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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

EDITORIAL 15.02.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month February 15, edition 000755, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



















































































































1.      OLD PLOY

2.      TAKE IT EASY




6.      DOGGY DAYS




2.      BIG MARKET













3.      THE NEW WAY  




2.      MORE SHAME

















































































It is unfortunate that the Church in Goa should get into a confrontation with the Archaeological Survey of India that is working to protect the very monuments that are the centre-piece of the Christian faith in the state. There is no justification for a priest along with a group of followers to storm into a room that was being renovated by the ASI in the UNESCO-notified Old Goa Church complex, which also houses the Se Cathedral and the Bom Jesus Basilica. Even if the devotees had reservations about the manner in which the ASI was conducting its restoration exercises, there are better ways to register protest. What is the purpose of indulging in vandalism and destroying material that is sacred to both the Church and the ASI? Also, the ASI needs to be more sensitive in such matters, even when it is within its rights to conduct work in the premises, because the issue is one of faith. Ideally, it should take the Church authorities into confidence and develop a rapport so that such incidences do not occur. The Church has alleged that the ASI had illegally occupied rooms that serve as the Parish priest's residence. It has also claimed that the Bishop's palace behind the Se Cathedral belongs to the Archdiocese of Goa and the ASI had no right over it. The fact that the ASI has encroached upon property that did not strictly belong to it, is not to be brushed aside but it can also be easily sorted out. All that is required is better relations between the two parties, both of whom feel strongly about the monuments. While the State Government understandably does not want to get into the controversy and is instead hoping that the issue will be resolved through dialogue, it cannot ignore the consequences if the matter festers. Unlawful acts must be countered, and the State Government must act to ensure that people do not take the law into their hands. The Goa ASI chief's allegation that despite a formal complaint, the Government has failed to act against the "vandalism" of the priest and his followers is a serious one. It is understandable that the Government does not want a confrontation with the Church, but it cannot abdicate its responsibility of ensuring that the ASI is allowed to do its job. It must get the two parties together and resolve the matter especially since the two have been at loggerheads before.

This is not the only instance of religious leaders and the ASI locking horns. Some months ago, the country's premier conservation body had to face the wrath of a large group of devotees who insisted on offering prayers at a mosque that is within a heritage site in Delhi. They barged into the area creating a law and order crisis. For some reason — largely misplaced — a section of the religious leaders believed that the ASI was insensitive to their beliefs and dogmatically adhering to its agenda. As a professional organisation entrusted with the task of maintaining and restoring protected heritage sites, the ASI must demonstrate its commitment unwaveringly and cannot pander to the demands of such leaders, especially when this could endanger the very sites the ASI is entrusted to protect. While acknowledging that the ASI need to brush up its public relation skills, community leaders too must realise that they have no exclusive rights over protected monuments, and must not exploit them to incite religious sentiments.







As the euphoria over the reported success of talks between Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir settles down, it is imperative to detach ourselves from the rhetoric of triumph that has hijacked any serious consideration of the matter, and instead take a pragmatic view. The meeting which took place in Thimphu on the sidelines of a SAARC event has been hailed as a major breakthrough in India's process of engagement with Pakistan, that was put to a stop after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Since then, India has consistently demanded Pakistan's cooperation in bringing those responsible for the ghastly attacks to justice, before it resumes the 'composite dialogue', which was initiated in February 2004, as part of a renewed normalisation process with Pakistan. Predictably, Pakistan has been dragging its feet over the investigation process and till date, little progress has been made. Then why are we now allowing Pakistan such leeway and resuming dialogue? It is common knowledge that the United States has been pressurising both New Delhi and Islamabad to make progress on the ever dithering peace process, essentially because a stable South Asia is of strategic importance to it especially as it plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Clearly, the Indian Government is keen to appease the US, even at the cost of domestic interest, and is now looking to do so without raising a stink at home. This is particularly evident in India's reluctance to call the new set of talks a 'composite dialogue' even though they cover much of the same issues. This is just a lousy tactic by the Government to pull a fast one on the Indian public as it looks for a way out to engage with Pakistan, under US pressure despite the former's refusal to assist with the investigation of the Mumbai attacks case. Moreover, as statements released by the respective Foreign Offices reveal, the agenda, if one may call it that, for the new set of dialogues is particularly broad and open-ended and includes almost everything, from proposals for more buses and trains, to discussions on humanitarian issues and cultural interactions but does not specifically define anything. This is particularly dangerous and such engagements must be avoided at all costs.

Moreover there remains the issue of Pakistan's own internal affairs. Already, there are doubts if the present Government has a majority in Parliament while Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi has been replaced by a new Foreign Minister, who is scheduled to meet her Indian counterpart later in the year. So, yes we are talking to Pakistan. But really, who is on the other side and for how long will they be there? Perhaps, it would be wiser if Pakistan focuses on its domestic affairs for now — it is already on the edge of disaster and will collapse if immediate action is not taken.









Mistakes of the Raj have returned to haunt Britain in the form of Islamic extremism.

Great Britain, mother of Western colonialism whose footprints still deface the world, admits it cannot cope with citizen-adherents of a sister faith unless they accept the primacy of its Anglican Christian culture, while practicing their religion in private. In other words, national identity will be determined by the 'core values' and political concepts of Western liberal democracy as upheld by the Anglican majority; lateral entrants from the Islamic world will not be allowed to challenge or disturb this system.

The British Prime Minister's confession that multiculturalism has 'failed' vindicates the Hindu concept of Hindutva, which asserts that India's natal, primordial and living civilisation must determine her national character. India has long suffered at the hands of Islamic and British-Christian invaders, and continues to be stifled by an elite comprising soulless atheist-Marxists, hostile minorities, and fellow travellers, all of whom advance the power of the two millenarian faiths.

Today Britain, which welcomed diaspora groups for use against former colonies and hosted virulent Islamic doctrines in UK mosques for export elsewhere, finds the kitchen too hot. Western nations like Germany, The Netherlands, France, are also feeling uneasy with their Muslim populations.

Much of the West's economic and political domination in the era between and after the two World Wars derives from occupation of the land and resources of almost the entire Muslim world (read oil and gas). To facilitate this loot, an interesting trick was to covertly encourage radical clerics to oppose West-propped dictators who, in turn, would rely even more on the West to crush their domestic enemies. The partition of India was wrought by offering its humiliated Muslim elites a 'soft' target — Hindu non-monotheists, but Pakistan could never become a viable nation and is even today dependent on US doles. Indeed, nowhere in the last two centuries has resurgent Islam won territory or political autonomy for Islam. The Shia Revolution in Iran, which deposed a hated American stooge, is probably the sole Islamic victory against the West; everywhere else it has been dismember-and-rule (or corner-neutralise), East Timor and Sudan being the most recent examples.

Despite political successes in containing Islam, Western nations have become nervous over rising Muslim populations and their refusal to accept Western values. Multi-culturalism was an attempt to cope by living in mental and cultural ghettos within a Western polity. It failed because Muslims used their citizenship rights to try to alter the socio-cultural and political landscape; neither the established Church nor polity could accept this. This reinforced the mutual suspicions of Islam and Christianity, and has tacitly triggered the quest for totalitarian control by one or the other.

India's sanatana dharma is a religion and living civilisation, inspired by the ideal of universal welfare of all beings, human and non-human. Dharma is not fixed in time or space, and eternally renews itself in response to the Age; it is always contemporary … Dharma respects all faiths, for it is not given to any human agency to arbitrate a final truth for mankind. Hindus believe the Vedas are the 'revealed' truth 'heard' by the Vedic rishis (Sruti). Yet that is no reason to impose them on the world by human regents. Hence, despite the belief in One Supreme Being (Parabrahma), non-monotheism is the hallmark of all Indic traditions. Our polity and innate secularism flow from this understanding; Aristotle said centuries ago that Hindus were the only people to have successfully made dharma the basis of their public life.

This generous tradition made India the perfect refuge for all — the Parsi community fleeing persecution in Persia; the Dalai Lama and his followers; the now controversial Karmapa; the Bahai community ... Christians and Muslims established beachheads here centuries ago; Jews believe they came after the destruction of the Second Temple of Solomon in AD 70. Our political culture is equally accommodative — the first cabinet of independent India included Maulana Azad and B R Ambedkar.

Mother India regards her minorities as strands in a multi-strand civilisation, who interact with each other at will. Traditionally, they automatically positioned themselves around the core culture based on her ancient and native traditions. They were not accorded inferior status, but they did not determine the nation's identity and ethos.

Post-independence India, however, has been forced to cope with trans-national Islam and Christianity, funded and mentored by foreign regimes and agencies to promote conversions and non-assimilation with Hindu culture, and demand political and economic sops to maintain a deliberately separate identity. The Christian community especially rages against all attempts to protect native culture and faith, particularly among vulnerable tribes, as an assault on freedom of religion. Despite explicit judgements of the Supreme Court, it repeats the canard that freedom of religion means freedom to convert others to Christianity.

A recent instance of Christian bigotry is the furore against the annual Maa Narmada Samajik Kumbh (Feb 10-12, Mandla district, Madhya Pradesh) on grounds that it will bring converts back to Hindu dharma. Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur approached the High Court while Father Anand Muttungal asked Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan for security. Hindu sadhus serving tribals in remote areas are gunned down with sophisticated weapons, but merit no state protection; what a farce.

Now the West is cracking under the strain of living with Muslims who reject its values and force deferment of its cultural-civilisational framework. Mr David Cameron has honed in on the two issues that have long plagued Indian society and polity — common citizenship based on a uniform civil code (now causing anxiety to the Indian Supreme Court), and curtailment of the awesome powers of religious leaders.

Reflecting intelligence concerns about terrorists attacks on British soil (London never cared about attacks outside), Mr Cameron says the State will henceforth actively confront those who hold extremist views, and deny engagement with and public funds to groups that fail to promote British values. Rejecting the idea that different communities may live according to their own values and traditions, he said immigrants will have to integrate, speak English, and learn a common culture and curriculum at school.

Mr Cameron would realise that the pigeons raised by the Raj in India have returned to roost in Britain. He should move to end his country's funding of the Human Rights and Conversion industries, or watch them make Britain the next target of their rage.








Recent clashes in Darjeeling may be seen as GJM leader Bimal Gurung's ploy to stall elections. The Election Commission can do nothing to ensure a free and fair election in the area because if political parties are not allowed to contest against each other, then the GJM will win by default. The flawed approach of the administration has turned Darjeeling into the personal fiefdom of demagogues

Arson, death in police firing, confrontation and atrophy have gone into making a pot-boiler, which is the story of Darjeeling in the grip of Gorkha identity politics. Since 1987, vivisectionists, disguised as heroic ethnic leaders have worked unilaterally to separate the three subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong from West Bengal. Ethnicity has been used to turn that corner of India into the personal fiefdom of demagogues, delirious with power.

It is uncertain how much of the popular will these leaders and their respective parties represent. It is a matter of conjuncture — based on the assumption that if the hills were on the boil in the 1980s and if they are on the boil now — the majority of the population is on the side of autocratic leaders, who have usurped the democratic rights of the people living in the three subdivisions by consistently denying them the freedom of choice.

The Darjeeling agitation or Gorkha aspiration for a homeland is not the same as the struggle in Telangana for a separate State. From Mr Subash Ghising of the Gorkha National Liberation Front to Mr Bimal Gurung of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, the message that has gone out is that the ethnic Gorkha homeland shall be an exclusive enclave. Neither Mr Ghising nor Gurung have allowed this idea to be tested in the best available manner, that is, free and fair elections.

Shorn off its righteous moral indignation, the so-called people's struggle for a homeland has been hijacked by political adventurers out to grab whatever treasure there is in the hills.

Mr Ghising certainly mobilised the 'people'. He led them in an armed insurrection and then bargained for peace. What he effectively bargained for was a permanent post at the helm as the autocrat. It is significant that he never ever dared to test the popular verdict. From the first to the last election, he manipulated the contest to ensure that the GNLF had no contenders.

The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha has never been put to the test either. It is because Mr Gurung has never dared to do so. He probably knows that the GJM's apparently exclusive hold on the people will not be reflected in any election verdict.

The only way in which he could have got a massive mandate was if the Union Government and the West Bengal Government had succumbed to his pressure tactics and agreed to the formation of a new State.

It is important that the Government at the Centre has held out despite pressures from the BJP Member of Parliament Jaswant Singh and the former MP Inderjit Khullar, who never fully committed to any specific position on a separate State of Gorkhaland. There was no question ever of the West Bengal Government agreeing to a vivisection of the State.

The latest face-off after the clash and subsequent police firing in Sipchu in the Dooars and exhausting, crippling bandh in the hills is one more ploy to postpone the process of free and fair choice via the State Assembly election.

