on their rulers. Ditto with the Tian-an-men showdown exactly 200 years later, in 1989: consumer prices rose 21 per cent in a country that had known virtually no inflation under Communist rule. The Suharto regime got overthrown in Indonesia in 1998 after food prices doubled in a year; and the sharp spurt in food prices in 2008 caused food riots in Haiti and Somalia. As they say, no country is more than three meals away from a revolution. So no prizes for guessing what may have caused, or at least contributed to, the riots in Tunisia and Algeria recently; the Food and Agriculture Organisation's food price index surged 32 per cent in the second half of 2010. Reports mention residents of Tunis looting shops that stocked flour, sugar and milk.


 In India, Indira Gandhi nationalised the wholesale trade in foodgrain, in a drought year. Food prices rose 20 per cent in 1972 and a further 32 per cent in 1973. The nationalisation was hastily reversed, but the dam had to burst. Reacting to sharply higher mess bills, students in an engineering college in Gujarat began a protest that spread like wildfire, all the way to distant Bihar, where Jayaprakash Narayan used the opportunity to launch a countrywide agitation against what he called a corrupt government.

Elsewhere too, the riots were not caused by food prices alone. In almost all cases, there was innate dissatisfaction with the government, the alienation being caused usually by tales of widespread corruption. Marie Antoinette had the image of a profligate queen, the Indira Gandhi government was besieged with corruption scandals in the early 1970s, and the Suharto government had become an international symbol of kleptocracy in the 1990s. More recently, there have been reports of many tonnes of gold being shipped overseas by the ousted Tunisian president's wife, while Hosni Mubarak's overseas assets are said to be worth $70 billion. What truth there is to these numbers is impossible to tell; the important thing is that the public became willing to believe the worst about their rulers (like the fictional story that gained currency about Marie Antoinette saying people should eat cake if they did not have bread).

Unemployment among the young has been another factor in the countries that have got convulsed. Educated unemployment was a fact of life for most young people in the India of the 1970s. Egypt (which has subsidised food) has seen its economy slowing down in recent years, so unemployment could have become an issue—look at the preponderance of young faces in Tahrir Square. The lack of liberty would also be a factor. But while all these create innate dissatisfaction, the trigger that causes a boiling over is sharply rising food prices.

So what about India 2011? The media are full of corruption stories, and food prices have surged a cumulative 40 per cent inflation in the last 24 months. There is palpable alienation and cynicism. But staple foodgrains have been less affected than other food items. Also, there is no frustration among the young; survey-based findings suggest that most Indians are optimistic about the future. So India may not be a good candidate for street protests. More important, therefore, is the fact that the surge in global food prices in 2010 began with a Russian heatwave that killed its wheat crop. This was followed by weather problems in Canada and Argentina, and now floods in Australia. Climate change may have begun to topple governments!







The 2008-09 global financial crisis led to severe economic contraction — actual decline in GDP — in several advanced economies. In the UK, for example, the medium-term GDP trend shifted downwards for some years to come. This shift was accompanied by a decline in revenue/GDP and a rise in expenditure/GDP ratios reflecting unemployment benefits. The revival of economic activity was anchored on quantitative easing which did not work fast enough since the injected finance froze as the money multiplier collapsed. Focus turned to fiscal support through tax reductions and further current expenditure enhancements. The already rising fiscal deficit/GDP was further exacerbated. Public debt/GDP in some countries doubled. Stock market and rating agencies did not appreciate what the country indicators were showing and strategies had to be reformulated.

Strategies were refocused on fiscal consolidation and debates ensued on its pace and content. Elections were won and lost on this issue. Indeed, at Brookings, Alesina, Perotti and Tavares in 1998 had found fiscal rectitude to be rewarded by voters. The UK proved a case in point: Labour departed and a Conservative-Liberal coalition entered in May 2010. The latter's more austere fiscal positioning won the voters' confidence.


 Later at NBER Harvard, Alesina and Ardagna in 2009 also found that fiscal adjustments mostly on the spending side have a better chance of not creating large recessions on impact. Mid-year, post-election UK opted for this route. The pre-election Labour Budget (March) and post-election Conservative-Liberal Budget (June) viewed corrective policies quite differently. Figure 1 illustrates the additional tightening. The final calibration expressed in the coalition's Spending Review (October) that anchored a five-year austerity programme further recomposed expenditure in favour of investment over consumption. It cut back untargeted direct consumption subsidies and reduced the length and pattern of unemployment coverage.

Table 1 presents published figures on how the tightening — tax increase and expenditure reduction — was broken down in March, June and October. Only 2014-15, the last projection year, is selected for illustrative purposes, revealing a significantly tighter stance of the new government in nominal terms (Row 8). The coalition, in two (June and October) steps: (1) increased taxes more; (2) maintained investment spending; (3) scaled back current spending considerably; and (4) within current spending, cut back benefits (direct subsidies) much more than public services (mainly National Health Service (NHS), the universal health coverage for which the UK is well known).

Thus, tax increase shot up between March and June Budgets (Row 1) while expenditure reduction was more severe than tax increase (Row 2). Cut in investment spending was a bit deeper in June than March but the cut was pulled back and investment spending was restored in October (Row 3).

The severe cutback instead came from current spending. The cutback almost doubled between the two governments (Row 4). Interestingly, direct benefits (targeted and untargeted consumption subsidies and work incentives) had been protected in the March Budget; but they were reduced considerably in June by the incoming government — even more than their tax increase — and the benefits cutback was further increased in October (Row 6). The reduction in expenditure on public services, the other major head of current spending — the significant component being the NHS — was also deeper between March and June. But in a reversal, the cutback was partially reduced between June and October. In sum, the new government reallocated the cuts within current spending between June and October, making them deeper for direct subsidies and less so for the NHS. Thus the right combination of cutbacks emerged between: (1) tax and expenditure, (2) between investment and current spending, and (3) between pure consumption and service-oriented current spending. The new mix relied more on spending cuts than tax increase (Rows 9 and 10). Also, the deeper fiscal correction implied that public debt/GDP improved faster by almost 5 percentage points (Row 11). Most importantly, the much deeper nominal fiscal correction will be achieved with a lower economic growth — and, therefore, income path — that is more realistic than the pre-election projections.

Table 2 explains some basic macroeconomic projections between March, June and October. First is the considerable reduction in the trajectory of GDP growth between March and June Budgets, bringing the series closer to the average of independent projectors. The October Review made small differences to those projections. Second, projections of public sector net borrowing/GDP also declined from March to June through October. Third, a comparable change occurred in the cyclically adjusted current fiscal account surplus. The March figures had projected a deficit even for 2014. The subsequent tightening produced a small surplus in June figures for 2014, and a higher one in October. Fourth, translated into net public debt, the increase in the series in terms of GDP became less pronounced between March and June Budgets, and further so in October.

Thus, the incoming UK government undertook difficult fiscal measures in 2010 on both the revenue and expenditure fronts. These corrections were higher in nominal terms compared to the pre-election measures. And, since GDP projections were scaled down post-election, the measures represent tighter belt-tightening. This fiscal stance moved with academic empirical findings and won the regard of multilateral institutions. A challenge appeared much later when the inheritors of an almost doubled public debt/GDP were also informed that they would face an almost threefold increase in their university tuition fees. Clearly, the UK opted for a consolidated fiscal stance. India's forthcoming Budget should use fiscal policy to curb inflation. The components would be quite similar.

The views expressed are exclusively the author's







What happens when a US $29-billion tech giant accuses its US $63-billion rival of stealing intellectual property and puts the evidence in the public domain? Geeks everywhere settle down to enjoy the ensuing flame war.


 On February 1, Google provided damning evidence that Microsoft's (MS') search engine Bing copy-pastes results from Google's search engine (SE). Amit Singhal, who oversees Google's search-ranking algorithm, explained on the Google blog how he ran a sting operation.

In mid-2010, Google started suspecting copying. "A misspelled query, 'torsorophy' (sic) for 'tarsorrhaphy' (an eye-surgery procedure), showed exactly the same top results on Google and Bing." By October 2010, Google was certain: the same top results showed up in too many queries.

SEs use proprietory algorithms to rank and list query results. It's statistically unlikely two algorithms will list results in the same exact order. This is like two random people listing the same favourite songs in the same order. Google also tinkers continuously with its algorithm, in part to prevent its AdSense system from being reverse-engineered and gamed. This makes accidental duplication impossible.

Singhal's team created about 100 "synthetic queries" — nonsense alphanumeric combinations like "hiybbprqag". No SE should return results for a nonsense word, which shows up nowhere (though you'll get interesting results now if you type "hiybbprqag"). Google manually added a real webpage as one unique result to each synthetic. Singhal compared this to marking currency notes.

When Bing was queried on the same synthetics, the faked Google results showed up. Matt Cutts, who heads Google's Webspam team, has posted a 40-minute video showing the identical faked results with a series of Google-Bing screenshots.

Stefan Weitz, Bing Director, responded with an initial denial that was in effect, not a denial. "We do not copy Google's results. We use multiple signals and approaches. Opt-in programs like the Bing toolbar help us with clickstream data, one of many input signals we use to help rank sites. This 'Google experiment' seems like a hack to confuse and manipulate these signals."

Translated, this says Bing analyses and weights results from Google and other SEs as well. "Clickstream" is a record of the clicks made by a surfer. Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) comes with a "suggested sites" feature and a Bing toolbar. Both monitor and send clickstream to MS.

MS can, therefore, figure exactly what IE8 users queried for, when, and on which SE. Bing's algorithm weights the clickstream SE queries as part of its input. The sting suggests that the weight is very high indeed for Google SE queries.

According to January 2011 data from Net Applications, about 85 per cent of all global searches are made on Google. Bing is the third-ranked SE with 3.7 per cent (behind Yahoo's 6 per cent). Hence, the high weightage is not surprising. As the war of words escalated, MS Senior VP Yusuf Mehdi called Google's sting "click fraud". Google likened Bing's approach to kids copying in exams.

The two companies are bitter rivals. In the 1990s, Google was part of a widespread movement that broke the IE monopoly through antitrust lobbying. MS is now part of a consortium, (this includes travel sites TripAdvisor, Expedia, Hotwire, Kayak and Travelocity) that is trying to stop Google's bid to buy flight information software company Ita Software for $700 million.

Both are monopolies in different spaces. Around 89 per cent of all PCs use Windows, MS Office has 80 per cent application suite market share and IE has 56 per cent of browser market share. Google, apart from SE and AdSense, also has a major smart telephony play in Android. It has pushed hard into MS' domain with the Chrome browser+OS, and with Google Docs, an online alternative to MS Office. The battle for dominance won't end with a few synthetic words.







My friend KBL has more than an average sense of scepticism. This is not surprising since he has spent a lifetime in government. But what makes it more powerful is that he is an economist who is unable, even if he wants, to be a bit irrational at times. He also has a firm underlying sense of concern for the plight of poor people. But since his scepticism and rational mindset prevent him from falling for almost any kind of posturing, he often turns out to be, for those who do not know him well, a severe critic of those who tend to take a trendy-jholawala-urban-activist view of life.

It should by now be clear that he is utterly adorable and he lives up to his reputation by calling long distance at least twice a week to demolish most of the rubbish that self-important newspaper columnists write. So, I have a vague sense of unease every time his name pops up on my cell phone screen just after one of my pieces has appeared. On other days I know we can have a few minutes of fun at the expense of some other solemn folks.


 It is on one of those occasions that he called to say that what he had to say was too serious to be passed on verbally on the phone. So he had sent me a mail. But since by mixing with journalists he has per force imbibed some of their bad habits and begun to think more in terms of headliners than substantive issues, he would let me have a preview of what he has sent across. Then, after a suitable pause, he delivered his great line: Everybody loves a good slum!

The email began with his hallmark scepticism, bordering on cynicism. The slum dwellers love their slums the most, as otherwise they would not be there but in their villages savouring the rural idyll which has been celebrated by writers across the world from Thoreau to Tagore. But they come only because they are too hungry in the village, I protested to him later. He was utterly unmoved and declared dourly: I thought with so much of pristine, unpolluted nature around, they didn't also need to eat!

After that aside at environmental activists, his next target was those who analyse human misery mostly in terms of class conflict. Love of slums stretches across classes, he declared. Take the way middle class housewives measure the attractiveness of various neighbourhoods. Remember how Delhi's Yamuna Paar used to be viewed in the old days, before they started building up on the riverbed until there was hardly a river for you to make out whether you had crossed it or not? The other side of the river was certainly the wrong address to have but the only saving grace was that the maids who lived in the slums nearby were so much more affordable.

The posh kothiwalis of Delhi don't care if maids come cheap or not, I protested. I could see him smile long distance when he retorted: As soon as you have become rich enough to not care about the salaries of maids, you have qualified to join NGOs that do social work in slums. Imagine what life would be like for those poor ladies if there was no slum within driving distance to distribute old clothes and the like.

It was pointless trying to tell him that not all those who did voluntary work in slums were society ladies looking for something interesting to do. Instead, I tried another tack. You have no idea who earns how much these days, I said. The real rich folks are the politicians and their families. They no longer distribute old clothes, they give away spectrum. Free air waves are not like Marie Antoinette's cakes which even slum children can relish. These days the rich have also become socialistic. They want to make other people rich too, so that there are more millionaires than Forbes can list. KBL was so dismissive that he didn't even care to reply to my point, and only said: Find out who gets how many votes from jhuggi jhopris and how many from kothis, and who wins.

Finding that I was getting nowhere, I tried one last time. I went to his next point and asked, how can you say that slums have helped India arrive globally in this age of globalisation. I thought globalisation led to removal of poverty and burgeoning markets. What the reforms have done is unleash the latent entrepreneurial skills that were lying dormant among Indians. This time he didn't smile, or so I think. Instead he said with condescension bordering on contempt: You really don't know what brings international recognition these days, do you? It is not money or how many millionaires a country has, when the biggest of them all, the Buffett-Gates of the world, are going round trying to get the rich to give away their riches. A third world country has really arrived when it wins an Oscar. Slumdog Millionaire, he said in a powerful tone and then added sotto voce, the prosecution rests.

Unable to get the better of him in argument, I got personal and accused: In any case your best line, the headline, is not really yours. Wait till P Sainath accuses you of stealing his great line on drought. Spoilsport that he was, he insisted on having the last word: You think I am a plagiarist? Then I better stop writing for EPW and move to the popular media.





I have been reading novels for forty years. I know there are many stances we can adopt toward the novel, many ways in which we commit our soul and mind to it, treating it lightly or seriously. And just in the same manner, I have learned by experience that there are many ways to read a novel. We read sometimes logically, sometimes with our eyes, sometimes with our imagination, sometimes with a small part of our mind, sometimes the way we want to, sometimes the way the book wants us to, and sometimes with every fiber of our being.
— Orhan Pamuk: The Naïve and the Sentimentalist Novelist

Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk's The Naïve and the Sentimentalist Novelist (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India, Special Indian Price Rs 450), a collection of the 2009 Norton lectures delivered at Harvard, is described as "a celebration of our journey in this world, the lives we spend in cities, streets, houses, rooms, and nature (that) consists of nothing but a search for meaning which may or may not exist". It is the art of the novel that Pamuk talks about, "for each sentence of a good novel evokes in us a sense of the profound, essential knowledge of what it means to exist in the world, and the nature of that sense". Put another way, a novel is never anything but a philosophy expressed in images. And in a good novel, the philosophy has disappeared into the images of everyday life. For a work to endure, it cannot do without ideas that express the fusion of experience and thought, of life and reflection on the meaning of life. For Pamuk who has been deeply influenced by European writers —Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Stendhal, Proust, Flaubert and Mann, and so many others — it is no philosophy, no novel.


 Pamuk's lecture is a take from the German philosopher Friedrich Schiller's essay (1795-1796) On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry in which he had divided poets into two categories: naïve and sentimental poets which became essentially an essay on "human types". The former wrote "spontaneously, almost without thinking, not bothering to consider the intellectual or ethical consequences of their words"; the sentimentalist poet is "emotional, reflective… unsure whether his words would encompass reality, whether they will attain it, whether his utterances would convey the meaning he intends".

What Pamuk is saying is that the naïve novelist never doubts that the words he uses describes his fictional world because meaning is immediate and incontrovertible for him; the sentimentalist-reflective novelist is a brooder, who doubts the validity of the meaning of the world he describes. Pamuk is a "sentimentalist-reflective" who constantly thinks of the three-way relationship between the author, the main protagonist and the reader. How does this three-way "street" reflect is examined in the first three lectures: What our Minds Do When We Read Novels: Mr Pamuk, Did This Really Happen to You?: Literary Character, Plot and Time. While the details of the novel's universe are the product of the protagonist's psychology, the way the details are presented is the author's own creation based on his experiences and his own imagination. But different readers have different experiences of the same book because each one is made differently with our own unique experiences and ways of seeing.

But for all the subjectivity, every novel must have a running subtext that is the core of the novel, which Pamuk calls the novel's "centre". This centre is created by our ways of seeing which is the subject of his fourth lecture, Words, Pictures and Objects or representations of visual art-paintings, sculptures etc.

But the question that springs immediately is whether it is possible to translate visual experience into words. How accurately do words reflect the scene and its underlying meanings? Isn't something lost in the "visual-verbal-visual transmission"? Something is always lost in the transmission even with all the sophisticated technology available.

Pamuk doesn't give a straight answer to these questions except by giving primacy to the visual. He argues that visual writers, writers who "impress us by filling our mind with indelible images, visions, landscapes and objects", influence and affect us more than verbal writers, writers who impress us with "words, with the course of the dialogue, with paradoxes and thoughts the narrator is exploring". This idea of the primacy of the visual is fleshed out in his fifth lecture, The Museum of Innocence — Pamuk's fascination with objects and their descriptions. The sixth and final lecture, The Center, describes the mysterious meaning of a novel. "The center of the novel is a profound opinion or insight about life, a deeply embedded point of mystery, whether real or imagined." This is as difficult to describe as it is to find and comes through "intuition, thought or knowledge". Or, it comes as Forster said, "How can I know what I think until I say it?"

Full of literary examples and written with a real love for the power of books, The Naive and Sentimental Novelist will take its place with other classics like E M Forster's Aspects of the Novel, John Gardner's The Art of Fiction and James Wood's How Fiction Works.







Sardar Patel would have approved. His stern visage, appropriately but accidentally flanked by portraits of the fresh-faced young Orgyen Thinley Dorjee, the 17th Karmapa Lama, overlooked dozens of monks in saffron and yellow, with an occasional glint of brocade, squatting under a Jantar Mantar signboard proclaiming proprietorially, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The next line, Smarak TrUst was not visible


They came from Ladakh and Sikkim, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Many waved the national tricolour emphasising their Indian Buddhist identity, some flaunted Buddhism's multicoloured standard, others held pennants of swirling blue and yellow representing the Karmapa's Karma Kagyu school. Placards refuted media allegations against him. A press release explained the monks' assembly on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday was to pray for the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa Lama, for "the speedy elimination of all the obstacles being encountered by His Holiness the Karmapa Lama" and for India's peace and prosperity.

It was a feast of sight and sound. The altar rose in delicately ornamented tormas (ceremonial cake offerings) in pale shades of pink and blue. Butter lamps twinkled, and long brass and copper horns with ornate silver encrustations blared out their resonance over the swelling volume of a hundred deep male voices chanting in Tibetan.

I spotted P Namgyal, former Congress MP from Ladakh, in smart gala-bandh signing petitions at a makeshift desk. Bustling about in black ankle-length baku was another former MP, Sikkim's portly Karma Topden, who had also been India's ambassador to Buddhist Mongolia. But the absent Vallabhbhai Patel's was the dominating presence for the gathering would not have been necessary if he had been heeded. Tibet may not have fallen, the Karmapa would not have had to flee, policemen and junior officials would not have made him their target, and ignorant TV anchormen would not have repeated their slanderous propaganda.

Patel warned Nehru in June 1949 that though Tibet had "long been detached from China", the Communists would "try to destroy its autonomous existence" as soon as they had consolidated their power. India should prepare "for that eventuality". Offence being the best defence, as they say in boxing, a Chinese magazine accused Nehru three months later "of aiding imperialist designs for the annexation of Tibet". Peking Radio repeated the charge in vitriolic language.

Highlighting the danger to India, Patel wrote to Nehru again the following November after the Union Cabinet had acquiesced in China's conquest. His letter pointed out that "the Chinese government has tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intentions ... At a crucial period they managed to instil into our Ambassador a false sense of confidence in their so-called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means ..." While China's action was "little short of perfidy" India's inaction was a betrayal.

"The tragedy of it is that the Tibetans put faith in us; they chose to be guided by us; and we have been unable to get them out of the meshes ... of Chinese malevolence ... It appears that we shall not be able to rescue the Dalai Lama …". Patel sought an early meeting with Nehru to discuss "Chinese irredentism and Communist imperialism".

There was no meeting. But he told a public rally in Delhi, "A peaceful country like Tibet has been invaded and it may not survive. There has been no aggression from its side. The whole border becomes exposed to danger. We should, therefore, be vigilant". Patel would heartily have endorsed the Karmapa's reasons for fleeing Tibet and his tribute to his "second homeland", as quoted in the press release I was given with a white silk khada (scarf). "The Indian government, in contrast to Communist China, is a free country, a democratic country that is based on the rule of law."

I saw nothing in the media about this dazzling show with a serious purpose. Why? One of the organisers had a pithy explanation. "The media doesn't believe in the power of prayer," he replied. "They would have taken notice if we had thrown stones!"

A strapping unshaven man in windbreaker, trousers and boots sidled up to me to ask who Karma Topden, conspicuous in his baku, was. Then he wanted to know my "shubh naam". Tit for tat, I asked where he was he from. "Express TV" he mumbled hesitantly. Never heard of it, I said, in my broken Hindi and asked if he was a cop. The man grinned in relief at not having to keep up a pretence that strained his capability. Intelligence, not intelligent.











When the Adarsh scam was exposed, the people were disgusted at how public officials and politicians had misused their authority to grant themselves plush flats at low prices. Thanks to media scrutiny, the matter was pursued by the police, and the guilty will be brought to book. Hopefully. In the meantime, activists in Mumbai thought of a novel way to express their anger. They printed more than 1,000 stickers with photographs of tainted politicians and bureaucrats, and decided to stick them on footpaths outside Churchgate station and on roads around the Adarsh building. Each sticker had the message "I stole your land in the name of war widows", or "Spit on my face", or "Walk on my face". These stickers were being sold for five rupees and were difficult to remove. Sounds like a great idea to protest. Except that the Mumbai Police took a very dim view. They threatened the sticker protesters with arrest and fines if they went ahead with their plans. And with what offence would they be charged? Why, defacement of public property of course, which is sections 328 and 328A of the criminal code. And also unauthorised use of advertising space.


The same police seem to be much more lenient when it comes to birthday posters with politicians' faces. The smiling birthday boys and girls from various political parties are happily plastered all over the city, and the police turn a blind eye. If it's not birthday, then it is an appointment to a cabinet, or as minister, or as a local president or shakha pramukh. Or the occasion could be the visit of a senior dignitary to the city. Then the road all the way from the airport to venue of the meeting celebrates not just the visitor, but all the office bearers with their smiling faces. It seems that any excuse is OK to stick a photo on public property.


Actually the city has a well-defined policy for display of banners and commercial advertisement, and this is governed by the billboard laws. The banners can be displayed only in authorised places, in pre-specified sizes and for pre-determined time duration. For these displays the municipal government earns tax revenue. Any public display has commercial value, whether it is on the road, in railway stations or even on buses and taxis. This is the eyeballs effect. Besides the size and location, there are guidelines regarding public decency, aesthetics etc. This is to prevent the displays from becoming a source of visual pollution.


Citizens have always clamoured for removing those smiling faces. The Janhit Manch filed a suit in the High Court asking that permissions for political posters be revoked. Under pressure from the court, the BMC assured that it had removed 1.76 lakh posters, most of them political. Rather than removing post facto, the deterrent ought to be strong enough so that posters don't go up in the first place. One of the first actions of the new Chief Minister was to insist on removal of all the congratulatory posters for him. This seems to have had some impact.


But in January alone more than 21,000 illegal banners went up, again mostly political.


There are many differences between cities of the western (i.e. developed) world and cities of India. But the most noticeable is the complete absence of the poster idolatry. You will not see banners and large cutouts of politicians, in London, Singapore, Hong Kong or Beijing. Actually cutouts are mostly missing in New Delhi too. But in all state capitals and big cities, lifesize posters are constant fixtures.


The real reason for this constant assault on eyeballs is because even between elections, the voter needs to be seduced with imagery. Familiarity breeds repeat voting. It creates an incumbency advantage.









THE latest estimate of industrial growth for last December shows a sharp slowdown to 1.6% year-on-year. But the new figure is on top of strong 18% growth in output posted previous December. The large base implies that seemingly dismal growth this time around is not quite so dismal. Still, with April-December growth in production well below double digits at 8.6% y-o-y, things are not fine, especially given the decelerating trend of the past several months. It points to the urgent necessity to revise weightages and update the items tracked in the index of industrial production — which continues to have 1993-94 as the base year, never mind that the industrial structure has markedly changed since — along with the need for proactive policy to boost industry. The latest December figures also show that capital goods production has actually declined 13.7%. But it comes after a huge 42.9% rise in the like period last fiscal, which suggest credible performance. Also, capital goods output, an indicator of investment demand, has in fact improved to 16.7% y-o-y during April-December, as against an 11.2% increase registered in the last fiscal.


The latest data show that industrial growth during December rose10.2% over the previous month, which may actually point at a turnaround after months of apparent slowing down. Additionally, 12 of the 17 industry groups have now posted solid growth, although segments like basic chemicals and man-made fibre continue to underperform and have hardly grown. The 4.7% y-o-y rise in electricity output is also lacklustre: it calls for course correction with sustained reform of distribution and clampdown on power leakages. Further, the growth in transport equipment and parts, an indicator of output in the auto sector, has surged 24.5% y-o-y. The one glaring letdown remains consumer non-durables, with weightage of 23.2% in the industrial index. The latest figures show minus 1.1% growth y-o-y, despite the fact that the 'base' growth figure was also a lowly 3%. For April-December, growth in non-durables is practically zero. It underlines the need to douse the inflationary spiral with prudent budgeting and tighter fiscal policy.






IN THE search for answers to the sharp fall in the Sensex to a seven-month low this week, a number of reasons have been advanced: weakness in global markets, indifferent global economic recovery, inflation expectations and, in the Indian context, policy drift. But the fact is that none of these is particularly new. Global recovery has been indifferent for many months now, weakness in world markets has been a recurring phenomenon, inflation has been higher for some months now and as for policy drift at home that, too, is not a new development. One could argue, of course, that when it comes to stock markets there is always a tipping point beyond which sentiment reverses (often for no apparent reason) and markets come under selling pressure. And when, as is the case in India, overseas portfolio investors account for a good part of volumes, markets tend to be even more skittish, overshooting on both the upside and the downside. On Friday, when poor industrial growth was reported, the Sensex rose 1.5%. All the more reason then to take these explanations with a pinch of salt and focus, instead, on the larger picture which is that the Indian economy is in good shape. Latest numbers released by the Central Statistical Organisation show gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to grow 8.6% this fiscal, with growth far more broadbased across agriculture, industry and services than in the past. The next fiscal could see some slowdown, but not enough to alter the overall growth story that makes our stock market an attractive investment proposition for those who are not deterred by the periodic ups and downs but are willing to stay put for the long haul.


 What is also doubtless true is that the surge of footloose capital, following the US Federal Reserve's second round of quantitative easing, is going to result in huge inflows and outflows, at least until some semblance of normalcy returns to the global economy. So, far from taking fright, investors in the Indian market should just secure themselves against a rougher time and ride out the periodic storms. Braver ones can buy at each dip, but even the faint-hearted need not fear; not as long as the economy maintains its trend rate of growth of about eight per cent. Except for professional traders, the market is not a place for short-term plays — so long as the small investor remembers this, he has little to lose.






ARNOLD Schwarzenegger obviously has had a better track record in films — and bodybuilding — than he has in politics despite his familial links to the Kennedy clan, so it is not surprising that he is contemplating a return to the silver screen at the age of 63. In India, age cannot wither the leading man or the politician's infinite variety, witness the evergreen appeal of Rajanikanth and Amitabh Bachchan and the predicament of Congress veteran ND Tiwari. Schwarzenegger's 'maturity', however, may not be to his advantage in politics in a country whose current President is 14 years his junior, and even George W Bush after two terms in the White House is but a year older than the Governator. The niggling matter of leaving California battling a $25 billion deficit may also prove to be a rather largish stumbling block if Schwarzenegger contemplates another run for political office.


That is why a return to Hollywood appears to be the ideal solution. What could be more inspiring for Schwarzenegger than the fact that Sylvester Stallone is still getting tough guy leading roles at 64, Michael Douglas is still regarded as a matinee idol at 66, Jack Nicholson at 73 is only just realising that his days as a ladies' man may be waning and Clint Eastwood is still a creative force to reckon with at 80. He probably has good reason to believe that the box office will react positively to his making good the laconic promise of "I'll be back" that he intoned ominously time and again in his custom-fitted role as the robotic Terminator, his most successful movie persona. There is, after all, a dearth of old-fashioned brawn in new age Hollywood these days. Welcome back, Arnie!






NOT merely an important infrastructural behemoth, Indian Railways (IR) are the nation's lifeline. Today, only because it manages to limp along cannot hide the serious concern at its ailment getting terminal. From the country's premier mode, it is already rendered peripheral; the slide has been precipitous while portents of further fall are ominous.


Notwithstanding incremental traffic output, the role of IR vis-à-vis other carriers has been steadily shrinking. From 89% of nation's freight that IR carried in 1950-51, its share today has plummeted to 36%; likewise, passenger traffic from 74% to 12%. As revealed by RITES, even in regard to nine bulk commodities, IR's bread and butter, the rail share is only 47% against road's 50%. Roads transport 68% of POL traffic (average lead 272 km), 80% of iron and steel (525 km), 48% of cement (358 km), and 66% of containers, 28% of which are transported over an average distance of 884 km. Roads garner in excess of 95% share, that too over long distances, among others, of fresh agricultural produce (average lead 522 km), chemicals (611 km), paper (545 km), electricals (614 km), pulses (607 km) and timber (450 km).


Traffic for rail has been smothered; capacity crunch has been endemic. But enhanced capacity alone would not enable IR to protect or enhance its share of the transport market. As the Indian economy globalises, the key demands would be an integrated multi-modal 'whole journey' service. Wholesale bulk flows represent a relatively small proportion of the total freight movement. That means a challenge for the IR to turn the wagonload problem into a business opportunity. With an enormous talent resource in its ranks, IR can surely launch some ingenuous solutions in addition to intermodal and sectional work trains handling direction-wise nominated-day loadings, besides the development of, say, a standardised pallet for loose freight transported multi-modally, eliminating the division between parcels and goods, consignments priced as by express industry, based on weight, volume, level of service, and total transit time.


 In passenger transport, the demand for quality services is highly incomeelastic, and the growing middle income group has been demanding many more speedy, convenient and comfortable services. IR now runs some 3,000 short-distance passenger services daily, including on branch lines. These slow sectional passenger trains are the worst offenders for loss-making; they also devour scarce capacity on high-density routes.


IR may well have an autonomous corporate body manage all suburban as well as sectional passenger services through an optimal modal mix, focusing on investments and tariff requirements. IR will thereafter be better placed to address the acute short supply of inter-city passenger services, substantially accelerating them, and developing modern terminal and maintenance facilities. It can ill-afford to dither in regard to high speed 'bullet' trains on selected corridors.


An essential step is to reorganise the management structure by businesses, segregating freight from passenger, to improve customer focus, market response and profitability. The need to reform and upgrade IR's accounting and costing systems has been emphasised, so also to ensure quality in its investments. Along with a meaningful participation of leading S&T entities in railway R&D, development and manufacture of railway equipment needs to be corporatised. IR may move away from the departmental structure to an integrated functional system, say, the apexlevel board members assuming responsibilities, each of (i) infrastructure (tracks and bridges, signalling, etc), (ii) assets (rolling stock, real estate, etc), (iii) marketing, (iv) operations, (v) HR, (vi) finance and material management, and (vii) chairman for coordination and planning.


WITHOUT recourse to controversial format of rail-wheel separation, IR may as well follow in essence what China has done successfully. The Chinese ministry of railways (MoR) exercises overall control only of policy, technical standards, planning and investment, finance and system-wide train and rolling stock control, while the 18 railway regional administrations have been delegated dayto-day management and delivery of railway infrastructure and rail transport services. Each administration manages and operates the assets (infrastructure and rolling stock) allocated to it, and pays MoR annual fees for their use.


Railways worldwide are highly capital intensive. IR needs to raise revenues and cut costs. The myopic framework to keep raising freight tariffs has hurt IR; it also erodes India's competitiveness; it hurts aam admi too who, like Sisyphus, bears the burden of high delivered cost of myriad goods and materials.


In spite of the high freight tariffs, IR's operating ratio hovers at around 100%. Having one of the lowest ratios of unit passenger fare to freight rate, in 2008-09, IR suffered a loss of . 14,000 crore on passenger business. Rail fare maintained ludicrously low at 14.9 paisa per passenger km for ordinary second class is wholly untenable. The fare on comparable state road transport services in 2008-09 averaged 48.37 paisa/km.


Effective measures need to be taken to contain costs, including staff costs. The recent notification to recruit an incredible around 200,000 staff is reprehensible and retrograde, in fact, unpardonable. Transport today is a high-tech sector; IR has been inducting expensive and sophisticated hardware; it is anachronistic, if not bizarre, that IR has on its rolls almost half a million unskilled employees. There is a clear case for a flatter organisation structure with fewer layers of management and larger spans of operational and maintenance responsibility. With many zonal administrations recently added on the system, IR, like China Rail did in 2004, is well advised to opt for empowered stations, depots and centres functioning directly under the zone, removing the intermediary divisional layer. Several loss-making branch lines may be separated from the main network accounting and utilised creatively to minimise the losses by enlisting the participation of state governments and the private sector.


There is a need to get over a generic perception of IR as an archaic organisation, insular and smug. Symptomatic of 'widespread governance deficit" paralysing the country, rudderless and adrift, at the mercy of fancies and whims of the deities presiding over Rail Bhawan, IR cries out for sane leadership and collective responsibility of government.







HE IS the typical new age politician — young, suave and articulate. He served the corporate sector for a while before taking a plunge into politics. However, when it comes to his ideology, Andhra Pradesh legislator K T Rama Rao, also the son of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief K Chandrasekhar Rao, is clear that his party wants nothing short of a separate Telangana.


"The question is not if Telangana is formed; but when Telangana is formed. It may even take a while before the Telangana state is formed, but the fight will go on till a solution is found. No matter who leads it, the demand for statehood has been on the agenda for over four decades now. Telangana has enough leaders to rule the state. Even the Srikrishna committee says as a separate state Telangana is a viable option,'' he says.