While the CPI(M) perceives a foreign hand as well as the Maoist hand in the Sipchu incident in which two people died and several police personnel were critically injured, the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha has declared that its peaceful, albeit armed assembly in the Dooars, was attacked by the police. In its routinely contrary style, the Trinamool Congress has declared that the Sipchu incident is part of the CPI(M)'s manipulations of the past 30 years.

The people in Darjeeling have been manipulated for just over 20 years by the Gorkha leadership. In the past 10 years, the West Bengal Government has failed them, too. By refusing to take a call on dealing with Mr Gurung, they have allowed the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha to indulge in forcible acquisition.

The administration did virtually nothing to confront Mr Gurung when he was on the make. It allowed Mr Gurung to drive out Mr Ghising from his position of authority, claiming that it would restore peace to the hills.

The West Bengal Government, especially Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Urban Affairs Minister Ashok Bhattacharjee and the CPI(M)'s district leader Jibesh Sarkar have individually and collectively added to the free-for-all politics of Darjeeling.

The Centre and the State leaders allowed Mr Ghising, who was afraid of elections, to get away with an arrangement that suspended the hill population's right to vote. The Centre and the State have enabled Mr Gurung to grab power without even once exerting pressure on him to legitimise his position through an election.

Now that election is inevitable, Mr Gurung is searching for ways in which to stall it. By camping in Kuming, by arranging his local militia to be a highly visible red rag to any self-respecting administration, Mr Gurung is inviting the West Bengal Government to take action.

Any action that is taken by the State Government will enable him to slip the hook on which he is currently strung up.

It is nonsensical that the Election Commission has planned to visit Darjeeling in order to study the situation in the area. The Election Commission can do nothing to ensure a free and fair election in the area, because if political parties are not allowed to contest against each other, then the GJM will win by default.

Unless the Election Commission decides that it will not hold elections in Darjeeling till competitive politics is possible, the outcome will be manipulated by a charlatan masquerading as the icon of the Gorkha people.








In a marked departure, the new US military strategy has stressed on strengthening coalition with other nations, including Russia and China, to contain terrorism, counter extremism and maintain global peace.

It has realised it is not the only controlling force any longer

A new version of the national military strategy has been published in the United States: The document that was last edited in 2004 has undergone substantial alterations.

The main change is that the strategy has a new objective. The 2004 document proclaimed its goal as defending the US against a possible sudden attack and ensuring general military and technological superiority over the adversary.

Now, the basic task is seen as strengthening alliances between the US and its partners abroad. Membership in international coalitions is considered the guarantee of security in modern world.

Despite its declared commitment to the coalition format, the US reserves the right to act on its own, if needed.

Other goals included strengthening international and regional security, countering extremism, containing aggression and shaping "the future force." A special emphasis is placed on the fact that the US seeks a nuclear-free world.

Threats and allies

International terrorism continues to be seen as the main threat to US security. This choice of threat also determines the selection of strategic aims: To defeat the Al Qaeda and its supporters operating, above all, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Russia is mentioned once in the new strategy. The authors propose to strengthen cooperation between Russia and the US. "We will increase dialogue and military-to-military relations with Russia, building on our successful efforts in strategic arms reduction," the document reads.

Its authors also quote examples of common interest, such as countering the spread of nuclear weapons, fighting terrorism, and cooperation in space exploration and anti-missile defences.

The US will also welcome Russia's more active participation in supporting stability and strengthening security in Asia.

China enjoys a separate mention in the new US military strategy. The United States notes China's growing might and its influence in the region and intends to cooperate with it in order to achieve better understanding and, through joint efforts, to stabilise the situation in Korea.

At the same time, the authors of the strategy note that China's growing military might is a potential threat to security in the region, and the United States "will be prepared to demonstrate the will and commit the resources needed to oppose any nation's actions that jeopardize access to and use of the global commons ... that threaten the security of our allies."

Studying the text

What are some possible conclusions one can draw from the text? The US has de facto recognised the loss of its status as an unchallenged global leader, one that defined the architecture of international security and the hierarchy of nations in this system. The load the US took on in the 1990s has proved unbearable and strengthening ties with foreign partners has become a natural outcome of the problems the US faces in the West and Central Asia.

Still, the US remains, and will remain for a long time still, the strongest military power in the world. But it is not the only controlling force any longer, and the risk of destabilisation has increased a great deal.

Threats to international security remain and even grow despite the formal end of the Cold War. Many of the difficult-to-control local wars and political processes in a series of Third World countries are increasingly affecting the security of global leaders, including the US.

A separate subject is the dramatic growth of China's influence and capabilities. In perspective, China may become a bigger threat to the US positions in the Asia-Pacific region than any other country since the breakdown of the USSR.


Actually, the change in priorities was natural and now only one crucial question remains: How well can the incumbent US administration implement the provisions declared in the strategy?

It is no secret that in the US, as well as in Russia, people governed by Cold War stereotypes still rule the roost, and their decisions, for example in respect of Russia, are aimed not so much at understanding and cooperation as at Russia's international isolation and its "removal" from the decision-making process.

As a result, the strategy, which demonstrates the new understanding by the country's leadership in general and the US military establishment in particular, will be of any value only if it is implemented by the people who really believe in the values written into it.

In the next two years, the new US strategy will have to pass a tough test. Will it survive the next election in the US and to what extent its declared commitment to cooperation will be realised in specific proposals and, which is equally important, in its readiness to seek compromises on disputed issues?

Failing this, the 2011 US national military strategy will become just another grand declaration.

--The writer is a RIA Novosti military affairs commentator







In the year 2010, the American strategic community was emphatic in its assertions that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal was safe, that foolproof measures were in place, that the 'Personal Reliability Program' seemed infallible. Therefore, there was little chance of the Al Qaeda or any other jihadi outfit getting its hands on a Pakistani nuclear warhead.

In January this year, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, a security guard with Salman Taseer, the liberal Pakistani Governor of West Punjab, pumped 24 bullets into the man he was supposed to protect. The cause for alarm was the fact that Qadri was not a fanatical Wahabi or Deobandi. He was a Barelvi, a part of the so-called silent majority of moderate Muslims in Pakistan. He had clearly made his intentions known to his fellow guards. He shot his charge in cold blood. Rose petals were showered on the assassin, when he was taken to court. Pakistani lawyers lined up to fight his case. In sharp contrast, no cleric was willing to perform Salmaan Taseer's last rites because he had tried to save a poor Christian woman condemned to death for allegedly blaspheming the Prophet of Islam.

Twitter and Facebook sites in Pakistan were deluged with laudatory references to Malik Mumtaz Qadri. The extremist contagion in Pakistan is now not confined to the Wahabi or Deobandi sects alone. The Qadri incident highlights that the malaise is widespread and affects every component of Pakistani society. Not only had General Zia-ul-Haq proliferated the madrassas indiscriminately, he had radicalised the Pakistani education system itself. Today, the chickens are coming home to roost.

The Zia-ul-Haq generation of brainwashed ghazis has reached the two-star rank in the Pakistani Army. Officers from this level were involved in all the non-institutional military coup attempts that have been made in the past — for insatnce, Maj Gen Akbar Khan and Maj Gen Zaheer. With the Qadri incident, can the Personal Reliability Program of the Pakistani Army be relied upon? The Pakistani guards of President Asif Ali Zardari and others are being replaced by American guards.

The world's greatest security nightmare would be of Pakistani nukes coming into the hands of radical non-state actors. Pakistan has the world's fastest growing nuclear arsenal. From 60-70, the number of warheads is being raised to 100 by a country that is economically bankrupt and is being kept afloat purely by the International Monetary Fund and doles from the West. These doles are being used to finance an out-sized Pakistani nuclear arsenal, which is most likely to be used against the US itself, should the likes of Malik Mumtaz Qadri hand over the same to Al Qaeda.

There is today a Strategic Plans Division headed by a three-star General, which operates and protects the Pakistani Nuclear Arsenal. This has a Security Division headed by a Major General. This has approximately 8,000 military personnel for guard duties. These are supposed to be stringently screened to ensure that no extremist elements are posted to this security force.

However, the Qadri effect now needs to be factored in urgently. The Qadri mindset now gives an insight into the average moderate Muslim's mindset in Pakistan. It shows a thoroughly radicalised nation. The bulk of the recruitment for the Pakistani Army is done from six districts in West Punjab. Even extremist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Jaish-e-Mohammed recruit their foot-soldiers from these same districts. Thus, members from the same families contribute troops to the Pakistani Army, some 8,000 of whom guard the nuclear installations and warheads, as also to the militant tanzeems.

Zia ul Haq's educational system has succeeded in radicalising majority of the Pakistani population. The degree of this radicalisation has now been highlighted by the Qadri episode. If the US guards have to be entrusted with the security of Mr Zardari, the safety of Pakistan's expanding nuclear arsenal poses an even greater question mark.

This presents the most serious danger to the comity of nations because nuclear weapons in the hands of jihadi zealots overturn the entire logic of deterrence. Deterrence operates against rational state actors whose territory and industrial assets can be held hostage. How do you deter suicidal lunatics? Ayman al Zawahiri, in the meantime has reasserted his determination to acquire nuclear weapons. In 1998, Osama Bin Laden had declared that, "acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction for the defence of Muslims is a religious duty."

Rolf Mowatt Larson, an acknowledged authority on the subject, feels that the Al Qaeda is determined to acquire nuclear warheads for a devastating and spectacular strike against the US. During the period 2002-03 there was a stream of three-way communication between the senior leadership of Al Qaeda, senior Al Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia and Saif-al-Adel in Iran to decide how to proceed with the inspection and possible purchase of nuclear devices.

In 1991, the US had enacted the Nunn-Lugar Act that was designed to roll back the nuclear weapons programmes of the former Soviet republics, to prevent them from falling into the hands of non-state actors. It would be highly prudent for America, to similarly safeguard the loose nukes of the sinking state of Pakistan.

--The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army









The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation recently warned that food prices worldwide had hit record levels since their first indexing in 1990. More, it said they would spike further. Now, with over two-thirds of China's wheat crop under threat courtesy shortage of rainfall, the prediction looks less alarmist than its critics say. More so, since drought-afflicted China's troubles have accompanied weather-related disruption elsewhere as well, such as flood-hit Australia and other big food-producing nations like the US, Russia and Brazil. The world, it appears, might need to brace for supply shocks and consequently bigger food bills, which have already caused unrest in many regions including the Arab world.

True, we haven't seen food riots of the kind marking 2008's crisis. But the international situation is worrisome not least because the political counter to be had in protectionist export caps or bans - as in 2007-08 - only aggravates problems in an interdependent world. No country today is self-sufficient and must export or import to help meet its own and others' food needs. So, the issue mandates multilateral thinking on global governance, climate change with special focus on water management as well as aid policies including on transfer of knowhow and technological collaboration to help upgrade farming techniques in developing countries with rising food demand.

India's policy makers correctly say high food inflation is a global and not solely domestic headache. But surely that's no excuse for blinking at India's massively underdeveloped farm sector and creaking supply and public distribution networks. Providing food security to a nearly 1.2 billion-strong nation is a daunting task. The world can't help us unless we help ourselves by striving to eliminate agriculture's deep-rooted systemic weaknesses. Only by modernising can productivity be raised and delivery glitches plugged. For starters, we need better monsoon readiness, and that includes a vastly expanded and qualitatively improved irrigation cover, which is now limited to just 40% of India's cultivable land.

As crucial are regulations - be it on labour or viable land holding size - favourable to promoting largescale mechanised farming and agro-processing. Indeed, rural India needs massive private sector investment, to be had by building an agriculture-industry interface. Widespread food insecurity is scandalous when huge amounts of perishables go waste annually thanks to inadequate storage and transport infrastructure. With retail reform, funds can flow to cold chains and warehousing apart from creating profitable marketing opportunities for farmers. Inter-state movement and trade in products need easing as well to help match cross-country demand and supply. Finally, R&D and innovation in farming are a must to help conserve depleting groundwater, improve soil and seed quality and beat back use of harmful fertilisers. Taking a favourable call on genetically modified foods will be key to our launching a long overdue second green revolution.







Low key though it was, the meeting between the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries in Thimphu last week has paid off. The proposed meeting between the home secretaries of the two countries in March is, finally, a step forward from the rigid stances both sides have been locked in since 26/11. A hardening of the Indian position was both inevitable and necessary in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. But as a strategy, the refusal to engage Islamabad on all issues cannot be sustained indefinitely. The home secretary meeting is set to focus on counterterrorism, but it is only a part of what is to come. Contrary to populist rhetoric, comprehensive dialogue could be as beneficial for New Delhi as for Islamabad. The economic and security benefits of lowered tension will not be confined to one side of the border alone.

Swift movement on issues on which the two sides have been close to an agreement in the past, which could include grabbing low-hanging fruit such as resolving the Sir Creek and Siachen disputes, could do much to create a positive political environment for peace. Trade is another issue that would pay dividends if tackled quickly. The business communities on either side of the border have been keen on their governments facilitating - or at least permitting - freer commerce. Economic benefits have a way of laying strong foundations for progress in other areas as well. To achieve all this, back-channel talks to supplement the high-profile engagement are essential. The decibel level of any India-Pakistan engagement is high enough to make dialogue out of the limelight necessary.








WASHINGTON: At a cursory glance, Pakistan and Mubarak's Egypt look similar. Not in shape or size but in social predicaments and power structures. In fact, they are very different.

They have both had a facade of civilian rule for years while the military has wielded real power. In both, generals and colonels have carved out large slices of wealth for themselves and kept their fingers in as many lucrative pies as they can. Both militaries justify their stranglehold on power by citing the threat of chaos that would be let loose by Islamic extremists. In both, opinion polls show actual support for Islamists among the people to be relatively low. And both are US allies supported by substantial economic and military largesse from Washington.

Look closely and profound dissimilarities show up. Egypt does not suffer from quite the level of tension among ethnic groups that compete violently for space within Pakistan. Nor does Egypt have major border disputes with its neighbours. Although a series of generals wearing civvies have ruled Egypt since 1952 by using a fearsome police and intelligence apparatus, no one can accuse Cairo of stoking, directing and exporting radical extremism in the way Pakistan's military has through its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) wing. Besides, Egypt doesn't have the Bomb. Pakistan has.

Pakistan is "the most dangerous country in the world", in the words of Bruce Riedel in a memo to President Bill Clinton back in 1998. Riedel is a former CIA officer and security affairs adviser to four US presidents. Now a Fellow at Brookings Institution, his latest book Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of Global Jihad is perhaps the most hair-raising tract on Pakistan written to date by an American.

Detailing how Pakistan's army has nurtured jihad for more than three decades, he warns: "An extremely powerful jihadist Frankenstein is now roaming the world." The monster has powerful protectors in Pakistan, "right up to the very top". It threatens not just India or the United States. It threatens the entire planet.

The Dr Frankenstein who began to create the demon was the late General Zia-ul Haq, a military dictator who was the first full-blown Islamist to rule Pakistan, says Riedel. Today, we don't know how many fervent ideologues there are in the military, particularly the ISI, as it continues to run with Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad hares while selectively hunting a few down now and then.


Meanwhile, American policy towards Pakistan has oscillated wildly between warm embrace, as under Richard Nixon and George W Bush, to more or less ineffective sanctions, as under George H W Bush and Bill Clinton. Throughout the relationship, the US has endorsed every Pakistani military dictator "despite the fact that they started wars with India and moved their country deeper into the jihadist fold".


The time has come to think the unthinkable. Riedel traces scenarios in which a jihadist takeover of Pakistan becomes possible. And, then what? Such a regime will take control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and, for all the talk of America having plans to secure those weapons, no outsider knows where most of them are located.

Military thinkers in Rawalpindi seem to be fully aware that the world is anxiously thinking the unthinkable. Actually, they have us all over a barrel, especially India and the United States. Jihadi takeover aside, we are paralysed by nuclear blackmail.

What is to be done? Riedel offers a familiar list of steps needed by the US to continue engaging Pakistan, including encouraging democratic forces, helping strengthen its civilian institutions, and even making a case for Pakistan to get the kind of civilian nuclear deal that the US signed with India. Then, in conclusion he seems to buy the Pakistani argument that nothing can be done unless the Kashmir issue is resolved.


Such a resolution would make Pakistan a normal state that is not preoccupied with India. "It would also remove a major rationale for the army's disproportionate role in Pakistan's national security affairs," he asserts. Yet, in earlier pages he has himself elaborated how every time a solution to the Kashmir problem has been in sight some misadventure has been initiated from Pakistan to scuttle the process.

We have to ask: If a solution of the Kashmir dispute would indeed remove the rationale for the army remaining in power in Pakistan, why on earth should the army, benefiting fabulously as it does from exercising that power as Riedel notes, want a solution in Kashmir that allows peace to flower between India and Pakistan?

The last time an opportunity was in sight was in 2007 when back-channel talks between Pervez Musharraf and
Manmohan Singh came within a whisker of a lasting solution. But along came the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. It was like the time when Musharraf himself had initiated the Kargil war while Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif were signing the Lahore accord in 1999 to facilitate peace.

But, no matter, Riedel has laid bare the reality of Pakistan. His book is a must read for Washington's commentators and TV pundits, who often display an ignorance of subcontinental affairs. Meanwhile, let's all hope that democrats in Pakistan have been watching Egypt's revolution closely.

( The writer is a FICCI-EWC fellow at East West Centre in Washington .)







Madhya Pradesh CM threatens hunger strike for better compensation to farmers Though he has called off his proposed hunger strike, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has set a bad example for his peers by mooting the idea. Chouhan had decided to go on fast against what he alleged to be the Centre's meagre compensation package for farmers. Chouhan may have a legitimate grievance. But for the chief minister of a state to go on hunger strike doesn't speak well of our democracy, nor does it do justice to the seriousness of such a protest. What stops his political colleagues from following suit? It would indeed be embarrassing if the prime minister or the president were to go on a hunger strike over a set of 'demands'.

If hunger strikes were the answer to everything, there would be no need for any government machinery. They were a technique used by Gandhi to protest against a colonial government, in the days when India lacked representative government and no forums were available to express popular grievances. That is hardly the case today. If political parties routinely resort to extreme forms of agitation such as hunger strikes or general strikes despite other channels of peaceful protest being available, that would rapidly render the country ungovernable. And when a chief minister, who is constitutionally mandated to govern, disrupts public order instead by embarking on a hunger strike, the situation borders on the farcical.

Thanks to its overuse as well as recent innovations such as relay hunger strikes - where they may even be a form of healthy fasting - such forms of protest no longer evoke the moral indignation they used to. Rational debate and discourse form the essence of democracy, not meaningless political gimmicks and forms of emotional blackmail. It is high time such forms of protest are shunned. This isn't one of the more imaginative ideas Chouhan has thrown out.







Chouhan's call for a hunger strike follows in the tradition of great Indian leaders who fought against injustices. Since the days of our struggle for independence, fasting as a form of non-violent protest has been widely recognised. It was a crucial ingredient in Mahatma Gandhi's satyagraha philosophy, and was adopted to stir the conscience of the British rulers against the injustices perpetrated by the Raj. Six decades hence, oppression has taken the form of corruption and government apathy. In such a scenario, hunger strikes are still very relevant.

No individual proposes to undertake a hunger strike unless the injustice faced is unbearable. Even after more than 20 farmer suicides in Madhya Pradesh, the Centre released just Rs 425 crore as compensation against the Rs 2,442 crore that was required. Such apathy towards the grievances of farmers reflects moral bankruptcy on the part of the Centre. Only a hunger strike would have conveyed the plight of the farmers and shocked the government into action. That the prime minister was forced to personally reassure Chouhan that adequate compensation would be provided to the farmers bears testimony to the efficacy of this non-violent form of protest. In the normal course, debate over the amount of compensation would have dragged on for an indefinite period of time, forcing the affected farmers into a debt trap.

Expecting the government to proactively form policies that help the needy is wishful thinking. It is precisely because of limited resources that the government needs to be reminded from time to time what is truly important. The potency of hunger strikes to effect good governance cannot be denied. On numerous occasions successful hunger strikes have ensured justice is done. So what if someone holding public office is the one going on fast? It shows that not all politicians are cut from the same cloth.






If you've always wanted to know what it feels like to be in the innards of an anaconda without actually being swallowed by it, then all you need to do is take a ride in the Metro. Sometimes, it's not enough to use a single analogy to describe the Metro Experience. So here's the second one. Taking the Metro is like taking a bottle of laxative: it gets the job done in no time, but by the time it's over you'll be sweating and panting as though you were tied to Usain Bolt when he was being chased by a pack of hungry hounds. It's a possibility that my less than genial attitude towards this very useful mode of transportation has got to do with unique experiences that i've encountered but i'll let you be the judge of that.

To start with, i have a serious problem with the 'automatic abdomen smashers' that are there at the station right before you flash your token to gain access to the Metro. I know this because i've actually timed it but that demonic contraption gives you approximately three nanoseconds to make your way past it before it slides shut with a deadly click. Every time i go through that thing i run the risk of losing my power to carry on my family name.

The 'automatic crotch crushers', shockingly, are just the beginning. But like in an
Indiana Jones movie, there are a million bizarre obstacles in the traveller's way before one can reach the Metro; the biggest hurdle being the 'molestation mob'. These incredibly violent throngs are found all throughout the Metro disguised as unsuspecting individuals; calm, harmless and completely Gandhian. Until, they hear the Metro screech to a halt at which point these innocuous Metro-goers transform into grasping, groping, grabbing gargoyles (Yes, i alliterate when i'm angry). When you're caught in the middle of the 'molestation mob' whose single-minded mission is to thrust themselves into the train at any cost, there's nothing you can do to stop them. It's like one of those zombie movies where even if you're pumping bullets into their bodies, flinging grenades at them, smacking them on their heads with baseball bats they keep clutching at you tirelessly. This phenomenon can go on for long periods of time until you find yourself involuntarily pushed inside the Metro feeling guilty, ashamed, angry and, on some lonely days, even a little bit excited.

And if you think that's when the infernal agony stops, then you couldn't be more wrong. From the time you find yourself inside the train to the time you reach your stop, you're on an endless mission to find a place to sit. There are so many seats reserved for physically challenged people, women and old people that it's next to impossible for a non-disabled young male to find himself a seat inside the Metro. That's why when there was a recent incident in the news about a man getting beaten up for entering the women's section inside the Metro, there was a part of me that somewhat empathised with him.

Having presented my side of the story, it's also true that there are people who love taking the Metro. I have friends who swear by the Metro and tell me that it's a pleasurable joy ride that liberates their senses. Now, i'm not sure if i should inform the narcotics department in order to investigate the root cause of such bizarre statements or reconsider my own perspective about taking the Metro. After ruminating for a while, i have concluded that there are three kinds of Metro-goers. Metrophiles: people who love taking the Metro. Metrosexuals: people who take the Metro just to rub against other passengers. I, on the other hand, fall into the third category; i am a Metrophobe.








There certainly seems to be some madness in the method for the Congress despite it being on the ropes in the Centre. It is now clear that it cannot go it alone in the northern states and hit a home run. But, whether by chance or accident, things seem to be falling in place in the south. There is little doubt that the United Democratic Front (UDF) will replace the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala come the assembly elections. But the states that bring in the numbers are Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. And here, the Congress, if all goes well, seems to have played its cards right. By roping in movie star Chiranjeevi and his Praja Rajyam Party, the Congress has struck the first blow towards neutralising the problems it may face from rebels like Jaganmohan Reddy.

The Congress also seems more willing now to come to an agreement with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) on the formation of a new Telangana state despite the fact that the fate of Hyderabad could be a thorny issue. The TRS, which has literally brought Hyderabad to its knees, now seems in a more amenable mode on a mutually acceptable accommodation with the Centre. The ill-timed efforts made by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and its leader N Chandrababu Naidu's fast on the farmers' suicide issue have made no impact on the political landscape, again a positive for the Congress. In Tamil Nadu, the 2G spectrum controversy has definitely dented the DMK chief minister M Karunanidhi's efforts to play caste politics on the A Raja issue. The Congress may well look at regrouping with the AIADMK, though it is as fraught with danger as its present alliance. The AIADMK's mercurial leader J Jayalalithaa has been in the political wilderness for a while and she seems to sense that a convenient alliance with the Congress could unseat her bete noire, the DMK.

As for the BJP's adventures in the south, the party which opened its southern innings in Karnataka in 2007, today finds itself in a quagmire in the state with the scandals revolving around chief minister BS Yeddyurappa and the unfortunate incidents involving the Bellary brothers who are thought to be close to senior leaders in the party. Of course, it remains to be seen how well the Congress will build on these developments. But as of now, it could not have hoped for better prospects. Much depends on how the Grand Old Party will weather the storm of scams at the Centre. But public memory is short and if it can ride this out, the south certainly seems to be there for the taking.






Over the weekend, India's foreign minister SM Krishna has had his moment in the fun, sorry, sun. Mr Krishna was addressing a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York, where inadvertently, he started reading out the Portuguese foreign minister's speech till nudged by an Indian official. Such things happen, he later said, replying to sceptics who insinuated that he was unfamiliar with his own speech. The nasty, twittering blokes however, could barely let the matter rest and advised the 78-year-old foreign minister to be careful, lest he took the wrong flight home.