KTR, as he known, also makes it clear that he does not nurture any ambition of becoming the chief minister of Telangana. He reckons it is premature to talk about inheriting his father's legacy. "First, a separate state has to be formed. Second, the TRS has to be in majority. K Chandrasekhar Rao has made it clear that he does not want to become the chief minister. There is no legacy to be inherited here. When the TRS bags the mandate, we will decide who should become the chief minister and who should lead the party," says KTR.


The TRS has now set up an expert panel to spot errors in the Srikrishna committee report. The panel will come up with its findings in two weeks. "The party's stand is based on the fact that the report does not talk in absolute terms. It talks in terms of percentages. If you talk in percentage terms, even a marginal improvement in any region that has been backward traditionally will get blown out of proportion. It does not mean development in the region has been stupendous.''


KTR claims that the Srikrishna report has made some blatant errors. It said Andhra Pradesh had six chief ministers from the Telangana region and they served for eight years. Fact is, there were only four chief ministers from Telangana and they served only for six years.


The TRS, once an ally of the United Progressive Alliance, is quite vocal now in criticising the Congress party rule in the state. "The state is under a weak rule. After Y S Rajasekhara Reddy's demise, there is really no leader in the Congress who has the credentials to steer the party. Any commoner in the street knows that Andhra Pradesh is run by the Governor and not a puppet, Kiran Kumar Reddy, foisted by the high command. But if the chief minister thinks he is smart enough to hoodwink the people of Telangana and divert attention in the name of welfare schemes, he's mistaken,'' says KTR.


He, however, debunks criticism about the Telangana agitation impacting the investment climate in the state. "The key industry verticals in the state, information technology and pharmaceuticals, have seen good growth. In January this year, when the Telangana agitation was at its peak, three international conglomerates — Facebook, JP Morgan and United Healthgroup — set up operations in Hyderabad, creating over 20,000 jobs. M&M is setting up a huge facility in Zaheerabad. When agitations are spontaneous, industry houses do understand the situation,'' he says.


He reckons that Hyderabad, an integral part of a new Telangana, will be the key economic engine of the state. "We have decided to continue with the Gandhian way of protest and haven't called for a bandh after the Srikrishna committee published its report," KTR says.


Recalling his interaction with an IT honcho, KTR says the industry needs a government that supports what it does. It is also looking for a rich talentpool and robust partnership with the local community. However, he wants the ambiguity over statehood for the Telangana region to end.


 "The Congress has to make it clear whether they want to give Telangana or not. By calling for an all-party meet again to discuss the matter, the Centre is encouraging immoral behaviour from political parties and that's why we are not attending any meeting. The Union government has to stand by its word given in December 2009 to form Telangana,'' he says. Till then, the TRS is not looking at forging political alliances with any party.







THIS is a story that defies reason and logic. A story of how the government can be your worst enemy if you are 'the people'.


Starting out of the middle Himalayan ranges, the beautiful Giriganga, a tributary of the Yamuna, passes through the heart of the Shimla hills and cuts across the four northern states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. Five years ago when the National Capital Region started facing acute drinking water shortage, the government cast its evil eye on this river.


There is already a large dam across the Giriganga that feeds Himachal Pradesh's lower districts. Yet, Delhi's water woes have now resulted in a decision to build another dam only 70 km upstream of this 130-year-old dam. Why? This is because Delhi's claim on the riparian rights of the river is negligible. Hence, the mandarins in Delhi came up with the bright idea of putting up a dam right there inside Himachal Pradesh with a direct bilateral arrangement made with the state in order to see that the water is piped out of the river before it reaches the Yamuna. The result? The . 3,600-crore Renuka dam built on the Giriganga to provide drinking water only for the NCR.


The cost of doing this massive 500-ft dam is not as significant as the fact that this dam secures the unique dubious distinction in the world of being the first ever dam built only and exclusively for drinking water supply. None of the water from this dam will be available for cultivation. And to beat another policy dictate that does not allow such a dam to be created for drinking water purposes only, the NCR and the Himachal Pradesh government wove in a comfortable fig-leaf of an excuse for power generation with a 40-mw hydel plant!

The quantum of water that is expected to be harnessed from this river and fed to the NCR daily is a little under 2 million kilolitres (KL), against the capital region's total daily demand of 6-6.5 million KL. So, it is a big deal for the national capital region, of course, at nearly 25-30% of the current demand.


Now, why would such a dam have to be created when all that the NCR needs look at is a sharp and organised effort to drop the massive leakage of up to 58% on the distribution lines in the city? That alone will account for a drop in fresh water demand of 3.5 million KL a day! That's 150% of the total water claimed to be secured from the spending of . 3,600 crore at the Renuka dam.


Now,whywouldDelhinotlookatalegislation that will ensure every house and apartment, hotel and hospital and office space — existing and those to be built — instals simple devices called aerators and flow restrictors at every faucet and shower in a way that each home of four people effects an annual saving of as much as 35,000 liters? At this number, the NCR will save about 0.5 million KL every day if you assume about 4 million households in the capital region. Just this saving is about 25% of what the Renuka dam will give the NCR.
    These two efficiency measures, in themselves, will account for as much as 4 million KL a day — or about 65% of the NCR's current fresh water demand. It requires no math to see that this fall in fresh water demand, with sensible and efficient running of the existing water supply system, will alone total up to twice the water that the NCR will get from the new dam proposed on the Giri River!


There is more. If you add to this matrix the massive saving that can come from the simple legislative expedient of having a sewage treatment plant mandatory for every existing and new home, hotel, office, and hospital in the NCR, that will ensure a further drop of as much as 1 million KL a day, if we were to assume just a drop of 300 liters per household with such an installation for reuse or upcycle of the treated water for flush tanks and gardens in every building in the NCR.


These measures seem so simple that one is galled at the impossible context of no one actually wanting or being willing to move this process to bring just these three measures of legislation to have every Delhiite behave responsibly. It can be achieved with really no effort at all if consumers are made to pay a stiff tariff of about . 50 a KL, against the ridiculous amounts that the capital region consumers pay today for the precious liquid that we just cannot do without.


If you are an NCR resident, all you have to do is take a weekend drive to the tranquil valley of Renuka, gaze at the skies and the lush forests, and ask yourself if this will last forever if we are party to the insane policies of a government that has lost its ability to govern, to protect our futures, our legacies.


(The author works for green buildings in India)








MYSTICS and seekers experience higher "states" of consciousness as they ascend path of spirituality. In Vedic system, these are termed pinda, anda, brahm, parbrahmand parmatma.


Dhram khand: The realm of morality or righteousness/pinda. Our physical plane, of seasons, days, nights, wind, fire, earth and water; ruled by laws of action and reaction. Here all beings are judged by karmas: "As shall you sow, so shall you reap". 'Dharam Raj' is the arbiter of all actions. Messengers of Lord/ perfect saints are stamped with divine grace (to assist seekers).


Gyan khand: The realm of spiritual knowledge/anda. A subtle (sukhsm) plane, with finer fabric of mind and maya, where an understanding of working of creation up to brahm, the third region is attained. Explosion of gyanprovides sublime bliss. This domain is inhabited by gods, goddesses, deities and angels of the Lord of Biblical depiction. Cosmic creations invisible to human eyes are experienced. (Lord Krishna provided spiritual vision to Arjuna for glimpse of His 'Visvarupa' as projection of other awesome creations.) Adepts comment astral enticement of this domain is so intense that it might endanger further progression of an aspirant.
    Saram khand: The realm of brahm. This is the point of origin of universal mind. Intuitive consciousness, intellect and understanding of mind and maya are shaped here. Some scholars mention it as 'the domain of inexpressible splendour" in which soul feels humbly overwhelmed. Others refer it as 'realm of effort' (shram khand) where heroic souls shed last traces (residual sanskaras) of ego — kam, krodh, lobh, moh ahankarfor journey upward.


Karam khand: The realm of grace/ parbrahm. This is beyond three region of mind and maya where souls are 'blessed with divine grace'. Melodies of nam/nani/ mad/dhun/word resonate with full force here. Souls which have vanquished the pull and power of the three lower regions, reside in this region.


Sach khand: The realm of truth/ parmatma: The soul's true home, infinite region of eternal truth, abode of formless Lord where He presides and surveys. Here His will reigns supreme for compliance in all realms. (Perfect saints maintain that souls at this stage cannot be pulled back to the lower creation.)
    Divine hierarchy underscores that mind and maya are active in three realms — up to brahm. When grace is showered in parbrahmthen soul merits muktiand merges with parmatma.









RRBs and Nabard have to answer for the glaring hiatus in the formal banking system's presence in rural India. It is time RRBs were given financial inclusion targets.

With the Budget looming over the horizon it is not surprising that North Block is being besieged by demands for greater allocations on social sector programmes such as food security and right to education, and from the Opposition too. In what could be regarded a disingenuous move, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, announced that banks would have met their target of spreading financial inclusion to 20,000 unbanked areas with a population of less than 2,000 by the end of this fiscal. Targets of this sort are politically helpful but whether they actually work, and within the tight time-frame grandly announced by the Finance Minister, is quite another matter.

Who could deny that financial exclusion and the government's target for under-banked areas bear vivid testimony to the hollowness of the idea that economic growth is a prelude to universal prosperity? At the recent 17th Commonwealth Law Conference in Hyderabad, the Prime Minster claimed that "Rapid economic growth is a prime necessity" to the "problems of mass poverty." While announcing the financial inclusion target, the Finance Minister pointed out that 73 per cent of farmer households had no access to the formal banking system; the fact that government is still trying to get that figure down after nine years of unprecedented growth shows the importance of state intervention to help those outside the formal market mechanism and sidelined by rapid economic growth. Operationally, however, it would have been more appropriate for the Finance Minister to focus on Regional Rural Banks that are better placed to achieve this target, given their jurisdiction to venture into the unbanked areas even with the business correspondent model. The Cabinet has approved fresh capital infusion of Rs 1,100 crore for RRBs with State governments and banks pitching in. The RRB mergers, that have brought the number of such banks down to 82, have made them healthier and they are now expanding their branch network; NABARD has set up two financial inclusion funds for them. They are more efficient routes than the scheduled banks that are being loaded with social responsibilities in addition to their focus on profitable assets. RRBs and the refinancing agency National Bank for Rural Development have been around for decades and they have to answer for the glaring hiatus in the formal banking system's presence in rural India. Alongside targets for branch expansion, RRBs should be given financial inclusion targets.

Creating multiple sources for the execution of specific programmes is bad policymaking and a waste of national resources, even if it sounds like the government is acting with resolve.






The problem of twin deficits like in the 1980s is not a good sign and the Budget proposals should follow the 13th Finance Commission's road map for fiscal consolidation.

It will be hard for the Finance Minister to balance various priorities in the forthcoming Union Budget. He needs to juggle with plenty of issues. Inflation being the most important, the others are: containing fiscal deficit (FD) and current account deficit (CAD), reversing the slowdown in manufacturing, arresting the decline in FDI inflows, and sustaining growth.

The absence of a serious effort to reduce the FD and CAD could lead to an adverse change in market sentiment. A higher FD and CAD would lead to an increase in inflation, high interest rates, low private and public investment, and thereby lower growth.


The global financial crisis derailed the FRBM Act. The fiscal deficit has increased to around 6.5-7 per cent of GDP from 2.7 per cent in 2007-08, subsequently leading to a combined deficit surpassing 10 per cent of GDP in 2009-10.

The actual numbers are higher, at least by 1 per cent of GDP, as some items were kept off the balance sheet. During 2010-11, government was lucky to get substantial receipts from the 3G auction to keep up with the budgeted figure of fiscal deficit at 5.5 per cent of GDP, but it appears difficult in the current scenario to follow the 13th Finance Commission's (FC) roadmap for fiscal consolidation and keep the deficit at 4.8 per cent in the 2011-2012 Budget.

Given the numerous scams and poor image of the government, it would be difficult for the Finance Minister to take tough decisions on fiscal consolidation. Most likely, the FM would emphasise popular and flagship social programmes, like NREGA, food security Bill and other subsidies to petroleum products, fertilisers, leading to more subsidies on the whole.

The 13th FC's recommendations to eliminate revenue deficit to make way for revenue surplus and bring down consolidated debt to 68 per cent of GDP by 2014-15 looks difficult. The differential growth momentum between India and its trading partners (basically developed countries) has resulted in a widening current account deficit (almost reaching 4 per cent of GDP).


An increasing trade deficit, stagnant invisibles due to slow recovery of the West and fall of the FDI component in capital inflows are some worrying factors affecting current account. The latest data shows that FDI flows into emerging countries jumped in 2010, whereas it declined by almost a third in India. The problem of twin deficits may lead to downgrading of India's sovereign ratings, which will see a reversal of volatile component of capital flows, putting pressure on the Indian rupee. Given the slow recovery of West and the rise in oil prices, which constitutes the biggest component of India's imports, current account deficit could surpass 4 per cent of GDP soon.


The problem of twin deficits like in the eighties is not a good sign and the forthcoming budget should take right steps to follow the 13th FC's road map for fiscal consolidation.

This may include rationalisation of expenditures, improving the efficiency and delivery system rather than mere increase in expenditure, cutting down subsidies (on petroleum products, fertiliser etc).

The Government should also focus on revenue mobilisation by extending the tax base, particularly in services, and improving tax administration for better compliance.

It's time to expand the tax net of the service sector which has a share of 58 per cent in GDP but only contributes 10 per cent of total tax revenues (little more than 1 one per cent of GDP).

The reforms in indirect taxes, whose contribution has declined over last few years, apart from reversing some of the fiscal stimulus packages with respect to customs and import duties, would help.


More importantly, if growth slows down, it will have negative impact on revenue mobilisation leading to a higher deficit. Continuous high fiscal deficit along with increase in subsidies will raise revenue expenditure, forcing the government to cut essential capital expenditure in infrastructure and agriculture. Given our relations with the neighbouring countries, nothing can be said about defence expenditure, hence reforms in the current subsidy regime are a must. The subsidies ought to be transparent and directly targeted, and if possible phased out gradually by increasing user charges.

We should take care not to repeat the experience of nineties where fiscal improvement was brought about the wrong way, namely by cutting back capital investment (from 5.6 per cent GDP in 1990-91 to 2.3 per cent in 2000-01).

One way to improve efficiency in the system is to follow a wide range of reforms across sectors, which have slowed down in recent years. Maybe, it's time to gradually move towards outcome-based budgeting.

(The author is Associate Professor, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. The views are personal.)







February is usually the month when 'there is romance in the air'. This time, however, it seems, instead, that 'there is corruption in the air'. Even as the 2G storm continues, the S-Band low pressure trough has intensified over the last few days into another powerful cyclone. Given the fancy for naming such weather events, if the first cyclone in air-waves was called 'Spectrum', the second one is already being referred to as 'S-Band'.

At a recent press meet ISRO officials were pained to declare that termination of a contract is a complicated process and takes time. The Hindu has made available the text of the contract between Antrix Corporation and Devas Multimedia dated January 8, 2005. Media reports indicate that statements have been issued by the PMO's office to the effect that there has been no revenue loss to the Government of India and that the issue is being blown out of proportion.

Just as an Income Tax Tribunal decision referred to the commission in the Bofors deal, the Karnataka High Court, in a VAT case, had occasion to examine another contract executed by Antrix. A reading of this decision prompted this article since there are certain glaring differences between the two contracts.

VAT case

Antrix challenged an assessment order passed by the Karnataka VAT Authorities questioning the levy of VAT on the lease of transponders. The decision went against the company and, on appeal, the Supreme Court directed the parties to agitate the matter through the normal course of appeal on the ground that the Writ is not maintainable.

The tax angle is totally irrelevant to this article. However, what is relevant is the affidavits filed by the Company before the Court as well as certain contract clauses extracted in the decision of the Karnataka High Court which and reported in 2010 TIOL 510-HC-KAR-CT. In the affidavit it is stated by the Company that the control of transponder is always with the Department of Space and it should not be given to the customers. The configuration, control and the possession of the satellite always remains with the Department of Space. Interestingly, in the Devas contract, a team from Devas is permitted to enter Antrix's location (except classified areas) for project monitoring and coordination. It is very strange that a Government contract, and that too one involving a sensitive agency such as ISRO, is providing a private customer access to its facility. The Court has also extracted certain clauses from the contract with Bombay Stock Exchange and the differences are reflected in the Table.

Debatable issues

The following key questions arise with reference to the contract with Devas, which is now the subject matter of debate and concern:

When right of sub-lease and right of assignment was not granted for a small portion of capacity in respect of Bombay Stock Exchange, why was such largesse displayed in the Devas contract?

When Antrix is proclaimed as a Government of India company, how is it that the contract does not have adequate recitals explaining the decision-making process and the resolutions of the Government?

Normally, when two Indian companies enter into a contract with an arbitration clause, the reference would be to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. Why does this contract refer to International Chamber of Commerce or UNICITRAL Procedures?

How did the Company take a decision to execute a lease for a period of 12 years, and that too to commence after delivery of the leased capacity?

Is it common practice for a sensitive body such as ISRO to provide office space and customer personnel access to their locations for project management and coordination?

Apparently, there are a number of questions and the common man fighting his lone battle with food inflation at 13 per cent is increasingly getting upset with the simple numbers that are being discussed in both these raging debates. Generally, cyclones cause damage and leave a path of destruction. These two cyclones are unlikely to be different. It is only hoped that the S-Band issue does not eclipse the Spectrum issue which is still under investigation.

(The author is a Chennai-based Advocate.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL





When I was a young man in Cairo, we voiced our political views in whispers, if at all, and only to friends we could trust. We lived in an atmosphere of fear and repression. As far back as I can remember, I felt outrage as I witnessed the misery of Egyptians struggling to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and get medical care. I saw firsthand how poverty and repression can destroy values and crush dignity, self-worth and hope.

Half a century later, the freedoms of the Egyptian people remain largely denied. Egypt, the land of the Library of Alexandria, of a culture that contributed groundbreaking advances in mathematics, medicine and science, has fallen far behind. More than 40 per cent of our people live on less than $2 per day. Nearly 30 per cent are illiterate, and Egypt is on the list of failed states.

Under the three decades of Hosni Mubarak's rule, Egyptian society had lived under a draconian "emergency law" that strips people of their most basic rights, including freedom of association and of assembly, and has imprisoned tens of thousands of political dissidents. While this Orwellian regime has been valued by some of Egypt's Western allies as "stable", providing, among other assets, a convenient location for rendition, it has been in reality a ticking bomb and a vehicle for radicalism. But one aspect of Egyptian society has changed in recent years. Young Egyptians, gazing through the windows of the Internet, have gained a keener sense than many of their elders of the freedoms and opportunities they lack. They have found in social media a way to interact and share ideas, bypassing, in virtual space, the restrictions placed on physical freedom of assembly.

The world has witnessed their courage and determination in recent weeks, but democracy is not a cause that first occurred to them on January 25. Propelled by a passionate belief in democratic ideals and the yearning for a better future, they have long been mobilising and laying the groundwork for change that they view as inevitable.

The tipping point came with the Tunisian revolution, which sent a powerful psychological message: "Yes, we can". These young leaders are the future of Egypt. They are too intelligent, too aware of what is at stake, too weary of promises long unfulfilled, to settle for anything less than the departure of the old regime. I am humbled by their bravery and resolve.

Many, particularly in the West, have bought the Mubarak regime's fiction that a democratic Egypt will turn into chaos or a religious state, abrogate the fragile peace with Israel and become hostile to the West. But the people of Egypt — the grandmothers in veils who have dared to share Tahrir Square with Army tanks, the jubilant young people who have risked their lives for their first taste of these new freedoms — are not so easily fooled.

The United States and its allies have spent the better part of the last decade, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and countless lives, fighting wars to establish democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that the youth of Cairo, armed with nothing but Facebook and the power of their convictions, have drawn millions into the street to demand a true Egyptian democracy, it would have been absurd to continue to tacitly endorse the rule of a regime that had lost its own people's trust.

Egypt would not have waited forever on this caricature of a leader we witnessed on television on evening of February 9, deaf to the voice of the people, hanging on obsessively to power that was no longer his to keep.

What needs to happen instead is a peaceful and orderly transition of power, to channel the revolutionary fervour into concrete steps for a new Egypt based on freedom and social justice. The new leaders will have to guarantee the rights of all Egyptians. They will need to dissolve the current Parliament, no longer remotely representative of the people. They will also need to abolish the Constitution, which has become an instrument of repression, and replace it with a provisional Constitution, a three-person presidential council and a transitional government of national unity.

The presidential council should include a representative of the military, embodying the sharing of power needed to ensure continuity and stability during this critical transition.

The job of the presidential council and the interim government during this period should be to set in motion the process that will turn Egypt into a free and democratic society. This includes drafting a democratic Constitution to be put to a referendum, and preparing for free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections within one year.

We are at the dawn of a new Egypt. A free and democratic society, at peace with itself and with its neighbours, will be a bulwark of stability in West Asia and a worthy partner in the international community. The rebirth of Egypt represents the hope of a new era in which Arab society, Muslim culture and West Asia are no longer viewed through the lens of war and radicalism, but as contributors to the forward march of humanity, modernised by advanced science and technology, enriched by our diversity of art and culture and united by shared universal values.

We have nothing to fear but the shadow of a repressive past.

- Mohamed ElBaradei, as the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005





It used to be speculated that if another Mumbai-type terror attack was launched against this country from Pakistan, India would retaliate militarily. According to WikiLeaks, this was communicated by former British foreign secretary, Mr David Miliband, to the Americans after his conversations in New Delhi. Today, however, we can't be sure. At the foreign secretaries' Thimphu meeting earlier this week, India agreed to restart talks with Pakistan on all bilateral issues, including Kashmir. The two countries earlier called all-ranging talks a "composite" dialogue. These were suspended by India after 26/11 in Mumbai. New Delhi's position was that the dialogue could resume once Islamabad provided concrete proof that it had taken meaningful steps to bring the jihadist authors of 26/11 to book. That has not happened. India has eaten crow and is gamely trying to move on. The hard fact is that elements of Pakistan's ISI were associated with the Mumbai carnage in every meaningful way. Islamabad therefore will never be serious about pursuing the matter. Without acknowledging this publicly, Thursday's announcement on resumption of the composite dialogue in all but name suggests that India has come to accept that Pakistan won't move on Mumbai, and it has no option but to re-engage that country. If anything is said to the contrary, it is for the birds. Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, once famously described Pakistan as a "headache". Other than China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, probably all countries which deal with Islamabad on a sustained basis are likely to endorse this view, and yet must continue engaging this rogue-type nation that is often called the "epicentre" of international terrorism run by dodgy intelligence services and the military, which is constantly doing deals, and deals-within deals, with the most nefarious elements conceivable. If they don't, Islamabad often drops hints that it might do something outrageous that could just lead to a conflagration. The Americans, for one, even keep the Pakistani military well supplied with arms and cash so that it may not do the unthinkable. India, however, is a different category. Unlike other key powers, it is subjected to repeated jihadist attacks from Pakistan. How feasible is it then for this country to molly-coddle Pakistan all the time, which many might regard as another name for appeasement from a position of weakness? In July 2010, external affairs minister, Mr S.M. Krishna, was publicly insulted in Islamabad by his counterpart, Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi (who was left out of Pakistan's reshuffled Cabinet on Friday) for not agreeing to a composite dialogue straightaway but subscribing to a step-by-step approach (aimed at giving Islamabad time to pay more serious attention to bringing the Mumbai accused to book).






 "An ant can walk through an elephant trap..."
From Size Matters by Bachchoo

Outside our house in Pune, under a spreading neem tree, every day of the week, Raghunath would set up his stall which was no more than a handcart fitted with four bicycle wheels and tyres. It had a glass case from which he sold the chikki he or his consorts and cohorts had made. For those not familiar with this confection, which is called different things in different parts of India, it's brittle toffees made of peanuts and jaggery or sesame seeds, cashew nuts, even lentils and jaggery. These he dispensed in scraps of paper while squatting cross-legged on the vacant part of his handcart.

Attached to the cart was a rope at the end of which Raghunath's goat named Shambho was tethered. The animal was Raghunath's constant companion and was brought to and from this sales pitch each day. Shambho was occasionally fed from a bag of grass or fodder which was tucked into the metal frame of the cart. Raghunath also carried a long menacing stick.

We regulars knew why Shambho was subject to this standing and waiting each day. Raghunath would at times worshipfully pronounce his name out loud, to no one in particular, as though he was testing his voice against the power of the ether:

"Shambho hai, Shambho! Jai Shambho!"

The last phrase in a quavering trill of a soprano.

But Shambho's real function was darker. Even while serving customers, Raghunath would abandon all restraint, raise a thigh and let out a resounding fart. He would immediately pick up his stick and strike the poor goat with it, shouting in Hindi "Oi, kahan sey gobur kha key aatha hai..."

The trick fooled no one, but when in my reading I first came across the word "scapegoat" I knew exactly what it meant.

And now one hears that Malawi has passed a law banning farting in public. In India, in any town or city one is used to seeing notices which implore or threaten citizens against spitting or pissing. I notice that these imprecations have become more explicit. In my youth they were more discreet and said "Commit No Nuisance". The subtlety of such a message caused a lot of misunderstanding and it was evident that people "committed nuisance" in considerable numbers.

As far as I am aware, Malawi is the first state to actually ban the passing of wind from that particular orifice. I don't suppose the law extends to belching — that would be tyrannical. Some might say "about time" but the first difficulty of the law is that all are guilty. Who then is entitled to cast the first stone?

I read somewhere — probably on some lying Internet site — that every human being releases eight pints of gas a day from their intestines. After reading that I kept a very close eye on friends and companions — obviously mostly in their waking hours — and could find no corroborative evidence for this rather startling statistic. One wants to think of one's near and dear as exceptions to this physiological truth, if indeed it is a truth.

Nevertheless, even if one disregards the quantitative statistic, there is no doubting that passing or breaking wind is not acceptable in most societies, though I have been in third class sleeper carriages in India in which one or other fellow passenger, having changed into the lungi he slept in, began to regard the railway compartment as no longer a public space and resorted to loudly expressing this intestinal hydrogen sulphide. No doubt he regarded it as a natural function, like breathing, and suspended all consideration of the olfactory inconvenience or disgust this could cause his fellow passengers.

Other societies, presumably Malawians among them, take farting more seriously. My father, who served as an Army officer in the North-West Frontier Province before the Partition of India used to tell us that in certain Pathan tribes farting in public was the deepest shame and the offender would be required to leave the company and kill himself. My father was prone to exaggeration, but there must have been some grain of truth to the story which he told in order to instil in us a fear of such public disgrace.

I predict that the Malawian police (have they set up a special squad for the detection and punishment of the new crime? The "Gastropol"?) will soon learn that one of the characteristics of civilised societies is the working out of strategies to avoid being detected as the farter in the pack.

The stratagems to avoid being detected are obvious to anyone who has travelled on a crowded train, especially an underground one without windows, gone up or down in a busy lift or been in some other enclosed space. Having mastered the art of suppressing the sound element, culprits attempt to disclaim responsibility for the unleashed noxious miasma, pretending to get on with their Sudoku, staring into the distance, or attempting to shift suspicion by wrinkling their nostrils to imply that anyone displaying their displeasure couldn't possibly be the guilty party.

There is almost always a doubt about who perpetrated the silent emission. The exception is when there are only two people present in the lift, the compartment or even under the same quilt. Both know.

It is very likely that the University of Malawi's forensic science school is, even now, working on a way or spray to make intestinal gas emissions visible. There is an old British schoolboy joke:

Q. Why do farts smell?
A. So the deaf can enjoy them too!
With the possibility that Malawi's researchers will succeed in making farts visible, I would urge them to resort to bright colours like the gay powders at Holi so that the negative of stink can be off-set by the positive of bright and rising displays.







Unbelievable as this sounds, it was not all that easy to forget "Balwa ka jalwa" and former Union telecom minister A. Raja's manifold deals in distant Macau. I mean, I gawked at all those impressive buildings, the eye-popping flyovers — the infamous casinos that are the size of mini-cities and wondered who ran this show… and how many Balwas were lurking in the shadows of this surrealistic destination that is giving Las Vegas a serious complex, plus a run for its money. Macau has a compelling, almost sinister charm over visitors. Even for idiots like me — someone who doesn't know her Baccarat from Black Jack, and hates to use the word "craps" because it sounds dirty. I am not poker faced enough to attempt the game. And Roulette is something I associate with Russians holding a gun to a victim's head. Macau is not meant to be my kind of town — but guess what? I loved it! On a much-needed break after months of majdoori, we decided to spend Chinese New Year in Hong Kong (yes… Kung Hai Fat Choy to you, too).

While in Hong Kong, a friendly ghoul suggested a decadent weekend in Macau. It's only a one-hour turbo jet ride away, we were told. Just go! That was it. And off we went to check out this high roller's den, which saw the best and brightest from Bollywood at the fabled, entirely OTT "The Venetian" for an awards ceremony a while ago. But in Macau nobody cares a fig about movie stars, no matter how big. This is a destination for people with a single point agenda — gambling. Forget the bizarre, surrealistic architecture (come on… Venice in China?), the vast, vaulted ceilings of the casino with gaudy versions of the Sistine Chapel — and focus on the people working those tables and slot machines. They never take their eyes off the main game and barely look up from the cards they clutch on to like their lives depend on the hand that's been dealt. In fact, some of them forget to go to the loo, drink water, eat or sleep for hours at a stretch. They wouldn't blink if Kim Kardashian roller bladed into the place, wearing nothing but a sexy fragrance. Better still, if Amar Singh performed the full monty as he threatened to this week (but seriously, in case of such a calamity, we would all need to shield our eyes). As we strolled through those garish halls, watched by beady-eyed bouncers and maybe thousands of CCTV cameras, it was a liberal education of sorts. Macau is the perfect example of how the Chinese execute megaprojects — emphasis on "execute". Macau is the apt symbol of mean Chinese ambition.

I have no doubt modern day Macau was created by a Chinese Kalmadi. Someone who saw a gigantic opportunity in positioning this tiny island as a heaven and haven for good time gamblers with enough lolly to blow up a nuclear plant. The financials were obviously calibrated to the last yuan or Hong Kong dollar. The humongous investments are there for all to see… and enjoy. From the crazily-constructed Grand Lisboa, to the super swish "The Wynn", and the magnificent MGM Grand, Macau has put up monumental, futuristic buildings (many more are coming up) that rival the best in neighbouring Hong Kong. The infrastructure is faultless — from the time visitors show up at the busy jetty in those bright red turbo jets that ferry them to and from Hong Kong every half an hour, to the limo pick-up at the airport as Russian tycoons (molls in tow) arrive in spiffy private jets. Floor length minks complement limited edition bags and serious rocks, as pampered ladies float into the dazzling lobbies of these monstrous hotels ("The Wynn" plays wrap around Frank Sinatra through cleverly concealed speakers in the shrubbery… his velvety voice catching visitors off guard). I swear I saw several Chinese men sporting Fedoras and resembling Oriental Bogarts from another zamaana. Yup, it's that lunatic! The main thing about Macau is that everything works! It's all good and tickety-boo at every level. Perhaps we should have packed off Suresh Kalmadi and gang to Macau before handing over the Commonwealth Games on a platter to them… and getting royally ripped off. Not that it would have helped… mainly because Mr Kalmadi would still have messed up. You and I know why. Chinese bosses are not pussycats and weaklings. Had Mr Kalmadi's counterpart in Macau not delivered, he would have been chopped up and fed to the sharks in the South China Sea. So would his cronies and contractors. You really don't want to mess with those guys… the level of efficiency and security one encounters at every stage is evidence enough of that. There are water tight systems in place and the message is loud and clear. The place bristles with menacing looking cops (the only people who understand English) who are constantly on the move through those unbelievably crowded shopping areas in central Macau.

Talking of security, just two days after I got back from Hong Kong, I travelled to Baroda. Idly, I looked at my boarding card and saw to my horror that I was identified as a male and my name appeared as Mr S. De. Not a single person noticed it — not the airline staff, not the cops (who often stare intently at boarding cards they are holding upside down). My ID was nothing more than a club membership card with a blurred, old picture in a corner. No problem. I was waved through regardless.

I remember Vilasrao Deshmukh's constant band baaja about converting Mumbai into Shanghai. Unfortunately, for Maharashtra's ex-chief minister he ran straight into me a few days after I'd returned from Shanghai (this was a few years ago). I pounced on him and asked how he could make such outrageous comparisons. He smiled and smiled (the man is amazing — he smiles through any and every embarrassment), and answered calmly, "But madam, I have never been to Shanghai myself!"

I rest my case.

Just hoping and praying Prithviraj Chavan doesn't talk about making Mumbai into another Macau. Though… why not? If we can get great roads, clean public spaces, super efficient policing, dynamic bureaucrats, no water and power cuts… plus, casinos! Hey… that's a good plan.

Chalo Chauhanji… Mumbai ko Macau banao!

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Kleptrocracy is as old as government.  Kautilya, in his treatise on public administration two millennia ago, exposed 40 ways of embezzlement of government money. Today's babus, in collaboration with their political masters, have devised 40,000 or more ways to swindle public funds. Corruption is the misuse of any power of public consequence for private gain.

Antrix Corporation, commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation, had entered into a contract with Devas Multimedia Private Limited, promoted by MG Chandrasekhar, former scientific secretary of ISRO, to utilise 90 per cent capacity of the yet to be launched GSAT 6 and GSAT 6A satellites using 70 MHz spectrum valued at more than Rs. 200 lakh crore for as little as Rs. 1,000 crore, after taking Cabinet approval in 2005.  No competitive bidding was held for the use of the transponders in the two satellites. The ISRO is one of the sacred cows of the country directly under the charge of the Prime Minister and the media dare not probe too much into its working. The grant of the 10 transponders in the two satellites to Devas is tantamount to allocation of spectrum as they are designed to work at specific frequency bands.

On the strength of this windfall allotment of spectrum, Devas sold 17 per cent of its stakes to Deutsche Telekom for $75 million. The contract ISRO signed with Devas does not place any restriction on it for sub-leasing spectrum. The Foreign Investment Promotion Board has cleared Devas to bring in 74 per cent direct foreign investment. G Madhavan Nair, chairman of ISRO when this deal was struck, was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2009.


When the 2G spectrum scandal broke, Manmohan Singh had a fall guy in A Raja but as the bigger Devas scandal unfolds, he is left with no scapegoat for the Department of Space misdemeanour in the Antrix case. He is directly in charge of Space. He has miserably failed to make the government look beyond suspicion.  As the nationwide agitation against 2G spectrum allotment gathered momentum last year, Antrix Corporation panicked and wanted to annul the agreement.  Mohan Parasaran, additional solicitor-general, advised the DoS that "it would be prudent that a decision is taken by the government as a matter of policy having the seal and approval of the Cabinet and duly gazetted as per the business rules of the government." This was in July last year. The Prime Minister ignored the advice. The government's contention that there will be no financial loss whatsoever if the contract is abrogated is not borne out by facts. There is a stiff penalty clause for delay as well as cancellation. It is a win-win situation for Devas.