Mr Krishna cannot be faulted for justifying his error, given that bigger men (stature, not size) have erred and got away with damaging slips. After all, his gaffe wasn't insulting (like that good old time when Dubya spoke into the microphone, describing a New York Times scribe as a "major league a***ole); nor did it reveal ignorance, as British Prime Minister David Cameron did during his US visit last year, when he spoke of how his country and the US had fought together in the Battle of Britain in 1940. Mr Krishna's act merely reflected the spirit of camaraderie, brotherhood and peaceful co-existence that have been the hallmarks of the country's foreign policy since it became independent.

And if we junk the colonial baggage, there is a lot we can thank the Portuguese for. Thanks to them, you can holiday on an Indian beach with a name as exotic as Dona Paula. Or the bearded thinkers of Bengal can split hairs about semantics of harmad (a word originally used for rampaging Portuguese pirates). If that doesn't impress, remember the debt our vindaloo owes to their Carne de Vinha d' Alhos. The least we can do is read out their speeches once in a while.








A sense of deja vu. That is the initial feeling when someone like me — accustomed for professional reasons to reading about monument destruction in 19th century India — sets out to examine what the Hindustan Times on February 7 described as 'The Monument or Metro muddle', where it wondered whether the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) would ride over heritage concerns. Deja vu, because this has a familiar ring to it. It is reminiscent of what followed the introduction of the  railway system in India in 1853.

The railways linked different parts of India but also radically altered the character of many monuments and mounds. The search for ballast resulted, for instance, in the destruction of 36 temples at Tigowa in Jabalpur. Old brick structures at  Harappa, the very same place after which India's most ancient civilisation is known, were also dismantled to provide ballast for the Lahore-Multan railway line. Our British rulers were willing to allow such collateral damage because the vast profits that would accrue with the opening up of India were more important than the heritage of their colony. So, when HT asks whether parts of Delhi's past, from the Red Fort to Bahawalpur House, will be compromised by the DMRC as it constructs its Central Secretariat to Kashmiri Gate line, the impression of continuity with our nation's colonial past, where monuments were sacrificed for a rail system, is naturally very strong.

And yet, there are important differences, because unlike the 19th, today there is legislation  which provides  a security blanket around monuments. This, in fact, is what makes the case of the DMRC  different from the destruction wrought by the railways in India.

That a security net ought to be created around heritage buildings can be traced back to Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1955, he complained to the Union minister for education that India's old and historical places were getting spoilt by new buildings being put up around them. In order to protect them from such intrusion, Nehru suggested that the government can "lay down that within a a certain area no building should be put up without permission". An example of Nehru's proactive approach on this protective barrier is the enclosure encircling the tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khana. This was done after Nehru had visited it and suggested that the adjacent grounds be converted into a small garden or park because, as he put it, he "did not want what was called by the uncouth name of 'Nizamuddin Extension East'" to extend into the area around the tomb.

Nehru's idea found its way into the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Rules of 1959 which were further amplified by a Gazette notification of 1992. Last year, this security buffer was brought within the ambit of the Ancient Monuments and Ancient Sites and Remains (Amendment & Validation) Act. Of this, a minimum 100 metre band — designated as the prohibited zone — is sacrosanct. Construction and development in the regulated zone —  extending to a distance of 200 metres from the limit of the prohibited zone — would be permitted but after it had been considered by the National Monuments Authority of India (NMA).

Piloted by the UPA, this legislation was supported across party lines in March 2010. Some months later, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh presented a 'Report to People' to mark the completion of the first year of his government's second five-year term, he highlighted this amendment especially the fact (I am quoting from that report) that it "prohibits construction, including public projects, within the 100 metre prohibited area". Surely, if these are the legal provisions, why is there a fear that they may not be  complied with by the DMRC, as HT's report hints?

This is because the DMRC, to put it most charitably, is not perceived as either being sensitive to monuments or green spaces or the character of  urban spaces. In 2006, it planned to construct an elevated corridor of concrete very close to the Qutub Minar, which only failed to materialise because of public pressure and the fear of jeopardising the Qutub's World Heritage status. But there are such corridors that cut through green spaces like Maharaja Agrasen Park near Kashmiri Gate and within the green belt near Nehru Place. Is this lack of sensitivity because the DMRC does not employ urban planners who would factor in such concerns when preparing alignments and planning for utilities?

Nor is the DMRC perceived as being particularly law abiding. Take the  case of DMRC stations. Making a mockery of the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) Act, usually, these are already more than half-built before the DMRC sends them for consideration to the DUAC. In much the same way the Master Plan is known to have been sometimes ignored by the DMRC. A specific instance is the residential complex of three 14 to 16-storeyed towers that it proposes to build adjacent to the Vishwavidyalaya station at the University of Delhi, and in the immediate vicinity of the residence of the vice-chancellor. The Master Plan for Delhi 2021 specifically mandates that there should be restrictions on tall buildings in areas like the Lutyens' Bungalow Zone, Civil Lines and North Delhi Campus. However, ignoring the law, the DMRC has already auctioned the land and has allotted it to a powerful builder. And following a familiar pattern, the scheme has still not been sent to the DUAC for clearance. 

And so, what the HT describes as a monument versus Metro debate is equally a question of the Metro versus the law. If political will does not intervene to ensure that the laws passed by Parliament are followed in the national capital,  with the Metro expanding its scale of operations, such violations will increase manifold in other cities across India.

Nayanjot Lahiri teaches in the Department of History, University of Delhi The views expressed by the author are personal.







Nowhere in the world has civil society put so much pressure on the government to act against plastic bags and multi-layered packaging as in India.

A new rule by the Ministry of Forests and Environment, applicable to multi-layered packaging and compostable and non-compostable plastic bags, will now compel us all to delve deeper into the issue. The Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, seek to establish accountability for waste disposal. They are based on the idea of extended producer responsibility: the plastic industry have to take the responsibility of its products from the beginning to their disposal.

Of course, the rules have their shortcomings: the word `multi-layered packaging' is used indicatively; there are no fiscal incentives for recycling, or taxes on raw materials. The shifts in language hold the plastic industry less accountable than the committee (set up to examine the draft rules of 2009) envisaged.

Despite such inadequacies, it is important to know the key aspects of the rules: first, while the municipalities are responsible for operationalising the collection and disposal of waste, they ma involve the plastic industry. An urban local body can identify areas where multi-layered packaging and plastic (above at least 40 microns) can be bought for sale. Investing in a collection centre and a lucrative buyback system will involve the plastic industry and also empower citizens to put pressure on their municipalities to hold those responsible accountable.

Second, it is now mandatory to integrate wastepickers into the system. For several years, the plastic industry kept a lid on who recycles the waste? India's recycling system comprises wastepickers, kabaris and junk dealers. Till now, their work was unrecognised. By including them, the rules will undo severaldecade old injustice.

Third, the rules ban plastic packaging, including multi-layered packaging and recycled and compostable plastics bags for food. They allow bags over 40 microns (only to be sold) and other multilayered packaging, on condition it is collected (with the industry's help) and sent off for appropriate recycling. If this collection is not done, then the permission to put into the market the permitted plastics becomes invalid.

Continued public vigilance and pressure will be key to implementing these rules. Municipalities should not be the only ones negotiating with the industry, because the industry is strong and united and frequently acts against public interest. It is hard for officials to resist its pressure and the counter-arguments all the time.
From the earliest rules in 1999, to the present, we have been given rules that were deeply influenced by vested interests. These new rules, despite their imperfection, could bat on the side of the environment and the public, if only the citizens relentlessly monitor their implementation.

Bharati Chaturvedi heads a green non-profit, Chintan The views expressed by the author are personal








What happened in Egypt was a rare and beautiful thing, and the world was transfixed by the spectacle of citizens who reclaimed their country from long dictatorship. As people tried to assimilate what happened in Tahrir Square, they have reached for historical parallels and homilies on what conditions create a revolution. The Egypt example has been seized upon in many places, as disaffected citizens protest their own regimes. And sometimes, it's been invoked in preposterous ways. Mulayam Singh Yadav is trying to use large examples for little purposes, and looking rather ridiculous for it. Trying to energise his own party, Mulayam likened Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati to toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak, as he announced an agitation to protest her governance.

"We will neither resort to violence nor accept it... (the agitation) should shake up the psyche of the corrupt and autocratic state government," he proclaimed. Never mind the fact that Egypt underwent 30 years of Mubarak's heavy rule, labouring under sweeping emergency laws, deprived of free expression and free elections. To compare that to UP, one of the most politically vital parts of this democracy, is absurd and funny. Mayawati's administration may have its excesses, but she's there because of the combined will of large parts of the UP electorate, the same electorate that decisively ejected the Samajwadi Party.

By borrowing the grand terms of the Egyptian example for his own limited grievances, Mulayam Singh only makes the SP's issues appear trivial.







One must change facts on the ground to suit one's theories on paper. Notwithstanding its vision for the subcontinental neighbourhood and beyond, or its infusion of geopolitical calculations into the emphasis on trade and growth, India has done little — on the ground — to match the ambition of its "Look East" policy and plans to integrate the region. It is, therefore, not really the lack of the big idea but of political will that's confined those self-same ideas to the incubator. As a result, India's neighbours are beginning to set the pace of development, infrastructural development to be precise — that which must precede trade and growth — around its borders.

It was always a question of political will in ensuring India's bor-der infrastructure was even marginally comparable to China's Herculean efforts. While everybody talks about how India is being encircled by China, what's the status of the Bhutan-India rail link vis-a-vis the Beijing-Lhasa railway that China is now set to expand to the strategic Chumbi valley area near Sikkim? Given its record, there is little reason to doubt China will meet its deadline. And once the Tibet railway comes within 500 km of the Siliguri corridor by 2017, Bangladesh too may demand connectivity to the Chinese market through India. There will be a sister line to the Nepal border, and eventually Kathmandu perhaps. Meanwhile, the Kumming-Singapore railway project is making rapid progress, with the blessings of the Thai government. Add to that China's Stilwell Road project, and the picture is near-complete.

Although the benchmark has been set, and too high for India's comfort, ultimately this isn't about China. It's about India's capacity to develop its border areas — economic integration of the Northeast and development of Arunachal Pradesh, where the environment ministry has unwisely chosen to obstruct projects. Better connectivity, roads, airports and railways are as much about trade and growth as the need to mobilise and dispatch troops if the necessity arises. At the moment, India has little in terms of such border infrastructure to sleep peacefully over, although sleeping is what it seems to be doing best.






One must change facts on the ground to suit one's theories on paper. Notwithstanding its vision for the subcontinental neighbourhood and beyond, or its infusion of geopolitical calculations into the emphasis on trade and growth, India has done little — on the ground — to match the ambition of its "Look East" policy and plans to integrate the region. It is, therefore, not really the lack of the big idea but of political will that's confined those self-same ideas to the incubator. As a result, India's neighbours are beginning to set the pace of development, infrastructural development to be precise — that which must precede trade and growth — around its borders.

It was always a question of political will in ensuring India's bor-der infrastructure was even marginally comparable to China's Herculean efforts. While everybody talks about how India is being encircled by China, what's the status of the Bhutan-India rail link vis-a-vis the Beijing-Lhasa railway that China is now set to expand to the strategic Chumbi valley area near Sikkim? Given its record, there is little reason to doubt China will meet its deadline. And once the Tibet railway comes within 500 km of the Siliguri corridor by 2017, Bangladesh too may demand connectivity to the Chinese market through India. There will be a sister line to the Nepal border, and eventually Kathmandu perhaps. Meanwhile, the Kumming-Singapore railway project is making rapid progress, with the blessings of the Thai government. Add to that China's

Stilwell Road project, and the picture is near-complete.

Although the benchmark has been set, and too high for India's comfort, ultimately this isn't about China. It's about India's capacity to develop its border areas — economic integration of the Northeast and development of Arunachal Pradesh, where the environment ministry has unwisely chosen to obstruct projects. Better connectivity, roads, airports and railways are as much about trade and growth as the need to mobilise and dispatch troops if the necessity arises. At the moment, India has little in terms of such border infrastructure to sleep peacefully over, although sleeping is what it seems to be doing best.










Do you often find yourself staring at the ceiling into the wee hours wondering about the price of onions when you're 70? Presumably many salaried employees, who're parking nearly a quarter of their incomes with the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation or EPFO, must frequently sacrifice sleep in favour of retirement-related introspection, especially when faced with this nagging thought: if their PF earns 9.5 per cent, and if inflation is at 11 per cent, does that not imply that their retirement savings are actually shrinking by 1.5 per cent a year?

The good news is that none of these people is suffering from paranoia. The bad news is that this is all quite true. EPFO forces salaried workers to save roughly a quarter of their monthly incomes; around two-thirds of which is put into their PF accounts and is expected to give back a large enough lump sum to meet their expenses for the rest of their lives. And since most Indians will live for nearly 20 years after retirement, they would certainly need a fairly hefty lump sum. For instance, if a person wanted to buy a life-long pension of (say) Rs 25,000 per month when she is 60, she would need a PF corpus of roughly Rs 40 lakh. This would be unlikely if she were depending on EPFO, since most of its customers have less than Rs 40,000 in their accounts when they retire, barely enough to buy a monthly pension of Rs 200. For such customers, sleep deprivation is perhaps understandable.

If you're sitting with a calculator as you read this, you've probably raised an eyebrow (or two) at the average PF corpus of an EPFO customer. After all, if a person earns Rs 10,000 per month, and puts roughly Rs 1,700 (or 17 per cent) of this into her PF month after month over 30 years, and if her savings grow at 9.5 per cent, she should end up with nearly Rs 32 lakh.

These numbers will appear unrealistic to the average EPF customer — but fairly modest to managers and investors of index mutual funds. The NSE NIFTY has delivered a compounded annualised return of above 25 per cent over the last decade. Not surprisingly, some of the largest pension funds in the world routinely invest the savings of their customers in Indian capital markets.

The EPFO, on the other hand, seems to have missed the bus (and is certainly missing the point). First it insists on investing its customers' savings in government bonds that give very modest returns. And then it permits customers to withdraw and consume their retirement savings before they retire.

To correct this, the finance ministry has repeatedly and rightly — recently, again — urged the EPFO to rethink its investment strategy. And to stop permitting pre-retirement withdrawals. But, as usual, the EPFO has refused, saying it does not want to risk the old-age savings of its customers or refuse them access to their own money. At many levels, however, the EPFO's concerns ring hollow, especially when their typical customer retires with less than Rs 40,000.

To effectively resolve this problem, the EPFO will need to simultaneously address both issues — of investments and withdrawals. Since it delivers poor returns, it tends to force its customers to make very high contributions. Were returns higher, its customers could achieve meaningful retirement outcomes even with a modest savings rate. And, since its customers are saving a quarter of their incomes for old age, they probably can't afford to save additionally for their other expenses and are forced to dip into their PF. And as the EPFO has a liberal attitude towards pre-retirement withdrawals, most people do.

The main risk in stock market investments is the risk of volatility — the markets may crash when you're 58 and cause you to lose a large part of your savings. While this is a valid concern, it is fairly easy for the EPFO to adopt a life-cycle investment approach, as do most mature pension systems, where the share of equities in a customer's portfolio gradually shrinks as she grows older. This could provide EPFO customers with all the upside of capital market returns while effectively insulating them from the volatility risk.

In this situation, the EPFO should consider reducing its contribution rate to (say) 12 per cent from the current 24 per cent.

It should then simultaneously adopt a more updated and liberal investment policy and ban pre-retirement withdrawals. This would help its customers to build a meaningful retirement corpus, while saving the other 12 per cent for other expenses.

As things stand however, EPFO customers urgently need a comprehensive retirement plan to make up for the comprehensive retirement plan they're getting through EPFO. And if its customers have to stop worrying about their old age and sleep peacefully, someone at the EPFO has to wake up and stay awake. And realise just how much the lives and needs of its customers have changed since 1952.

The writer is director of a Noida-based micro-pension agency








Nepal's endless quest for political stability hit another wall on Thursday when the Maoists decided not to be part of the Jhalanath Khanal government. Many had felt that cracks would surface soon enough, but few had thought this grand left alliance would start giving way within days of Khanal's election as prime minister, which materialised solely because of Maoist support. The Maoists may have now agreed to provide support from the outside for the time being, but the fact is that Khanal already looks weaker.

At the heart of the problem is an inability to achieve a security matrix that complements the political ambition of Nepal to become a genuine democratic republic.

Let's consider the details of this latest spat between the Maoists and the Communist Party of Nepal-UML. A seven-point secret agreement, reached between Khanal and Prachanda, provided the basis for this alliance. It formalised the commitment to a socialist economy, rotating the prime ministership in the long term, drawing up a common minimum programme — but what became the contentious issue was an understanding to form a "separate force" from among the PLA combatants. The moment details of this seven-point agreement began being leaked to the local media, there was a furore even within the CPN-UML — let alone other parties like the Nepali Congress. The argument was that this amounted to retaining the Maoist PLA at government expense.

The plan, as it turns out, was even more dangerous. The Maoists, who had been floating this idea of a separate force for a while, had intentions of converting the PLA combatants into a paramilitary force meant to guard Nepal's borders — something on the lines of the BSF, or even Bangladesh's BDR or the Pakistani Rangers. This obviously raised security concerns in New Delhi, because such a force on the open Indo-Nepal borders would have all kinds of implications for India — starting with support to Naxal elements here and then, of course, the Gorkhaland movement, coupled with the smuggling of fake Indian currency notes among several other issues.

It was an understanding that was not acceptable to any other political formation, including the Madhesis, besides the fact that it would have had a destabilising influence on relations with India. The Maoist intentions came to fore when they demanded the home ministry portfolio during talks on government formation. They also argued that the CPN-UML had held charge of this ministry when Prachanda was head of government. But soon it became clear that, having burnt their fingers with the armed forces last time, the Maoists were gunning for the home ministry purportedly to raise this paramilitary force in the name of reintegrating erstwhile PLA fighters. The Nepal army, it may be noted, is committed to reintegration in a phased manner.

Given that the seven-point agreement also envisaged bringing as many parties as possible into the alliance's fold, Khanal realised that having a home minister from among the Maoists would only take him and his government away from other political parties and remove any possibility of broad-based political support. He had also given his word to his Indian interlocutors that he would not act against India's security interests. The talks, therefore, broke down over the home ministry portfolio with the Maoists squarely blaming India for being the obstacle.

The problem, however, seems larger. Regardless of whatever other trouble, Nepal has rarely seen itself at odds with India's security concerns. It's a different matter that a lax security apparatus may have allowed anti-Indian forces to use Nepal to meet their ends, but this has never been the ethos of Nepal's own security outlook.

The Maoists, on the other hand, repeatedly seem to place themselves at odds with India's security needs — and that's the potential game-changer, a serious cause for worry. The more the Maoists position themselves against India's security priorities, the more India will be compelled to push the envelope — and that, in effect, will have the undesirable outcome of framing Nepal increasingly in security terms.

Further, the Maoists' ploy to play the China card against India has gained them nothing. Instead, it has helped justify the hardening of positions in New Delhi, which does not augur well for the relationship. Interestingly, China's primary objective in Nepal is to stop Tibetans from using it as a staging ground to quietly move in and out of Tibet; and for this it has been asking for more support from Nepal's home ministry.

Mutuality of security interests has been fundamental to Indo-Nepal relations. And even when India gave up its twin pillar approach — monarchy and multi-party democracy — and welcomed the formation of a republic with the Maoists at the helm, this principle remained vital. It has broad support among all political formations and the excellent state of the bilateral military relationship shores it up.

However, over the past few years, the Maoists have sought to consciously undermine this security logic and sought to replace it with one that imbibes the ethos of the Maoist PLA. Anything short of that has not been acceptable to the Maoists. This explains why the integration of PLA cadre has not moved at a desirable pace; and also why it was so important for Prachanda to take on Nepal's army chief, and now to break off talks on joining the government over the CPN-UML's refusal to part with the home ministry.

The Maoist ambition of controlling and transforming Nepal's security apparatus has virtually put at stake what it had achieved in the first place — the rechristening of Nepal as a republic. There is a compelling argument that the end of the republican phase is near, and the Maoists would return to their trenches. This may sound far-fetched for the moment, but what is truly worrying is the sheer unwillingness on the part of the Maoists to align themselves with Nepal's national security interests.

Needless to say, if security priorities are not sorted, governance is bound to be the first casualty and that's why Khanal — the fourth PM in three years — has more than just a coalition to handle.







Ten days after his election as Nepal's prime minister following a secret deal with the Maoists, Jhalanath Khanal finds himself under siege. He does not quite know who his friends are, if there are any. His party, the Communist Party of Nepal-

Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), has told him in no uncertain terms that the deal is not only against the spirit of the interim constitution but also against the peace process. At least 13 other political parties, including the Nepali Congress, have endorsed that view.

The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), especially its chief, Prachanda, instead has reason to be happy as the sole factor behind Khanal's elevation. Under the current equation, Khanal can survive as PM only as a puppet. In fact, what happened in India in November 1990 — Chandra Shekhar's small party forming the government with the outside support of the Congress — has been replicated in Nepal. But neither Khanal nor Prachanda has the commitment that Chandra Shekhar or Rajiv Gandhi harboured to parliamentary democracy.

The UCPN-M has made it clear time and again that it has never accepted parliamentary democracy, not even when it signed the 12-point agreement in November 2005. However, Prachanda went a step further this week when he said the seven-point deal signed with Khanal is a joint pledge to establish a "people's republic" — a communist dictatorship — with no space for political pluralism at all. If the democratic forces, including the section within the UML, give up, like they have done in the past five years on each crucial issue, the Maoists would face hardly any obstacles in their journey towards a people's republic.

The Maoists would be in a much more advantageous position politically if they do not join the government, as they can enjoy power without accountability and openly criticise the government. The deal makes it obligatory for Khanal to raise a separate security outfit for the Maoist combatants, now lodged in 28 different camps and sub-camps, and accord them status and privileges at par with other state outfits. The deal clearly violates the earlier consensus that the high-powered special committee under the PM's leadership would monitor the combatants, and decide on their rehabilitation and integration. Command and control of the combatants had been handed over to the committee.

But less than a week after Khanal's elevation, the UCPN-M military wing sent circulars directly to the combatants asking them to list their preference on whether they want to join the new security outfit, join other security agencies of the state or take "voluntary retirement" against a hefty payment. The Maoists are determined to exploit Khanal's helplessness to the hilt and, if possible, appropriate and exercise the authority of the state.

The politics of compromise and surrender of the moderate and democratic forces, either out of lust for power or because of the fear of being targeted by the left, is mainly responsible for this situation. And the international community — led by India, with a large stake in Nepal — can no longer be given the benefit of the doubt for having trusted and supported the radical left during the past five years.

The choice before Khanal is very difficult: either walk out of the alliance and assure the country and the world outside that he will not stay in power at the cost of democracy, or accept the Maoists' dictates. Prachanda has already suggested that the tenure of the constituent assembly can be further extended by two months beyond May 28. That means it will not be able to deliver the constitution during its current term, already extended by a year. But the radical left alliance would need the House for its own legitimacy in the eyes of Nepali citizens and the international community. It will, like a rubber stamp, endorse the left agenda.

Those 13 parties may soon be seeking presidential intervention against the "undemocratic and unconstitutional" activities of the radical left. But with the kind of fear sweeping across the country and with the radical left's success with Khanal's election, there is hardly anything the president can do at the moment.

As democratic forces see a big threat to their survival, and to that of political pluralism, the country may once again go through a phase of political turmoil and agitation against an impending left dictatorship. This is an occasion for the democratic forces as well as the international community to review where they all went wrong — mainly in throwing their weight behind sweeping radicalism, at the cost of fundamental principles: democracy and pluralism.







Last week's announcement that New Delhi and Islamabad will resume their talks, stalled since the Mumbai terror attacks at the end of 2008, raises a number of questions about the terms of India's engagement with Pakistan.

Has India given up its insistence that the plotters of the Mumbai attack must be brought to justice before the renewal of a full-fledged dialogue with Pakistan? The answer is yes. Has India accepted Pakistan's conditions for an early visit of its foreign minister to Delhi? The answer is yes again. Are these Indian diplomatic "concessions" fundamental in any sense? The answer should be no. India's current policy challenge is not about holding firm to one set of terms for talking with Pakistan. It is about managing a difficult but important relationship amid a rapidly changing geopolitical situation in the north-western subcontinent, and the worsening internal political and economic dynamic in Pakistan.

When India seethed with anger as the outrage against Mumbai played out for nearly three days on television screens, Delhi found it had no credible option for military retribution. The least Delhi could do in the wake of 26/11 was to suspend the diplomatic dialogue with Pakistan. But India was aware then that non-engagement with Pakistan was not sustainable beyond a short period. Delhi also knew that neither the international empathy that flowed in India's favour nor the pressures on Pakistan to act against the terror infrastructure on its soil would last very long.

At the same time, India also recognised that the Mumbai attacks had shattered the framework for the peace process that was agreed to in January 2004 by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf.

That framework had three elements. Pakistan would prevent its territory from being used for violence against India, Delhi would negotiate purposefully on the question of Jammu and Kashmir, and both sides would put in place a broad range of confidence-building measures (CBMs).

If Musharraf did bring down the levels of cross-border violence, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh authorised a back channel to negotiate a Kashmir settlement. According to Pakistani sources, there was much progress on the subject. Both sides also instituted a range of CBMs, promoted trade and facilitated people-to-people exchanges during 2004-07.