Much of the woes the UPA government is facing could be traced to allowing a small coterie of civil servants with roots in Kerala cornering all key posts at the Centre ~ from the President's secretary to the Prime Minister's secretary, the Congress president's secretary, Cabinet secretary, home secretary, foreign secretary and the National Security Adviser.  The NSA, incidentally, was part of the team that cleared the deal with Devas. The ISRO has become the pocket borough of this coterie for quite some time and other  scientists are deserting the organisation. The resultant in-breeding is partly responsible for the repeated failure of the recent launches.  It is not because of any rare confluence of talent in the small state of Kerala that most sensitive posts are filled by its citizens. Shameless subservience to their political masters and clannishness are the root cause of their rise and shine. In the short span of  their hegemony in the IAS, the once proud steel frame of our administration has been reduced to a rubber frame. It is about time the Prime Minister had a close look at the civil servants with whom he is surrounded who could justly claim making corruption 'respectable' in the country.





ON paper justice has been done. Some scathing comments from their Lordships resulted in the apex court being informed that the government has enhanced from Rs 70 to Rs 18,000 the monthly pension of a military widow. But justice only on paper: for does the matter end there, did she really "win" her case? Apart from the fact that money is a poor substitute for the loss of a husband who "died with his boots on", the very fact that it has taken her several decades, and having to struggle all the way to the Supreme Court, to get a grave wrong rectified does not amount to either compensation or closure.

Surely a man who fought for the nation in the wars of 1947-48, 1962 and 1965 ought to have gone to his eternal rest secure in the knowledge that his widow would be "looked after" by the government. That such was not the case would surely deter other members of the family from a military career. And what "justice" has been meted out to the heartless officials ~ it matters little if they wore olive green or  mufti ~ who caused her to have to fight so hard and long? They sat at their comfortable desks while she had to make do on a pension, that their Lordships rightly observed, would not fetch her a kilogram of arhar dal: which used to be dubbed the "poor man's protein" before it was priced beyond him. It is such lack of accountability, indifference of the higher-ups that permits the scripting of hundreds of horror stories: only a few, like that of 90-year-old Pushpavanti, ever get a hearing.

Soldiers and their families will, therefore, anxiously await the apex court's taking a final call on its proposal to have a special, independent commission set up to deal with veteran's grievances. It was easy for one of the government's top law officers to contend that there was no requirement for such a body, that systems were in place, a mechanism was being evolved to address grievances "at their doorstep".

When veterans have to travel far to collect pension payments or receive medical attention, the Solicitor-General's assurances would seem another blast of false fanfare. There would be no need to look afar for evidence of the government's lack of sincerity on soldiers' welfare ~ the lament of "helplessness" from the Chairman of the Armed Forces Tribunal is clinching proof.








AT Thimphu, it was agreed that the India-Pakistan dialogue should be restored. This decision will be welcomed y many, for though dialogue has been very fitful in the last couple of years, there is yet no other way. Despite their reservations and the disappointments of previous efforts, the two sides keep coming back to it ~ now once more at Thimphu. In the light of their checkered experience, and perhaps deliberately to keep expectations low, neither side has shown much excitement or enthusiasm at the prospect of renewed talks. That they will meet does not imply that the problems that kept them apart have been resolved, nor are things likely to happen in a hurry, for as yet no date has been set.

Clearly, much remains to be done, and the cautious tiptoeing around the issue by the two foreign secretaries is revealing of the current strained state of affairs. If both are playing it so cautiously, one must wonder what can be achieved when they do actually get together and start to talk about the substantive issues. On present evidence, no encouraging exchanges took place, even in private, to give reason to believe that the next round may be better than the last. The diplomatic channel between the two countries is open and each has an able representative in the other's capital but there seems to have been little preliminary work that could have eased the task of the senior officials when they met the other day, or helped dispel the mood of extreme caution. The "trust deficit" that has cast a pall over the last few efforts at dialogue remains where it was.

It hardly needs repeating that the barrier is Mumbai and the aftermath of the murderous attack on that city. For no reason that makes sense to even the most sympathetic observer, Pakistan has refused to give its full cooperation in dealing with the perpetrators of the attack. A few more or less helpful gestures notwithstanding, it has placed firm limits on what it is prepared to do to meet India's concerns. Indeed, the way it has proceeded is reminiscent of its manner of handling comparable security issues with the USA over all these years, where from time to time little tidbits are doled out but full satisfaction is deliberately withheld. 

Sometimes it is unofficially projected by some individuals in Islamabad that the action demanded by India simply cannot be done, and it would be best to move on to what is within the bounds of possibility, the consoling thought being that though we cannot attain perfection, let us do what is attainable. And to add to the problem, issues like the blast on the Samjhauta Express have been raised to suggest that India is tarred with the same terrorist brush and can hardly make the demands it does. Such ideas effectively muddy the waters and make it all the more difficult to move forward. 

The sad part is that all these sophistries are unnecessary. The two sides seem today to be in a mood to settle ~ what other explanation is there for the prolonged engagement between them in the backchannel? And if there was any doubt about how far these talks had reached, we have the testimony of former Pak Foreign Minister, Mr. Kasuri, to tell us how near they had approached to a settlement. What he and others have been saying betokens a change of mood which made possible even the incomplete achievements of the backchannel.
The passage of time may have much to do with it ~ those 'midnight's children' born when India and Pakistan first began, and their disputes were born at the same time, are themselves grandparents now. The generations that succeeded them have moved on, no longer bent on pursuing the primal disputes above all else, being intent on savouring the real opportunities that are now available to them and seeking a better deal for the future. One index of change is that in Pakistan the list of popular grievances against India is no longer automatically led by Kashmir, for other issues like water sharing have become prominent.

Of course, problems between the two countries will not merely disappear owing to lapse of time and change of circumstances. Nor is it likely that attempts to disrupt relations will cease: the challenge of terrorism remains acute and may become even more acute in the immediate future, as tends to happen whenever even a modest onward step is taken, as at Thimphu.

The threat from such sources underlines the indispensable need for effective leadership right at the top if anything is to be achieved. Yet at this time when the effort to resume the effort has been signalled, difficult issues of governance have cropped up on both sides of the border, and these will tend to push foreign policy off centrestage. India is inundated in scams and scandals while Pakistan struggles for a coherent government, the Prime Minister having been obliged to undertake a wholesale cabinet reshuffle. Thus on the face of it, this is not a propitious time for any significant initiative in bilateral relations. Several times in the past something comparable has occurred, the diplomatic effort being brought to a halt by domestic problems not at all linked to bilateral issues. One result is the demand from some quarters that dialogue should be so structured as to insulate it from interruption, a laudable but not very practical objective. Unfortunately, substantive problems cannot be bypassed by procedural devices, and we can only hope that the leaders will be able to rise above immediate constraints in pursuit of all-important longer term objectives.

What is worth considering is whether better results would be attained by reshaping the form in which dialogue has been conducted hitherto. Many observers have felt that the 'composite dialogue' does not now provide the best structure for bilateral exchanges, the agenda it addresses being in many respects out-of-date. That could be largely true, and it would be useful to reconsider whether the dialogue procedure now needs updating. Its virtues should also be recognized, for it permits a number of subjects to be addressed simultaneously, so that each side is able to raise matters of particular concern to itself. Improved procedural arrangements can help get things moving, but unless there is adequate satisfaction on key matters like dealing with terrorists implicated in the Mumbai attack, resumed dialogue may not get very far. Pakistan has its own special concerns that can also become a stumbling block. Thus the immediate prospects do not seem too bright and both sides will have to make a special effort if anything is to be achieved.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary







FOR more than half a century, Dr Jitendra Nath Mehrishi, director of the Cambridge Blood, Stem Cells, Spermatozoa and Opioid Research Initiatives, has been engaged in research of blood elements separation, characterization in health and disease, cell-drug interactions, vaccine development, breast cancer therapy by small HLA-A2 peptides, one-signal T cell activation model, radiation-induced leukemia and hematopoiesis and erythropiesis-blood doping. With a long and distinguished career, this Life Fellow of The Cambridge Philosophical Society left India in 1957 for doctoral research in the Department of Physical Chemistry, University of Cambridge. He has since dedicated himself to extensive research in cell separation technology. In 1981, he got the Distinguished Scientist Medal of The Pasteur Institute, St Petersburg and, in 1989, he was awarded a fellowship at the Royal College of Pathologists, London.

Dr Mehrishi currently heads The Cambridge Chronic Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS New Treatment Strategy Development Initiative along with convening The Cambridge-Budapest-Paris-Cologne-Bonn-Guangzhou Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS Research Study Group and The Cambridge-Cologne-Houston-Guangzhou Blood Cell Based Blood Doping Test Development. He spoke to MOINUDDIN AHMED on his latest research under The Cambridge RBC-Macrophage Interactions Res Initiative, on red blood cell ageing and its effects on blood. Excerpts:

What is red blood cell ageing? Do blood cells also have a life cycle?

Definitely. Red blood cells have a definite life cycle of about 120 days. The most predominant cell in the body is the red blood cell. They are produced in the bone marrow in what can be termed an immature condition. From there they are pushed into the peripheral blood. They have a dumbbell shape and a unique property of squeezing in and out of the blood capillaries. As the cells grow, they go through several phases. During that process there is wear and tear because of squeezing in and out of the capillaries. After it reaches a certain (damaged) condition, it is eliminated by the body clearance system called the reticuloendothelial system.

What motivated you to undertake such research considering that it would break the myth of storing blood and transfusing it whenever required?

We were doing basic research and this study just happened. Researchers who were working in the field of blood transfusion were trying to use blood of different types ~ older, younger and so on. They published a study and that produced a result that was very dramatic. The first study was done in Bristol, England, on 7,000 patients and it showed that if old blood was used in cardiac surgeries, the results were very poor. The second study was done in Ohio when similar results were obtained. Another study on 25,000 patients was done and this showed that blood older than 14 days in storage was going to cause various side effects like immuno-modulation, inflammation, etc. Hence, we got tremendously excited and took up the research. And now our work has suddenly become very important.

What are your findings about RBC ageing and its effects on transfusion?

We found that there were some used cells that were not cleared from the system and some lipids that got left behind. Therefore, transfusion of blood kept in storage for over 14 days is not good for the health. The disease is called Gaucher's disease (Maladie de Gaucher in French), named after French scientist Philippe Gaucher, who discovered it in 1882.

What possible ailments can a person suffer from after transfusion of old blood?

As mentioned earlier, if old blood is transfused, a person may suffer from immuno-modulation and inflammation, which in turn can cause many other diseases, particularly Gaucher's disease that is prevalent among the Ashkenazi Jews living in Jerusalem.

You say the Ashkenazi Jews are more susceptible to Gaucher's disease. Tell us something about that.
Yes, it is a genetic disease and the specificity of the genes of Ashkenazi Jews makes them more susceptible to the ailment. Till now it is known that it is caused by a hereditary deficiency of the enzyme glococeribrocidase (also known as acid ?-glucosidase). The enzyme acts on a fatty substance, glucocerebroside (also known as glucosylceramide). When the enzyme is defective, glucocerebroside accumulates, particularly in white blood cells.

What has been the response of researchers and medical associations across the world?

   I went through an ordeal before my paper was accepted by the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. All the major journals ~ including Nature, Blood, Circulation and others ~ initially did not show any interest. But I and my co-researcher from China, Yao-Xiong Huang, were undeterred and on 6 January this year we finally got the acceptance letter.

Have you suggested any remedial practices that can be followed by blood banks and hospitals?
Of course, we have suggested some, but because of the copyright compulsions we cannot discuss anything as of now.

Have Indian institutions shown any interest in your research?

I have contacted some Indian researchers but I am yet to get a reply from them.

Finally, what are your expectations from your research? Do you believe sincere efforts will be made to ensure changes in the way blood transfusion is done?

Yao-Xiong Huang and I have high expectations from this research. We believe that this will surely bring about a change in the entire process of blood transfusion. We have now proved that old blood is not good for health. Therefore, serious efforts should be made to take corrective measures. My next endeavour will be to probe Gaucher's disease in Ashkenazi Jews and I hope to continue my contribution as a medical research scientist.






We're resuming contact after an interregnum of some time. We have a number of issues to discuss. As we've always said, the dialogue between India and Pakistan is necessary if we're to satisfactorily resolve the outstanding issues between our two countries.

Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao after meeting Pakistani counterpart  Salman Bashir in Thimphu.

We respectfully express our astonishment and dismay at the unjust life sentence handed down last month in India to a fellow scientist and human rights advocate, 61-year-old Dr Binayak Sen.

A joint statement by 40 Nobel laureates from 12 countries, including Indian-origin scientist Dr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan.

Before the Left Front came to power primary school teachers used to draw a paltry salary of Rs 126. Now they get at least Rs 12,000. This is the achievement of the Left Front. The Trinamul and their ally, the Maoists, on the other hand, enter schools and gun down teachers.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose while addressing primary and secondary school teachers at a rally in Kolkata.

By any means we would not allow the GJM to carry out any sort of rallies in the Dooars If the administration allows Morcha supporters to rally, it would be a blunder. We would resist GJM activists on our own using violent means.
Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad president John Barla.


The situation in Darjeeling is alarming. I have asked my men not to rush to any spot without adequate security. Every fire station in the Hills must be given a police force immediately as security arrangements. Fire brigade men might leave the affected areas in the Hills if the administration does not provide police security for them. I have requested the home secretary to arrange security for the firemen.


West Bengal fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee.

We are deeply concerned over torching of our properties and the way these people (attackers) are entering reserve forests. For the past 15 days, they were in control of the community hall and built tents in the forests, which is an offence.

Kalyan Das, divisional forest officer (Jalpaiguri division).

This is history, not a three-hour movie you can walk out of.

Ahmed Seif Hamad an Egyptian protester saying things will take time to unfold.

I am really thankful to Dada. He was one guy who told me to concentrate on my game and to remain focused as he felt I could make it big in international cricket.

Cricketer S Sreesanth after making the World Cup squad







TO the horror of Egyptians and the world, President Hosni Mubarak – haggard and apparently disoriented – appeared on state television on Thursday night to refuse his opponents every demand by staying in power for at least another five months. The Egyptian army, which had already initiated a virtual coup d'état, was nonplussed by the President's speech, which had been widely advertised – by both his friends and his enemies – as a farewell address after 30 years of dictatorship. The vast crowds in Tahrir Square were almost insane with anger and resentment.

Mubarak tried – unbelievably – to placate his infuriated people with a promise to investigate the killings of his opponents in what he called "the unfortunate, tragic events", apparently unaware of the mass fury directed at his dictatorship for his three decades of corruption, brutality and repression.

The old man had originally appeared ready to give up, faced at last with the rage of millions of Egyptians and the power of history, sealed off from his ministers like a bacillus, only grudgingly permitted by his own army from saying goodbye to the people who now so evidently hate him. Yet the very moment he embarked on what was supposed to be his final speech, he made it clear that he intended to cling to power. To the end, his information minister insisted Mubarak would not leave. There were those who, to the very last moment, feared Mubarak's departure would be cosmetic – even though his presidency had evaporated in the face of his army's decision to take power earlier in the evening.

History may later decide that the army's lack of faith in Mubarak effectively lost his presidency after three decades of dictatorship, secret police torture and government corruption. Confronted by even greater demonstrations on the streets of Egypt on Thursday, even the army could not guarantee the safety of the nation. Yet for Mubarak's opponents, the day was not be one of joy and rejoicing and victory but a potential bloodbath.
So was this a victory for Mubarak or a military coup d'état? Can Egypt ever be free? For the army generals to insist on his departure was as dramatic as it was dangerous. Are they a state within a state, now truly the guardians of the nation, defenders of the people – or will they continue to support a man who must be judged now as close to insanity? The chains that bound the military to the corruption of Mubarak's regime were real. Are they to stand by democracy – or cement a new Mubarak regime?

Even as the President was still speaking, the millions in Tahrir Square roared their fury and disbelief. Of course, the millions of courageous Egyptians who fought the whole apparatus of state security run by Mubarak should have been the victors. But as Thursday afternoon's events proved all too clearly, it was the senior generals – who enjoy the luxury of hotel chains, shopping malls, real estate and banking concessions from the same corrupt regime – who permitted Mubarak to survive.

At an ominous meeting of the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces, defence minister Mohamed Tantawi – one of Mubarak's closest friends – agreed to meet the demands of the millions of democracy protesters, without stating that the regime would itself be dissolved. Mubarak himself, commander-in-chief of the army, was not permitted to attend.

But this is a West Asian epic, one of those incremental moments when the Arab people – forgotten, chastised, infantilised, repressed, often beaten, tortured too many times, occasionally hanged – will still strive to give the great wheel of history a shove and shake off the burden of their lives. On Thursday night, however, dictatorship had still won. Democracy had lost.

All day, the power of the people had grown as the prestige of the President and his hollow party collapsed. The vast crowds in Tahrir Square began to move out over all of central Cairo, even moving behind the steel gates of the People's Assembly, setting up their tents in front of the pseudo-Greek parliament building in a demand for new and fair elections. On Friday they'd planned to enter parliament itself, taking over the symbol of Mubarak's fake "democracy". Fierce arguments among the army hierarchy – and apparently between Vice-President Omar Suleiman and Mubarak himself – continued while strikes and industrial stoppages spread across Egypt. Well over seven million protesters were estimated to be on the streets of Egypt on Thursday – the largest political demonstration in the country's modern history, greater even than the six million who attended the funeral of Gamal Abdul Nasser, the first Egyptian dictator whose rule continued through Anwar Sadat's vain presidency and the three dead decades of Mubarak.

It was too early, on Thursday night, for the crowds in Tahrir Square to understand the legal complexities of Mubarak's speech. But it was patronising, self-serving and immensely dangerous. The Egyptian constitution insists that presidential power must pass to the speaker of parliament, a colourless Mubarak crony called Fatih Srour, and elections – fair ones, if this can be imagined – held within 60 days. But many believe that Suleiman may choose to rule by some new emergency law and then push Mubarak out of power, staking out a timetable for new and fraudulent elections and yet another terrible epoch of dictatorship. The truth, however, is that the millions of Egyptians who have tried to unseat their Great Dictator regard their constitution – and the judiciary and the entire edifice of government institutions – with the same contempt as they do Mubarak. They want a new constitution, new laws to limit the powers and tenure of Presidents, new and early elections that will reflect the "will of the people" rather than the will of the President or the transition incumbent, or of generals and brigadiers and state security thugs.

On Thursday night, a military officer guarding the tens of thousands celebrating in Cairo threw down his rifle and joined the demonstrators, yet another sign of the ordinary Egyptian soldier's growing sympathy for the democracy demonstrators. We had witnessed many similar sentiments from the army over the past two weeks. But the critical moment came on the evening of 30 January when, it is now clear, Mubarak ordered the Egyptian Third Army to crush the demonstrators in Tahrir Square with their tanks after flying F-16 fighter bombers at low level over the protesters.

Many of the senior tank commanders could be seen tearing off their headsets – over which they had received the fatal orders – to use their mobile phones. They were, it now transpires, calling their own military families for advice. Fathers who had spent their lives serving the Egyptian army told their sons to disobey, that they must never kill their own people.

Thus, when General Hassan al-Rawani told the massive crowds on Thursday evening that "everything you want will be realised – all your demands will be met," the people cried back, "The army and the people stand together – the army and the people are united. The army and the people belong to one hand." And the Cairo court prevented three ministers – so far unnamed, although they almost certainly include the interior minister – from leaving Egypt.

But neither the army nor Vice-President Suleiman are likely to be able to face the far greater demonstrations in the offing, a fact that was conveyed to 83-year-old Mubarak by Tantawi himself, standing next to Suleiman. Tantawi and another general – believed to be the commander of the Cairo military area – called Washington, according to a senior Egyptian officer, to pass on the news to Robert Gates at the Pentagon. It must have been a sobering moment. For days, the White House had been grimly observing the mass demonstrations in Cairo, fearful that they would turn into a mythical Islamist monster, frightened that Mubarak might leave, even more terrified he might not.

The events of the past 12 hours have not, alas, been a victory for the West. American and European leaders who rejoiced at the fall of Communist dictatorships have sat glumly regarding the extraordinary and wildly hopeful events in Cairo – a victory of morality over corruption and cruelty – with the same enthusiasm as many East European dictators watched the fall of their Warsaw Pact nations. Calls for stability and an "orderly" transition of power were, in fact, appeals for Mubarak to stay in power – as he is still trying to do – rather than a ringing endorsement of the demands of the overwhelming pro-democracy movement that should have struck him down.

the independent






Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships. But Lysistrata, the femme fatale at the centre of the eponymous comedy by the Greek dramatist, Aristophanes, did something even more sensational. She managed to stop a war — and how indeed. Sickened by the seemingly endless Peloponnesian War, she persuaded the women of Greece to abstain from having sex with their partners. Her strategy, initially greeted with a lot of scepticism by the sorority, successfully drove the men up to the wall. Soon enough, even the most bloodthirsty soldiers in the army were ready to call it quits — Venus won over Mars, hands down. Although peppered with bawdy humour, Lysistrata has the wisdom of the ancients distilled in it. Or so one imagines, judging by its continuing relevance more than two thousand years later. Recently, Marleen Temmerman, a Belgian senator, proposed a sex strike as a way of ending the lengthy negotiations among politicians of her country around the issue of forming a new government. Political life in Belgium has been in a stalemate for over eight months now, a European record of sorts, coming a close second to what Kenya achieved in 2009. And it was a week-long sex ban in Kenya that finally saw the emergence of a functioning government. So Belgians have reasons to hope.

Although Ms Temmerman suggested the no-sex plan in jest, it cannot be hastily dismissed as wishful thinking. As Kenya shows, there have been instances in the past when women have asserted, in an impressive way, a great deal of social and political influence through sexual control. For instance, in 2006, women in Pereira, Colombia, organized "a strike of crossed legs" to put pressure on the city's gangsters to give up their guns. The result was remarkable. According to a survey conducted last year, the murder rate in the city went down by 26.5 per cent. On the other hand, in 2008, women in Naples came together in a similar strike to protest against the notoriously dangerous New Year fire displays in the city that injures, and even kills, quite a handful every year. The result: one dead and 70 injured this year. Clearly, Neapolitan women are either not being able to control their urges or perhaps their men are being unfaithful.

Sex is one of the primal human drives. So it can have the most irrational effect on people. After politics and money, it is also perhaps the most potent source of power — capable of structuring gender relationships, manipulating perceptions of individual self-worth, and satisfying a hunger that is at once physical and metaphysical. In an age of aggressive cyber-dating, to which iPhone applications like Grindr have added a new edge, enforced chastity is unlikely to have its desired effect. In Silvio Berlusconi's Italy, for instance, a sex ban of this sort would merely end up as a big joke at the expense of the spouses of the cabinet members. Still, there is no harm in trying out such a strategy. At least, it carries more weight than asking men to stop shaving — which is what Belgians had planned to do at first.







I am presently embarked on an exercise that is both utterly exhausting as well as truly educative — the reading, line by line, of every volume of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. After several weeks of dogged work I have completed Volume XII; a mere 88 remain. I shall now take a (possibly extended) break, since Gandhi has now just left South Africa for good, and I need to distil all that I have read (and learnt) before moving with my subject to another country, another continent.

In a previous column I reported an early fruit of my research — an article speaking with admiration of the mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi, whose disregard for monumental temples and mosques Gandhi shared, in a non- institutional spiritual ecumenism that might possibly show a way to resolve the destructive dispute in Ayodhya. Let me offer another illustration of the continuing relevance of Gandhi's writings. In the late summer of 1909 he was in London, lobbying for the rights of Indians in South Africa. The lawyer-activist met with British journalists, members of parliament, senior officials, and cabinet ministers, urging them to press the governments of Natal and Transvaal to allow Indians the freedom to trade, the freedom of movement, and protection against laws and practices that discriminated against them on account of their race.

After a month of running around in London, Gandhi wrote in exasperation that, "The more experience I have of meeting so-called big men or even men who are really great, the more disgusted I feel after every such meeting. All such efforts are no better than pounding chaff. Everyone appears preoccupied with his own affairs. Those who occupy positions of power show little inclination to do justice. Their only concern is to hold on to their positions. We have to spend a whole day in arranging for an interview with one or two persons. Write a letter to the person concerned, wait for his reply, acknowledge it and then go to his place. One may be living in the north and another in the south [of London]. Even after all this fuss, one cannot be very hopeful about this outcome. If considerations of justice had any appeal, we would have got [what we wanted] long before now. The only possibility is that some concessions may be gained through fear. It can give no pleasure to a satyagrahi to have to work in such conditions."

I knew exactly what Gandhi felt —and meant. Ninety-seven years after his fruitless exertions in London, I spent several weeks in New Delhi, seeking appointments with the most powerful men in the land. I was not alone — with me, indeed leading me, were the senior journalist, B.G. Verghese, and the brilliant anthropologist, Nandini Sundar. We had been part of a team of independent citizens who had recently returned from a trip through the district of Dantewada, in Chhattisgarh, where a bloody conflict raged between Maoist revolutionaries and a vigilante group promoted by the state government. Dozens of villages had been burnt, hundreds of people had been killed, and tens of thousands had been rendered homeless.

The Maoists are accountable to nobody, but we felt that the depredations of the vigilantes (who called themselves Salwa Judum, which roughly translated as 'Peace Hunt') had to be stopped by the state. When we found that the Chhattisgarh administration was complicit in these crimes, we decided to bring the matter to the attention of the Central government. After many phone calls, we were able to secure appointments with the then home minister, Shivraj Patil, and the then national security adviser, M.K. Narayanan. We acquainted them with what we had found — that is to say, with displaced tribal people living in pathetic camps along the road, their homes damaged or destroyed, their women violated by the vigilantes, all part of a general atmosphere of terror and intimidation that pervaded the district.

The NSA met our presentation of this firsthand evidence with indifference, the home minister with irritation. The NSA said condescendingly that as a former policemen he did not need lessons on how to deal with Naxalism. The home minister went a step further, accusing Nandini Sundar and the present writer of being Naxalite sympathizers ourselves.

Later, I was able to secure a one-on-one meeting with the prime minister, Manmohan Singh. He pleaded helplessness. To my recounting of the crimes of the vigilantes he replied that "they say that these methods are necessary", without specifying whether "they" were his own advisers, or the Chhattisgarh state government.

Almost five years have passed since our meetings with these three big men. I did not write about them at the time, since these were private discussions, and I hoped that the advice of experienced and independent-minded Indian democrats would effect some slight changes in state policy. If I recall these meetings now, it is for two reasons: first, because I now find that the greatest of all Indians had a similar experience (albeit with firangi, rather than desi, big men), and second, because the sufferings of the tribal people in Dantewada still persist, in good part because of the unwillingness or inability of the Central government to hold the state government and its functionaries to account for their gross (and sometimes barbaric) violations of the law of the land.

Earlier this month, while hearing a petition filed in the public interest, the Supreme Court instructed the Chhattisgarh state government to disband Salwa Judum camps, restore villagers to their homes, and provide proper compensation for victims of violence. It also asked that schools and ashrams be vacated by security forces. In previous hearings, the Supreme Court has criticized the state government for distributing arms to untrained and frequently under-age men. Its strictures are wholly merited, but as things stand, the court has no powers to supervise matters on the ground. Its instructions have been ignored in the past by the state government, and it is unlikely that the Chhattisgarh government will work overtime to honour them now.

There are only two ways to tackle the menace of Naxalism: prompt and efficient policing by trained personnel, and sustained efforts to provide education, health, security of livelihood and mechanisms of self-governance to tribal communities. Instead, the Chhattisgarh government has promoted vigilantism on the one hand, and, on the other, shut down schools and clinics and handed over tribal land to mines and factories. As a consequence, the influence of Naxalism has actually increased, leading to an escalating spiral of violence and counter-violence, with the adivasis caught in the crossfire.

If the Central government had acted in 2006, on the basis of the massive evidence presented before it, the situation might yet have been retrieved and remedied. Reflecting on its inaction five years later, it seems to be that it stemmed from several causes. There was the fear that the Bharatiya Janata Party would charge it with being soft on extremism, and the further fear that since law and order was a state subject the Centre should be cautious in intervening. But the main reason, pace Gandhi, was the general indifference to the claims of justice of men in high places, whose "only concern", in India now as in England a hundred years ago, was and is "to hold on to their positions" of power.


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





Few cases have seen the kind of intriguing twists and turns as the Arushi Talwar murder case. A little over a month after the CBI, which was investigating the case, announced the closure of the case on the ground that it lacked clinching evidence against any of the accused, a special CBI court in Ghaziabad has ordered the trial of Arushi's parents Rajesh and Nupur Talwar for the murder of Arushi and their domestic help Hemraj. The couple has been charged with murder and destruction of evidence. It is ironical that it was the Talwars who had demanded the reopening of the case. Now they are the prime accused and will stand trial. The evidence against them is reportedly circumstantial, the CBI not having found the murder weapon or been able to establish a motive. The court has done well to order a reopening of the case. After all, the CBI's closure of the case left things dangling in the air. The guilty were not caught and made to face justice. The reopening of the case and the trial of the Talwars takes us a step towards clearing the air. The CBI says it has evidence against the Talwars. The court has said the evidence is good enough to press charges against the couple.

The question is does the CBI have evidence to nail them? The handling of the investigation by the UP police was shocking. They cooked evidence, 'lost' key clues and were more interested in feeding the media with their theories than with building a case. The CBI stepped in and after claiming grandiosely several times that it was on the verge of cracking the case and making arrests, finally threw in the towel and declared the case closed. They then said Rajesh Talwar was the prime accused, only they could not establish evidence and motive. CBI officers claim that a trial of the Talwars vindicates their position. How will they present their case against the accused? Will the trial be just another botched up phase in a case that has seen one investigating agency after another with egg on their faces?

The trial is a setback for the Talwars. However, if they are innocent as they claim to be, this is an opportunity for them to clear their names. Given how murky the investigations have been, few expect the trial to be transparent, fair or just. The ball is now in the judiciary's court.







The Kerala high court's green signal for the formation of an Islamic banking institution as a joint undertaking between a state government and a private company is welcome as it will introduce, though on a small scale, a system of stable, ethical and humane financial practices. What has been approved is not an Islamic bank but a non-banking financial institution which will be run in accordance with the RBI's regulations. But the proposal had become controversial because there was a view that setting up of a company with government participation which would follow the principles of Islam went against the secular idea. But the controversy was misplaced because the institution, while following sharia principles, would abide by all the laws of the country. If there was no violation of any secular laws or rules, how could it be opposed?

Islamic finance works on the basis of the injunction of sharia laws against taking or paying interest, and allows only profit or loss to be shared among participants and investors. There is no need to communalise the idea, which should be seen as an economic and ethical principle that can be adopted by anybody. Islamic finance forms a good part of the world's economy and these institutions proved they were strong and resilient during the recent global banking crisis. Many governments, like those of the US, the UK and Australia, are encouraging Islamic finance. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also said recently that the RBI would be told to study the demand for establishing Islamic banking institutions. They should be considered as an alternative banking system with many advantages.

A large number of Muslims in the country are not participants in the mainstream banking system because of their sentiment against interest. They can be brought into the system if Islamic banking institutions become popular. These institutions can also become large vehicles for investments in infrastructure. This is because they do not offer credit on interest but seek to share profits from the projects which they finance. The proposed Kerala institution has already got offers of Rs 10,000 crore for infrastructure spending. Islamic banks control hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide, offer many popular products to customers and their activities are growing every year. Most international banks have an Islamic banking section and there are more non-Muslim participants and investors in it than Muslims. There is no need to disapprove of Islamic finance.








The lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation is related to poverty, inequality and injustice.
As the Planning Commission deliberates on the comments submitted by the UN solution exchange members, on their approach paper to the 12th five year plan on water and sanitation, it is important to consider where the gaps are and why basic public services such as water and sanitation fail to reach the public. Today, more than half of the rural population in India lack access to toilets and sanitation services and over 170 million are without access to safe water. Most of us are aware of the poor quality of water and access to relatively good quality of water and sanitation is a privilege for the few.

The lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation is directly related to poverty, inequality and injustice, coupled with the inability of governments to finance and govern satisfactorily water and sanitation systems, from socio-cultural and ecological perspectives. Despite attempts and financial investments in drinking water schemes and total sanitation campaigns in the last decade, there continues to be wide disparities in provisions, between the slum and non-slum communities, and between castes with many dalit, SC and ST groups still being denied access to potable water, sanitation and their role in governance is peripheral. It is important that the commission focuses on the issue of inequity, inequality and injustice as a root cause of the gap which has marred our country for centuries.

In a small study on the status of water, sanitation and waste management in a per-urban town (45 km from Bangalore), conducted by Svaraj, a national voluntary organisation, the data on inequality was clear. Slum dwellers were twice as likely not to have access to domestic water connections as non-slum dwellers; less than half (42 per cent) slum households have access to private toilets, and one in three use open space or community toilets. There is real and growing reluctance to use community toilets due to poor maintenance and lack of availability of water; nearly half (46 per cent) do not have toilets. The key reasons given for lack of toilets included lack of place/space and money. Lack of interest in having toilets was the case with less than 2 per cent.

The problem is acute and working out how to ensure fair and just rights of all citizens to water and sanitation in the next five years will be ever more challenging with the growing threat of water scarcity, rapid and unchecked industrialisation, changes in land use patterns, affecting the rural eco-system, including natural resources. Finding a way to address it that does not exacerbate current inequalities is arguably a collective challenge.

There is a need for multiple-level actions. From mapping availability and accessibility to water and sanitation to protecting water catchments, storing, using and protecting it from point and non-point sources of pollution is important. Decentralised treatment of sewage and integrated pollution prevention control regulations to ensure municipal water supply is not contaminated is a must. As is adequate regulations and socio-political and economic governance of water and sanitation services, through effective community participation, sensitising, and capacity building can play a significant role in a better designed approach to accessing water and sanitation systems and hold the service providers more accountable.


However, there is also an urgent need to address the enduring difficulty posed by power politics and lobbies for rapid change in land use patterns, industrialisation and the continued inequality and inequity in availability, accessibility, and affordability of water and sanitation. Water and free market can be uneasy bedfellows in the absence of social safety nets, responsible governance and the desire to provide basic services to marginalised communities.