If Musharraf began to lose political ground from early 2007, the attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul (July 2008) and on Mumbai (November 2008) raised questions about the commitment of the Pakistan army to the peace process under its new chief, General Ashfaq Kayani.

After he returned to power in May 2009, Manmohan Singh sought to re-engage Pakistan, this time with the civilian leadership — President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. At Sharm el-Sheikh in July 2009, and in Thimphu in April 2010, Manmohan Singh sought to revive the peace process on the old terms — Pakistan will stop support for terrorism in return for India's readiness to resolve all outstanding disputes. For India, progress on the Mumbai trial would be the defining benchmark.

In July 2010, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna offered to move away from a "sequential" process — justice for Mumbai victims first and a full dialogue later — to a more "simultaneous" one. India, Krishna suggested, would begin some parts of the dialogue as Pakistan moved to fulfil its promises on the Mumbai attack.

But the Pakistan army apparently would seem to have none of it. It wanted an unconditional resumption of the dialogue. Islamabad also wanted the first round of the full dialogue to take place before Pakistan's foreign minister made a return visit to India. The agreed understanding between the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries announced last week in Thimphu suggests that Delhi has given up its preconditions and accepted those of Pakistan.

The BJP and the hawks in the foreign policy community are bound to be outraged by these changes.

Krishna, on the other hand, has underlined that India's decision to resume dialogue with Pakistan was deliberate. He did not elaborate on the factors that went into the government's consideration, but some of those are not difficult to imagine.

One, Pakistan's civilian government is in no position to do justice to the Mumbai victims, let alone wind down the terror machine on its soil. The elected leaders in Islamabad have no control over Pakistan's national security policy. That is the exclusive domain of the Pakistan army's GHQ in Rawalpindi. Delhi, then, is unwise in shunning contact with Pakistan's civilians by demanding what they can't deliver.

Two, the situation could be different, however, if General Kayani is ready to directly deal with India. On the face of it, there is nothing to suggest Kayani's attitudes towards Delhi have changed. There is no public hint at all that he might rein in the LeT if India agrees to complete the negotiation on Kashmir. But it is certainly worth Delhi's while to explore a possible opening towards Kayani. Without discreet, high-level political contacts between Delhi and Kayani that can help "pre-cook" the outcomes in the formal dialogue, the renewed peace process will go nowhere.

Three, the most important reason for talking with Pakistan is not that it might produce reasonable returns in the short term. In fact, the new dialogue might not even survive the first major terror attack after Mumbai. Delhi must engage all sections of Pakistan because its deepening internal crisis, an escalating conflict on its western borders, and the sharpening contradictions with the United States and the international community over Afghanistan could have lasting effects on India's national security.

There will be many dangers and a few fleeting moments of opportunity that Pakistan will present us in the coming year. To forestall the former and seize the latter, India needs a comprehensive and unsentimental engagement with Pakistan.







SG: We have this week, Dr Elinor Ostrom, a brilliant Nobel prize winner and the first woman to win the Nobel for Economics (2009). You won the Nobel and there were some good headlines and some nasty headlines. Some people said it was even more surprising than Obama getting the Nobel.


Yes, but I did not spend too much time reading the not-so-nice ones, I don't get defensive. I have been turned down for so many things. When I went to graduate school, people told me I shouldn't go to graduate school.

SG: Why?

I was doing graduate work in the late 50s-early 60s and at that point, women could not get an academic position. They could get a position in city colleges—and universities did not want to admit someone who wasn't going to get a job in a major university.

SG: To simplify it for a lot of our Indian viewers, graduate work in America means working towards a PhD.

Yes. And since I had the grades, I had to be admitted as an under-graduate and then I had to work four years in private industry and came back to graduate school. It was tough.

SG: And yet, there was male opposition?

Yes. The faculty in economics said no. The faculty in political science finally, given that I had been taking some graduate work, said yes. And then I minored in economics. So I had a political science degree but I had a minor in economics with very good economists on my committee.

SG: So, you made a good sideways entry back into economics. I was reading one of your comments in one of your interviews in which you say that when you faced this opposition, you were 'a tough son of a gun'?
Basically, I had had enough fights earlier. I was in Boston as a young person without any foundations and I needed a good job and it was all 'can you type and take shorthand?' So eventually, I talked my way into a professional position as an assistant personal manager in a downtown Bostonian firm. I volunteered to work for them for six weeks or two months or something like that without pay and they finally hired me and then they paid me.

SG: So what is the nastiest you faced by way of opposition or by way of sabotage or craftiness or just deviousness?
I don't have any ranking and fortunately now in the last 5-10 years, there has been much less trouble. But then the kind of work my husband (Vincent Ostrom) and I have done, is radical enough. Some people are just upset about it because some of our work is mathematical and game-theory and all the rest. Some of our work goes out and does individual case studies and some people think that is old-fashioned.

SG: Because in your universe, some people would say it's anecdotal, which is almost like an abuse.
Yes. And so my dissertation was a great big thick thing on how ground water producers in Southern California, earlier in an urban area, in LA, were able to solve a very very tough problem. They were pumping water down and the salt water was going in and they developed a whole series of strategies to solve it and solve it very successfully.

SG: And they did it through the idea of sharing because that is really your field—the idea of commons, the idea of sharing?

They also had to get accurate data and so part of the solving was to get a really good accurate idea of who had been producing, how much had they produced, and what are the boundaries of the basin.

SG: Exactly, you need data. Something like that is very relevant to India because our water tables are going down in many parts of the country.

Oh yes, you do.

SG: And it's linked to free power to farmers.

Do they get charged for electricity?

SG: No. There is a problem.

You don't get charged for the water. You don't get charged for the electricity. What else do you expect?

SG: The counter answer to that is that the farmer has a tough enough life, so how can you charge him for power?
Well, if he takes all the water that is underground that took 200, 500, a 1,000 years to get there...see the groundwater basin can slowly but surely collapse down and getting it too far down is very very dangerous.

SG: So, the way out is—since it is a very relevant question in India—the way out is to make people pay for water, to make them pay for power, but empower them. How do you do that?

Yes. Well, there is no one way and you'll hear me say that many times because part of my big concern about policy now is that people now do analysis and then they say 'this is the way to solve this'. You have to have some mechanism that gives good scientific data about the structure of the basin.

SG: And once you have it?

Well, if you enable people who are in a particular basin to organise themselves in ways in getting good accurate data and figure out what they have done in the past and then mechanisms for them to get firm water rights, that is very tough.

SG: And get it out of the government or bureaucracy or discretionary powers.

Well, no. Not entirely because the source many times of good scientific data about groundwater is government agencies.

SG: No, once you get the data, once you empower the communities, then don't have a government bureaucrat sitting on top of them (saying) 'you can take this much water, you can take that much water'.
Well, the ones that are successful in Southern California are the ones that created special districts. So, they created a government unit at the same scale as the groundwater basin and they imposed taxes on themselves so every acre-foot you pulled up or hectare-foot or hectare-metre I guess, they had to pay tax, but the tax did not go to a higher-up. It remained at the same level as the groundwater basin and they could use it to invest in how to reclaim sewer water and get it into good shape so that you could use it to reclaim salt water.

SG: Your larger view seems to be that the answer is not the government and the answer is not the market.
And the answer is not the community.

SG: The answer is not the community? What is the answer?

No. There isn't one.

SG: Give me a bunch of answers.

Well, one, my husband's work and mine on the word polycentricity—that is not a very widely used term but my husband worked on this in the early 60s with Charles Tiebout, and it's a notion that sometimes what you need are nested systems—some are quite small and some are medium and some are a little bit larger and some are all the way up. So in a metropolitan area where they have found ways of providing services effectively and efficiently and fairly, you may have neighbourhoods organised as small communities.

SG: But you seem to think, if my reading is correct, that communities or societal groups, are more egalitarian than the market.

Sometimes yes, but there are communities in places that I've studied in the world including Nepal, and I know of some of the research here in India, and some of them are very hierarchical.

SG: In this part of the world, you have caste, which is the worst kind of hierarchy that you can see.
And I have seen in Nepal—the caste system in Nepal is a little weaker than it is here. But I've studied forests and it was a government forest and the government had taken it from people 20 or 30 years ago. It was degraded. They gave it back and the high caste people all came to the meeting. They signed and then they passed a rule immediately—no charcoal burning. That meant that low caste people who had been able to make a living, were not allowed to do so anymore. So, I don't have any naive belief because I have seen corruption at all levels. I have seen power-grabs at all levels. So what I don't want is that everything has to be solved by the government and I don't want us to think that everything needs to be solved by the community.

SG: Paul Krugman, who obviously agrees with a lot of work you do, said that the Nobel to you was finally the acknowledgment of a very small minority of economists who work in areas such as yourself—just number-crunching.

Well, we have done a lot of very qualitative in-depth understanding of what is going on in the field but I have also done game theory.

SG: So, this very special idea of going and engaging with communities...does it come from your political science education or was it something that evolved in your mind as you analysed economics?
Both. I was very much influenced by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock and their early work on the logic of constitutional choice. They focused on polycentric systems, only they didn't use the term. They were looking at self-governance and how people form organisations and Buchanan did win a Nobel Prize. So I was very much influenced by Buchanan. I am very much influenced by Amartya Sen.

SG: What is it about Amartya Sen's work that you find interesting?

His concern with equity, and that instead of just efficiency, we should be thinking of how to enhance equitable arrangements. He also has a pretty good sense of local levels and the higher—they can be quite fair or they can be quite over-powering and corrupt. Why should we think that people who are now in the government are all good and people at the local level are all bad?

SG: Where do you disagree with Amartya Sen?

Right at this moment, I can't think of any place I disagree.

SG: I have never met two economists who don't disagree.

Well, maybe then I am really not an economist. If you are a modeler, you will find ways to say that model isn't very good but Sen is not a modeler. He tries to look over time. He tries to understand fairness and then to try and get away from the sense that there is that big problem and thus you have to have that big unit. If you can...find ways about getting boundaries to around small communities and enhance their capacity to cope with that problem locally and also have mid and larger units. So, we can actually do something in terms of climate change by helping people at a local level organise more effectively.

SG: I presume you are following the climate change debate? How do you apply your own work?
I've written an article or two... I have several articles on a polycentric approach to climate change.

SG: I like that expression—polycentric approach.

Yes, I do too. And it is very important to understanding our work. Now, look at this grassy area. We could be looking at the origin and soil type and come up with something here...we need to do some watering and there looks like there is a need of some fertiliser and then we go to that area right there and it is different and what you need to keep that area in good condition is different from what you need for this. And that is what ecology and biology and botany have taught but they haven't taught social scientists as much as they need to.

SG: So everybody has to be polycentric. So if I may simplify it, what you need to solve a problem like climate change is not one mantra but a whole book of scriptures.

Yes. And there are 17 things that you can do in a household that will reduce greenhouse gas—one of those is to get your hot water heater turned down. When I have to give talks on this, I ask frequently 'how many people get in the shower and turn the hot water only on?' Usually it's nobody because they'd burn themselves. If they are going to burn themselves, you are paying to heat the water to the level that you are going to burn yourselves if you didn't use cold water. Now isn't that stupid? So if you get your hot water heater down, then you don't have to use cold water. You don't have to heat it all the way up.

SG: And then cool it down.

Yes, and you don't need it that hot for doing dishes. You don't need it that hot for doing clothing. It's a small thing but the various ways of getting feedback to people about how much they are using. Some utilities in the States are giving you information about how your use of electricity is above-average, about-average or below and as soon as that got started, the average started going down. Research shows that when people have dials and get very good accurate information, they use less.

SG: They become conscious.

So there are very many things that can be done.

SG: Another idea if you could just elaborate on, is your seven-generation theory.

Oh, that is not mine, that is of the indigenous people of the US.

SG: But you have articulated that.

I have articulated it because I thought it was a wonderful idea and if you were in a group and you were talking about an issue and were thinking about what do we do, the option would be, 'let's think about how that impacts the seventh-generation now'.

SG: Seven generations starting with me.

Yes, but that is a fair distance in the future.

SG: Even in India, it's a common expression—seven generations, saath peedhi, even if a politician makes a lot of money, he has made enough for his seven generations. Or if somebody has done a lot of pious work, you say he has earned enough credit with the almighty for his seven generations.

That's interesting. But I think that is one of the reasons I urge people to respect the indigenous people. In terms of health knowledge, there is a lot of indigenous knowledge about herbs and other things that work for illness and how to manage illness in an effective way. But we also find that sometimes indigenous knowledge is wrong and as we do tough science, we say 'no, that's wrong'.

What I object to is the presumption that the government officials have got all the knowledge and locals have none. On the other hand, I don't want to say the government officials don't have any because there are times when you can have access to good scientific information at a large scale.

SG: As a journalist, if I can review your work, I think there is one gap there. You have not worked in India as yet. So please come and spend more time here.