The notion that "exclusion of particular groups (by caste, gender, and geography) happens" in modern India should be a concern for every citizen. Mapping exclusion should include cross-cutting issues such as gender, caste, age, income, culture, land and space, access to commons, housing, polluting factors, etc. Such an exercise would allow citizens, communities, as well as public authorities to ask questions and understand the historical context of caste and gender discrimination in India, the myths/taboos that surround caste/gender roles/systems, including religious beliefs, customs and practices in relations to water and sanitation, political powers, government policies and its impact on water resource. It will help reach a common understanding and create trust between different actors and enable citizens to hold service providers accountable for equitable, fair and just delivery of water supply and sanitation services.

Solutions such as roof top rain water harvesting for safe drinking water, though welcome, will not address the problems of accessibility to safe drinking water for those without adequate homes and space, unless they are given access to land and decent housing.


Conservation of water by all is an important part of the strategy. The largest daily user of water in the home is the toilet. The western flush-based toilets found in modern houses uses more than 12 litres per flush. One person can consume as much as 60 litres per day. A family of four then will need 240 litres per day just for flushing toilets. At the same time, lack of water is given as a reason for inadequate supply and unsanitary conditions of toilets for the poor and the marginalised.

This inequity and disparity needs to be addressed through policies and regulations on use of grey water, technologies such as reducing the amount of water that is flushed away, educating, encouraging and promoting Indian toilets which uses much less water and is better for health is needed, in particular among the wealthier communities. Consistent gender, caste and class data sensitive research by independent teams and effective evaluation of disparities and impact of programmes can help understand progress and help design more equitable water and sanitation programmes, including targeted approaches to close the inequality and inequity gap.

To address inequity will require a value judgement, including grounding our thinking in the right to safe and adequate water and sanitation and to treat each and every inequality/disparity as unfair and unjust until proven otherwise. Understanding the reasons behind inequalities is important to help target access to water and sanitation and move towards a society where equality in the aggregate is a true indicator of justice.







I am perhaps its oldest living product — so old that the celebration committee was not aware I was still around. I would like to tell you about its birth and early development. It is the child of a well-known Jain family which owned a lot of real estate in the walled city Shahjehanabad — including a large mansion along the Mughal wall in Daryaganj facing the house of the Congress leader M A Ansari. The patriarch of the family Rai Bahadur Lala Sultan Singh Jain had one son Raghubir Singh who was a nationalist and wanted to raise children with patriotic ideas. My father Sobha Singh was a friend of Sultan Singh. So he persuaded my father to lend a hand in his venture and made him president of the governing body.

Modern School was truly modern in every sense. It was the first co-educational school in the city with as many women teachers as men. The first principal was a Bengali Christian Kamla Bose. She brought two of her nieces to join the staff. It started off with about 30 students, three of them were girls — one Kaval Malik was later to be my wife. We were the first modernite couple. Besides the normal curricula Modern School also introduced painting (with the eminent Bengali artist Sarda Ukil), music, carpentry, scouting and military drill under an English sergeant. At the same time Raghubir Singh invited national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Sarojini Naidu to address the students. Altogether it was way ahead of the times which the older generation found unacceptable. One of them was my grandfather Sujan Singh after whom Sujan Singh Park is named. He preferred living in Punjab where he owned a lot of land and factories.

He happened to be in Delhi on the third or fourth anniversary of the school's founders day celebrations. My father took him along to see how his grandsons were doing. He was shocked to see so many women teachers. He called us brothers 'rann mureed' — disciples of low class women. He was more enraged to see us playing ragas on the Esraj. Back home he berated my father: "You want your sons to become 'mirasi' beggars playing Sarandas? he asked. In any event he called his grandsons 'bharooas' — pimps, no doubt affectionately.

Pak writing in English

There must be something in the climate of Sialkot which produces eminent poets and novelists: Allama Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, both top-ranking poets of Urdu were Sialkotias.

Recently I discovered another son of Sialkot who has made his mark as a novelist and a poet in English who comes from the same town — Zulfikar Ghose. Because of his surname Ghose, I had assumed he was Bangladeshi. I presume Ghose derives from Ghaus.

During World War II the family moved to Bombay. Many of Ghose's poems are about India. As the war ended, he migrated to England. Ghose was educated at Sloane school at Keela University.

He lived in London for many years and made his living as a sports editor of 'The Observer' and reviewing books for the 'Times Literary Supplement' and 'The Spectator'.

Finally he moved to Austin (Texas), the US, where he was appointed Professor of Creative Writing.

Recently, the Oxford University Press, Karachi, published a selected collection of his poems: '50 Poems: 30 Selected 20New'. Reading them was enchanting experience mainly because most modern poets are hard to comprehend where as Ghose is lucid, easy to grasp and truly lyrical.

The first of his anthology is about India. I quote a few lines:

India lies still in a primeval
intactness of growth
The great alluvial plains are sodden with trees:
neither city nor village
intrudes with temples and towers
in this riotous land seeting with flowers, and creepers.
Ghose affirms: "Age makes cowards of us as youth makes fools." This is partly illustrated by a poem entitled 'Ask the Women'.
I quote a few lines:
Ask the women who knew me in my youth
of the love we made when twilight cast
a welcome gloom under the plane trees
those long June evenings in London's parks
will there be one whose memory coincides with mine,
or breathing again those night fragrances
when cool gusts blow away the traffic fumes
and the air swirls with currents from the flower beds
will she feel again her lips swollen with kisses?

What does JPC stand for?

On paper JPC stands for joint parliamentary committee. In fact, it stands for 'jab parliament collapsed'.

(Contributed by K J S Ahluwalia, Amritsar)






'Pallankuzhi' of South India is called congkak in Indonesia and Malaysia.

When I hear parents complain about children spending too much time on computer  and other electronic games, my mind goes back to our childhood, when all one could do by oneself was read or play music. All others were not solitary occupations or games, they involved people, other children and social interaction. As one psychologist points out: "The heritage of play with one's fellows is still the birthright of every child, and wise parents should ensure that their children get the full benefit of their play hours."

We were forcibly ejected from our houses in the evenings: Go out and play. Neighbours' children would come over or vice versa and we would soon be engrossed in myriad games involving tree climbing, swinging, etc and uncomplicated, unsophisticated toys.


The skipping rope was always a good standby. It had brightly coloured handles used for twisting, lifting, stepping over and it could involve one or more players. By oneself, or with others, each holding it at one end and allowing one to show his ingenuity by stepping with one foot or two together, with military precision or insouciant grace, with lightning speed or deceptive slowness.  The possibilities were many. And they were sometimes accompanied by chants and nonsense rhymes.

Then there was hopscotch — the oblong variety or the aeroplane. All one needed was a piece of chalk or red stone for the marking and a flat stone to be thrown onto the squares.

Very little investment was necessary. For example the game of 'aadum puliyum' (goats and tigers). It was a contest between 12 goats and three tigers; the aim was for the animals to outsmart each other. It was played on a cone shaped drawing on the ground.


I found that many of the games were regional. In Singapore I saw a child playing five stones — in India it was called seven stones. The player throws one small granite stone in the air and then  quickly proceeds to first pick up one stone then two, then three, etc ending in catching them all together, requiring no mean sleight of hand and focus.

Another popular game in south east Asian countries was called 'pallankuzhi' in South India and congkak in Indonesia and Malaysia. With a wooden board, sometimes decoratively carved with holes or hollows on either side, it involves using tamarind seeds or cowrie shells or the red seed with black spot called manjadi kuru. These were portable games which could be played outside or inside.

Often scarcity stimulates ingenuity and we played 'pretend' games of house-house with a bedcover stretched across two chairs forming the roof of a house. Maybe we were bored during the long summer holidays but we found ways of entertaining ourselves. Making glass chains out of broken bangles, rolling a bicycle rim with a stick, hide and seek — there was no dearth of amusement. It was a unique education not available in the classroom.









This is a story from the latest issue of the Forbes India magazine, headlined   "Bribeless in Bihar", which details a complete turnaround of the state from lawlessness and corruption to a change agent which is doing a cleanup act. The change agent is the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his tool for change is an extraordinary legislation initiated and enacted by him called the Special Courts Act 2009.

In a single stroke, Kumar developed a tool which would take away the main after affect of corruption-ill gotten wealth.  The new law provides for a summary confiscation of property of al government officials found to be having more assets than their income justifies. The act comes into force when investigating agencies are convinced that an official owns assets in excess of his known source of income.  Then even as it pursues a corruption case against the official, the state separately seeks to take control of his assets.

The vigilance department moves one of the six special courts set up for the purpose to fast track the hearings declaring that an official has amassed unexplained wealth. The property is then held while the court conducts speedy trials within six months and decides if the property should be confiscated  or not. If acquitted the property is returned with five percent interest. If not  the state takes over the property for a public purpose.
Under the Prevention of Corruption Act, Vigilance officials have to get a clearance to prosecute a bureaucrat from his very own department. The Special Courts Act has made this redundant by hitting where it hurts. Property. And that is not all. A Special Vigilance Unit has been set up by the Bihar government to go after the big fish. This unit consists of crack team of former CBI officers and sits in a separate office. This team caught the former Director General of Police, Bihar Narayan Mishra and state drug controller YK Jaiswal with wealth, which according to Forbes Magazine, is "enough to finance annual budgets of entire villages".  Both of them will have one or more properties confiscated.

All this has been possible only because Bihar has a Chief Minister with a political will to do this. Does Goa's Chief Minister have the will to do the same?

We do not have the time to do any further lip service on corruption. Goa should without fail draft a Special Courts Act along the lines of the Bihar Act, form a Special Vigilance unit with handpicked team of officers, most definitely from outside the state and start zeroing in on government officials, including police officers who have built giant bungalows all over the state. Even IPS and IAS officials who were posted in Goa have bought land and houses, as their holiday homes. While these may be legal, a look at these properties is justified.
Moreover given the stench of corruption and criminality associated with the Anti narcotics Cell, a special vigilance unit should probe the assets and wealth of every officer, inspector and constable associated with the ANC for the past five years at the very least.

Next on the list-politicians. There are so many rags to riches stories of Goan politicians, that the stories have reached a level of boredom . Some worked in factories, others were contractors, one senior controversial politician started off as a motorcycle pilot and now has properties dotting every town of Goa. Another reportedly has a flat in very building project he helped by way of licences and permissions. If there is a strong belief that these properties were built through ill gotten wealth or were the actual bribes, they should be seized and held till special courts dispense justice .

If this successful model wasn't in place in Bihar, this debate would  have been dumped as a wishful exercise. But no state including Goa has an excuse now. The Bihar Special Courts Act 2009 has been eventually signed into law by the President of India in March 2010. Though this has been challenged , the challengers are mainly officers from Bihar whose properties have been confiscated in disproportionate assets cases.
Bihar has shown the way. Does Goa have the guts to follow?





This is a story from the latest issue of the Forbes India magazine, headlined   "Bribeless in Bihar", which details a complete turnaround of the state from lawlessness and corruption to a change agent which is doing a cleanup act. The change agent is the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his tool for change is an extraordinary legislation initiated and enacted by him called the Special Courts Act 2009.

In a single stroke, Kumar developed a tool which would take away the main after affect of corruption-ill gotten wealth.  The new law provides for a summary confiscation of property of al government officials found to be having more assets than their income justifies. The act comes into force when investigating agencies are convinced that an official owns assets in excess of his known source of income.  Then even as it pursues a corruption case against the official, the state separately seeks to take control of his assets.

The vigilance department moves one of the six special courts set up for the purpose to fast track the hearings declaring that an official has amassed unexplained wealth. The property is then held while the court conducts speedy trials within six months and decides if the property should be confiscated  or not. If acquitted the property is returned with five percent interest. If not  the state takes over the property for a public purpose.
Under the Prevention of Corruption Act, Vigilance officials have to get a clearance to prosecute a bureaucrat from his very own department. The Special Courts Act has made this redundant by hitting where it hurts. Property. And that is not all. A Special Vigilance Unit has been set up by the Bihar government to go after the big fish. This unit consists of crack team of former CBI officers and sits in a separate office. This team caught the former Director General of Police, Bihar Narayan Mishra and state drug controller YK Jaiswal with wealth, which according to Forbes Magazine, is "enough to finance annual budgets of entire villages".  Both of them will have one or more properties confiscated.

All this has been possible only because Bihar has a Chief Minister with a political will to do this. Does Goa's Chief Minister have the will to do the same?

We do not have the time to do any further lip service on corruption. Goa should without fail draft a Special Courts Act along the lines of the Bihar Act, form a Special Vigilance unit with handpicked team of officers, most definitely from outside the state and start zeroing in on government officials, including police officers who have built giant bungalows all over the state. Even IPS and IAS officials who were posted in Goa have bought land and houses, as their holiday homes. While these may be legal, a look at these properties is justified.
Moreover given the stench of corruption and criminality associated with the Anti narcotics Cell, a special vigilance unit should probe the assets and wealth of every officer, inspector and constable associated with the ANC for the past five years at the very least.

Next on the list-politicians. There are so many rags to riches stories of Goan politicians, that the stories have reached a level of boredom . Some worked in factories, others were contractors, one senior controversial politician started off as a motorcycle pilot and now has properties dotting every town of Goa. Another reportedly has a flat in very building project he helped by way of licences and permissions. If there is a strong belief that these properties were built through ill gotten wealth or were the actual bribes, they should be seized and held till special courts dispense justice .

If this successful model wasn't in place in Bihar, this debate would  have been dumped as a wishful exercise. But no state including Goa has an excuse now. The Bihar Special Courts Act 2009 has been eventually signed into law by the President of India in March 2010. Though this has been challenged , the challengers are mainly officers from Bihar whose properties have been confiscated in disproportionate assets cases.
Bihar has shown the way. Does Goa have the guts to follow?






It is indeed gratifying to find that what was written about the Election Commission in this column in our issue of February 2, 2011 has been taken note of by the Chief Electoral Officer of Assam and that he took the time to write a fairly long clarification that was published in the issue of February 9, 2011.  We deem it our responsibility to counter the points and issues raised in the clarification one by one. But before we embark on this journalistic duty we also deem it important to draw attention to the kind of so-called democratic government that we have to deal with as evident from the mindset that is so apparent from the clarification itself. We are dealing with a government that is of the government, by the government and for the government.  It is, therefore, a government that is obsessively concerned with rituals and rules, what is stated in our Constitution, with fairly antiquated laws that remain in the law books instead of being enforced and with pious statements that are politically correct in the interests of survival. Nowhere does one discern any concern for the people or for their grievances or aspirations. Like most other bureaucrats in the country, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Assam too probably regards the State as a geographical entity and not as a land inhabited by people — by citizens. That is why all agencies of the government have been able to ignore what would be in the interest of the greatest good of the greatest number in favour of what would sound correct for the government of the day.

The clarification of February 9 deals with three major points that were made in the editorial of February 2. The first was that the first-past-the-post (FPTP) type of election has no place in a healthy democracy. The CEO contends that our elections have to be conducted in accordance with the system provided in the Constitution and the laws made by Parliament and that a two-round system would not be feasible "in respect of logistics, security and resources in our large country". We would like to point out that Parliament has had no difficulty about amending the Constitution nearly 100 times to suit the lawmakers. A case in point is the amendment that has perpetuated the principle of reservations and quotas beyond the ten-year time frame specified in the Constitution. Why should the Constitution not be amended to ensure more satisfactory and valid elections? As for costs, even with the FPTP system, India has the most expensive elections in the world. Is it fair to the people of India that they should have a cheap and outdated system of election foisted on them? As for the 'fairness' of FPTP elections we had shown in the editorial of February 2 how it was possible to get elected to the Lok Sabha on just one vote when the other candidates had zero votes on account of a boycotted election. The FPTP system of election does not become a satisfactory system just because the CEO of Assam says so. It is risible that the CEO should envisage a rigid Constitution at a time when both the Prime Minister and Home Minister are talking of a flexible Constitution even in the context of insurgency and terrorism.

We had lamented the inability of the Election Commission to keep criminals and people with criminal cases against them out of the Legislature. The EC cannot be unaware that the number of such representatives in the Legislature is increasing with every election instead of coming down. It is not enough for the EC to be insisting (only since 1998) that Parliament should amend laws to disqualify criminal elements from contesting elections during the pendency of their trials. In the first place, this initiative came far too late in the day. And now things have become difficult for the government as well Parliament in view of the substantial percentage of 'lawmakers' who have broken the law being in Parliament as elected members. Very soon we shall have a situation (largely due to the negligence of the EC) where it would be impossible for Parliament to push through any legislation that goes against crime and criminals. Is the EC just going to mouth pious pleas of how hard it has tried to keep criminals out of elections? It has to ensure far more careful scrutiny of nomination papers before elections to keep out criminal elements, and since it may be futile to expect Parliament to enact stricter laws to keep out criminal elements, the EC might even have to approach the Supreme Court for help in this regard.

It will not do to pretend that the number of voters in Assam has increased abnormally time and again because of a very high fertility rate of the inhabitants of Assam. Nor have the vastly increased 'Indian citizens' fallen from heaven. It is the duty of the EC to keep track of this abnormal increase in the number of voters in Assam, to compare it with the increases in other States and to seek logical reasons for such abnormal increases as 10.42 per cent or 13 per cent in just one year. No one is dealing with fiction here. We are dealing with data prepared and circulated by the government. Is there going to be no fair interpretation of such data? As for the D category voters, they represent only a fraction of the Bangladeshi voters. And given the political pressure to regularize these voters as well, it is very likely that they too will get the franchise very soon.

It is important to bear in mind that politicians who indulge in corrupt practices do not go about leaving fingerprints all over the place. That is precisely why much has to depend on intelligent inferences. Once this is done, the consistent efforts of the EC to be on the side of the ruling party would be a matter of inference — the kind of inference in the last paragraph that is deemed so objectionable.






T he sharp differences that have arisen allegedly among Muslim religious leaders as a result of certain remarks made on the position of Muslims in Gujarat by Maulana Ghilam Mohammad Vastani, Vice Chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband, raise many questions of relevance. Do the Muslims have a role to play in India? Or do not they? They have three options. One is to stay sulking and keep away from mainstream activity and blame everybody except themselves. The second is to stay neutral and be part of the larger society only if specifically invited to do so, as if they are doing a great favour to the majority community. The third is to willingly get out of the social and political ghetto they have ensconced themselves and be part of the nation's progress.

It is easy to sulk and blame Hindus for their backwardness. It will take them nowhere, but it is up to them to understand and realize it. Blaming Hindus may give some Muslims some vicarious satisfaction, but where will that take them? If they want to stay on, they must give up the silly concept of being a minority. How can 150 million people consider themselves a 'minority'? Is there any country in the world whose government has a minority ministry?

As early as 1940 during the Ramgarh session of the Congress, its newly elected president Maulana Abul Kalam Azad challenged the very definition of 'minority' and 'majority' in his presidential address. He asked: "Do the Muslims in India constitute enough of a minority to justifiably have apprehensions and fears about their future and nurture misgivings that create agitation in their minds?" His answer was clear. He said: "Nothing in India's political development has been as blatantly wrong as the assertion that the Muslims constitute a political minority and that they should be wary of their rights and interests in a democratic India.'' "Wrong arguments," he said firmly, "have been built upon false foundations." And he added: "Do the Muslims of India look at the future of independent India with doubts and mistrust, or with courage and confidence? If they follow the path of fear, we must look forward to its continuance."

Vastanvi merely made the point that in Gujarat, Muslims were doing well. That is a fact. Godhra was an aberration. There would have been no anti-Muslim riots if some 50-odd women and children in a coach carrying them were not burnt to sizzling death by a Muslim mob. Even if there was a Congress government, such was the fury aroused by that inhuman act that the riots could not have possibly been stopped. To keep demonizing Narendra Modi is for Muslims to inflict a wound on themselves. It is time for them to look at life more positively. Vastanvi was not compromising his Islamic roots. He is reputed to be a man of modern outlook who wants to take his community to higher levels of prosperity in the 21st century. If the Muslim leadership in India wants to follow the Islamic fundamentalist lead in Pakistan and keep women in purdah, deny them education, even the joy of singing and hearing music and insist on sending Muslim lads only to madrassahs, they have only to blame themselves, no matter how much a Muslim-conscious government wants to help. This must be clearly understood.

All that can be said is that the Ministry of Minority Affairs, created five years ago to ensure a focused approach to the issues related to minorities, is best dissolved. Parsis have never wanted a minority status and Christians have largely been taken care of by the Church, and have never expected government largesse. Dalits have their own access to economic protection through reservations etc, and the Prime Minister's revised 15-Point Programme for the welfare of minorities is pretty comprehensive to the point that 90 districts which have a concentration of minority communities on the basis of population have been identified for granting them "multi-sectoral development programmes".

To speak of minoritism 60-odd years after the attainment of independence is an act of self-delusion; Hindus — to put it bluntly — whatever their attitude towards people of other religions is, have never sought to convert or to drive 'minorities' out, as has happened in Kashmir where Hindus were thrown out of their homes, unless they were willing to be proselytized. Hindus have, God knows, their shortcomings but they are a tolerant lot who have largely lived in peace.

What Maulana Vastanvi had done was to give a signal that Muslims, too, could live in peace and prosperity in Gujarat, if they took Hindu majority in their stride without assigning evil motives to them. To constantly identify oneself primarily with religion and claim a separate status, is self-defeating and, in the long run, economically damaging. Muslims in India must give this some deep thought. This is a country which has produced an Azim Premji (Wipro), Yusuf Khwaja Hamied (CIPLA), Habib Khorakiwala (Wockhardt), Khalid Ansari (Sportsweek), Hakeem Hafiz Abdul Majeed (Hamdard Labs) and many more in addition to the Mittals and Birlas and Ambanis. It is up to the Muslims themselves to either raise or break through their self-imposed ceiling, and none can stop them.

It is in this connection that one must question the move by the UPA government to double the number of Minority Concentrated Districts (MCDs) in Uttar Pradesh, as was announced by Union Minister Salman Khursheed. What constitutes a 'minority'? According to official definition, MCDs have been identified on the basis not of religion but "on the basis of their relative backwardness in terms of socio-economic and basic amenities parameters". But can one honestly ascribe this only to Muslims?

If Mr Khursheed is correctly reported, the UPA government "is trying to bring down the cut-off percentage of Muslim population in a district from 25 to 15 per cent to give it a status of a MCD''. The UPA government is apparently planning to raise the number of MCDs from present-day 90 to 150. Dividing the poor into Muslim and Hindu poor on the questionable thesis that Muslim 'minorities' deserve better treatment is to worsen the Hindu-Muslim divide.

When will we learn to treat all Indians, whatever their caste, creed, religion or ideology, as Indians first, last and always? Minoritizing citizens on religious grounds is to communalize them till eternity come. The sooner this concept is scrapped, the better it is for the so-called minorities themselves. This is not secularism, whichever way one looks at it.

MV Kamath



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



Egyptians earned their celebration in Tahrir Square on Friday. The resignation of President Hosni Mubarak is a stunning accomplishment for the country's courageous youth-led opposition. In fewer than three weeks, they forced a largely peaceful end to his 30-year autocracy.

Even as we cheered with them, we felt anxiety about the news that a council of military leaders will now run the country. In a brief statement issued Friday, army leaders talked of working to transfer authority to a "free democratic community." But they did not say how they would do that or when.

It would be a tragedy — and a recipe for more upheaval — if the army misreads this historic moment. Egyptians want democracy. They do not want to trade one repressive system for another.

The whole country must now turn to the arduous work of building a new democratic order to replace the old authoritarian one. It will require the same vigilance, determination and discipline the protesters displayed during their days and nights in the square.

The United States and other democratic states must be ready to now press for full democratic change. Washington, which provides $1.5 billion in military and economic aid annually to Egypt, must use all of its personal ties and all of that leverage to ensure that this period of military control is as brief as possible.

In its Friday statement, the army said the draconian state of emergency would be lifted "as soon as the current circumstances are over" — that was far too open-ended for our comfort. The statement also promised free and fair elections — again without specifying a timetable.

The army is the country's most powerful institution and fills its ranks by conscription, so all Egyptians have some personal connection. Its behavior during the uprising has earned it considerable popular good will. On Friday, some protesters chanted, "The people and the army are one hand!"

Days ago, it ruled out firing on peaceful demonstrations. Despite reports by human rights workers that hundreds of Egyptians were detained, many protesters still feel the army protected them from even worse abuse by security police. We don't yet know the full tale of the army's role in finally getting Mr. Mubarak to leave, particularly after Thursday's rambling performance. For now, at least, most Egyptians are giving them credit for that, too.

The cheering won't last long if the military council does not quickly follow through on its pledges. There are some basic steps that it can and must take immediately — starting with lifting the emergency law and guaranteeing all Egyptians the right of free speech, due process and assembly. There can be no temporizing or suggestions that the protesters must first go home.

The council also needs to quickly reach out to the opposition and set up working groups to jointly set a date for presidential elections. Egypt will also need an independent commission to oversee the process.

There will have to be an agreement on the criteria for registering parties and candidates as well as assurances that all have the resources and access to state-run media needed to run a robust political campaign. Egyptian and international monitors will need to observe the vote and the count.

None of these will come easily, and some setbacks are certain. But Egyptians have finally won a chance at creating a free and just society. We can think of no better rebuttal to Osama bin Laden and other extremists. The Egyptian protesters inspire us all. They will need all of our support.





Cleaning up Albany was the top item in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's campaign book last year. And he won big at the polls, in part, because New Yorkers are so fed up with having a punch line for a state government.

It is now time for Mr. Cuomo to make good on his promises. He needs to deliver a tough and comprehensive reform package to the Legislature and challenge lawmakers from both parties to approve it swiftly.

By the latest count, 14 Albany legislators have either been indicted, convicted or pleaded guilty to abusing the public's trust over the last decade. It is going to take a lot to change that culture of corruption.

Mr. Cuomo has reportedly started his reform campaign by focusing on a new ethics bill that is supposed to address two of Albany's problems: the lack of serious financial disclosure rules for lawmakers and the need for an independent body to monitor the ethical behavior of those involved in state government.

Lawmakers must be required to disclose both the amount and sources of income and whether a client has any business with the state. Lawyers — including the Senate majority leader, Dean Skelos, Speaker Sheldon Silver of the Assembly, and their law firms — must disclose their client lists. The Cuomo administration is pushing for that particular disclosure, noting rightly that members of law firms share the work and the profits and should share the disclosure responsibility as well.

The state also needs one independent body to monitor and investigate legislators as well as the governor, state workers and lobbyists. This group should have the power to make public any findings of wrongdoing, referring potential illegalities to the F.B.I., the state attorney general or local district attorneys.

Lawmakers are arguing that they should be able to police themselves. We've heard that before.

In 2007, the Legislature created its own ethics oversight commission, which has failed to find any serious wrongdoing by any colleagues. During that same period, however, nine legislators have been either indicted or convicted of bribery, fraud or other crimes. Others are under investigation — not by the legislative committee, but by federal, state and local law enforcement.

A strong ethics package would be a start, but not nearly enough. New York also needs a fair campaign financing system, including public financing — the only way to end the culture of pay to play. It needs an independent redistricting commission to finally end gerrymandering and make elections more competitive.

Redistricting for the 2012 vote is supposed to begin this year. Governor Cuomo, who promised to restore trust and accountability in Albany, needs to get moving right now.





Taxpayers in the District of Columbia are bracing for a new assault by House Republicans eager to turn the capital city into a test lab for the conservatives' social agenda.

The district's hard-won home rule came under assault from day one with a House rule scrapping the already pathetic power of its elected representative to cast only a few limited committee votes (while never taking part in the final lawmaking on the House floor).

Then came the Republicans' broad assault on federal financing of abortions in the states, tailored to include a particularly insidious clause, barring the Washington district government from using even local taxes for legal abortions.

This overreach was rationalized by cynically redefining the city as just another part of the federal government. These hobbles smack of the very evil denounced by the Tea Party newcomers — wholesale federal intrusion into the precincts of local government.

Far from empathizing, the House's new right-wing Republican Study Committee, which includes two-thirds of the majority members, is now piling on with a proposal to overturn the district's legalization of gay marriage duly enacted last year under home rule.

The study committee also wants to eliminate the $200 million in annual federal assistance that the district government receives to compensate for the expensive array of services and protection it must provide as the host city to the national government (anti-federal deconstructionists included).

If nothing else, the capital city's fate presents fair warning to the rest of the nation.







When your next oyster arrives on the half-shell, pause to consider it. It is a remnant of a vanished ecosystem and a reminder of a time when New York was oyster city. You can almost imagine the wholesale oyster barges docked along the East River and the sight of oystermen working the waters around Staten Island in the mid-19th century. Those were mostly bedded oysters — brought in from other locations and grown to size within easy reach of New York.

What is vastly harder to imagine is a more distant past when New York was surrounded by immense natural oyster reefs — the temperate-zone equivalent of tropical coral reefs. Oyster reefs were once a major ecological force in coastal waters all around the globe. But according to a recent survey published in BioScience, an international team of marine biologists has concluded that 85 percent of oyster reefs have been lost and that they are "functionally extinct" in much of North America, Europe and Australia.

What destroyed them was overharvesting, pollution, habitat destruction and the practice of bedding, which replaced wild, native oysters with non-native cultivated ones.

What has been lost isn't just the oysters themselves. It's all the beneficial effects that huge oyster reefs used to provide — filtering water, providing habitat for other species, and serving as a coastal buffer against the erosive action of waves. Even now we can witness the ecological importance of coral reefs, whose existence is threatened by ocean acidification. But none of us have ever seen the almost inconceivable extent of historic oyster reefs, and when we think of oysters now we think of them as a cultivated fishery, not an ecosystem.

Oysters are prolific, and that means there is a chance to conserve existing oyster reefs and restore depleted ones, something that is already beginning in the Chesapeake Bay, and in North Carolina, Ireland and Denmark. This will mean learning to value oysters for the benefits they bring to coastal ecosystems, not just for how they taste with lemon and some hot sauce.






I know that you have been wondering what the story of the shirtless Congressman tells us about the current state of American politics.

A lot. Definitely, a lot.

Representative Chris Lee set a record for swift resolution of a sex scandal this week. It began on Wednesday afternoon, when the Web site Gawker posted e-mail correspondence between Lee and a 34-year-old woman who went on Craigslist searching for a "financially & emotionally secure man" who did not resemble a toad.

Did that seem like too much to ask, people? Apparently. After a bit of e-flirting, the woman did a quick online search that revealed that Chris Lee, the 39-year-old divorced lobbyist who answered her ad was actually Chris Lee, a 46-year-old married member of Congress. She forwarded everything to Gawker, including a picture Lee had sent of himself standing half-naked in front of a mirror, flexing his muscles.

A few hours later, he was history. His office had barely had time to blame the whole thing on hackers before the congressman resigned and went off to do marital damage control.

Popular opinion holds that he was prodded out of office by Speaker John Boehner. Although Boehner refused to say whether he had greased the skids for Lee's departure, he has let it be known that he plans to come down hard on "inappropriate behavior" in his caucus.

If Boehner is responsible it would be extremely significant since it would probably be his greatest success to date in the role of speaker of the House.

Really, the rest has been pretty much a mess. So far, the new Republican majority hasn't been able to agree on anything that is not entirely symbolic. In lieu of actual legislation, the House spent the last half of the week debating a measure instructing committees to do oversight on government regulations to see if they're cost-effective.

Which is, actually, their regular job.

"Our committee already convened a hearing on this exact topic yesterday," said Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the, um, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform during the ninth hour of debate.

But about Lee. Aficionados of political sex scandals have been wondering whether he was shoved out the door too fast. We've certainly seen politicians survive scandals worse than trying to score a date while married. I am represented by a congressman who was censured by the House for misdeeds that included not paying his taxes while running the tax committee. I would be absolutely thrilled if the worst thing he'd done over the past few years was misrepresented his marital status on a BlackBerry.

However, it's one thing to be a would-be adulterer and another to be an incredibly stupid would-be adulterer. In his re-election campaign, Lee bragged about his work providing students with instruction on the hazards of having personal conversations on the Internet. Yet he was working under the assumption that the best way to conduct an extramarital social life is to pretend to be a different person online, while using one's real name and photograph.

Nobody wants to be represented by a person who has to be reminded of the existence of Google.

Lee comes from the suburbs of Buffalo, and this is the second time in a year that a congressman from upstate New York has had to resign because of a sex scandal. First there was Eric Massa, a Democrat who shared a townhouse with five young, low-paid male staffers and who, when questions arose about groping issues, produced the immortal explanation: "I tickled him until he couldn't breathe."

In between Massa and Lee, upstate New York produced the Republican candidate for governor, Carl Paladino, who spent much of the race apologizing for sending pornographic and racist e-mails, interspersed by explanations of why it took him years to tell his wife that he had fathered an out-of-wedlock daughter. His supporters are reported to be urging him to run for Lee's suddenly vacant seat.

Do you think somebody in upstate New York has disturbed the sacred cemetery of a clan of extremely cranky witch doctors? Honestly, when you've got high unemployment, terrible weather and a dwindling population, you should not be stuck with a rapidly revolving cast of horny politicians, too.

Finally, we should be pondering whether it's really such a great thing to have a new generation of legislators that puts a premium on being in good physical shape. Lee, who described himself as a "fit fun and classy guy," apparently couldn't wait to ship his potential hookup a deeply incriminating shot of his well-toned body.

These people are already dangerously self-satisfied. Maybe we were better off with paunchy, aging guys who had to acknowledge, in their deepest heart, that if they were getting any sexual action at all it was only because they were on the Appropriations Committee.






Republican state lawmakers, emboldened by their swollen ranks, have a message for minorities, women, immigrants and the poor: It's on!

In the first month of the new legislative season, they have introduced a dizzying number of measures on hot-button issues in statehouses around the country as part of what amounts to a full-throttle mission to repeal, restrict and repress.

It wasn't supposed to happen like this.

As Reuters pointed out this week, in the midterms, "Republicans gained nearly 700 state legislative seats and now have their largest numbers since the Great Depression, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures."

Judging by the lead-up to those elections, one could have easily concluded that the first order of business on Republicans' agendas would be a laserlike focus on job creation and deficit reductions to the exclusion of all else. Not the case.

As MSNBC and Telemundo reported recently, at least 15 state legislatures are considering Arizona-style immigration legislation. If passed, four of the five states with the largest Hispanic populations — California, Texas, Florida and Arizona — would also be the most inhospitable to them.

As Fox News Latino recently reported, state legislatures are poised to break the record on the number of immigration measures and resolutions introduced this year, having already introduced 600 by the end of last month. For comparison, 1,400 were introduced in total last year, according to a report issued last month by the state legislatures' group. A record number of those laws were enacted.

And, according to the State Legislators for Legal Immigration, which was founded by State Representative Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican of Pennsylvania, lawmakers from 40 state legislatures have joined the group that last month unveiled "model legislation to correct the monumental misapplication of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

On another note, Republicans in Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska and Oregon are pushing legislation that would require drug testing of welfare recipients.

This despite the fact that, as the American Civil Liberties Union rightly pointed out, the policy is "scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound." Other states have considered it but deemed it not feasible or impractical. In Michigan, the only state to implement it, only a tenth of those tested had positive results for drugs and only 3 percent had positive results for hard drugs, which the A.C.L.U. points out is "in line with the drug use rates of the general population."

Most importantly, the Michigan law was struck down as unconstitutional, with the judge ruling that the rationale for testing people on welfare "could be used for testing the parents of all children who received Medicaid, State Emergency Relief, educational grants or loans, public education or any other benefit from that state."

Despite all this, these states are pushing ahead because the made-for-the-movies image of a crack-addicted welfare queen squandering government money on her habit is the beef carpaccio of red meat for spending-weary, hungry conservatives.

On the gay rights front, Republicans in Iowa, Indiana, West Virginia and Wyoming (where Matthew Shepard was tortured to death) are pushing constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage.

Republican Rick Snuffer, a freshman delegate from Raleigh, W.Va., turned logic on its head when arguing for that state's amendment. He chided Democrats' pro-choice position, and reasoned that, "They don't want you to choose your definition of marriage, so they're not really pro-choice. If they're pro-choice, let the people choose their definition of marriage." So let me get this straight. To be pro-choice, one has to submit to the tyranny of the majority, which may seek to restrict the rights and choices of others?

This is exactly the kind of thinking that the shapers of the Constitution worried about. A quick read of the Federalist Papers would help Mr. Snuffer understand just how concerned they were about the danger posed by majority rule to personal freedom.

Republicans in New Hampshire have filed bills to overturn that state's same-sex marriage law, even though, according to a recent WMUR Granite State Poll, the state's residents want to leave the law in place by a majority of more than 2 to 1, and when asked which were the most important issues the State Legislature should address, "almost no one mentioned dealing with hot-button social issues such as gay marriage or abortion." I guess that "let the people choose" argument only works when the people agree with the Republican position.

A Republican state representative in Utah has even gone so far as to introduce a bill that would bar same-sex couples from drafting wills.

According to The News and Observer in North Carolina, Republicans are considering severely narrowing or repealing the state's recently enacted Racial Justice Act, which allows death-row inmates to use statistics to appeal their cases on the basis of racial discrimination.

Two studies of the death penalty in the state have found that someone who kills a white person is about three times as likely to be sentenced to death as someone who kills a minority.

And in Wisconsin, Republicans are pushing a bill that would repeal a 2009 law that requires police to record the race of people they pull over at traffic stops so the data could be used to study racial-profiling.

Furthermore, abortion rights advocates are now bracing for the worst. NARAL Pro Choice America is now tracking 133 proposed bills thus far this legislative season, and that's just the beginning. Donna Crane, the policy director of the group, said earlier this month that thanks to the gains by conservatives in the Nov. 2 election, "2011 will be a banner year for anti-choice legislation in the states."

Richard Gephardt once said, "Elections have consequences." He was right, and the consequences of the last election could well be a loss of liberty, choice, access and avenues of recourse for many. Brace yourselves. It's on!







As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn't help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it's on the ropes. We're in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.

While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn't really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.

So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasingly obscene tax breaks and other windfall benefits for the wealthiest, while the bought-and-paid-for politicians hack away at essential public services and the social safety net, saying we can't afford them. One state after another is reporting that it cannot pay its bills. Public employees across the country are walking the plank by the tens of thousands. Camden, N.J., a stricken city with a serious crime problem, laid off nearly half of its police force. Medicaid, the program that provides health benefits to the poor, is under savage assault from nearly all quarters.

The poor, who are suffering from an all-out depression, are never heard from. In terms of their clout, they might as well not exist. The Obama forces reportedly want to raise a billion dollars or more for the president's re-election bid. Politicians in search of that kind of cash won't be talking much about the wants and needs of the poor. They'll be genuflecting before the very rich.

In an Op-Ed article in The Times at the end of January, Senator John Kerry said that the Egyptian people "have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities." Americans are being asked to swallow exactly the opposite. In the mad rush to privatization over the past few decades, democracy itself was put up for sale, and the rich were the only ones who could afford it.

The corporate and financial elites threw astounding sums of money into campaign contributions and high-priced lobbyists and think tanks and media buys and anything else they could think of. They wined and dined powerful leaders of both parties. They flew them on private jets and wooed them with golf outings and lavish vacations and gave them high-paying jobs as lobbyists the moment they left the government. All that money was well spent. The investments paid off big time.

As Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson wrote in their book, "Winner-Take-All Politics": "Step by step and debate by debate, America's public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefited the few at the expense of the many."

As if the corporate stranglehold on American democracy were not tight enough, the Supreme Court strengthened it immeasurably with its Citizens United decision, which greatly enhanced the already overwhelming power of corporate money in politics. Ordinary Americans have no real access to the corridors of power, but you can bet your last Lotto ticket that your elected officials are listening when the corporate money speaks.

When the game is rigged in your favor, you win. So despite the worst economic downturn since the Depression, the big corporations are sitting on mountains of cash, the stock markets are up and all is well among the plutocrats. The endlessly egregious Koch brothers, David and Charles, are worth an estimated $35 billion. Yet they seem to feel as though society has treated them unfairly.

As Jane Mayer pointed out in her celebrated New Yorker article, "The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry — especially environmental regulation." (A good hard look at their air-pollution record would make you sick.)

It's a perversion of democracy, indeed, when individuals like the Kochs have so much clout while the many millions of ordinary Americans have so little. What the Kochs want is coming to pass. Extend the tax cuts for the rich? No problem. Cut services to the poor, the sick, the young and the disabled? Check. Can we get you anything else, gentlemen?

The Egyptians want to establish a viable democracy, and that's a long, hard road. Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away.

I had lunch with the historian Howard Zinn just a few weeks before he died in January 2010. He was chagrined about the state of affairs in the U.S. but not at all daunted. "If there is going to be change," he said, "real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves."

I thought of that as I watched the coverage of the ecstatic celebrations in the streets of Cairo.






San Anselmo, Calif.

I WANT to believe I have little in common with Julie Schenecker, who the police say confessed to killing her two "mouthy" teenagers.

Ms. Schenecker, who was indicted on charges of first-degree murder on Thursday, lives in Tampa, and is married to an Army colonel. I live near San Francisco, and am married to a newspaper editor.

She, blond and tanned, drove her children, Calyx, 16, and Beau, 13, to soccer and track meets. I'm brunette and sun-deprived, and drag two sons to violin lessons and Hebrew school.

We most likely never would have been pals, even on Facebook, where, poignantly, Ms. Schenecker has 394 "friends." And yet what haunts me even more than the terrible photos of her being led off by the police, her eyes rolled back like those of a spooked horse, is what we've shared: a frightening record of anger toward our children.

What strange evolutionary quirk makes adolescents evoke such powerful rage in their mothers? Alone, like Ms. Schenecker, night after night with my argumentative sons while my husband was working away from home, I've felt that fury rising from the soles of my feet, at the sight of a carefully made meal thoughtlessly dumped in the sink or, worse, a little brother scratched and bruised.

While my older son, who has both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, is something more than the usual adolescent provocateur, let me be clear that not even in my wildest dreams have I ever imagined shooting him. Still, pushed to my limits, I've done things that I know full well have been dangerous and harmful — mostly yelling, but also, during a few explosive fights, pushing and slapping. And abundant research on family violence shows that I'm far from alone.

Uniquely awful as the killings of the Schenecker children were, the all too familiar themes in this story make it urgent that the hectic debate about their mother moves off the pages of social network sites and into our places of worship, doctors' offices and city halls.

It chilled me to read that the police questioned Ms. Schenecker for slapping her daughter three months before the killings — behavior that I've unfortunately shared with millions of other American parents. In a 2007 study of 141 adolescents, published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, 85 percent reported that they'd been slapped or spanked. Moreover, the latest government records show that more than 121,000 cases of physical abuse against minors were reported in 2008.

Even as corporal punishment is declining in social acceptability, about 7 in 10 Americans agreed, in a 2004 survey, that children sometimes need "a good, hard spanking." This came despite mountains of studies establishing that such tactics do children much more harm than good, increasing the risk of anxiety, depression and addiction. Moreover, it's easy for spanking, slapping and swatting to escalate — sometimes even to the point of deadly violence.

My husband and I passionately oppose corporal punishment, which helps explain why my blunders alerted me that I needed help. I ended up devoting a year and thousands of dollars to getting such help, from therapists and honest friends.

I spent much of the year learning about A.D.H.D., a condition I soon realized that I shared with my then 12-year-old son. Among its classic symptoms are conflict-seeking and hot-headedness. Humbling as it was, I ultimately heeded friends and professionals who encouraged me to shed my fantasy of being the victim of a raging, impossible child, and own up to the ways I was contributing to our fights.

There were other therapies as well, including neurofeedback and medication for me and my son, financed in part by an ever-expanding equity loan. Today, while we still argue, we're out of the danger zone, though I can't stop worrying about how many other parents lack the rare advantages I've had to get us there.

The mad housewife is a reliable comic icon, her trials trivialized as boredom and cabin fever. It's hard for most people to accept that mothers — even maybe their own mothers! — can be unloving, and sometimes unsafe. Which helps explain why killings like those ascribed to Ms. Schenecker, among some 200 American mothers who kill their children every year, always seem so surprising.

It's easy to write these cases off as freak results of severe mental illness. But most of these women's stories also include a lot of ordinary stress and social isolation, the fallout from divorce and the dispersal of extended families. Increasingly cut off from real-time conversations, mad housewives find solace in e-communities, where "life" is so much more soothing and predictable than dealing with teenagers. While news reports say Ms. Schenecker was seeking help from real-life counselors in the weeks before the killings, her Facebook page, with its pretty family photographs and homilies, is a portrait of polished denial.

Amid the debate about whether social networks are depriving us of healthier, non-virtual encounters, a University of Texas study last fall claimed that Facebook was not supplanting such interactions. Perhaps that's true, but one thing I'm sure of, from my own lucky odyssey, is that all the poking and tagging in the world can't compete with a pair of real-time eyes when it comes to noticing that someone needs more help than she's getting.

Katherine Ellison is the author of "Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention."








It is understandable that many Egyptians celebrated Friday when the oppressive rule of President Hosni Mubarak came to an end with his decision to step down and hand over power to the military.


There had been weeks of mass protests against Mubarak -- protests that unfortunately involved violence. Mubarak tried a piecemeal approach to ceding power, handing some authority over to his vice president at one point even as he refused to step down formally. But in the end, the pressure was too much, and he gave up power altogether.


Mubarak was certainly not desirable as president. But it is an open question whether he will be succeeded by leadership that is committed to the personal, political and economic liberty of the Egyptian people, or whether radicals of one variety or another will move into the power vacuum and impose a new tyranny.


We have seen that pattern far too often around the world. In places such as Iran and Cuba, it was assumed that removing one regime would lead to the installation of a more benevolent one. But that was not the case, as Iran today is ruled by terrorist-backing radical Muslims, and Cuba remains an impoverished communist dictatorship.


Not surprisingly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the rapid changes in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries a sign that Israel is doomed. Ahmadinejad has previously declared that Israel should be wiped off the map.


Alarmingly, one of the most organized groups of protesters in Egypt has been the Muslim Brotherhood, which is closely linked to the terror group Hamas. The Brotherhood seeks to impose Islamic rule in Egypt. A cell of the Brotherhood assassinated Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, in part because Sadat had signed a peace treaty with Israel.


So what is going to happen in Egypt now? No one is certain, though people of good will are obviously hoping peace and freedom will prevail. But one thing is certain: The departure of one despot is no guarantee that another despot won't take his place.







We think of Abraham Lincoln today because this is the anniversary of his birth on Feb. 12, 1809. We remember Lincoln because he served as president in one of the most terrible times in the history of the United States -- the division of our nation, the horrible War Between the States -- and because of his assassination on April 14, 1865, just days after the war ended.


We have had some great presidents, and unfortunately some far short of the ideal, but Lincoln is widely considered to have been one of our greatest presidents.


Born in a log cabin in Kentucky, he moved to Illinois, grew up in backwoods, became a lawyer by reading law, ran for the Illinois Legislature -- and was defeated.


But persistent, he ran again two years later, won and served in the lower house of the Legislature from 1834 to 1842. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846. He attracted attention by opposing the Mexican-American War and slavery. But after the famed debates with Stephen A. Douglas, he lost his race for the United States Senate. Still, the Lincoln-Douglas debates gained him national recognition.


He was nominated for president by the Republican Party in 1860 on a platform calling for restricting slavery. When he won, Southern states began seceding from the Union. Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12, 1861 -- and the tragic War Between the States began.


Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring freedom Jan. 1, 1863, for slaves in the area in rebellion.


Lincoln was re-elected in 1864. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered April 9, 1865 -- but on April 14, Lincoln was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth in Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Lincoln died the next day.


What course might our nation have taken had Lincoln not been assassinated? We'll nev







The United States is suffering a period of economic crisis -- but we still are the greatest nation in history. As such, we should face our challenges with good judgment if we hope to maintain that greatness.


It is certainly not proof of good judgment, however, that our political leaders -- the president and many in Congress -- have afflicted the American people with the biggest budget deficit in U.S. history!


Our national debt is more than $14 trillion. But we are headed toward adding a record $1.5 trillion to it this year because of out-of-control federal spending. In January alone, the deficit grew by $50 billion! And this will be the third consecutive year that annual U.S. budget deficits have exceeded $1 trillion.


Throughout much of the economic crisis, unemployment has remained painfully high -- between 9 percent and 10 percent -- sharply reducing tax collections. If we as individuals find our income reduced, the sensible thing to do is reduce our spending -- and certainly reduce our unnecessary spending. That's what our federal officials should do, too, as the country faces reduced tax collections. But unfortunately, those in control of our federal government keep spending far too much.


There are, of course, many things that the federal government should and must do under the Constitution. National defense is the most obvious example. But Washington spends a great deal of money on many things that would be unwise even in times of great prosperity -- and surely are unwise in a time of distress. Those include everything from farm subsidies to ObamaCare.


President Barack Obama is scheduled to unveil his proposed 2012 budget Monday. Realistically, he cannot be expected to offer a balanced budget. But he also seems unlikely to propose major reductions in spending to even begin shrinking the huge deficits of recent years.


The ultimate responsibility for spending, whatever the president proposes, rests with Congress. It is hard to face financial responsibilities. But this is a time for members of Congress to rise to the challenge and reduce the red ink that is drowning our economy and adding to our crippling debt.







There can be fraud in any government program. But we noticed an especially troubling report by the Treasury Department's inspector general. It found tens of millions of dollars in improperly claimed tax credits for electric vehicles in 2010.


Prison inmates and IRS employees were among those who wrongly claimed credits, the report found. The credits -- some reaching an astonishing $7,500 -- are part of the president's attempt to promote electric cars.


The report said some people claimed a credit for vehicles such as the Cadillac Escalade and the Hummer H3 -- oh, and a golf cart!


Prisoners improperly got about $50,000 worth of the credits.


The IRS says it will try to recover the money. But isn't the likelihood of this kind of fraud a good reason why government should not be picking winners and losers in the economy by subsidizing this or that part of the auto industry -- or any industry?









Cyprus is back on Turkey's agenda again; this time, however, in a quite different way. The banner of the meeting held on Jan. 28 which tens of thousands of Turco-Cypriots attended was "Societal Existence"… What could that mean? It means "We don't want to be the 82nd province of Turkey, we want to exist as Cypriots otherwise we won't exist anymore!" This is the first protest held in Cyprus since 1974 that gathered so many people under such a banner. Starting with the government, everyone should pay attention to this development as the second mass demonstration is announced for Wednesday, March 2.

Turco-Cypriots are complaining about becoming increasingly foreigners in their own land. This is not a kind of feeling that can be simply read as ingratitude toward Turkey, nor can it be answered by arrogance of a colonialist sort. Because if no precautionary measures are taken, the disturbance might turn into hot encounters between islanders and mainlanders. 

Dead end

In Turkey, expertise on Cyprus falls under the Foreign Ministry's monopoly and therefore it is shaped by the state interest and "vision." Since the declaration of independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983, the expertise is translated into practice. The tutelage of Turkish state institutions over northern Cyprus is perhaps unprecedented even in Turkey.

This state of affairs has dragged the government into a dead end. Years ago, on Jan. 24, 2004, Prime Minister Erdoğan broke up the 30-year-old state practice and took a very courageous step concerning the Cyprus question. This step, however, was too late coming after the rejection of the first Annan Plan by Turkey in 2003, opening the way for the Republic of Cyprus to become an EU member state without being reunited with the north. As a consequence Greco-Cypriots rejected the Annan Plan in the 2004 referendum whereby the Erdoğan initiative became totally idle. As of then, some EU member states that are against Turkey's membership have become voluntary allies of southern Cyprus. Overall the EU watched helplessly as Greek Cyprus exploiting membership rights against Turkey and northern Cyprus in all circumstances. Ankara has chosen to deal with such a dilemma by shying away from the EU accession talks and Cyprus reunification talks. In terms of northern Cyprus, it was just such a policy that laid the groundwork for today's social explosion.

Adding fuel to the flame

Reactions of the prime minister and top officials of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to the Jan. 28 protest were not logical. Firstly, the prime minister refrained from giving the same blessing he gave to Egyptians to Turco-Cypriots. Quite to the contrary his insulting and threatening style of communication has potential to make things worse. Today even the most devoted AKP supporters on the island are angry and feel offended.

Secondly, the military, strategic and nationalistic emphasis of the prime minister makes everything more problematic. When he disdains the Cyprus flag shown at the meeting he forgets that the same flag is engraved in Greek Cypriot passports that are held by almost every Turco-Cypriot. Besides it was designed by a Turco-Cypriot at the time!

There is not a single expert emphasizing the so-called strategic significance of the island for Turkey.

The Greek dominion over the Republic of Cyprus was probably heard for the first time ever by Greece and the rest of the world.

The martyrdom rhetoric is far from useful for settling the burning issues of northern Cyprus today.

Thirdly is the lack of information and more importantly misinterpretation of the underlying economic problem. For days, data has been published about the amount of credit, subsidies and donations Turkey gives to northern Cyprus, and on defense expenditures. First of all, no matter how high the credit or donations are, Turkey is paying the price for the isolation of northern Cyprus. And as long as the status quo continues, it will continue to do so. In the other hand, money given to northern Cyprus is also being spent for Turks who were moved from Anatolia to northern Cyprus and whose population has now overtaken the Turco-Cypriots. In other words, Turkey is taking care of Turks who were sent by the mainland to Cyprus! In this sense, let me remind you that no census has been carried out in northern Cyprus for decades, for obvious reasons.

It is important to know that Turkey is approaching the end of the road in northern Cyprus. The removal of Turkish Ambassador Kaya Türkmen last Thursday and his replacement by a non-diplomat in charge of the austerity plan marks a turning point and a milestone on the road to de jure annexation. It shows the Turkish intent to not even pretend to consider northern Cyprus as an independent country and calls a spade a spade, or a protectorate a protectorate.







It is too bad that Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's iron-handed dictator, refused to step down, despite the demands of millions. Yet still some form of "transition" to democracy has begun in that pivotal Arab country. My prayers go for the future of that change and its heroic leaders.

A less heroic yet quite powerful actor which allowed this change to begin, even in its limited extent, has been the Egyptian military, which refused to turn its guns against its own people. Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the defense minister, expressed this stance in clear terms, as Roger Cohen reported in the New York Times. "The army exists to defend the nation," the man said, "not a regime."

Nation or regime?

As I have written before, it is crucial that the Egyptian army leads the nation to free and fair elections and not establish a dictatorship of its own. That doomed option must be monitored closely and opposed forcefully. Yet it is still a refreshing thing to hear about a military which protects "the nation ... not a regime."

I am saying this especially as a Turk, for our own military has repeated a zillion times that its foremost goal is to protect "the Republic" and its principles laid out by "the Supreme Leader," Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. We also know well that the Turkish military long considered certain segments of the nation — such as conservative Muslims, Kurds or liberals — as enemies within. Instead of reforming the regime to comply with the aspirations of such social groups, our generals rather preferred to intimidate those groups and force them to surrender to their authoritarian "red lines."

Things have been changing, though. Since the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power in 2002, there has been an erratic yet still gradual decline in the military's grip on political power. And while this "de-militarization" process made the conservative Muslims, Kurds and the liberals happy, it made others quite disillusioned.

Last week, Süheyl Batum of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, expressed this disillusionment in a somewhat scandalous fashion. At a talk at a local branch of the Kemalist Thought Association, he said: "It turns out [the military] was a paper tiger, and we thought it was an army. Turns out, the U.S. simply carved a hole in it. They were able to fell that gigantic tree within seconds."

In other words, the military failed to do its rightful job (stage a coup against the AKP), because the United States did not allow that happen.

Seriously, that is what most secularists in Turkey believe. I would beg to differ a bit by redefining what they call "the United States" as "globalization" — something that they don't understand much. But I do admit that they are basically right: The Turkish military failed to do what orthodox Kemalism dictates to it: overthrowing a non-Kemalist government. 

There is another thing that Dr. Batum said, and it was interesting as well. He argued that while "America" was able to tame the Turkish military, the same operation did not work on his party. The CHP, he proudly concluded, stands heroically in defense of the Kemalist regime.

And this was nothing but a confirmation of what I have been saying all along: The Turkish military and the CHP stand basically for the same thing. In fact, we can roughly classify them as the "armed wing" and the "political wing" of the Kemalist ideology. No wonder there is more need for the political wing at times when the armed wing retreats. (Hence the CHP's recent efforts to branch out and gain more votes.)

A people's army

Looking at all this, we can say that Turkey, a bit like Egypt, is still in a "transformation" period. It has been absolutely helpful that the military turned into a "paper tiger" rather than a roaring one — roaring against its own people. But this is not enough.

The military also needs to be totally de-ideologized. In other words, it should not uphold the Kemalist ideology, and represent the Kemalist class, but reflect the diversity of the nation. We should be able to see generals who proudly speak Kurdish, or who go to the mosque regularly, or who are a laissez-faire liberal or an Armenian or a Jewish citizen. That is what I would call "an army of the nation."

As for Batum, we should perhaps be thankful for him for being so bold and explanatory. I also think he should never, ever, be put on trial for "insulting the military," as Prime Minister Erdoğan wrongly, and unbelievably, called for. What Batum said was certainly a reflection of a non-democratic mindset. But it cannot be a crime.

If it is, then I should be put on trial as well. For I, too, could join Batum in defining the current Turkish military as a "paper tiger" — when it comes to its stance vis-a-vis its own nation. But unlike Batum, I would regard this as very, very good news.







"The people of South Sudan, for the first time since 1898, are going to determine their own future," declared Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin, southern Sudan's information minister, before last month's referendum on the region's independence. "In fact, it will be the last-born state on this continent of Africa." If he meant that no more African countries will split up, however, he was probably wrong.

The referendum was a resounding success from the southern point of view. It's natural to be suspicious of referendums that produce "yes" votes of almost 99 percent, but in this case it was a genuine expression of southern opinion. The new state will become independent on July 9, and so far it looks like the erstwhile government of undivided Sudan, based in Khartoum, will accept the outcome peacefully.

Early last month, speaking in the southern capital Juba, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said: "I personally will be sad if Sudan splits. But at the same time I will be happy if we have peace in Sudan between the two sides." After decades of war between the Muslim, Arabic-speaking north and the very different south, where most people speak local languages and are Christian, division makes sense. But it also creates a precedent.

That font of wisdom on geopolitical affairs, Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, warned a meeting of African and Arab leaders last October that southern Sudan's independence would spread like a "disease … to all of Africa ... With this precedent, investors will be frightened of investing in Africa." But the African Union has blessed the split, while emphasizing that this is a special situation and very much an exception.

It is a very special situation. About 2 million people have been killed in Sudan's 43 years of civil war, the great majority of them southerners. As a result of the endless fighting, southern Sudan is one of the least developed regions in the world: the same size as France, it only has 60 kilometers of paved road. The southerners deserve their independence – but the implications are vast.

The old Organization of African Unity, the African Union's predecessor, had a rule that no border inherited from the colonial era could be changed. To allow frontiers to change in order to regroup people according to their ethnic, linguistic or religious identities would just open the door to endless war. For a long time, it didn't happen.

The first partial break from the policy was the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993, after many years of civil war, but that exception was explained on the grounds that Eritrea had been ruled as a separate country by the Italians. This time, however, is different.

The African Union cannot justify the division of Sudan on the grounds that the south was separate under British colonial rule; it wasn't. This is just a pragmatic decision to divide a country because the cost in blood and treasure of keeping it united has grown too high.

If it's okay to split up Sudan, what's to stop other secessionist groups from launching wars of independence, knowing that if enough people are killed they will probably get their way in the end? How about Nigeria? The oil-rich southeastern region Biafra has tried that once already. The Congo? There was once a vicious war, backed by Western mining interests, for the independence of the province of Katanga.

The rot has already spread beyond Africa. The decision in 2008 by the NATO countries and some others to recognize the independence of Kosovo, which was still legally a province of Serbia, created a similar precedent in Europe. In fact, it is an even more sweeping precedent, because the Serbian government, unlike the Sudanese, did not assent to the separation.

If Kosovo's independence can be recognized without Serbia's agreement, why can't Turkish-majority northern Cyprus become legally independent without the permission of the Greek Cypriot-dominated government in Nicosia? Why can't the breakaway bits of Georgia be recognized as independent states? Why can't there be an independent Kurdish state?

Why not hold the long-promised, long-denied plebiscite in divided Kashmir, and let the local people decide, district by district, whether they want to be part of Pakistan, or part of India, or independent? Why can't the western half of New Guinea separate peacefully from Indonesia? For that matter, why can't Tibet and Xinjiang hold referendums on independence from China?

Good questions. Most of these situations have involved bloodshed in the past, and much of it continues in the present. The sum of human happiness would probably be increased if these ethnically distinct areas got to choose their own futures, and it is not necessarily true that changing the borders would be a bloodier business than keeping them frozen in place.

Conflict is still possible between Sudan and South Sudan, especially over the sharing of the oil revenue. Most of the oil is in the south, but the pipelines take it out through the north. So far, however, both sides are behaving in a very grown-up way, and together they are an advertisement for the virtues of letting borders change.






Risk management is an important component of business cultures. It can be based on rules and regulations where companies are aware of risk premiums and willing to pay additional charges. But then there are the emerging markets, where people rely on their instincts and relations for managing their risks. They might not be aware that they have to pay, and in some cases are unable to pay, additional charges to cover their risks.

For Turkey, the picture is as follows: Small companies usually do not keep regular financial tables and are therefore exposed to the risk of running short on cash. If you are a supplier, it is quite important to set up an early warning system and hit the breaks with shipments when necessary. You don't want to put them in trouble by pushing products on them and increasing their inventories to a risky level. This is called "cruising for a bruising."

Small companies usually use an outside accountant to track their financial records and for advice on bureaucratic obligations such as social security and taxes. These companies tend to take a partial risk with some employees, especially with new ones, and ignore paying social security premiums.

Also, small companies tend to manage all their receivables by themselves through their relationships. Paying late and by installments is a common procedure and therefore they expose themselves only to people whom they know and try to give cash-payment discounts to those they do not feel comfortable with.

In terms of currency, small companies usually buy and sell in Turkish Liras and therefore are not exposed to currency risks other than in their own investments, though this can also be dangerous from time to time for their size of business. If you do business with small establishments and sell to them in hard currency, you should be aware that they, and in return you, are exposed to a high devaluation risk, which is not rare in Turkey. The best way to avoid this and protect your market share is to set up a hedging mechanism and invoice in liras. 

Medium-level companies see increased risk in regard to paying social security premiums because the penalty for their size of business is much more damaging. They keep financial records themselves as they can afford to employ accountants and even finance staff to manage their cash. Despite the presence of these staff though, the power of such employees conveying financial messages to the top management is limited.

Managing accounts receivable is still usually done through the combination of open accounts and post-dated checks based on the degree of relations. Other than special cases or large amounts, bank guarantees are seldom required. A post-dated check is a local dynamic and important to understand. Post-dated checks are signed for later dates such as six months to a year later and are given as guarantees when placing orders. Under the law, you could bring one to a bank and cash it the next day, but if did that then no one would ever do business with you again. It is an unwritten code of conduct. People also give open-dated checks as guarantee, but the same "gentleman's" rule applies.

The lack of a strong factoring industry and high premiums due to local market conditions are the reasons that such mediums developed. The biggest risk these companies run is again in currency if they are importers or operate with foreign currency credit lines. Usually they do not limit their risk by employing forwards and other financial instruments to cover their currency risk.

Large companies are not any different than their counterparts in mature markets. The impact of third-party relations is minimal and everything is based on international dynamics. CFOs are well-respected and powerful parts of their organizations. They manage all the financial risks through MIS. CFOs of such companies are aware and utilize financial instruments to cover their organization's risk.

If you are only managing your own risk in countries like Turkey, it will not keep you immune from crisis. You have to monitor the capacity levels of your business partners and make sure they are also covered for certain risks through mechanisms like "direct debiting." If you operate like this, a crisis can provide you great opportunities to increase your market share. The lack of affordable, protective systems in the market makes you a family for the good days and the bad ones.

* Zafer Parlar is the founder of istventures (, which supports international companies in their market entries and development in Turkey, as well as Turkish companies in their local operations and international expansion plans.






Here's something from Egypt to cheer you up at last. President Hosni Mubarak's speechwriter enters his office in a tearing hurry with a piece of paper in his hand. "Here you go, Mr President! Your final address to the nation." 

"What happened?" asks a stunned Mubarak. "Are all Egyptians leaving the country?" 

The Egyptians are known throughout the Arab world for their zany, irrepressible sense of humor. So I am sure this, posted on a website frequented by fellow travelers of the Diaspora, must have originated in the land of pyramids and pharaohs. But seriously speaking, how ludicrously blase and brazen can one get? 

Nearly 85 million people have been out there on the streets for over two weeks now, cursing and shouting at the top of their voice asking you to leave, take a hike or just "go to hell," as many of those placards demand. Nothing seems to work on the Teflon-tough satraps of the empire though. The crescendo rising from the streets of Egypt is piercing the skies and has, as Noam Chomsky warns, set the Arab world on fire. 

When will you see that enough really is enough? What will it take for the relics of the empire to realize that they are long past their sell-by date? When do you see the unmistakable writing on the wall that you've outstayed your welcome? After enjoying 30 summers of absolute power and at the age of 82, maybe it's time to take that flight to Sharm el Sheikh, or to Los Angeles, perhaps where enough real estate has been acquired to accommodate the whole of Hollywood? 

But clearly for some, time stands still forever in the black hole that is the post-imperial Middle East. Like the proverbial ostrich, they stick their heads in the sand and persuade themselves the world around them hasn't moved a jot. 

History is littered with tyrants who insisted, convincing even themselves that "Apres moi, le deluge!" ("After me, the deluge!") No wonder our own version of "dear leader" warns the friends in the West that he's "fed up" of staying in power. However, the great patriot that he is, he must stick around for if he leaves now Egypt will be plunged into chaos and those nuts from the Muslim Brotherhood will take over. The sacrifices our leaders have to make in the national interest! 

But if the Egyptian regime believes such shenanigans will help it hold onto power for a few more months and years, it's in for a rude surprise. Nothing and no one can preempt or prevent the imminent now. The die has been cast. Whatever happens now, Egypt and the Middle East will never be the same again. 

After many years of repression, the people of Egypt have thrown out the yoke, the albatross around their neck. They have crossed the Rubicon and nothing can now persuade them to go back. The persistent "Go, Mubarak, go!" chants rising from the Tahrir Square are also driven by the fact that the protesters know that if they leave before Mubarak leaves, an unthinkable retribution awaits them and their country. 

This genuinely democratic, watershed change is almost impossible to derail now, no matter what the scheming Israelis and their nervous patrons think. 

What makes this movement that has captured the world's imagination truly historic is the fact that it has rediscovered and revived the confidence and unleashed the fighting spirit of the long demoralized and dormant Arabs. 

As an Arab writer wrote last week, the Arabs haven't witnessed any significant victory or memorable achievement since the glorious victory of Salahuddin Ayuubi (Saladin the Great), the conqueror of Jerusalem, 800 years ago over the Crusaders. The legacy of the great warrior king lives on in the proud falcon that is the insignia of Egyptian army, and that of numerous Arab countries. 

Those marching on the streets of Egypt and elsewhere in the region give hope and a sense of purpose and direction to the faceless, long-repressed multitudes across the Arab-Muslim world and beyond! 

Suddenly, it's cool to be an Arab, easily the most vilified, dehumanized and demonized character in Western popular culture. Those young people – and old – standing their ground at the Tahrir Square day after day with a simple yet defiant finality make you proud. (Who says democracy and Islam can't be the best of pals?!) 

The Tahrir Square has elbowed out the Tiananmen Square and will remain seared in popular imagination for years to come, long after Mubarak is gone. No wonder people around the world, from Americas to Australia, are increasingly standing up to make common cause with the people of Egypt. 

In his much quoted 2009 Cairo speech, and before that in the profound Inaugural address, President Barack Obama had reached out to the Arabs and Muslims, seeking a "new way forward." 

And people of the Middle East have given him just that: a new way forward! Yet all you've heard from Washington – and from other Western capitals – over the past two weeks is either deafening silence or diplomatic gobbledygook that means nothing. As usual, the best emanates from Israel. Netanyahu warns: "When there are rapid changes, as it happened in Iran, an oppressive regime of radical Islam will rise. Such a regime will crush human rights and will not allow democracy or freedom, and will constitute a threat to peace." 

Now we need lessons in democracy, freedom and human rights from those who have stolen someone else's land imprisoning its population! Hillary Clinton seconds Netanyahu, arguing, "Revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy, only to see the process hijacked by new autocrats." 

What's the West really afraid of? What's it about Islam that so terrifies the champions of democracy and freedom of faith? But it's not Islam, as Chomsky argues, but independence of the Middle East that worries the West. 

In a fine dispatch this week from Cairo titled, "Tehran 1979 or Berlin1989?", Roger Cohen pleads with the U.S. and Israel to not handle Egypt the way they dealt with Iran after the revolution. He plumps for a more "nuanced approach" that helped the West bring down the so-called evil empire and regimes across eastern Europe. So what's it going to be? Tehran 1979 or Berlin 1989? Whichever way Washington and London go, it's not going to be the Egyptians' way. Gone is the time of the empire ruling by proxy. It's time for the people of Egypt – and the Middle East – to chart their own future without the expert advice or promptings of the empire. Call it Islamic resurgence, Arab revival or whatever, but a giant has awakened after long centuries of slumber. Change is in the air. 

*Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf-based commentator who has written extensively on the Middle East. He can be reached at








If there is a single linking element to the many corruption cases before the courts today, it is the 'digital fingerprint'. Some criminals wear gloves in order not to leave fingerprints at the scene of their crime, but disguising the digital fingerprint is not so easy. When the FIA went to the house of former Religious Affairs Minister, Hamid Saeed Kazmi, they already knew the answers to a number of questions which they might have for him. Kazmi is now the subject of a non-bailable arrest warrant issued on Thursday by senior Civil Judge, Muhammad Aslam Gondal; after evidence was presented by the FIA indicative of wrongdoing by Kazmi. The former minister was not at home, and had reportedly fled for reasons best known to himself. What had led the investigators to his door were the records of cellular phone companies that had logged his calls to Ahmed Faiz, allegedly his 'front man' in Saudi Arabia. Alongside this, was evidence from banks regarding accounts held by Kazmi. Money is very rarely physically moved these days, it is moved electronically and it leaves a set of fingerprints behind it as it moves through the internet. If Kazmi has moved any money in connection with the alleged Haj scam, then there will be digital evidence of it that is virtually impossible to hide. When questioned by the FIA, Kazmi had been unable to explain the origins of some of the money in his accounts.

Also caught in the eye of the superior judiciary is Abdul Qadir Gilani, the son of the prime minister. The Supreme Court has developed an interest in his wealth as well, and wishes to know where the money came from that financed a bullet-proof vehicle from one of the Gulf states, and even more intriguingly, just how much tax has he paid in recent years? Tax records are another of those fingerprints that are hard to erase, especially when you have a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption but are filing records that suggest that your income is below what you appear to be spending. All of this is what is known elsewhere in the world as 'white collar crime' – crime committed by people outside the normal criminal spectrum, often otherwise upstanding members of the community and therefore believing themselves above both suspicion and, ultimately, the law. Forensic accountancy is a growing job market here, and the digital sleuths are getting better by the day at tracking their prey. Hiding was never more difficult, and denial never more pointless.







The new smaller cabinet sworn in on Friday has come up to national expectations by proving exactly what it was apprehended to be: a meaningless exercise. The good news is that it is much smaller but that is about it. That its genesis lies in the presidency is also all too clear.

The biggest high-profile casualties are Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira. Part of the opposition's demand that corrupt ministers should be sacked appears to have been accepted with the ouster of Water and Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf but at the same time others with a tainted reputation have been retained in a continued show of arrogance.

The foreign minister appears to have become the first top-level casualty of the Raymond Davis case as he was reportedly resisting US demands to declare Mr Davis a diplomat with full immunity, retrospectively. There were reports that Qureshi was offered another portfolio but he declined.

The welcome induction in the cabinet is Senator Raza Rabbani, who has been the prime driving force behind the constitutional amendments in recent months and enjoys a cleaner reputation.

The finance minister has not been touched and the policy of seeking IMF approval will thus be pursued despite the serious setbacks on the RGST in recent months.

Information Minister Kaira seems to be a silent casualty as he was probably not offensive and virulent enough in attacks on the independent media including the Jang Group.

Moderation and balance have probably given way to a direct assault and proactive, pre-emptive media policy directed by the presidency.

It was interesting to note that the portfolio of the new Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan was announced by the spokesman of the presidency and not the PM House, as it should have been. The president's personal musketeers, Rehman Malik, Babar Awan, Naveed Qamar and Syed Khurshid Shah have been retained in the shrunken cabinet clearly signalling that President Zardari's control over national affairs will become even more suffocating. PM Gilani has been left with little clout in the cabinet and his primary role has apparently been reduced to that of political firefighting and damage control, a role he has so far played admirably to the benefit of the president.

Over all the cabinet offers little hope of any meaningful change in the performance and quality of governance, which have been the bane of the Zardari-Gilani regime.

On the contrary, bigger fissures and growing discontent within the PPP and coalition ranks have now been confirmed. Major allies — the MQM and the JUI-F — have stayed away despite attempts by the president.

The change shows no signs that things will improve. Hopes that the prime minister may have become more powerful with the 18th Amendment have proved false, at least for the remaining part of the PPP tenure.








India's rulers have found a new vocation – maligning environmentalists and questioning the very idea of regulating industry for pollution. Thus, faced with criticism of Lavasa, an artificial gated city of the super-rich near Pune, in which his family has invested crores, Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, lashed out at well-known activist Medha Patkar and other "vested interests" for obstructing this "pioneering" project.

Lavasa's promoters built the project without seeking environmental clearance – mandatory for construction at altitudes above 1,000 metres. In the process, virgin rainforests were destroyed, hills flattened, rivers and streams diverted, and non-transferable Adivasi (tribal) land grabbed.

The promoters should be criminally prosecuted under the Forest Act, Environmental Protection Act and laws protecting Adivasis against land-grabbers, and ordered to undo the environmental damage to the maximum extent possible. Instead, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) imposed a laughably low penalty on them.

The normally cautious Reserve Bank of India too blames India's environmental regulations. It says they caused a 36 per cent decline in foreign direct investment in April-September 2010 over the same period in 2009.

In the same vein, Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, recently warned against creating an environmental "licence-permit raj" through excessive regulation. So loaded is this term in India that it pre-empts reasoning.

The FDI decrease has only a tenuous correlation with environmental regulation. It's better explained by a downturn in the Indian stock market, core-sector industries' poor performance, and changes in international capital flows.

In reality, the MoEF has been overly generous in granting environmental approval. This process involves preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a public hearing, and review by expert committees housed within the MoEF.


EIAs are flawed "almost without exception", according to Madhav Gadgil, India's best-known Ecologist. I know this from my experience as a member of the MoEF's Expert Committee on River Valley Projects in the 1990s. Most EIAs are hurriedly approved under promoter pressure.

In the past 18 months, almost four proposals were approved every working day! This shows slipshod scrutiny. Of the 769 projects proposed between August 2009 and July 2010, only six were rejected.


Some "conditions" are added to the clearances to save face. But compliance with them isn't monitored. MoEF Minister Jairam Ramesh admits: in the past decade, "we must have approved about 7,000 projects ..., each [with] conditions .... But unfortunately, we do not have a system of monitoring compliance ...."

Most "conditions" don't address the approved project's basic flaws. For instance, asking Nuclear Power Corporation to study biodiversity around the Jaitapur nuclear station site won't prevent biodiversity loss. "Conditions" won't remedy nuclear power's inherent hazards, including radiation releases, potential for catastrophic accidents, or dangerous long-acting wastes.

Ramesh has been on a project clearance spree: Navi Mumbai airport, Lavasa, mining in forests in Orissa and Jharkhand, and a ropeway in a Gujarat sanctuary, the only place in the world where the Asiatic lion survives.

Now comes South Korean-origin Posco's giant 12-million-tonnes-a-year steel mill, with a power plant, and a new port in Orissa.

This project will directly uproot 22,000 people. It will destroy 3,096 acres of forest, a prosperous agrarian economy, fish-breeding grounds, and the habitat of endangered turtle species. It will fell 2.8 lakh trees, and make the coast more vulnerable to cyclones.

The MoEF granted Posco three clearances (environmental, forest and coastal regulatory zone-related) by rejecting the recommendations of its own committees and going against its own past orders.

Two committees were established under former civil servants NC Saxena and Meena Gupta to investigate compliance with the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) 2006 Act (FRA), and on Posco-specific issues. Their reports were examined by the MoEF's statutory Forest Advisory Committee. All three recommended that the project be refused environmental clearance.

The MoEF was even more obnoxiously wrong on forest clearance. The FRA is one of India's best recent laws, which transfers forest land titles to Adivasis and others who have lived there for 75 years, are dependent on forests/forest land, and were in occupation of the land before December 2005.

The FRA gives gram sabhas (village assemblies) veto power over diversion of forest land. The Saxena and Gupta committees conclusively state that the FRA has not been implemented in the project area, and the Orissa government has failed to furnish certificates from gram sabhas stating that they have consented to forest land diversion.

One of the MoEF's 60 "conditions" for clearance is that the Orissa government should offer a "categorical assurance" that none in the area is eligible under the FRA. But the state government has no role in this-the FRA stipulates a three – step process, at the village, tehsil and district levels.

The Orissa government has openly lobbied for Posco and started taking land for it last July in contravention of the MoEF's orders. The Gupta committee called its conduct "criminal" and recommended that clearance must be refused on this ground too. The committee also explicitly warned against clearances with "conditions" which

bviate "hard decisions on crucial issues".

The MoEF thus became complicit in the state government's plan to obliterate the existence of 22,000 flesh-and-blood people in the project area. It also legitimised a bad, illegal EIA public hearing, which was vitiated by intimidatory police deployment and held far away from the affected villages.

The Coastal Regulatory Zone-related clearance is equally farcical. Large segments of the project fall under CRZ-III, where industrial activities are prohibited. The new port will damage the coastal ecology and endanger an already cyclone-prone region.

Here too, the MoEF overruled the Gupta committee. The "conditions" it imposed are pure "greenwash". This subverts the Indian state's authority and its obligation to protect vulnerable people and the environment.

The Posco project will impose a heavy burden on the exchequer through tax concessions because its plant and port are located in a Special Economic Zone. Posco has been allowed to extract 600 million tonnes of the best-quality iron ore available in India.

This alone will give Posco annual super-profits of Rs 6,500 crores for 30 years. It will recover its entire investment of $12 billion in the first eight years alone.

The project area has a flourishing agrarian economy. People earn as much as Rs 40,000 per one-hundredth of an acre through betel-leaf cultivation. The government has offered a one-time compensation of Rs 11,500 for this land. The project will create only 7,000 jobs directly, most of which won't go to the local people because they lack industrial skills.

The people understand this and have waged a resolute and peaceful struggle against Posco for five years. The government has repressed it by brutal methods, including slapping trumped-up charges against Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti activists, attacking them with goons in November 2007, and opening fire upon them in May 2010, injuring more than 200. PPSS leader Abhay Sahu has 44 cases against him.

Posco was cleared because it is India's largest FDI project and the South Korean government lobbied for it. Such things usually happen only in Banana Republics, which put "investor confidence" above protecting livelihoods and the environment.

India will pay a high price for subverting its own laws and undermining the public interest, including loss of global stature.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email:









Prime Minister David Cameron's speech at the Munich Security Summit outlined British counterterrorism policy, mainly targeting the Muslim community. While acknowledging that terrorism is not linked to any one religion or ethnic group, nor were Islamist extremism and Islam the same, he said the threat to Europe overwhelmingly comes from young men following a warped interpretation of Islam ready to blow up themselves and their fellow citizens. His remedy called for a stronger UK national identity; adoption of British values by the Muslim community; opposition to segregated societies with non-British values, decrying the doctrine of state multiculturalism; and replacement of the tolerance of recent years by a more active, muscular liberalism.

This policy speech has evoked controversy in the UK, not least within the Labour Party whose 15 years' policy of multiculturalism has been shelved, with the Muslim community fearing it will be increasingly singled out with anti-immigrant parties regaining strength. The space for Muslims in the West has been shrinking since 9/11. They are reminded of how in wartime America American citizens of Japanese origin were interned.

As all Muslim countries have a great stake in their diasporas in the West, how they are dealt with in Britain requires careful observation.

Is this a new departure? In terms of state policy, much of it was vintage Blair, who began distancing himself from multiculturalism after the 7/7 bombings in London. It is a continuation of the Counterterrorism Strategy, CONTEST, based on Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare and, its most important strand, Prevent, which seeks to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism in the UK and overseas. Assimilation and integration of the Muslim community have been key counterterrorism objectives.

Why has this not happened? Is CONTEST proceeding properly? Have the causes of extremism and terrorism been correctly identified? What should be done by the Muslim community itself, by the British government and by the Muslim countries to protect their minorities abroad?

CONTEST has been criticised in the Muslim community in Britain and by Muslim governments in their bilateral interactions for being directed exclusively at Muslims. While the origin of the diaspora in Britain, consisting mainly of the labour force, is different from that of the primarily professional emigration to America, it was not as well assimilated – until 9/11, at least – as in the melting pot of the USA, although perhaps better than in Europe.

Undoubtedly, the Muslim community itself missed many opportunities, often tied to traditions that have changed even in their countries of origin, let alone in the UK. Educational and employment levels are low. The generation gap is broad. Society is split at social levels with no common platform. The recently set up UK Pakistan Foundation inaugurated by the two countries' foreign ministers in London in October is a small but useful step to redress this situation.

Should cultural diversity be condemned for allegedly causing these deprivation and alienation levels? In America each wave of immigration from the Old World, Italian, Irish, Russian, Chinese and Latin, idealised its unique identity, with even the Mafia, which still controls crime, being romanticised.

If most of the mainly South Asian Muslim community is economically and socially deprived and lives in virtual ghettos, it is less its fault than that of local housing policies and patterns of government spending. State schools in the posh West End are far better equipped and staffed than those in the East End. Of the objectives of CONTEST and Prevent, one is too limited, determined to de-radicalise; while the other is too ambitious, aiming for a Muslim religious and social reformation through local Imams, community leaders and activist NGOs.

Real reformation however is internal. It rests on raising educational and employment opportunities, enabling sustainable assimilation and integration and preserving dignity. The British government should carry out an affirmative action plan on the model of post-civil rights America. As noted, the community must do its part.

On the root causes of terrorism, Prime Minister Cameron admitted the importance of foreign-policy issues such as poverty and sources of tension, including Palestine. But he insisted that terrorism would persist even after their resolution, its roots lying in the existence of extremist ideology. Is this borne out empirically in the UK? Until the 1990s, terrorism had an Irish face. It was only when the UK joined the War on Terror, with its military-centric approach in Afghanistan and Iraq, that these extremist and terrorist trends appeared in the UK.

All terrorism must be condemned and combated, but its causes must be acknowledged and addressed. It is difficult to tell Muslims abroad to adhere to British or Western values when Muslim countries are occupied and when such occupation is increasingly opposed by non-Muslims in the very countries contributing troops on Muslim soil.

Muslim countries, including Pakistan, have always advised their diasporas to be loyal and law-abiding citizens. These countries have individually and collectively been unable to provide an economic or strategic counterpoise to protect them. They should nonetheless actively engage bilaterally with Western countries, through the OIC and in the UN Human Rights Council, to safeguard the human rights and equitable treatment of their communities abroad. Our communities abroad are entitled to nothing less.

Tariq Osman Hyder, a retired Pakistani diplomat who is a former ambassador, is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the National Defence University, Islamabad








The World Bank report 'Tackling Non-communicable Diseases in South Asia' made headlines in Pakistan, yesterday. This is an important subject and its significance should be appreciated by policymakers. The report highlights the magnitude of burden attributable to a set of diseases, widely prevalent throughout all countries of South Asia – diseases which are linked by common risk factors and are largely preventable through cost-effective interventions, but which have remained outside of traditional public health planning.

It is now well established that certain heart diseases, strokes, diabetes, certain types of cancer and chronic lung conditions are the biggest global killers. In Pakistan, they are the leading preventable cause of death, disease and disability in the adult population. These diseases have enormous social and economic costs with a serious negative impact on human and economic development. They impede progress toward the UN Millennium Development Goals, particularly poverty reduction, and lead families into the medical-poverty trap.

Yet, the prevention and control of Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) lies outside of mainstream public health planning in Pakistan. It is neither part of the development agenda nor poverty reduction strategy plans. Lack of attention to NCDs is the greatest paradox in public health. Now that this issue is finally receiving global attention, it is important that commensurate action be stepped up to address this challenge.

The NCDs issue can also be used as a lens to examine broader governance challenges related to the use of evidence in policy and planning in the country. Data from the Pakistan Demographic Surveys (PDS) is a case in point. The PDS is a sample surveillance system which measures vital events (births, deaths) annually and is conducted by the Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS), Government of Pakistan. Surveys have been conducted sequentially since 1992 and results have consistently shown that NCDs are the major killers in the adult population. The percentage of deaths attributable to NCDs increased from 34.1 per cent in 1992 to 59 per cent in 2005, according to respective surveys. This compelling evidence was consistently paralleled with a lack of priority accorded to NCDs in planning and resource allocation decisions. Public health planning in Pakistan remained dominated by infectious diseases and NCDs remained outside of mainstream planning.


Attempts were made previously in Pakistan through public-private collaborative efforts to plan strategically in this area and a national plan of action was published. This effort was acknowledged in World Bank's report as the first integrated national plan of action from within the developing countries. Implementation was thwarted largely since NCDs were not part of the official health policy in Pakistan and remained outside of donors' priorities. Also, NCDs were the blind spot of the 2001 National Health Policy, while data and evidence from the state's own data collection engine, FBS, continued to point toward an escalating trend. This, highlights a fundamental disconnect between evidence and policy. This disconnect could also be visible in other areas and does not auger well for the efficiency of the policymaking process. The gap must be bridged to eliminate the influence of arbitrariness in the decision-making process.

There is also another policy issue at the margins of this discussion – efforts underway to restructure FBS as an autonomous organisation through an Act of Parliament. Reconstruction along these lines is needed so that this key agency, responsible for data and evidence, can be isolated from interference and manipulation. Ensuring independent functioning of autonomous agencies has been Pakistan's predicament. Governance challenges in this space need to be addressed. Alongside, it is also critical to ensure that mechanisms are in place to bridge the current evidence-policy disconnect.

Turning back to NCDs, Pakistan needs to recognise what it means in policy and planning terms to institutionalise their prevention and control in its health and development systems. Moreover, NCDs are linked with certain risky lifestyle choices-tobacco use, lack of physical activity, unhealthy diet and alcohol use. Biological factors add to the risk – obesity, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels. As these are related to individual behaviour, people need to take responsibility for their actions. However, policy action is ecessary to create supportive environments. This is where solutions to prevent NCDs are different from what akistan's health sector is familiar with.

These solutions lie largely outside the health sector and involve trade policy, taxation, international regulation, the agriculture and environment sectors, general working and living conditions, cross border smuggling and functioning of the local government system. Cutting unhealthy fats from the diet, lowering salt, promoting exercise at the individual and community level, in workplaces and schools, making urban environments conducive for physical activity, overcoming barriers for women to participate in physical activity in our conservative culture, controls on tobacco advertising, price regulation, and promoting healthier eating are all public health interventions to curb NCD risks. These are outside the remit of traditional health planning but now need to be at the heart of public health strategies. Pakistan's public health system needs to create institutional arrangements with a multi-sectoral construct and scope beyond the health sector to enable effective inter-sectoral action in this space. On this note, it is sobering to recognise that the current capacity and resources in the system to enable that are extremely limited.

There is a health care dimension to NCDs as well, which entails ensuring availability and access to cost-effective medial and screening interventions to those who need them. The country needs to step-up evidence-based interventions, which have been demonstrated as having the potential to effectively treat individuals with disease and protect those who are at high risk of developing them. There is need for building capacity at the health systems level and reorienting health systems towards chronic care with attention to human resource, service delivery, surveillance and access to essential medicines. Services related to NCDs need to be integrated in primary healthcare and essential services packages. All this is likely to be a challenge for Pakistan's under performing public health system, where capacity constraints abound. Failure to eradicate polio is an indicator of these constraints.

Let us also be reminded that Pakistan's health governance system is currently in flux. The MOH will be abolished four months from now and the fate of the local government system, the functioning of which determines the effectiveness of health service delivery, is still undecided. This a time of great challenges for health – but this is also an opportunity.

An unprecedented discourse is currently underway to reshape federal-provincial and provincial-district interfaces with a view to devolving health under a new constitutional framework. While this big ticket restructuring fundamentally opens many avenues for reforming health service delivery, it also offers opportunities to integrate NCDs within the public health system. Efforts to mainstream NCDs into country health planning can have a significant knock-on effect on health systems and can be an entry point to reform itself.

Pakistan needs to gear up planning in this area. In September 2011, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on NCDs will be convened. Pakistan must showcase something substantial in the run up to that watershed event.

The author is the founding president of the NGO thinktank, Heartfile. Email: sania@








As Hosni Mubarak employs his repressive security apparatus to fight a rearguard battle against his own people, his tyrannical reign by all reckoning is breathing its last. Egyptians are emerging out of the Pharaoh's three decades of oppressive and corrupt rule. So far, the Egyptian army hasn't fired upon the protesters while Mubarak's elite security force in black uniform has killed hundreds of them. As Mubarak is about to become a footnote in history, Mohamed ElBaradei has hopped from his home in Vienna to Cairo as a presidential hopeful. He has been addressing public rallies, yet he pretends to be a reluctant candidate for the presidency following Mubarak's fall. The countdown for Mubarak began in Tunisia, not Egypt.

Since the Egyptians have taken their destiny into their own hands, they know better whom to choose as their new president and they wouldn't want to replace one asset of the imperialists with another by voting for ElBaradei or torturer-in-chief Gen Omar Suleiman. Mubarak was quick to appoint Suleiman vice president to negotiate between the protesters and the government. If the 75-years-old spy chief succeeds in placating or dividing the masses gunning for Mubarak, he would achieve two objectives. First, buy time to lower the political temperature, enabling Mubarak to go behind the scene, lie low, and not need Saudi hospitality and a palace in Jeddah next to Ben Ali's; second, offer himself as Mubarak's substitute and continue to serve US interests in the region.

But let's not forget: it's a revolution unfolding and decades of pent up public fury is erupting in Egypt. People will not accept Suleiman as Mubarak's replacement, as desired by the US. That would be akin to accepting Gestapo chief Heinrich Mueller in place of Hitler. Gen Suleiman headed the largest interrogation citadel in the Middle East where political prisoners were routinely tortured. Even the CIA used the facility for its rendition programme. Marjorie Cohn, professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, writes about a former CIA agent who commented: "If you want a serious interrogation, you send prisoners to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want them to disappear – never to see them again – you send them to Egypt." Although Egypt isn't the only country famous for the "disappearing act"; it has a few more contenders.

People revolt not only against their rulers but also against the foreign backers of the rulers. Whatever the colour or tag assigned to a revolution, "saffron" in Burma, "green" in Iran, "orange" in Ukraine, "rose" in Georgia and "jasmine" in Tunisia, the bottom line is public anger against its rapacious and tyrannical rulers. Yesterday it was Tunisia, today it's Egypt, and tomorrow it could be Yemen and Algeria, and maybe Jordan, Syria and Morocco. The kings, emirs, and their sons rule these countries as their personal fiefdoms and inheritance. Western stooge Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 32 years, has appointed his son and heir apparent, Brig Gen Ahmed Saleh, as head of the presidential bodyguards.

The Moroccan king has already despatched his troops to the main cities of the country. He fears an uprising could be still more serious than what took place in Tunisia. Morocco too has the distinction of having detention centres for the CIA's rendition programmes. Why such notorious black holes are located in the Muslim countries remains an enigma. Meanwhile, the king has a palace ready for him in France.

However, rumblings of the anger and discontent are felt in most Muslim countries, where dictators supported by foreign powers hold their peoples in bondage, particularly where the disparity between the ruling oligarchs and the ruled is in sharp contrast. Pakistan is one such country. It sits on the powder keg, even though Prime Minister Gilani thinks otherwise and dismisses the notion out of hand. What's his contention? He considers the democratic institutions in tact and functional, and hence these would serve as an outlet for public wrath. Not true. The dynamics of revolution are in place in Pakistan, but there's a problem. No one is ready to be the standard-bearer yet. Imran Khan, what about you? Do you think Pakistanis are treated less shabbily than Egyptians and Tunisians?

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Lahore. Email: pinecity@gmail. com








The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.


We are mostly prisoners of our individual experiences, and this makes our presumptions of truth largely relative. The tale that follows is a personal one and my version of the truth. My father used to remind me often that human nature comprises both angelical and daemonic characteristics. It is one's acquired and nurtured values, socio-economic circumstances and conscience that determine which of these characteristics emerge more prominently to define one's life and character.

We have been in India since Jan 5, to seek treatment and transplant surgery for my mother who had been suffering from end-stage liver disease. She has been under the treatment of Dr Subash Gupta and his 15-member liver-transplant team at the Apollo Hospital in New Delhi and we have been extremely blessed to encounter only angelic professionals and hosts in this country that we in Pakistan love to hate.

My mother has suffered from Hepatitis C for over a decade. Doctors suspect that she might have acquired it from the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi when she went in for an angiography in 1998. Bad as we are in documenting statistics, we don't know the exact number of Pakistanis who have acquired hepatitis. What we do know is that millions in Pakistan suffer from this ailment, and most are not even lucky enough to be able to afford the expensive Interferon treatment that has a 60-70-per-cent success rate in curing Hepatitis C. If left untreated, or if there is a relapse after treatment, Hepatitis C can lead to liver cirrhosis (a condition where the liver begins to fail) in around 10-15 years. It is hard to predict a cirrhotic patient's life expectancy, but the quality of life is fairly grim. The only medical treatment that can cure cirrhosis is a liver transplant. According to one estimate, liver failure claims over 10,000 lives in Pakistan every year.

With the rapid proliferation of hepatitis in Pakistan the lives we lose to cirrhosis will grow exponentially in the years to come. And yet there isn't one credible liver transplant facility that can offer the gift of life to citizens with liver disease in this nuclear-weapon state with the seventh-largest standing army in the world. Also extremely disappointing is the quality of medical advice afforded to patients in Pakistan, which seems to be caused not by doctors' lack of medical expertise but poor professional ethos and a complete absence of accountability. For example, my mother was given Interferon treatment for a third time when cirrhosis had already set in, without the doctor advising us that this was extremely aggressive strategy that could even accelerate liver failure (de-compensation of liver in medical-speak), instead of slowing down cirrhosis. That is exactly what happened.

The doctor administering the treatment is one of the best-regarded hepatologists in Rawalpindi. He couldn't have acted in bad faith because he is also a distant relative. Yet, getting access to him even during the treatment was a Herculean challenge. Once he was informed the treatment had gone awry (my mother had swollen up like a balloon due to water retention), he told us in a matter-of-fact manner that the treatment would be suspended, as it didn't work. On further prodding he suggested that a liver transplant was now the only curative option. Why did it not work? What did a transplant entail? How could we plan and get ready for one? What life expectancy were we looking at without it? Not a word.

We opted to consult another liver specialist who heads the hepatology department of a large public hospital in Rawalpindi. His private hospital in Satellite Town had long cues of really sick patients. It was torturous to wait for that never-ending hour with a really unwell mother, and I was always nervous that I'd forget to ask some of the pressing questions in the five-minute audience we got with the professor. During one of these consultations, to understand the course of my mother's treatment, I had the audacity to ask him to explain what each of the six medicines he had prescribed would do. He looked at me unbelievingly and said he'd be doing nothing else all day if he had to tell his patients in any detail what treatment they were receiving. I was tempted to offer him an extra fee for the trouble but I bit my tongue. As my mother's health deteriorated, we asked him if we should consider liver transplant as an option. He said no.

Our dismay grew while consulting another renowned specialist in Islamabad who spent a whole three minutes with my mother and her ten-year record of lab results and treatment. We finally wound up at Shifa hospital in Islamabad and sought consultation with the hospital's most experienced liver specialist. You couldn't get access to him either without waiting for a few hours or asking a concerned family friend – also a consultant at Shifa – to intervene. Despite such poor ethic, so busy is this doctor's practice that even when he prescribes a follow-up the patient still has to endure the two-hour wait, which underscores the lack of choices for liver treatment in Islamabad.

During one of the scary episodes when we had to rush my mother to Shifa, this doctor told me she might live for a few months. When I asked about our options, he said sometimes patients linger on for a few years despite a bleak prognosis, hinting that we should just rely on miracles. But he simply did not utter a word about liver transplant.

In medical science there are objective criteria to determine the life expectancy of a patient with end-stage liver disease. The most reliable is one called MELD score that is used to determine the urgency of a transplant in view of expected life span. None of the aforesaid specialists bothered to calculate my mother's MELD score. Unfortunately, we have a socio-religious culture in Pakistan where matters of life and death are deemed preordained and attributed to "God's will." This is coupled with a legal regime that affixes no liability for professional negligence. Human life is fickle, but it ought not be treated as dispensable. Doctors cannot breathe life into someone whose time is up. But they can fight really hard and certainly owe patients a duty of care to act diligently and compassionately, devote the time and attention required, and educate patients about their ailments as well as treatment options. It is about time we hold our professionals (starting with doctors and lawyers) accountable for their advice, acts and omissions.

On the advice of another friend and consultant at Shifa, we also consulted Dr Najam-ul-Hasan (who is leading the effort to establish a transplant centre at Shifa, together with Dr Faisal Dar, another very professional and helpful surgeon who has given up his job at Kings Transplant Centre in London to return to Pakistan). He was the only doctor who sat us down and explained in detail cirrhotic patients' need and eligibility for liver transplant, various transplant options, and the fact that we should actively consider transplant. He advised that the UK, China and India had transplant centres that patients from Pakistan generally opted for. At the time India didn't jump out as the preferred destination. Having nurtured the bias of the West's superiority in most things, including healthcare, the US and the UK were the destinations of choice.

We ended up with Apollo Hospital in Delhi through a process of exclusion. And it turned out that the universe was conspiring to get us to the best medical treatment and care that we could aspire for.

(To be continued)









In her interview this week with former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, author of a new autobiography, Diane Sawyer asked him about a tough decision he had to make on the morning of 9/11. Was it not difficult, she asked, to order military pilots to shoot down passenger jets that the government believed to be hijacked and headed targets in Washington - maybe the White House, maybe the Capitol. For a moment, Rumsfeld dropped his generally arrogant stance, and instead looked as if he were about to cry as he recalled the agony he went through in making the decision.


It might have been a poignant moment, were it not for the fact that Rumsfeld didn't make the decision. It was Vice President Dick Cheney who made the decision. And it was Cheney who was running the country with a confused Rumfeld watching from the sidelines.

When the nation is threatened, it is the president, the commander-in-chief who must make the decision to engage the military. Under law, he orders the secretary of defence to implement his commands down through the military chain of command. While President Bush was being shuttled around from bunker to bunker, on the morning of September 11, 2001, supposedly out of cell phone contact at times, Rumsfeld was next in line. But Rumsfeld's role on 9/11 has always been a mystery. In his new book, on page 339, the former secretary of defence casts a little light on what he did that morning.

He writes, "The vice president reached me by phone.'' Cheney reportedly told Rumsfeld, "There's been at least three instance(s) here where we've had reports of aircraft approaching Washington...A couple were confirmed hijacked. And pursuant to the president's instructions I gave authorisation for them to be taken out."

In fact, there is considerable doubt as to when Cheney actually received "the president's instructions," and considerable evidence that he acted on his own volition, as even the timid 9/11 commission report makes clear. But in any case, his orders clearly violated the military chain of command - something Rumsfeld failed to point out.

The defence secretary is directly charged under law with putting into action the orders from the commander-in-chief. The vice president is nowhere listed in the chain of command and has no authority to act. In the above passage, Rumsfeld himself describes how he essentially was a bystander that morning, with little or no input in the crisis. Our multi-billion-dollar defence department and its chief were unprepared, incompetent, and ignored as Cheney seized the reins and ran the country.

Later, before the 911 commission, Rumsfeld provided a rather astonishing explanation for his behaviour: The Department of Defence...did not have responsibility for the borders. It did not have responsibility for the airports....And the fact that I might not have known something ought not to be considered unusual. Our task was to be oriented out of this country...and to defend against attacks from abroad. And a civilian aircraft was a law enforcement matter to be handled by law enforcement authorities and aviation authorities. And that is the way our government was organised and arranged. So those questions you're posing are good ones. And they are valid and they ought to be asked. But they ought to be asked of people who had the statutory responsibility for those things.


In his book, Rumsfeld laments the fact he did not resign after Abu Ghraib. In truth, he should have resigned or been fired for failing to protect the nation in the face of the worst attack since Pearl Harbour.
The writer edits the Unsilent Generation









THURSDAY'S deadly suicide attack on heavily-guarded military training centre in Mardan is a stark reminder of the fact that militants still have the capability and capacity to hit targets of their choice. Thirty-two Pakistan Army recruits were killed and several others injured when a teenage boy, dressed in uniform of military-run Aziz Bhatti Shaheed School and College, targeted Punjab Regimental Centre.

It would not be fair to say that the terrorists were able to penetrate into such a sensitive zone because of lack of security because no State in the world has so far been able to prevent suicide attacks but the incident shows that militants and their handlers are more ingenious than our security agencies and their personnel as they come out with newer deceptive tactics to avert being caught beforehand. This also shows what is the perception of Pakistan Army in the eyes of militants and terrorists, as they target its personnel and installations thinking that it is acting on behalf of the United States. Otherwise too, because of a number of factors and circumstantial evidence, there is general impression that the war on terror has been imposed on Pakistan by the United States and its objective is nothing but safeguarding of America's regional and global strategic interests. Understandably, being defender of the motherland, Army is playing a lead role in the war against terror, as its responsibilities include warding off both external and internal dangers to the security of the country. Army is not doing it on its own but under a well-thought-out policy of the Government, which makes no secret of the fact that it gave political ownership to the ongoing campaign against terrorism. In fact, the issues involved were thoroughly debated on the floor of Parliament and there was a consensus opinion that terrorism has to be defeated at all costs. And Army did not disappoint the nation on this account as is evident from the successes it has achieved in Swat, Malakand and different agencies of FATA and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani himself visited these areas on several occasions and expressed happiness over resumption of normal life. But it is all the more worrisome that apart from militants, the Army is also being targeted by other quarters and it is perhaps for the first time that media too is frequently indulging in critical analysis referring to huge financial allocations to the Army that constitute over one-third of the entire budget. Critical voices are also heard from the floor of Parliament as well where tone and tenor of such references is serious. The image of the Army, for various reasons, is getting eroded and we think it is time that the army leadership should ponder over as to where these would lead this sacred institution.








AS the country is in the grip of financial and economic crisis and both the Government and the Opposition are engaged in serious dialogue to overcome the challenge, a newly created group — Pakistan Business Council (PBC) has presented its own agenda for economic reforms, which, if implemented in letter and in spirit, has the potential to bring about a meaningful change for the better.

The PBC, consisting of a group of business tycoons, has expressed deep concern at the prevailing economic situation and has proposed measures to address perennial and complex challenges. The focus of its recommendations has understandably been on taking steps on a war footing to address the severe energy crisis that has crippled business and industry, rendering losses of billions of rupees to the national exchequer besides loss of exports. There are also pricing distortions and production and distribution inefficiencies in energy sector and the PBC has called for their removal and rectification. In line with the emerging national consensus, it has also proposed to bring all sectors into a uniform documented tax net but regrettably some powerful lobbies are blocking this course that offers the only viable option to increase much needed revenues. Again, we have been hearing about restructuring of public sector enterprises but so far such measures have proved only window dressing. Much depends on who is selected for board of governors/directors of these entities as honest and visionary leadership could steer these institutions out of crisis while cronies would deepen the problem further. The Government is carrying out the exercise to cut down wasteful expenditure but only time will tell whether these are mere gimmicks or serious and result-oriented efforts. The recommendation of the PBC to allocate more resources to education and health also deserves serious consideration as this could lay foundations for rapid and sustainable growth and development. As those constituting PBC are visionary and experienced people having many success stories to their credit, we hope the Government would give deep thought to their recommendations and make them part of its strategy to pull the country out of the existing quagmire.