That would be nice.

SG: Tell us a little more about how to apply your solutions to a society as diverse, as caste-ridden and peculiarly hierarchical as ours.

Arun Aggarwal—he was a very close colleague—has done some very serious work here, and Veena Aggarwal. So there is excellent work being done. We will talk about some of it in Hyderabad in a few days as we have a conference there.

SG: I am sure that Arun Aggarwal and Veena Aggarwal will be very happy listening to this. At the same time, I am sure they will be as happy as I will be if you came and worked in India. So until then, it has been brilliant chatting with you.

Transcribed by Uttara Varma







The successful completion of the 8th Aero India show in Bangalore and the growing participation of global defence majors in the show bring back into focus India's potential in the defence sector and the need for accelerating the momentum on this front. Although India has a defence budget of approximately $32 billion and the country has already signed deals worth $25 billion in the last four years—with another $42 billion worth of deals about to be clinched (add another $80 billion by the air force in the next 5 years, according to CII-KPMG)—it still lags far behind in defence production. India imports almost three-fourths of its defence needs and the country's defence import-export ratio of 194:1 is far behind that of countries like Israel (1.3:1), South Korea (8.8:1) or even Singapore (19.7:1). A major reason for the mediocre performance of the sector has been the dependence on global majors for procuring state-of-the-art technologies and the restrictive and often opaque foreign direct investment (FDI) policies. The current 26% cap on FDI in the sector is a strong disincentive for the global majors to invest in the country. And though there is a window to increase FDI beyond 26% on a case-by-case basis, this is easier said than done.

Although the industry ministry has floated a paper to liberalise the FDI regime so as to allow FDI of up to 74% under the automatic route, there is a lot of opposition to this. Clinging on to 26% FDI limits—in a world where the US and EU allow 100% FDI in the defence sector and where Japanese firms like Honda are major subcontractors for civil and military aircraft—points to an inability to recognise the realities of the global defence industry, where the ownership structure of many of the top companies is in a state of continuous flux and defence production capabilities are much more widely diffused than ever before. Today, a majority of the global top-10 players have signed MoUs with Indian partners and we have to ensure that the partnership moves on to a new trajectory and helps build India's defence security. Apart from the problem of low FDI—which ensures global majors are wary of transferring technology to Indian partners—a CII-KPMG paper points to unfair tax rules that govern India's private sector entrants vis-à-vis both direct imports as well as in relation to PSUs in the sector.





Economies of scale may soon be a thing of the past. Three-dimensional printing is the newest technological advancement to hit the mainstream market and is set to bring some unconventional practices to the world of manufacturing. The potential uses of 3D printing, thus far used primarily for making prototypes, are as varied as the fissures in the human brain. The 'ink' of the 3D printers can be as varied as metals, resins, plastics and even stem cells. Yes, the technology has been applied, by an American company that specialises in regenerative medicine, in 'printing' short stretches of blood vessels and in due course, organs like livers, kidneys and so forth. While medical implants will require extensive clinical trials before they are deemed safe, products ranging from aircraft wings and racing-car parts to shoes and jewellery can be brought to the market much faster. Twenty per cent of the 'print outs' of 3D printers are already finished products, projected to go up to 50% by 2020, reports The Economist's cover story. The low cost of production—a result of cutting raw material requirements by 90%, and a shorter concept-to-production time—will benefit both producers, who will be able to cut down on capital investments in raw material and tools as well as labour costs, and consumers.

The biggest gain, however, will be for innovation. Designers can now translate unconventional designs into real life products, with printers that can print small products in the confines of their offices and homes. So now, whether shoe manufacturers, for instance, produce one or 100,000 pairs of shoes, the economy of scale is redundant, making it possible for them to customise each new pair. But with every piece of technology comes its pitfalls—the biggest being its role in the potential violation of intellectual property rights. Although the ability to transform ideas into tangible goods quickly and cheaply encourages creativity, this creativity can now easily be copied. So, innovations as well as their imitations will be able to get to the market faster than ever before. So while 3D printers whir away 24/7, spitting out production-grade aircraft parts, IPR lawyers will no doubt be smiling all the way to the bank, once this technology becomes the convention.





While the need for a liquid and efficient Indian rupee debt market to fund infrastructure and other term finance is widely accepted, our efforts at developing it have not yielded the desired results. Given the urgent need for term finance, it is worthwhile examining a few key issues that could be hindering the growth of a debt market.

The first main issue is that it is difficult to imagine an efficient debt market alongside an illiquid and inefficient sovereign bond market, which sets the benchmark for pricing across the credit risk spectrum. Liquidity and efficiency in a financial market can be measured using three parameters: 1) Immediacy or the ability to execute trades of a small size immediately without moving the price adversely; 2) Depth or the impact cost suffered when doing large trades; 3) Resilience or the speed with which prices and liquidity of the market revert to normal conditions after a large trade has taken place.

India's sovereign bond market satisfies the immediacy and depth conditions only for "on-the-run" government bonds (or the most recently issued government bond of a specific maturity). Except for about 8-10 securities at a time for which two-way quotes are available in the market, other parts of the yield curve represent securities that are not actively traded. Activity is concentrated in a few securities due to the market confidence in them and the ability to liquidate positions quickly for these specific bonds at a fair value. Absence of market-making activity in other securities or the non-availability of any reasonable quote discourages trading in such securities. Perceived inability to offload holdings at around the stop loss levels, if required, works as an effective deterrent. Plus, depth of the secondary market as measured by the ratio of turnover to average outstanding stocks is extremely low in India, at roughly 5% compared to 20% in a developed market like the US.

A quick analysis of market data for August 2010 reveals that out of about 126 central government securities outstanding (including floating rate bonds) in September 2010, only 60 securities were traded (or about 52% of the central government securities were not even traded once during the month). Thus, there are large sections of the yield curve that are illiquid. Plus, 78% of the settlement volumes in central government dated securities in August 2010 were concentrated in the 10-yr and 12-yr segment; 15 securities (concentrated in the maturity range of 5-20 years) accounted for almost 96% of the volume. Securities having coupons close to current market yield appear to be in demand and thus traded at a premium. Despite having almost similar maturity and risk profiles, some securities were priced differently. For example, the current benchmark 7.80% 2020 was trading at discount in August 2010 (Rs 98.99) while the 11.60% 2020 was trading at a premium (Rs 124). In the medium- to long-term, securities are not available for all maturities (like 19 yrs, 20 yrs, 21 yrs, 23 yrs, 27 yrs, 28 yrs) and absence of long-term zero coupon instruments/STRIPs makes estimating zero rates less reliable. Non-availability of reliable hedging instruments like rupee derivatives—interest rate swaps, futures and options markets, etc, lack a fair amount of depth—restricts the possibility of hedging positions in the derivatives market.

In the absence of instruments that allow players to take a view on the interest rates, the markets are active and liquid when the rates are falling but turn lacklustre and illiquid when the rates rise. The absence of speculators at retail level deprives the market of a cushioning effect in cases of movements without adequate change in fundamentals. What can be done?

For a start, RBI should start extinguishing illiquid securities by buying them back. Fresh issuance at different tenors should be done only in the liquid, 'popular' securities so that for each tenor, there is a single security that represents the tenor and also has critical mass. Second, differences in coupon for securities of the same tenor tend to drive price and yield differences across securities. This has to be addressed. Finally, the sovereign bond issue structure has to be aligned not just with the government's preference for duration but also with a focus on deepening the government market. This means issuing securities at each critical tenor, not just the tenors that are compatible with the government's borrowing.

The need to maintain SLR requirements by banks (the largest holder of sovereign bonds) means that banks become a captive market for government securities and this dilutes market pricing. Thus, government bonds are not necessarily transacted at a market clearing rate. For example, auctions may be cancelled because rates are not deemed appropriate, or the debt manager fixes a minimum reserve price for the auction, or keeps the right to allocate less than the amount announced if price dispersions are too high. Additionally, the captive nature of the market leads to a "duration" mismatch between the preferences of banks and the government. The compulsion to abide by SLR requirements also promotes a "buy and hold" strategy for banks, with the need to reduce adjustments from mark-to-market valuations dissuading secondary market participation.

The second main issue is, can the government go directly to the market and "not" through RBI as its debt manager? A small investor base and few market players mean that the central bank has to play a market-making role and has to control funding costs of the government (by managing yield movements). At times, this conflicts with RBI's monetary targets. In most industrial countries, debt management operations are separated from the central bank's monetary policy operations, with the government using the primary market to issue bonds and the central bank using the secondary market for liquidity operations. We need to examine the setting up of a Debt Management Office.

To be concluded

The author is managing director, HDFC Bank





The backdrop of the FY12 Budget, due to be announced on February 28, is a challenging one. This year, the finance minister must reckon with rising fuel and food prices, and the persistent problems of high current and fiscal deficits, meanwhile keeping the populace happy, given the upcoming state assembly elections. While a government weakened by corruption scandals has resulted in popularity slipping down the charts, making the attraction of populist measures all the more tempting, the finance minister also needs to steer the deficit down in keeping with the 13th Finance Commission recommendations. Moreover, given the limitations of further monetary action to address inflation, we believe fiscal containment is the need of the hour.

A fact now well-priced in is that due to higher nominal GDP and buoyancy in revenues offsetting supplementary expenditure, the deficit in FY11 is likely to see some improvement from 6%-plus in FY10. Incorporating the advance GDP numbers (nominal GDP growth of 20.8% versus budgeted 12.6%), the fiscal deficit target for FY11 stands at 4.8% versus the 5.5% budgeted. Depending on the extent of higher subsidies, we expect a print of 5.1-5.2%. However, the picture is not likely to be as bright in FY12. In fact, a combination of factors, both on the expenditure and revenue front, could result in the pace of deficit consolidation being stalled, possibly even making the 4.8% target set out by the 13th Finance Commission recommendations difficult to achieve.

Starting with expenditure, the deterioration in government finances can be primarily attributed to rising expenditure. Total expenditure, which rose by 11% on a CAGR basis during FY2000-05, increased 17% during FY2007-10. This is attributed to various factors, including the revision in the wages bill, higher subsidies, the employment scheme as well as the stimulus measures during the financial crisis. Given the government's focus on inclusive growth, we believe that risks on the expenditure front arise on account of higher subsidies—both food and fuel as well as higher social sector outlays, including those for various employment schemes. On the food front, implementation of the food security bill could increase the current food subsidy bill estimated at Rs 560bn by Rs 260bn. Likewise, with oil prices trending higher and diesel deregulation on the back-burner, the government's compensation to oil companies could cross Rs 400bn. Fortunately on MGNREGA, expenditure trends in FY11 being less than budgeted provides a buffer for FY12.

In addition to the expenditure outlay, leakages are a major concern for subsidies. On the food front, this is largely due to an inefficient PDS system. Given than monitoring and implementation of the Food Security Bill would be a mammoth task, the introduction of biometric cards, under the auspices of the UID, would help weed out 'bogus' (ration cards belonging to fictitious families) or 'shadow' (genuine ration cards used by someone else) cards in the system. This could resolve issues related to PDS leakages and help track offtake on a regular basis.

The UID aims to issue a unique identification number to each Indian resident that can be verified in a reliable and cost-effective way, thus helping to eliminate fake identities. The UID would also solve issues on the MGNREGA front, if job cards are updated with the UID numbers, which in turn could be linked to muster rolls and bank accounts. This is already evident in the growing number of bank accounts being linked to MGNREGA, also aiding financial inclusion.

On the revenue side, states are currently debating the third draft of the GST and we expect the Budget to provide some clarity on the deadline for implementation. The DTC is set to become law in April 2012 after incorporating some modifications, while measures to track unaccounted income could also be on the anvil. As regards indirect taxes, there is limited scope for much change, given the proposed shift to a GST. However, there is a possibility of including more services under the tax net. A complete rollback in measures offered during the crisis is unlikely, given the still-fragile global environment.

Lastly, on the structural front, given the need to contain food price inflation, we could see measures pertaining to food processing as well as FDI in retail. The stronger-than-expected global recovery could result in a moderation of flows from advanced economies to emerging markets. To offset this, we could see measures pertaining to infrastructure funding (steps towards development of a corporate bond market and financing measures). However, all this assumes a normalisation of parliamentary functioning.