THAT corruption in Pakistan has increased tremendously is no secret but it hurts people deeply that individuals like one of the highly revered religious scholars—Hamid Saeed Kazmi—is also infected by the deadly virus. In pursuance of the Supreme Court orders to issue arrest warrants for the former Religious Affairs Minister, FIA raided several places to arrest Kazmi and he is reported to be on the run.

What a shame that a person of his stature should face such a situation! Kazmi was perceived to be a politician and religious figure with high degree of respectability in religious circles. He is an orator par excellence and has a large following and with this in view his new portrayal is very painful for the people. Disclosures made by former Minister for Science and Technology Azam Swati against Hamid Saeed Kazmi had jolted everyone and now FIA inquiries have apparently substantiated those allegations. It is really ironical that corruption mosquito stings those associated with a noble service of Hajj and Umra arrangements and infects a major segments of the ministry including those at the helm of affairs at the two holy places in Saudi Arabia. As this is a very serious issue, we are confident that the apex court would go deep into the scandal and the culprits would be meted out exemplary punishment.







The US has threatened Pakistan that if Raymond Davis is not released, then there is a possibility that US aid to Pakistan will be cut. The Washington Post had speculated that America would stop dialogue at all levels including strategic dialogue, if Raymond Davis was not released quickly. Though, the US administration itself has not said in so many words, yet it is conveying the message through its media or law makers. Meanwhile, the three-member delegation of House of Representatives in their meetings with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other leaders demanded of the government to release Raymond Davis, who was arrested on 27th January 2011 after shooting dead two Pakistani motorcyclists. Representative Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee reportedly told the Pakistani leaders that Congress was working on the budget, while the representative John Kline hinted that many lawmakers would support cutting aid if the American, who the United States insists has diplomatic immunity, is not freed.

For a change, our Foreign Office has picked up the courage to tell Americans that the matter is with the court. Anyhow, the situation, by and large, is of our own making, as our ruling elite did neither pursue economic policies to make Pakistan self-reliant nor did they learn to live within their means. They had to depend on the US for aid for their failure to generate revenue by taxing the rich and to control tax evasion of more than Rs. 1000 billion. Though belatedly, the political leadership has taken steps by dissolving the jumbo-cabinet and is likely to form a small cabinet, which could be described as humble beginning, yet a lot more needs to be done. It is true that Pakistan is facing fiscal deficit and trade deficit; however the fiscal deficit can be controlled through austerity and other measures like stopping tax evasion and corruption. Trade deficit could be reduced through banning the import of luxury items. Last but not the least, Zardaris, Sharifs, Chaudharys and others who have stashed their wealth in foreign banks and invested in real estate and industries should bring that wealth back.

With all these steps, Pakistan can say no to the IMF and also resist American pressure, and can safeguard its integrity and sovereignty. Yet a lot has to be done, and the ruling and opposition parties must wean away from the habit of amassing wealth through illegal means. The role of our apex court is commendable, but it should not only focus on written-off loans during the last two years but also from 1977, as one would not hear large scale corruption during the tenure of the governments up to 1958 and also during Ayub era. Anyhow, if corruption can be controlled, appointments in public sector organizations are made on merit and losses can be minimized, and due taxes are collected through efficient and honest officers Pakistan can come out of the dependency syndrome within a short period. Supreme Court has also done well to stop renewal of exploration and mining licences in regard to Reko Diq gold and copper mines, and should not allow squandering the national resources.

Some analysts and 'brilliant' panelists are trying to create fear in the minds of the people that if Raymond Davis is not released, the US would stop economic and military aid. Instead of suggesting how to get out of the dependency syndrome and make Pakistan a self-reliant economy, they want Pakistan should tread the beaten track. Let us examine the impact if the US stops its aid and also persuades the IMF not to issue further tranches, what is likely to happen? According to Kerry-Lugar bill, the US is to give $1.5 billion per year, out of which more than 50 per cent is to be spent through NGOs. With America's economy already in dire straits, and with Republicans' majority in the Congress, there is possibility of major cut in foreign aid to other countries. And the axe is surely to fall on Pakistan and not Israel or other American allies. As regards reimbursement of Coalition Support Fund, the US has delayed payment for the last one year, and has paid only a few hundred million dollars against the amount of $1.5 billion.

However, Pakistan will have to revise its budget projections, should America stop aid to Pakistan. Look at the position of trade deficit If Pakistan stops importing luxuries and revises its projections of imports at $20 billion (instead of $32 billion), and lowers the target of export to 11 billion (instead of $20 billion). With Pakistani expatriates' remittances of $10 billion, Pakistan will overcome the problem of current account deficit. According to 2010-11 budget, Pakistan's estimated tax revenue is Rs.1671 billion; non-tax revenue is 904 that totals Rs.2575 billion. If tax evasion can be controlled and the rich are to pay due tax, there would not be decline in revenue. Finally, all incomes have to be taxed. If agriculture is a provincial subject, let the provinces enact and impose tax on agricultural income. One does not understand that when all citizens whether businessmen, industrialists, doctors, engineers, professionals and salaried class are paying tax on taxable income, why income from agricultural land should be exempted.

The question is who has brought Pakistan to the present pass? The answer is that Pakistan's incompetent and inept ruling elite by becoming a pawn in the hands of Americans, first by joining defence pacts with the US and the West, then by joining Afghan jihad and finally in the war on terror. One can find American agents in political parties, in media and other institutions as well. Lately, it is military that has given courage to the political leadership to put their act together to safeguard sovereignty of the country. It has to be said that Afghan jihad, and latter the war on terror, which has now become our own war due to flawed policies of the US, especially the CIA. Unfortunately, the US spies and media blame Pakistan for their flawed decisions and failures. Bruce Reidel, a former CIA director, in his book 'Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and Global Jihad', sets out to explain "why successive US administrations have undermined civil government in Pakistan, aided military dictators and encouraged the rise of extremists Islamic movements that now threaten the United States at home and abroad".

This question has not been phrased properly. First of all, the word 'encouraged' should have been replaced by the word 'sponsored', as it was America that tried to settle score with the former Soviet Union to avenge the defeat in Vietnam. Secondly, it has always been well-thought out plan of every US administration to support autocrats and military dictators, as it is difficult to deal with the cabinet and members of the parliaments to advance its interests. In developing countries, however, so-called democratic dispensations are no different from military dispensations.

Anyhow, when dictators become unpopular by pursuing American policies and also due to America's unqualified support to Israel, America issued only one liner statement that 'he had become unpopular with his people'. It happened with Shah of Iran, Suharto of Indonesia, Ayub Khan of Pakistan and lately Zine al-Abedin of Tunisia. And only incorrigible optimist can hope any change in America's approach. Pakistan's rulers should remember Henry Kissinger's words that "America is dangerous for its friends and foes alike".

—The writer is Lahore-based senior jounalist.








The Government of Punjab has decided to give autonomy to 26 colleges in the Punjab. The teachers and students of these Colleges along with some of the politically based student bodies are on the streets protesting against this autonomy. It was agonizing to watch on different channels of television, police lathi charge and tear gassing of the demonstrators. Although public memory is normally very short yet I hope that the people at large in Pakistan have not forgotten the Education Policy of the people's Government in 1972, when the Political Party in power had nationalized all private educational institutions in Pakistan. The educational institutions included even the Primary School run by the Municipal Administrations, District Boards, and other philanthropic organizations.

At that time if you had asked anybody to name the best college in Multan, he would have named Emerson College, Multan; the best college in Sialkot was Murray College; the most prominent college in Rawalpindi was Gordon College; Zamindara College, Gujrat was also amongst the good College; Lahore, of course, had a large number of good college such as Forman Christian College; Islamia College, Railway Road; Islamia College, Civil Lines; Islamia College for Women, Cooper Road; Dayal Singh College; MAO College; Talim-ul-Islam College; MAO College etc. All these institutions were run by independent Boards of Government and were completely autonomous in their administration. Since 1960, the Government of Punjab has already given autonomy to 10 college and 09 school/ public institutes. These include Cadet College, Hassanabdal; Lawrence College, Ghora Gally; Government College, Lahore; Lahore College for Women; Kennard College for Women, Lahore; Government Nawaz Sharif College for Women, Lahore, Queen Marry College, Lahore; Government College Dhobi Ghat, Faisalabad; Government College, Kahuta; and Government Institution of Technology.The schools included Government Central Model School, Lahore; Government Lady Anderson Girls School, Sialkot; Pakpattan; Government Model High School, Bhakkar; Government Boys High School, D.G. Khan; Government Denny's School, Rawalpindi; Government Institute for the Blind, Lahore; and Government Sunrise Institute for the Blind, Lahore.

When Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto announced the nationalization for all these and other educational institutions, this action was opposed by the teachers, in particular for two reasons. By merging with the government cadre of teachers, a large majority of teachers working in these private educational institutions lost their seniority. Secondly, because of the exception of Islamia Collage, the rest of the institutions were individual setups and therefore, the teachers working in these institutions could not be transferred from those institutions. However, the members of the Board of Governors of these institutions kept an eye on the faculty and demanded maximum output from them. No private academies run by the teachers of these institutions or private tuitions were allowed. The situation has considerably changed after Nationalization. A large number of faculty members of these institutions are running their private academies in the evening or running their own tuition centers. They are subservient to the whims of the District Education Officers who can transfer them to far flung areas of the Province, if he so wishes. Also, the quality of education in the Government Institutions has deteriorated in most of the Government educational institutions because of the lack of competition with the private sector. Nationalization of private educational institutions diverted the contributions from various philanthropists to other sectors than education. The funds for all the private institutions named above were provided by the philanthropists or public at large. Fees constituted a very small part of the Board Funds, which includes grants in aid made by the Government, loans obtained from Government, loans raised by the Board, foreign aid obtained by the Board, fees and other sums received by the Board etc. In addition, the local educated persons were recruited as the faculty of these institutions. The fee structure of these private run institutions was nominal.
It will not be out of place to mention that there are 62 Universities in the Public sector and about 70 in the private sector. All these Universities including the public sector Universities are run by independent Boards of Governors called the Syndicates / Executives Councils / Boards of Trustees / Boards of Governors. Inspite of there being autonomous, the fee structures of these institutions does not have much difference. Some of the colleges have been allowed by the Government to award degrees whereas the rest of the colleges have to seek affiliation with different Universities, so that degree could be awarded by those Universities to their students. Each University, in turn, have a number of conditions for affiliation of different colleges which include a well stocked Library, fully equipped laboratories and prescribed qualifications for the faculty. The Punjab Government has taken advantage of "The Punjab Government Educational and Training Institutions Ordinance, 1960" which is the offshoot of West Pakistan Ordinance XI of 1960. According to this Ordinance the Board of Governors is supposed to have nine members to be appointed by the Governor of the Punjab and one of these members will be the Chairman of the Board, again to be nominated by the Governor of Punjab. The Principal of the College shall be the Secretary of the Board. Infact, the ordinance needs certain amendments particularly regarding the Chairmanship of the Board. Like the Universities in Pakistan, the Principal of Colleges should be the Ex-officio Chairman of the Board on the pattern of the Universities where the Vice chancellor is the Chairman of the Syndicate / Executive Council / Board of Trustees / Board of Governors. The Principals of autonomous Colleges should only the BPS-20 or above Grade employees o the Education Department. The official members should be appointed by designations and should not be below the rank of a Joint Secretary in the Provincial Education Department. The conditions for recruitment and determination of the terms and conditions of service of the members of the staff of the institution and other officers and servants of the Board should not be lower then those prescribed by the Government for its Institutions.

In view of what has been stated above, the students of the Educational Institutions being offered autonomy should not get exploited by their teachers but should consider the autonomy of their Institution with an open mind.









One of the minor joys of living in Islamabad is the welcome opportunity it affords one of enjoying long and pleasant walks early in the morning. The winter in Islamabad lingers on longer than the southern areas. So, theoretically at least, one has longer occasion to enjoy this rather pleasurable interlude leading up to the summer season. Allow one to hasten to clarify that it is not at all one's intention to dwell on the vagaries of the weather. What is of interest rather is what one gets to enjoy - free of cost - as a corollary of the changing weather.

So here goes! It so came to pass that in the course of one such pleasurable walk one came face to face with a phenomenon that had hitherto escaped one's attention and one that one had hitherto given little thought to. It all began when one came across two rather smug and comfortable looking ladies engaged in the leisurely pursuit of sweeping the road – yes, Islamabad persists with the traditional practice of entrusting this important function to members of the fair sex. The first thing one noticed, then, was that the duo were operating at that indolent pace and rhythm that comes only after years of honest - though hardly intense - toil. The road was being swept as per regulations but not without the ladies leaving their distinct imprint on the whole exercise. But one is digressing once again. On the occasion under reference, it was not the ladies' work rhythm that attracted one's particular attention, remarkable though it was in itself. What struck one straightaway was the manifest fact that the two ladies were wearing what in the Western world have come to be recognized as 'designer sweaters'. There was no mistaking the texture, the design and the outlandish pattern that have all become the hallmark of the 'Rich and Famous' in the so-called developed world. And what is more, the brace of ladies in question were carrying it off as if it was just another day in their checkered lives.

Presently, the two ladies were joined by a middle aged male colleague, who – going by his (you guessed it!) designer sweater - could easily have passed off as the indigenous version of an aging Hollywood actor. This set one a'thinking. Had we in the Land of the Pure, unbeknown to the common man, been overtaken by an Industrial Revolution of sorts, wherein fashionable apparel was being mass-produced at affordable prices? Or, had our blessed working classes struck it rich, thanks to the intricate web of statistics - based on macro and micro policies of the financial wizards – as woven by our indefatigable planners? It was nothing that exciting, regrettably, though. A quick and short enquiry revealed the mundane truth that the designer apparel in question had been procured from the 'weekly bazaar' at what can only be described as throw-away prices. Thanks to our second-hand clothing markets (in some cities known by the rather catchy nomenclature of 'lunda bazaar') our working classes have found fashion within their reach, at least during the harsh winter months. This weighty discovery had the effect of stimulating one's thought process. The 'Rich and Famous' of the Western world spend virtually small fortunes on purchasing so-called designer clothing just so that these garments would set them apart from the common herd. And thanks to their 'wear and quickly discard' habits the unwashed of the developing world get to steal a few moments of glory among their peers.

Let's look back a bit in recent history. It so happened that the great revolution of the ready-to-wear garment industry in the developed world had resulted in the mass production of middling quality garments. This had the effect of bringing the prices down to within the reach of the working classes, thereby prompting the 'Rich and Famous' to look for alternate sources for their wherewithal. Their only - and modest - desire was basically to be (or at least to look) different from the herd. As a consequence, then, whereas the working classes managed the means to pick up their suits and sweaters from outlets such as Marks and Spenser, the upper classes started opting for bespoke tailoring and the designer stuff. So much for the developed Western world! The situation in countries such as ours, one notices, is somewhat different - in fact, reversed. Whereas the 'great unwashed' wear the designer stuff (courtesy the good old lunda bazaar), our upper classes proudly flaunt their wealth by making a beeline for the 'imported' Marks and Spenser genre. The underlying idea, nevertheless, is the same: that is to look different from the multitude and to stand out in the crowd. One man's meat is another man's poison as they say; or is it the other way around?

Fashion, as it has come to be called, is ephemeral - fleeting. The desire to be different and to look different, though, is engrained in human nature. It has always formed part of what can be identified as the class struggle among the homo-sapiens. It has not been highly thought of by most intellectuals, though. The bard of Avon said (in Much Ado about Nothing): "I see that the fashion wears out more apparel than the man". Oscar Wilde was even harsher when he wrote. "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months". Fashion, in other words, is nothing more than the coarse art of staying a step ahead of the multitude - in appearance at least. By the time the common folk catch up with a fashion (thanks to the hardworking plagiarists), it is time for the select band to move on to greener pastures, if that is the phrase one is looking for.

In the Land of the Pure, today, money reigns supreme. It is their wealth, rather than fashion sense, that our haves like to flaunt. This explains the abundance of shops selling (smuggled?) foreign apparel that have spawned around the country like wild mushrooms after the rains. These shops stock items of the Marks and Spenser genre plus plagiarized designer models from the underground factories of East Asia, all selling at staggering prices. Money is no consideration for our nouveaux riches, though, and thus the cult of pseudo-fashion flourishes in this land of pseudo egos. Money, however, cannot buy everything – at least that is what conventional wisdom says.

There exists another class of society that, though somewhat handicapped by a dearth of financial means, has managed to stay a step ahead of the moneyed class, at least in terms of sartorial elegance. There is, after all, a certain élan - sartorial and otherwise – that just cannot be quantified in terms of cash. And thereby hangs the tale of the age-old struggle between the relatively impoverished but snobbish traditional and the affluent but vulgar social climber. But that, as they say, is another story!








Islam is a religion of peace that forbids killing of innocents, even during war or conflict. Suicide is forbidden in any context. Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) warned his followers from committing suicides, and said they would be assigned to the lower levels of hell. Allah clearly commands in Surah An-Nisa Verse 29, "And do not kill yourselves. Surely, Allah is Most Merciful to you". The value of life nowadays particularly depends upon the characteristics of a region. As culture and politics have now mixed and dominated religion, the teachings of Islam have been lost to the masses. The situation is alarming in Pakistan, as due to multiple suicide attacks across the country last year, had many killed. The number of suicide attacks around the world seems to have been diminished, but in Pakistan they have risen. Pakistan Army has been fighting vehemently, against the Taliban and their affiliated terrorist organizations which carry out suicide bombings. The use of suicide attacks has become more frequent among militants in Pakistan, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal regions. The terrorists appear to have been well-trained and well motivated to take their own lives and the lives of the innocent.

Allah has built survival instincts in every living organism that repel to any danger threatening its existence. He has also categorically ruled out any attempt to take one's own life. These terror networks, who claim to be the flag bearers of Islam, actually are directly in contradiction with the teachings of the religion. They readily brainwash weak minded individuals, convincing them of the paradise which awaits them in the afterlife, if they commit themselves to this horrific death. They take out the individual's sense of survival and replace it with hopelessness. Where the only path evidently left for him/her, is to sacrifice their lives for removing the evils of society. The value of human life not only their own, but of others too diminishes and becomes a non-existent factor. It is written in Quran, "If anyone slew a person, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole of mankind. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of a whole people." (Al-Ma'ida, 5:32) By our own lack of knowledge of religion, we have allowed some radicals to interpret our religion for us, as per their own liking and agendas.

There were at least 49 suicide attacks reported during the year of 2010 in Pakistan. Most of these attacks were aimed at innocent civilians and were carried out in public places. The total death toll from suicide attacks throughout the year reached up to 1,121, not mentioning the large number of people who were injured or went through the trauma of losing a family member. On 1st January 2010, the militants started the year by carrying out a suicide attack on a volley ball game, taking place in Lakki Marwat, which resulted in the deaths of 91 people. The carnage at Lahore RA Bazar on March 12 was the result of twin suicide blasts, which took 63 innocent lives. The attacks on Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore resulted in 97 deaths. The suicide bombing at Mohmand Agency tribal offices killed 108 innocents. While in September 67 people were killed, when a suicide bomber struck within a rally. In November a bomber struck a congregation at a mosque in Darra Adamkhel, killing 97 people. The capacity of the Taliban to organize and execute suicide attacks has not been diminished. It is also evident that the sectarian extremists have merged with them to target minorities and other schools of thought. The military campaign has been largely successful in eradicating the sanctuaries and facilities of the Taliban. But their established cells are still able to carry out attacks against soft targets, within their limited capacity. They are still able to recruit, plan, finance and carry out these attacks. These suicide bombers are mostly from underdeveloped areas and belong to the lower class. They are unaware of their basic rights and do not even have the basic necessities. They have grievances against society and are very prone to being threatened for their survival. These individuals are easy targets for the extremists and are resultantly brainwashed to lay down their lives for the ultimate sacrifice.

The common public's representation even in a democratic system is next to nothing, let alone in the times of dictatorship. Perceived as one of the worlds most corrupt, the state institutions are unable to facilitate the masses. This vacuum provides an opportunity for these radicals and extremists, with plenty of chaos, confusion and grievances which they channel to use for their own malicious purpose. The country today is seen to be going on a path of self destruction. Existing social conditions provide an open invitation to the terrorist to strike. The failure of state mechanism in disaster struck areas has led to these organizations carrying out charity work, in order to boost their reputation. Under the garb of this charity work, the terror networks are able to get their hands on financial resources and potential recruits. The failure of state apparatus to successfully track down and eradicate these organizations even after a comprehensive ban on their activities, contributes to their influence.

This is a multifaceted war where the use of force and comprehensive long-term strategy, both are required to address the issues. The Taliban agenda revolves around the horrific mentality of using any means necessary, to reach their objectives. The objectives presented by these groups are vague and unclear. They lack the foundations of a clear strategy, while the nature and scale of the objectives change continuously. These objectives revolve around the destruction of the west and installation of 'Khilafat.' It has led to a never ending war, consisting of carnage, chaos and confusion. Unfortunately, our people easily fall prey to this and blame responsibility of all their injustices on 'foreign hands.' Major charitable work carried out in our country, is through foreign based organizations and the taxpayer's money of western nations. This fact is realized only by a very few, which is very unfortunate.

The recent surge by Taliban, for attacking soft targets is an indication of their frustration, weakness and incapacity to engage the security forces. But still it also points to the fact, that we have a long and difficult road ahead of us. A comprehensive strategy will have to be devised, in order to address the causes of this horrific paradigm. Illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, lack of speedy justice and unbalanced distribution of resources shall have to be eradicated. Access to basic rights for every individual must be ensured. Public will have to be provided with a basic platform and representation, to vent their grievances and express their point of view, without taking the option of violence. The nation will have to take the initiative, rise up and compel their leadership to take serious steps in resolving these issues, so that no more innocents fall prey to the hands of the terrorists.








After a night of swirling confusion, President Hosni Mubarak has delegated his "powers and authority" to his deputy but not left office, the armed forces' plans are unclear and the Egyptians who have risen up to bring down a repressive regime are bewildered and angry. The potential for greater violence in Egypt has risen. In a 17-minute speech on Thursday night, Mubarak acknowledged mistakes, promised reform and said, almost in passing, that his vice president, Omar Suleiman, was now in charge. But he defied the demand of protesters that he quit. Once again, he gave the impression he had not heard them at all. If Egypt's battered authorities had set out to choreograph treacherous muddle, they could scarcely have done a better job.

Early Thursday evening, an immense cheer went up at Tahrir Square. The Egyptian armed forces, issuing what they call Communiqué No. 1, declared that the demands of the Egyptian people would be met. There was no sign of the man who has long been their commander in chief, Mubarak. Soon after, President Obama made a statement suggesting Mubarak's departure was, indeed, imminent. "What is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold. It is a moment of transformation that is taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change," he said. Then, several hours after the army statement, Mubarak appeared on state television. He acknowledged mistakes for the first time, vowed to prosecute those responsible for hundreds of deaths over the past two weeks, promised reform of the Constitution, and, without explaining why, said he had decided to "delegate the powers and authority of the president to the vice president."


Senior Egyptian officials later said that meant all constitutional powers had been transferred and Suleiman was "de facto" president. A new chant went up in Tahrir Square: "We want to understand the speech!" Both Mubarak and Suleiman once again blamed Egypt's paralysis on foreign powers, attempted foreign diktats and lying foreign satellite channels out to "deface the image of Egypt." The two men looked completely out of touch. How does Mubarak square his determination to prosecute those responsible for violence with the fact he oversaw that violence? What do foreign powers have to do with a domestic crisis brought on by Mubarak's farce of a November parliamentary election, growing corruption and his long refusal to meet growing demands for self-expression and freedom?

How can this man who would not even admit that the uprising provoked his decision not to run in a planned September presidential election ever level with his people? Every concession from him has been grudging, belated and unconvincing. This speech was no exception. There appear to be only two possible scenarios now: an increase in the protests so overwhelming that Mubarak, defiant soldier, is forced to go back on his vow to stay in office — at least nominally — until September; or an army clampdown that forces people to do what Suleiman requested — go home. A massive rally had been planned for Friday before the speeches; how it unfolds will say a lot about where an awakening Egypt is now headed. There is tremendous energy invested in bringing real change, but for most people the only guarantee of that change is Mubarak's full departure.

A few hours before the army's announcement, I had met a 42-year-old investment banker, ex-Goldman, with a good job in London and a nice place in South Kensington. He had watched the big Jan. 25 protest on TV, dropped everything, got a leave, and came out here to devote his energy to Egyptian freedom. It was a case, he says, of put up or shut up. There are plenty like him, professionals fired up with their country's potential, sick of being told what to do by an old man. He wrote this to me Wednesday: "It's ironic, the West spent billions on Egypt through NGOs, government assistance, trying to help improve our education, improve the sense of civic responsibility, create civic society values, ownership, citizenship, human rights; but they never realized that all they really needed to do was give us our freedom and in literally a day and a night you saw the transformation — we would do all these things for ourselves, by ourselves if we felt enfranchised."

This revolution in values is startling. It's been brought on by a sudden sense of ownership in the place of powerlessness. Cairo was the place of pushing and shoving and shouting and disorder par excellence. Now long lines form to enter Tahrir Square. There are even separate garbage cans in the square for organic waste. I also spoke to a 24-year-old professional, Perihane Allam. She was struck by the change in attitudes. Sexual harassment has been a big issue in Cairo. "Men were always hitting on me in the street, saying stuff," she said. None of that in Tahrir Square, she told me, or elsewhere in the city these days. Dignity is transformative. So is the discovery of an Egyptian identity cutting across class and religious lines. But after Mubarak's speech, it seems all these gains are fragile.—The New York Times










Closing the gap between indigenous and white Australians was always going to be a long, hard process. The magnitude of the challenge was again highlighted this week when the third annual Closing the Gap report was released. Progress is being made in reducing infant mortality and in education in larger centres, remote areas and the town camps outside Alice Springs. But more needs to be done. Addressing parliament, Julia Gillard appealed to indigenous people to change their behaviour to help themselves attain equality, especially in life expectancy.

She and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, both from Labor's Victorian Left, have shown commendable empathy and common sense in furthering the Northern Territory intervention started in the latter stages of the Howard government. The report sets out vital progress fostered through the intervention and other initiatives. Immunisation rates and general healthcare have improved, as have literacy and numeracy, Year 12 completion rates, employment and early education for four-year olds.

But as the Prime Minister said, closing the life expectancy gap will be extremely difficult, leaving no room for complacency. Appropriately, the report nominates housing in remote settlements and town camps as a priority for this year, promising desperately needed upgrades, infrastructure and short-term accommodation.

Authorities and indigenous leaders committed to effective, practical reconciliation would be wise to disregard irresponsible ideological criticisms. Malcolm Fraser, for instance, foolishly wants the intervention repealed, and regards income management as demeaning, despite its efficacy in helping indigenous and non-indigenous families to establish better spending patterns that have given children the necessities of life. Ms Gillard was right to point out that it is not only well-known indigenous Australians such as Noel Pearson and Chris Sarra who are remedying our greatest social problem. The fathers who set examples of strength and gentleness to their sons, and the mothers who feed their children and send them to school are also leading the way. Ms Gillard's comment about rejecting the "soft bigotry of low expectations", borrowed from George W. Bush, was apt.






Droughts and flooding rains are often news in Australia yet, in the broad sweep of history and experience, not unexpected. Just as farmers in the northern hemisphere must provide for the winter freeze, our cockies always look for ways to survive unpredictable droughts. You only have to look at our parched inland to see how the landscape is shaped most dramatically by the water that makes its fleeting yet surging appearances, as our pictures show it doing across much of the Red Centre right now.

The flash floods, the terror of the tropical cyclone, the horror of the summer bushfires, and the long, benign periods between them, are all a part of the island continent we know and love. Indigenous Australians learned to live with these vagaries and even helped to shape the landscape through the judicious use of fire. Since European settlement we have constructed dams and bores, cleared forests, burned undergrowth and cleared firebreaks to forge a livelihood from the land and protect ourselves from its dangers. This, of course, has been the story of human development through the ages, the intelligent management of our environment to our own advantage. It has never meant, nor is it likely ever to mean, that we can control the weather. The awesome power of natural systems, such as Cyclone Yasi, are surely beyond our control.

So quite apart from any debate about climate change, and the risk of accentuated or more frequent weather events, we must continue to learn lessons from how we manage these crises. After a summer of floods, cyclonic storms and bushfires, there is more ahead of us than the difficult recovery. The Brisbane flood inquiry is a vital step in considering the flood-mitigation aspect of the Wivenhoe Dam and whether it was managed effectively. In WA, an independent bushfire inquiry will examine the long-running and contentious issue of controlled burning. The danger of allowing bushland to carry high fuel loads into the summer near built-up areas needs to be addressed across the nation. In the cyclone zones, improved building codes appear to be delivering benefits but we do need to examine planning controls on construction in areas susceptible to floods and tidal surges. Linking these is the issue of natural disaster insurance, both for individuals and governments, which requires examination and reform.

To stand back helplessly and blame the summer's tragedies on climate change is to surrender responsibility for those things that we can control. We have seen natural disasters one after the other in the past. In 1974, Brisbane flooded, Lake Eyre filled, Darwin was destroyed by Cyclone Tracy and bushfires claimed lives and property in western NSW. The severe drought of the early 1980s culminated in the Ash Wednesday bushfires in early 1983, only to be quickly followed by badly needed but, in places, flooding rains.

The lessons here are not only for government authorities. We must consider the personal responsibilities of those who choose to live close to a river, the coast or a bushland ridgetop. If we can make our homes, our children and our neighbours safer, we should take that action or, in come cases, be required to by law. Progress on these issues will ensure that some good comes from the trying summer of 2011.







Julia Gillard is demonstrating that if you really want a result, a deal is always possible. The Prime Minister has streamlined the complex health and hospital funding arrangements negotiated by her predecessor and looks set to get sign-off at the Council of Australian Governments this weekend. And about time too. It is four years since Labor promised to fix the system, four years during which far too much political capital has been wasted.

The proposal salvaged by Ms Gillard from last April's COAG meeting is not perfect. It does not end the blame game between the states and Canberra encouraged by the split funding model. But the plan, which goes to the premiers on Sunday, addresses one of the nation's biggest challenges -- how to fund a health system straining under high patient demand, expensive technology and the demographic reality of an ageing population.

Ms Gillard has been realistic. Her model recognises the practical impediments to Canberra becoming the dominant funder, while broadly delivering on Labor's original scheme. Gone is the bid to claw back 30 per cent of the states' GST money to fund a 60-40 takeover of hospitals. Gone too is last April's bureaucratic plan for eight separate state and federal funding bodies. Ms Gillard is sensibly insisting on a single body to dispense the pooled state and federal funds, although the fact the system's dollars pass through state-based accounts before reaching local hospital networks seems needlessly complicated.

The onus is now on the premiers. They will retain the GST, but the 50-50 funding promise from Canberra, which delivers an extra $16.4 billion in hospital funding in the next decade, depends on their agreeing to the new machinery. The model makes sense: matching grants give the states an incentive to properly fund health. Intact is the "efficient price", with funding based on what hospitals actually do, rather than block grants. The plan addresses waste by demanding transparency from the states, although the potential for cost-shifting in the system remains.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has labelled the plan a backdown, and argues nothing has changed. Ms Gillard has indeed walked away from the GST clawback, but the deal would be a step forward for our hospitals. The states would do well to come to the party.






TONY ABBOTT must have had a good holiday over the Christmas break. He seems to have got a bit rusty as he did so. This week's return to Canberra, and Parliament, offered evidence of a lapse in form. His strange response - nearly 30 seconds of silence, and a quivering glare - to a Channel Seven reporter's on-air question showed how out of practice he is. Abbott was being questioned about his "shit happens" response to a briefing in Afghanistan about the circumstances of an Australian soldier's death. The question was contrived, and Abbott could have produced a perfectly reasonable explanation - but instead he was thrown badly, leaving his colleagues shaking their heads.

He showed himself in need of practice too when he caved in to populist pressure to cut Australia's foreign aid program. Abbott is casting about for savings to pay for reconstruction in Queensland after its floods and cyclone because he opposes the government's special levy and wants an alternative.

The existence of waste and extravagance in government spending is a fixed idea in some quarters; the idea that Australian taxes should go to help foreigners at all baffles many who have no conception of diplomacy or the advisability for Australia to use its wealth to influence events in neighbouring countries for its security. To such people and - surprisingly - Abbott, it seems perfectly reasonable to cut an education program in Indonesia. They will make no connection between the provision of schools for poor children who would otherwise have to rely on religious schools often run by extremists, and the fight against terrorism. The bombings in Bali and Jakarta happened long ago and are easily forgotten, apparently. Many of Abbott's colleagues, not least his deputy and foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, and the former foreign minister Alexander Downer, were appalled at the planned cut - and rightly so. The mutterings have renewed talk of leadership challenges. There is no call for that, but the Liberals will certainly be hoping their leader's form slump ends soon.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, the Prime Minister began the week with a remarkable display of her own. Julia Gillard's speech to a condolence motion for flood victims on Parliament's opening day was broken by tears - which, it was noted at the time, might help soften the rather severe image she projected during her visits to those affected while the flood was at its peak.

Perhaps it will. It certainly got wide coverage on television - a medium which shows a firm preference for subjects who choke up. But whether her tears are enough to soften the hearts of voters towards her is another matter. She still gives the appearance of someone who has spent all her life in backroom negotiations. She will need to use some of that skill at compromise to get her flood relief package through Parliament, where the opposition has sent it off for a quick inquiry. "We have time. This is not a rush job," said Rob Oakeshott, one of the independents who is waiting for the inquiry outcome before making up his mind. Flood-affected Queenslanders will no doubt be reassured to hear that.

Gillard's technique as a political operator has been on show this week with the toning down of the federal government's health overhaul. We have mentioned in the past that Rudd's approach to politics has strong similarities to Gough Whitlam's, and Gillard's to that of her mentor, Bob Hawke. As initiated under Kevin Rudd, the health overhaul was indeed Whitlamite: it envisaged a virtual federal takeover of hospitals from the states - along with a large slice of revenue the states would otherwise receive from the GST.

While we believe it was justifiable because of the states' perennial shortage of funds, the opportunity to put the Rudd policy into effect has clearly passed. With Western Australia refusing ever to agree, the new Liberal government in Victoria raising objections and the strong possibility of another Liberal government in NSW in coming weeks with equally deep suspicions, the political current is moving against it. Gillard, seeking an achievable consensus, has ditched the condition that the states give Canberra 30 per cent of their GST revenue, and is apparently revising downward the nature of the federal government's involvement in funding and running hospitals. Her model, to be put to the Council of Australian Governments meeting tomorrow, switches the emphasis to new local medical centres with the objective of keeping people out of hospitals, and their outpatients' departments, in the first place. It is a long way short of the Rudd vision; however, it may be the upper limit of what is possible in the reduced circumstances of a Gillard minority government.





WAVERLEY COUNCIL is to pull down a much-loved children's tree house on the grounds that it might lead to litigation. Today's children are notoriously litigious, firing off letters of demand at the slightest provocation. Lawyers' waiting rooms are packed with tiny clients, and court lists jammed with cases arising from unfair hogging of the swings, or gross misuse of the slippery-dip. It is a sad fact of today's world that one pull of the pigtails or a slighting reference to hair colour can end up in court, with juries too ready to award vast sums to the slighted. And need we mention the possibility of injury? A grazed knee or stubbed toe might have been shrugged off once, but today's experts know that though the physical damage may heal, the emotional scars last a lifetime. Childhood must be perfect in all respects, and injury implies a loss of that perfection. How could any normal child cope? The possibility of injury, loss or detriment of any kind must be eliminated. Not only that, but fun must be compulsory. Any child found not having fun should be seized and sent to counselling until they start having fun. Better still, send them to Waverley. That'll teach them.





FOR a week it had been the Prime Minister's worst-kept secret. But yesterday Julia Gillard finally announced what she had been reluctant to admit publicly about the fate of the healthcare agreement the Rudd government negotiated with the states in March last year.

That agreement, which had been touted as a comprehensive solution to the continuing funding crisis of Australia's public hospitals, is now dead. And by signing its death warrant, Ms Gillard has despatched what had been regarded as the former government's most significant policy achievement after it abandoned its planned carbonemissions trading scheme.

The Rudd imprint on this Labor era grows ever fainter under his successor. Ms Gillard has already eviscerated the resources rent tax, revived plans for offshore processing of asylum seekers and junked Mr Rudd's chief industry assistance initiative, the green car plan. Among major projects, only the national broadband network and those that Ms Gillard instigated as Mr Rudd's education minister survive.

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The most welcome aspect of the new healthcare plan Ms Gillard will put to the states at tomorrow's meeting of the Council of Australian Governments is that it continues and extends the Rudd plan's commitment to increasing the emphasis on primary care - treatment by GPs and other non-hospital services - within the healthcare system.

The fundamental problem afflicting the system, as The Age has long argued, is the inefficient division of roles between the states and the Commonwealth, with the former having responsibility for public hospitals and the latter, through Medicare, exercising oversight of primary care. This split has encouraged blame-shifting and cost-shifting between the two tiers of government, and providing more resources to local networks of primary care services, especially after hours, will partly redress this.

The underlying problem, however, will not disappear. Indeed, the Gillard plan rests on the assumption that it must continue. The prospect of an ultimate federal takeover of public hospitals, which both Mr Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott at different times flagged as a solution to cost-and-blame shifting, has now receded from sight.

Ms Gillard is proposing a 50-50 partnership, with the Commonwealth matching the states dollar for dollar in funding the costs of growth in public hospital services. She readily concedes that the change of plan is a political response to the implacable opposition of WA's Coalition government - and very likely Victoria's new Coalition government, too - to any surrender of GST revenue to the Commonwealth.

The 50-50 deal means the states will get a smaller proportion of federal funds than under the Rudd plan, which offered 60 per cent federal funding of hospitals in return for recouping a third of GST revenue from the states.

Ms Gillard, however, says that the financial benefit to the states and territories - $16.4 billion to the end of the decade - will still be "roughly equivalent" to what they would have received. Perhaps; but, as previous COAG discussions recognised, the difficulty for the states is that their revenue growth will, over time, not
match their responsibilities in provision of hospital care.

The Commonwealth intends to discipline state spending by using independently assessed pricing for health services. What will future governments do, however, if state revenue flows cannot sustain their 50 per cent share?





THREE years ago tomorrow, on February 13, 2008, prime minister Kevin Rudd offered an apology to the stolen generations of indigenous Australians. He found words worthy of the moment. "To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking-up of families, we say sorry."

To his credit, Mr Rudd acknowledged that the apology, powerful, necessary and overdue though it was, was not enough: "Unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong."

To their credit, Mr Rudd's successor, Julia Gillard, and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, have re-committed their parties to the great national project Mr Rudd gave meaning to in his most important speech: to "close the gap" between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

This week, Ms Gillard released the third annual closing the gap report to Parliament. It makes sobering reading; progress in reducing Aboriginal disadvantage remains unacceptably slow.

Ms Gillard expressed confidence about meeting only two of the project's six goals: halving the gap in mortality rates for indigenous children under five by 2018, and ensuring all indigenous four-year-olds have access to early childhood education by 2013.

On three other measures she was able to claim nothing more than sometimes imprecise "improvement": halving the gap in the reading, writing and numeracy levels of indigenous children by 2018, halving the gap in employment rates by the same year, and halving the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020. The Prime Minister had to report that it was already clear that meeting the final goal - to close the life-expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians by 2031 - would be "extremely challenging".

Ms Gillard nonetheless sought to infuse her speech with optimism. "Together, we can do this," she said, and her hopes will have been lifted by Mr Abbott's generous embrace of what he called "the new spirit and new partnership" in indigenous affairs.

The goals set by Mr Rudd are ambitious. But in the task of overcoming Aboriginal disadvantage, a lack of ambition would diminish us all, because Australia will not be a fully formed nation until the gap is closed.








Basta is a word you will hear often enough in Italy, but never, it seems, in connection with the prime minister. However outrageous or unwise the actions of Silvio Berlusconi have been, Italians have never so far said, at least in sufficient numbers or with sufficient conviction, that enough is enough. That may be changing after prosecutors in Milan this week asked for him to be put on trial for sex-related offences. A judge is expected to rule early next week on the application, and if it is granted, Mr Berlusconi could be put on trial as early as April.

Mr Berlusconi has of course been painted into an apparent legal corner many times before. He has been in court so many times that the exact number is a matter of dispute, but the relationship between him and the law has in the past resembled that between an agile fox and lumbering huntsmen. He always escapes, even when found guilty. Usually he has done this by drawing out the legal process until the statute of limitations comes into play. When the statute fell short of his requirements, he amended it, and recently tried to do so again. His control of television, in a country where only 10% of the population buy newspapers, has enabled him to bury the issues much of the time. Even now, developments which in other countries would be at the top of the TV news agenda are mysteriously halfway down it or even lower.

But this time it will not be that easy for him to leap free. The incident concerned – his alleged payment to a 17-year-old girl for sexual services – happened early last year, too close for a verdict to be timed out. It would be wrong to pronounce on this particular allegation, but what is indisputable is that Mr Berlusconi has had too much to do with too many young women of a certain kind. His People of Freedom movement is a party in more senses than one. What has been going on may or may not be illegal, but it is certainly distasteful. It also a huge distraction from the business of government at a time when Italy has grave economic and social problems demanding sustained attention.

Meanwhile, Italians seem to have slipped into a state of cynical resignation that encompasses both their leader's faults and the degradation of the political system. Although a majority do now think Mr Berlusconi should resign, he is still in place, claiming that his reputation is being besmirched and that leftwing magistrates are out for his blood. He says that all this damages Italy, and it does, but not in the sense he means. He may now inflict even more damage by forcing an election on the question of whether the voters or the courts should choose the country's political leadership.






Spurs and Arsenal did it during the war, after Highbury was requisitioned. Manchester City took in United at Maine Road after Old Trafford was bombed. In Europe it's commonplace. The two Munich teams share a ground, as do Inter and AC Milan, and Lazio and AS Roma. Here it is somehow harder. After months of chat about Liverpool and Everton building a stadium together, the plan is reportedly foundering. For fans their ground is a spiritual home. For owners it's a cash machine. In Liverpool both clubs want more space but neither is ready to relinquish the borrowing rights that total ownership brings. That, and fan resistance, help explain why talk of north London Tottenham and east London West Ham piling into the Olympic stadium together never got any further. But West Ham, yesterday declared preferred bidder for the stadium post-2012 by the Olympic Park Legacy Company, might just reconsider a ground share. Not with Tottenham, but with its smaller, poorer neighbour, Leyton Orient, whose Brisbane Road ground is a throw-in from the Olympic park. At the moment the Os (who rejected the stadium because of the athletics track) are feeling sore at the local giants muscling in. They fear that discounted tickets for Premier League games may hoover up their fanbase. A ground share, though, could bring not just a new stadium and space for their justly admired community activities. It could mean a genuine neighbourhood return on the £500m of public money that built the stadium too.








Thirty years of dictatorship disappeared in 30 seconds. This was the time it took for Vice-President Omar Suleiman to announce that Hosni Mubarak had resigned as president of Egypt and that the armed forces council was taking over as head of state. After 18 continuous days of protest in which the occupants of Tahrir Square resisted everything the dying regime dared to throw at them – armed mobs, occasional gunfire, waves of arrest, the shutting down of the internet and the mobile phone network, a media crackdown – the voice of the Egyptian people had finally made itself heard.

Whatever follows, this is a moment of historic significance. It re-establishes Egypt as the leader of the Arab world and Egyptians at its moral core. This revolution – the only word that fits – was carried out by ordinary people demanding, with extraordinary tenacity, basic political rights: free elections, real political parties, a police force that upholds rather than undermines the rule of law. Try as some may to paint them as the lackeys of Islamism, they did this on their own and, to a large extent, peacefully. This was a fight in which Muslims and Christians stood side by side. No sectarian flags were visible in Tahrir Square, just the national one. Together they showed that if they could conquer their own fear – one that was wholly rational – they could go on to bring down the most entrenched and venal of dictators. Mr Mubarak's fate will not be lost on every other dictator in the Arab world and beyond.

Their achievement was not without sacrifice. More than 300 died fighting for this moment. Nor does the jubilation on the streets of every town and city in Egypt furnish, in itself, the guarantee of a democratic future. Many important questions were left unanswered last night. The biggest centred on what role the army would play in the transition to whatever beckons. Before the crisis, the upper echelons of the army were far from being the potential balancing force between an unyielding president and an angry street. Senior generals who enriched themselves under the former president became part of what one academic has called a military-Mubarak complex. Almost everyone left in power in post-Mubarak Egypt last night, from Vice-President Suleiman down to provincial governors, are career military men. The symbol and head of the regime has gone, but the component parts which supported it still remain. If the experience of Tunisia is anything to go by, the mass demonstrations of the last two weeks may not be the last.

Many will almost certainly demand that Mr Suleiman himself follow his patron's lead. Even after the revolution started, the former intelligence chief might have played a positive role. But his contradictory statements and actions since then have hardly encouraged the notion that he could be the agent for change. He said that Egypt was not ready for democracy, instructed Egyptians to stop watching foreign satellite channels, and vowed to lift the hated emergency law only when "conditions permitted". He did, to his credit, talk to representatives of the organisation he once tried hard to crush, the Muslim Brotherhood, but then issued a statement which was so far off the mark that it was denounced by those who had taken part in the meeting. He surely has no further role to play as mediator.

The implications of these events for the US are very far-reaching. Washington has struggled to speak with one voice as it went from preaching stability to declaring that the political demands of the Egyptians were universal and touched America's core beliefs. Post-revolutionary Egypt may not tear up its treaty with Israel. But it could be less easily swayed to do its neighbour's bidding in Gaza. Politically, Egypt may become more like Turkey. For Egyptians did not merely re-establish their independence from Mr Mubarak. They also demonstrated their independence from the US and its allies.






Once again, world food stocks are looking precarious. As Mr. Michael Richardson detailed in these pages on Feb. 3, prices are soaring for basic food products and the prospect of hunger, starvation and unrest are rising as well. There are several reasons for this spike in prices, but weather — and climate change — is the most important. It will be difficult if not impossible to insulate food production from weather-related problems in the short term, but steps can be taken to insulate prices from their impact.

According to a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report issued earlier this month, the seventh consecutive month of food price increases pushed world food prices to record levels last month. The FAO price index, which tracks a basket of 55 food commodities, rose 3.4 percent in January, taking prices to their highest level since tracking began in 1990. Over the past year, the index price of corn has risen 52 percent, wheat 49 percent, and soybeans 28 percent. Ominously, stocks are low and the trend is expected to continue. In total, world food prices rose 25 percent in 2010, forcing countries to spend an estimated $1 trillion on imports — as much as 20 percent more than the year before.

Fortunately for Asia, where rice is a staple food, production and national buffer stocks are rising. According to the FAO, the region's rice harvest in 2010 is expected to reach a record 627 million tons, a 2.1 percent increase over production in 2009. But experts warn that production is not keeping pace with population growth and upward pressure on prices will persist.

There are several factors behind the steadily rising prices. One explanation blames speculators who are exploiting rising liquidity to bet on rising commodity prices. The human cost of those bets — hunger, starvation, civil unrest — is irrelevant to them. French President Nicolas Sarkozy charges those speculators with "extortion and pillaging" and has promised that he will use his term in the chair of the G20 to fix the problem.

A second cause of the spike in food prices is rising demand. Populations increase and even those that are leveling off are shifting demand to meat, which requires more grain for production. At the same time, crop yields are decreasing as agricultural resources are depleted. Another factor is the growing popularity of biofuels, which adds to the demand for — and prices of — some agricultural products.

The most important cause is weather and climate. Shifting weather patterns and extreme weather events are wrecking havoc on harvests. Heavy rains in Australia have decimated that country's wheat harvest, pushing prices of that staple higher. Droughts and fires in Russia and Ukraine did similar damage to those countries' wheat harvests. Equally severe weather took chunks out of harvests in Canada, Brazil and Argentina.

And things could get worse. This week, the FAO warned that China faces similar conditions with its agricultural regions set to experience the worst drought in over half a century. China usually does not attract a lot of attention in this area, but it is in fact the world's largest wheat producer. Most Chinese production is consumed internally and the prospect of domestic shortages means that a government that is hypersensitive to any hint of domestic unrest will turn to international markets to make up the shortfall. With nearly $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, Beijing can feed its people at any price even if its determination to do so prices other nations out of the market.

Global warming is creating extreme conditions — yes, even the heavy snows of this year can be attributed to global warming — which damages harvests and drives up prices. In fact, it does not take actual shortages, but just their prospect, to raise prices. The human cost of higher prices is unmistakable. Rising food prices were responsible for riots in over 30 countries in 2008. The recent unrest in Tunisia and Egypt has roots in food shortages, among other factors. For families in developing countries, food can consume 50 to 75 percent of household income. Rising prices force them to choose between food and medication or fuel. As some staples become more expensive, families choose lower quality goods, or sometimes are forced to go without. In each case, the result is declining nutrition and even hunger.

Dealing with climate change will take time. More immediately, governments can do more to rein in the speculation that leads to artificial price inflation. More transparency can be introduced to trading and international reserves can be used as buffers when shortages appear. In 2009, developed nations promised to provide more than $20 billion to aid agriculture in developing countries; $6 billion of that total was intended for a food security fund at the World Bank. Less than $1 billion of those pledges has been paid.

Staple-producing countries must also ensure that their products get to global markets. Export restrictions, like those imposed during the 2008 food crisis, cut international supplies while flooding local markets, thus reducing local prices and the incentive to produce. Of course, creating markets for agriculture producers in developing countries would encourage production there. But that requires global trade reform — and that, like global warming, is a much longer-term project.






DURHAM, N.C. — In setting himself ablaze following a humiliating encounter with the police, the university-educated Tunisian vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi triggered a wave of protests across the Arab world. Several Arab dictators who had held power for decades have already been ousted or forced to announce that they will retire.

But protesters in Cairo, Tunis and Sanaa want much more. They also seek efficient governance, economic reforms to stimulate growth, the ouster of collaborators, democratic rights, freedom of religion (and perhaps also from religion) — in short, a comprehensive social transformation.

Everywhere, incumbent regimes have mounted resistance. The unforgettable scene of camel- and horse-riding Mubarak supporters beating tech-savvy Egyptian protesters signals that the old order will not yield without a fight.

The revolts caught seasoned observers, even Arab leaders, off guard. Had the United States known what lay ahead, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would not have remarked, after demonstrations broke out in Egypt, that the Egyptian government was "stable." Arab leaders now showering their key constituencies with pay raises and food subsidies would have done so earlier, thus avoiding the impression of vulnerability.

Longtime regime opponents, too, were caught off guard. For days after Egypt erupted, the Muslim Brotherhood did not know how to react, making it seem out of touch with the "Arab street."

For decades, most Arabs, however unhappy, kept their political grievances private, for fear of persecution if they turned against their leaders publicly. Through private discussions with trusted friends, everyone sensed that discontent was common, yet no one knew, or could know, the extent of it.

It's even harder to gauge what it would take for the disaffected to say "enough is enough" and begin challenging their regime openly, defiantly and in concert. If a sufficient number of Arabs reached that threshold at the right time, the long-docile Arab street would explode in anger, with each group of new protesters encouraging more to join in, giving people elsewhere in the Arab world the courage to initiate protests of their own.

That much was understood widely by entrenched Arab dictators, who saw to it that their intelligence and security corps extinguished any flame before it could spread.

History will record that the match Bouazizi lit on Dec. 17 became the fortuitous spark that ignited an Arab prairie fire. The fire spread so fast that by the time Arab leaders understood what it would consume, it was beyond anyone's control, and in more than one country. The overthrown Tunisian dictator must now regret that his security forces did not arrest Bouazizi and lock him up, rather than allow his public self-immolation.

As it turned out, by the time the seriousness of the rebellion became clear, fear was already changing sides even within the halls of Tunisian power. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's aides had started worrying more about being caught on the wrong side of Tunisian history than about facing the wrath of their beleaguered boss.

Fissures within the Egyptian regime suggest that in Hosni Mubarak's entourage, too, fear is in flux.

The mechanisms underlying this political unpredictability are not unique to the Arab world. Unforeseen uprisings are possible wherever repression keeps people from expressing their political preferences openly.

In 1989, the fall of repressive East European regimes in quick succession stunned the world, including dissidents who had long recognized communism's vulnerabilities. Just before the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a CIA report characterized the Iranian monarchy as an "island of stability."

A month before the Russian Revolution of February 1917, Lenin predicted that his country's great explosion lay in the distant future. All of these cases involved the mushrooming of public protest by long-quiescent constituencies with no prior record of coordinated action.

The aftermath of an unanticipated revolution will itself present surprises. In Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, no one knows where power will lie in the months to come. As in Iran in 1979, demonstrators united in opposition to the old regime have wildly differing goals. Their biggest demands — secure jobs, faster growth, low food prices — are not necessarily compatible, and they may require policies that inflict pain. Divisions within the opposition movements are thus inevitable.

If the Arab societies now in turmoil had democratic traditions, they could be expected to find compromises peacefully, through open and honest debate. Alas, given their histories of autocratic rule, giant leaps forward to full-blown democracy are unlikely. Though steps toward democracy are possible, when the euphoria of the moment passes, political contenders will realize that, if only in self-defense, they must restrict their opponents' freedoms.

Adding to the complexity of the situation are the Islamists, who have so far kept a low profile. They themselves are divided, with preferences ranging from Shariah rule in one form or another to a "Turkish model" involving mild Islamism capable of achieving mass support through the ballot box.

Several things are certain. The Arab street has changed the calculus of fear not only in the countries that have witnessed major protests, but also in the rest of the Arab world, where rulers are on notice that discontent need not remain submerged forever. Arab leaders old and new will implement policies designed to alleviate popular dissatisfaction. They will consider both easing repression, in order to gain sympathy and tightening it, in order to prevent uncontrollable protests. But, whatever they do, they — and the rest of the world — must now expect surprises.

Timur Kuran is a professor of economics and political science at Duke University and the author of "The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East." © 2011 Project Syndicate







BERKELEY, Calif. — A strictly economic interpretation of events in Tunisia and Egypt would be too simplistic — however tempting such an exercise is for an economist. That said, there is no question that the upheavals in both countries — and elsewhere in the Arab world — largely reflect their governments' failure to share the wealth.

The problem is not an inability to deliver economic growth. In both Tunisia and Egypt, the authorities have strengthened macroeconomic policy and moved to open the economy. Their reforms have produced strong results. Annual growth since 1999 has averaged 5.1 percent in Egypt and 4.6 percent in Tunisia — not Chinese-style growth rates, to be sure, but comparable nonetheless to emerging-market countries like Brazil and Indonesia, which are now widely viewed as economic successes.

Rather, the problem is that the benefits of growth have failed to trickle down to disaffected youth. The share of workers under the age of 30 is higher in North Africa and the Middle East than in any other part of the world. Their economic prospects are correspondingly more limited. University graduates find few opportunities outside of banking and finance. Anyone who has traveled to the region will have had an experience with a highly literate, overeducated tour guide.

With modern manufacturing underdeveloped, many young workers with fewer skills and less education are consigned to the informal sector. Corruption is widespread. Getting ahead depends on personal connections of the sort enjoyed by the sons of military officers and political officials, but few others.

It may stretch credulity to think that a high-growth economy like China might soon be facing similar problems. But the warning signs are there. Given the lack of political freedoms, the Chinese government's legitimacy rests on its ability to deliver improved living standards and increased economic opportunity to the masses. So far those masses have little to complain about. But that could change, and suddenly.

First, there is the growing problem of unemployment and underemployment among university graduates. Since 1999, when the Chinese government began a push to ramp up university education, the number of graduates has risen sevenfold, but the number of high-skilled, high-paying jobs has not kept pace.

Indeed, the country is rife with reports of desperate university graduates unable to find productive employment. Newspapers and blogs speak of the "ant tribe" of recent graduates living in cramped basements in the country's big cities while futilely searching for work.

In part, these unfortunate outcomes reflect the inflexibility of China's education system. Students spend their entire four years at university studying a single subject, be it accounting or computer science. As a result, they have few skills that can be applied elsewhere if the job they expect fails to materialize. There has also been a tendency to push students into fields like engineering, even though the Chinese economy is now beginning to shift from manufacturing to services.

Thus, China needs to move quickly on education reform. It needs to provide its university students with more flexible skills, more general training and more encouragement to think critically and creatively.

Moreover, there is the problem of less-skilled and less-educated migrants from the countryside, who are consigned to second-class jobs in the cities. Not possessing urban residency permits, they lack even the limited job protections and benefits of workers who do. And, because they may be here today but gone tomorrow, they receive little in the way of meaningful on-the-job training.

The migrants' predicament underscores the need to reform hukou, China's system of residency permits. A handful of provinces and cities have gone so far as to abolish it, without catastrophic consequences. Others could usefully follow their lead.

Finally, China needs to get serious about its corruption problem. Personal connections, or guanxi, remain critical for getting ahead. Recent migrants from the countryside and graduates with degrees from second-tier universities sorely lack such connections. If they continue to see the children of high government officials doing better, their disaffection will grow.

The ability of disaffected youth — university-educated youth in particular — to use social media to organize themselves has been on powerful display recently in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. Last month, it was still possible for the Egyptian government to halt all Internet traffic and for China to block the Chinese word for "Egypt" from its Twitter-like service Sina. But in social media, as in banking, the regulated tend to stay one step ahead of the regulators. Such shutdowns will be increasingly difficult to enforce.

If Chinese officials don't move faster to channel popular grievances and head off potential sources of disaffection, they could eventually be confronted with an uprising of their own — an uprising far broader and more determined than the student protest that they crushed in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Barry Eichengreen is a professor of economics and political science at the University of California, Berkeley. © 2011 Project Syndicate







The public's attention is now being absorbed by the circulation of a series of books depicting the life and career of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Using the so-called special allocation budget, the books have been widely distributed for consumption by elementary and junior high schools students in provinces such as West Java, Central Java and Banten.

Interestingly, circulation of the books has generated mixed reactions from politicians, teachers, education observers and the like. Some object to the distribution, saying that the books' contents are not in line with what is prescribed in the national curriculum and are cognitively demanding for students to read. Others have harshly condemned the books on the grounds that there was a deliberate effort on the part of the government to promote the image of the President and hence their distribution was politically rather than educationally motivated.

Nevertheless, those who assented to the books' circulation simply contended that the books would do no harm if they were used as enrichment reading materials. Books about any Indonesian political figure, these proponents say, shouldn't be proscribed for educational consumptions.

Though they are not really relevant to the curriculum, the books can be used not only as enrichment reading materials, but also as supplementary learning materials, say in civics classes.

By that logic, it is fair to say that any kind of book – whether it is about about Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin, or Mao Tse-tung – and other books disseminating communism shouldn't be barred for similar reasons.

"It seems premature to say that students won't be able to digest the contents of the books."

Further, the former's arguments for condemning the books due to political motives seem woefully naïve. To begin with, educational activities are never free from politics. For instance, decisions made to endorse curricula used by schools, to conduct the annual national exams, and to censor (by the National Book Center) which school textbooks should be and shouldn't be used by students and teachers are all political decisions.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, teachers' preferences for certain teaching methods, evaluations or assessment tools are never free of political reasons. In essence, education is always intertwined with politics.

Similarly, claiming that the books aren't appropriate for students disparages students' cognition. It seems premature to say that students won't be able to digest the contents of the books simply because they are alleged to have political contents.

Any kind of book, including books about Yudhoyono, can certainly have an educational benefit depending on how they are read. If used in an academic context, classroom teachers will be faced with two options: They can use the books as a means of indoctrination or they can use them as a means of developing students' critical thinking.

In the former, teachers would inculcate their students with a dogmatic attitude, something inimical to the development of students' critical thinking.

In contrast, if teachers favor the latter option, the locus of concern then shouldn't be whether the books are in line with the curriculum and whether the students' cognitive development allows them to read the books but instead how teachers help students examine, challenge and interrogate what is written in the books.

Take, for example, series with titles such as Fair without Discrimination and Caring about Poverty. If intended as supplementary teaching materials, teachers can select content they think relevant to the current situation and have the class discuss it.

Classroom activities could be devoted to examining and challenging rather than simply presenting the content of the books to the students. Using pre-determined questions, teachers can relate what is described in the books to the current social reality the students are facing.

Actual reports from newspapers (e.g., editorial opinions) on similar topics and issues can equally be used as important teaching materials to either contest or support what has been written in the books.  As such, they may help students discern differences between what constitutes mere opinion and what qualifies as fact.

Evaluating available evidence from different books and other reading materials can familiarize students with the skills of rebuttal and confutation that are needed for arguing and challenging prevailing opinions which might mask the real truth.

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya University in Jakarta and chief editor of the
Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching





Believe it or not. The Jakarta urban development budget for 2011 was passed without a clear legal umbrella. This is related to the master plan or the spatial planning (RUTR) of Greater Jakarta for 2010-2030.

Currently there are no regulations on the applicable master plan because the 2000-2010 Jakarta master plan has already expired, while the draft master plan for 2010-2030 should have been passed in Jakarta before 2010 ends.

 This is clearly a bad precedent for the development of Jakarta, because it proved that the development of the city can continue to take place without the need for a master plan. So do not be surprised if Jakarta has a chaotic urban spatial planning, traffic jams, flooding and rob getting worse.

 The absence of the master plan and the slow adoption of Jakarta 2010-2030 master plan indicate attraction between the interests of the provincial government, parliament and major developers.

 The master plan will determine the pattern of space utilization, economics, transportation and environment of Jakarta. In the draft master plan Jakarta 2010-2030, which consists of 21 chapters and 358 articles, containing strategic issues and problems faced, goals and development targets, strategic targets and anticipation of problems, and plans to realize the strategy in the macro structure, the pattern space is written in a variety of map space utilization plans. Issues of disaster and mitigation efforts and adaptation to climate change will not be discussed thoroughly.

Ironically, the master plan, which will determine the fate of the residents, was not known by its own people. How many people know that the draft was still parked at the local legislative. The board is still waiting for some improvement of the content of the draft local government. One is input from citizens.

However, how can citizens provide input if they just do not have access to information. There was hardly any grounded communication. There is no direct dialogue at the pockets of the crowd, such as terminals, rail stations, busstops, offices, hospitals, schools, markets and shopping centers. Residents also do not know the procedure for submitting feedback and objections about the content of the substance of a master plan. Though very important for people to understand and be advised on how Jakarta will be built for (at least) 20 years.

On the other hand, people also experience difficulty in providing input through the official site:

 A lack of disclosure of information about the city's master plan makes people never know where the city will be brought to.

The issue is not about whether the participation process has or has not been undergone alone, but most importantly it is about how the public participation process can reach a level of presence and activity in the daily lives of its citizens, to accommodate the proposed stakeholders to provide input for technical planning.

Local governments must explain in detail to the public the reasons, risks and consequences of decisions that have been taken and poured in a master plan.

The council members should come down directly to the field to meet and hold dialogue with community members, especially in vulnerable areas of development changes, such as markets, terminals, schools, solid housing, slums, areas prone to floods and fires. Dig up as much information from every element of society, business, and education.

 Under the 2007 Spatial Planning Law and the 2009 Management and Environmental Protection Law, spatial planning must also be equipped with Strategic Environmental Assessment (KLHS), so that spatial planning is integrated with the area of Bogor, Depok, Tangerang, Bekasi and Cianjur (Bodetabekjur) and involves environmental conservation.

The Jakarta Provincial Administration should immediately issue a comprehensive disaster-prone map illustrating the current state of each region that is threatened by inundation, the rate of land subsidence, seawater intrusion, fire and earthquake. Maps can be made partially by region and published widely in public places to arouse the collective consciousness of citizens on the local environmental conditions.

The map should be translated in a language that is easily understood by the public. Its design should be appealing and attractive. Residents are given the opportunity to know their own environment and provide insights into the development plan area to improve the quality of life and welfare of the community in the future.

An understanding of the environmental conditions alone will trigger a sense of intimacy, so that it is easier to encourage people to fix their own region.

The existence of a disaster-prone map at each location is expected to be able to help the capital city adapt with the master plan and mitigation of disasters and climate change (floods, inundation, rob, abrasion, intrusion, land subsidence, earthquake), at least for the next 20 or even 100 years.

The draft master plan should be revised. It would be wise if input from the public be collected to refine the 2010-2030 Jakarta master plan. The provincial administration and council should immediately meet to set targets that would legalize the master plan.

 The writer is chairman of the Indonesia Landscape Architecture Study Group, Jakarta.





European and American policymakers worried about further chaos and confusion in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab states should take a close look at the way years of authoritarian rule gave way to democracy in three leading Asian nations: Indonesia, the Philippines and South Korea.  

All three Asian countries went through long and difficult transition periods following the fall of entrenched, corrupt, dictators. There were riots, uncertainty and pain.  The economy suffered. The army watched warily as protests spread.  

Today the three countries are functioning democracies, allies of the West and active participants in Asia's rise.

Historical parallels are never perfect of course; Arab countries, with their mix of disgruntled young people yearning for change, under-developed or non-existent political parties and well-organized Islamists present a complex challenge to Europe and America.  

Not surprisingly, ever since Tunisia's "jasmine revolution" — and with  the Iranian "Islamic revolution" circa 1979 on their minds — policymakers in Brussels and Washington have been struggling to balance their support for change and democracy with a desire for stability and continuity in the region.

There is justified concern that anti-government protests could be hijacked by Islamists. But also unjustified assertions that the region is not "ready for democracy" and that chaos will be destructive and long-enduring.

The West's mixed message risks feeding a perception on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere that Europe and the US are putting stability ahead of democratic ideals and leaving hopes of nurturing peaceful, gradual change in the hands of an old guard which has little reason to speed up the process.

Such sentiments do not augur well for future relations between the West and the Arab world. Better and wiser therefore to give a supportive hand, sound advice and good counsel to the real democrats than to throw a lifeline to those clinging to power.

For inspiration, Arab and Western policymakers should read up on recent Indonesian history and especially the country's successful — albeit sometimes painful — transformation to democracy following the fall of president Soeharto in 1998.  

Also worth a read is the success of the "People Power movement" in the Philippines in 1986 which drove president Ferdinand Marcos into exile and installed Corazon Aquino as the new president. In South Korea, meanwhile, the democratic uprising of June 1987 represented a nationwide uprising and the main goal was to make the authorities to give green light to democratization.

Despite their flaws, Indonesia, the Philippines and South Korea are proof that countries can change direction, people's aspirations for democracy can be met and that chaos can give way to peace and development.

For lessons on managing change and transformation, perhaps Arab and Western policymakers should stopping fretting about Iran and start consulting some of Asia's new democracies.

The writer is Friends of Europe, Asia Program head.




The idea to construct a giant seawall in the northern part of Jakarta certainly deserves commendation as it is designed to protect people living in the city who are vulnerable to and hit hardest by flooding, not only during the rainy season, but almost throughout the entire year, particularly when it comes to high waves.

But such a mega project surely needs comprehensive preparation to prevent it from emulating the failed monorail project, whose idle support poles have now become ugly "monuments" throughout much of the city.

Moreover, the giant seawall project will involve a huge amount of money — reportedly billions of US dollars — and its construction will take 10 to 15 years to complete. Therefore, financial resources and strong commitment from relevant parties (the city administration, the central government and their business partners) are vital to making the project a success. Jakarta citizens surly do not want to see the lucrative investment finally sink in Jakarta's northern sea due to poor preparations.

Deputy Governor Prijanto has said the seawall, if materialized, would serve as a long-term solution to the city's persistent inundation, including sea rise-induced flooding, which is reportedly a result of global warming. "I don't want us to think about building [the sea wall] when Jakarta is already underwater," Prijanto said in a discussion early this week.

The project, conducted by the Jakarta Coastal Defense Strategy (JCDS) with help from experts from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, is expected to be completed in 2025. It will span 60 kilometers from Tangerang on the west end of the city to Bekasi in the east. Preliminary studies on the project suggested a number of options, including construction of a seawall beyond the perimeter of the northern coast. Another option is building bridges connecting certain islands in the Thousand Islands regency to the northern part of Jakarta.

Beyond a reasonable doubt, Jakarta is in need of a comprehensive solution to flooding. The annual disaster has not only caused serious problems, but has also inflicted major losses to both the state and the people. The floods have deluged thousands of houses and destroyed private property as well as city infrastructure. Many Jakartans living in the north coastal area have fallen victim to the annual disaster. Without being alarmist, officials have estimated that 40 percent of Jakarta's land is located below sea level and without proper protection will be washed away if global warming worsens.

Development of a seawall may be pressing, but it should not distract the administration's focus from many other urgent projects the city currently requires to contain the flooding. Other flood mitigation projects such as river dredging and construction of polders should remain on the priority list to keep the city from disaster.

Meanwhile, the maddening daily traffic congestion will remain a cause for concern and therefore needs solutions. The city administration will have to allocate a huge budget for public transportation as part of comprehensive measures to ease traffic, on top of the money earmarked for the giant seawall.

The seawall project is a noble plan to protect people from the dangers of rising sea levels and land subsidence as a result of seawater intrusion. But cautious assessment is a must, particularly regarding financial capabilities, long before the project kicks off.