The author is economist, Citigroup India






On the face of it, the advance estimate of GDP growth for 2010-11, released by the CSO recently, should provide some satisfaction. The economy is expected to end the year with a growth of 8.6 per cent, which is closer to the upper end of the Finance Minister's forecast of 8.4-8.75 per cent but above the Reserve Bank of India's estimate of 8.5 per cent. Among individual sectors, agriculture, along with forestry and fishing, is expected to rebound sharply, growing by 5.40 per cent from just 0.40 per cent a year ago. Manufacturing is set to expand at 8.8 per cent, the same as last fiscal, while services will post a 9.6 per cent growth, which is in line with the sector's recent trends. The farm sector has clearly benefited from normal monsoons but its performance is magnified by the low base of last year. However, agricultural recovery, if sustained, will have a beneficial impact on rural employment and domestic consumption. Manufacturing growth continues to be impressive but the estimated 8.8 per cent growth implies a moderation in the remaining months of the year, compared with the 13 per cent and 9.8 per cent growth during the first two quarters. The optimism on the manufacturing front remains, despite the low industrial output recorded in December 2010.

Indeed, the economy as a whole would have grown at a slower rate during the second half of the year, having clocked 8.9 per cent in the first half. The fact that last year's growth rate was revised upwards to a base of 8 per cent, in the quick estimates, from 7.4 per cent might have dragged down the current year's estimate. More substantial evidence of a slowdown is seen in the lower estimate of gross fixed capital formation of 29.3 per cent during 2010-11, as against 30.8 per cent last year. There is a slight moderation in the government's final consumption expenditure suggesting that the impact of stimulus measures is wearing off. Just weeks before the Union budget, the economic data pose major dilemmas for policymakers. The fall in investment is attributed to the interest rate hikes. However, the RBI is unlikely to abandon its current stance that points to a further hardening of interest rates. As for stimulus, the government's line of thinking seems to be to lower transaction costs, while there is uncertainty over the continuation of many of the sops to exporters. Fiscal consolidation remains critical and although one-time receipts from disinvestment and the 3G auctions have helped, it is clear that the high economic growth of recent years needs to be sustained if the fiscal situation is not to deteriorate.





A case relating to paintings allegedly missing from the Ravi Varma collection housed in the Kerala Department of Museums and Zoos has raised concerns about the safekeeping of precious heritage. It spotlights the glaring inadequacies in the existing legislation meant to ensure the acquisition of the best art objects for government museums and the shortcomings in the methods to mange them. The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, enacted nearly four decades ago at the initiative of the central government, is intended to discourage fraudulent dealings in antiquities and paintings that are more than 100 years old. It enables the state to declare select paintings as national treasures and acquire them. While the public spirit behind the legislation must be appreciated, its failure sufficiently to differentiate paintings from antiquities and its prescription of similar methods to manage them have hampered better circulation of art objects and improvement of the collection mechanism. The protection of antiquities typically calls for extreme vigilance in situ, at specific archaeological sites. Paintings, on the other hand, are portable objects. It would be impractical to endlessly include entire collections of contemporary masters as national treasures and subject them to the same procedures as antiquities.

The acquisition and administration of art collections require a wholly different approach. A mandatory register, as envisaged by the Act, with minimum details may be sufficient to manage antiquities, but that is not the case with paintings. Art requires comprehensive cataloguing. Improving the collections, as Nicholas Goodison's report on securing the best for the museums in the United Kingdom notes, does not mean that all important paintings should be compulsorily acquired. What is required is "well-judged acquisition." In a country where museums are struggling to keep their head above water, it is imperative that decisions to improve art collections are based on a thoughtful plan. Art administrators, with the aid of a proper system of cataloguing, should identify representative corpuses of various artists in their collections and mark the 'surplus.' They should invest their scarce resources on important paintings they do not have; and if need be, 'surplus' art works could be used to mobilise more resources. Existing legal frameworks must be reviewed to facilitate this and enable art collections to circulate better. Such progressive measures could also lead to potential partnerships between private and public museums and the sharing of scarce resources.








From time to time in Britain, a cry goes up that multiculturalism has failed. The debate then quickly, almost seamlessly, turns to the problem of "integrating" the Muslim community with the wider British society and — its implied consequence — the rise of "Muslim extremism." Once again, like the proverbial Groundhog Day, we are in that familiar territory after Prime Minister David Cameron recently used a speech at an international security conference in Munich to declare that the time had come to bury "state multiculturalism." It had, he contended, encouraged "different cultures to live separate lives" with "segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values."

Mr. Cameron then went on to conflate the supposed failings of multiculturalism with the issue of radicalisation of Muslims (always the elephant in the room whenever Britain's social ills are discussed), which he blamed on a policy of "hands-off tolerance."

Calling for a more "muscular" defence of western values (remarks that one commentator termed the "politics of body-building" rather than social cohesion), the Prime Minister said: "Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism."

From this point on, Mr. Cameron's speech slipped, as such debates invariably do, into a not-so-veiled attack on Muslim behaviour. In remarks that were strikingly similar to his Labour predecessor Tony Blair's "macho" speeches in the wake of 9/11 and the July 7, 2005 London bombings, he made clear that Muslims living in the West must abide by western "values" of tolerance, free speech and respect for women's rights.

He further proposed an official boycott of separatist Muslim groups, urging Ministers to refuse to share platforms or engage with them. They should also be denied access to public money, he suggested, alluding to the Labour government's policy of wooing groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain with funds.

"Let's properly judge these organisations: Do they believe in universal human rights — including for women and people of other faiths? Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separatism? These are the sorts of questions we need to ask. Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations," he said.

Mr. Cameron took care to make a distinction between the religion of Islam and the political ideology of Islamist extremism, saying it was wrong to link strong religious faith with radicalism. But the alarmist tone of his speech, urging Europe "to wake up to what is happening in our countries," left many (and not just Muslims) uncomfortable. While it is generally agreed that there is perhaps a need to promote a sense of wider collective national identity, critics say Mr. Cameron's attempt to link terrorism with the issue of Muslim integration risks fuelling Islamophobia and reigniting the post-9/11 rows over Islam.

Timing significant

There have also been questions about the timings of his remarks, which coincided with an aggressive march in the predominantly Muslim town of Luton against the "Islamisation of Britain" by the far-right English Defence League (EDL). Anti-fascist activists have accused him of "writing propaganda" for the EDL while a spokesperson of the Muslim Council of Britain, one of the groups Mr. Cameron was thought to have in mind when he called for self-appointed "gatekeepers" of the Muslim community to be shunned, said: "Again it seems the Muslim community is being treated as part of the problem rather than part of the solution."

Even independent liberal observers, who acknowledge that there is downside to laissez faire multiculturalism, believe that Mr. Cameron was wrong to link it with security and counter-terrorism. "We are all for an 'active, muscular liberalism,' and accept it can require uncomfortable choices. But David Cameron was wrong to link it with the fight against terrorism," commented The Independent editorially describing this part of his speech as "worse than naïve" and "counter-productive."

"By linking Islamist terrorism with the issue of integrating Muslims, he managed to suggest that Muslims are a threat," it said, arguing that his remarks showed "muddled thinking" over why young people turned to political violence.

There is a view that Mr. Cameron 's speech reflected a growing backlash against multiculturalism — and anxiety about Islam — across Europe with European leaders jostling with one another to push a populist "integrationist" agenda in the name of "defending" western values and fighting terror. Last autumn, German Chancellor Angela Merkel sparked a polarising debate when she said multiculturalism in her country had "utterly failed" to integrate its four million Muslims. Similar debates are going on in France and Italy — and in a more virulent form in Austria, Denmark and other European countries.

Madeleine Bunting, a leading British commentator on race and religion, said it was "disturbing" that Mr. Cameron should want to associate himself with such a "hysterical and extremely unpleasant" debate. "What kind of ambition and projection on the European stage prompted Cameron to deliver what is essentially a speech aimed at a U.K. audience? [The finer details of which Muslim organisation to work with can hardly be expected to interest a European security conference.] It could get very nasty if Cameron is jostling with [French President] Sarkozy and Merkel to establish his credentials to articulate European anxiety about Islam,'' she wrote in The Guardian.

Mr. Cameron has also been accused of "hypocrisy" by calling for greater integration while his government is actually promoting schools run by often insular faith groups.

"This Government is enthusiastically funding schools for separatists — from snooty white middle classes to… purist Hindus …, evangelical Christians and introverted, uncompromising Muslims. How does that foster integration?" asked The Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Mr. Cameron, she said, had been "selective" in singling out Muslims for criticism. "Many of us Muslims would be with David Cameron if his speech hadn't shown to be selective, hypocritical, calculating and woefully indifferent to Muslim victims of relentless racism and chauvinism," she said.

Professor Tariq Modood, a Muslim scholar and director of the Centre for Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol, made the same point more subtly saying integration was not one-way traffic. Integration must be about promoting a relationship of "equal respect" with the locals. "This means challenging racism and Islamophobia and so on, not by denying that there are groups in society but by developing positive group identities and adapting customs and institutions that enable that," he wrote in an article.

'Muslim question'

Mr. Cameron's speech is also said to reveal tensions within the Tory party over the so-called "Muslim question." A few weeks ago, party chairperson and peer Sayeeda Warsi — the first Muslim woman ever to sit in the British Cabinet — upset many of her colleagues when she complained that Islamophobia in Britain had "passed the dinner table test" deploying the colourful language used by a previous Tory party chairman, Norman Tebbit, who wanted Asian immigrants subjected to a "cricket loyalty test." She claimed that prejudice against Muslims had become "socially acceptable" and was regarded by many Britons as something "normal."

Her remarks infuriated the Tories with some calling her a "fifth columnist" and "closet fundamentalist." Mr. Cameron, who has heavily promoted her as the Muslim face of his government and symbol of his efforts to modernise the Tory party and make it more inclusive, was said to have been livid.

But, to put her comments in context, Baroness Warsi is not the "typical" disgruntled British Muslim and has, in fact, been criticised by many in her own community for supping with right-wing Tories. She has attacked "self-appointed [Muslim] religious leaders' — men, you know, in beards," and has been pelted with eggs for not being a "proper Muslim." As one left-wing commentator put it, "Anyone who has taken on both [the racist] BNP and the imams who wanted her to veil up is an interesting figure."

There is speculation that her outburst might have been prompted by anger after Mr. Cameron banned her from attending a major Islamic conference on grounds that some of the participants had extremist views and the presence of a Muslim Minister would lend them legitimacy. Whatever her motives, Baroness Warsi was echoing a commonly held view among large sections of British Muslims that they are a "soft" target of political attacks and Mr. Cameron's Munich speech would only fuel that view.

In a telling comment, meanwhile, leader of France's Far Right National Front Marie Le Pen "congratulated" Mr. Cameron on his speech and said it was "indisputable" that the British Prime Minister was moving his party closer to her own organisation's (xenophobic) views on multiculturalism. "It is exactly this type of statement that has barred us from public life for 30 years," she told The Financial Times.

An embarrassed Tory party said Ms Le Pen "clearly failed to understand the Prime Minister's speech."





A Somali man who pleaded guilty to hijacking an American-flagged cargo ship off the coast of Africa is to be sentenced in Manhattan on February 16. His lawyers and the prosecutors disagree about whether he should be granted leniency because of his age and other factors.

The authorities have said that the defendant, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, was the only survivor of four men who hijacked the Maersk Alabama on April 8, 2009; the three other men were killed during a daring operation by the Navy Seals in which the ship's captain was rescued.

Mr. Muse, whose age is in dispute, pleaded guilty last May to hijacking, hostage-taking, kidnapping, and conspiracy. As part of the plea, his lawyers and the government agreed that a reasonable sentence would be 27 years to 33 years and nine months. Prosecutors also agreed to drop a charge of piracy, which carried a mandatory life sentence.

'Driven to piracy'

In arguing for a sentence at the lowest end of the range, Mr. Muse's lawyers said in recent court papers that he, like other young Somalis, had been driven into piracy by the abysmal conditions in his war-torn country. He grew up in desperate poverty and was almost always hungry, rummaging through garbage to find food, they said. It was while he was a young teenager, learning to be a fisherman, the lawyers said, that he became caught up in the piracy networks of his native Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of northern Somalia.

Mr. Muse's lawyers say that his birth records are non-existent, but that they determined, through interviews with his family, that he was about 16 at the time of the offence. They say he is now 17 or 18, and depict him as merely a hired hand in the operations.

"The temptations of piracy were overwhelming for Abduwali," the lawyers wrote to Judge Loretta A. Preska of Federal District Court. "He had so little to lose."

Prosecution reacts

But prosecutors in the United States attorney's office in Manhattan, in a memorandum to the judge last week, described Mr. Muse's crimes as "extraordinarily depraved and violent," and asked for a sentence at the highest end of the range, of nearly 34 years.

Prosecutors said Mr. Muse had admitted to being over 18 at the time of the hijackings, and that during a five-week period in 2009, he led a gang of pirates in attacks on three ships in the Indian Ocean.

Mr. Muse and his band fired machine guns at the ships, boarded them and held crew members at gunpoint, the prosecutors said. In the last of the three hijackings, of the Maersk Alabama, the captain, Richard Phillips, was held hostage in a lifeboat and repeatedly threatened, they said. During the five-week period, the government said, a total of 53 sailors were kidnapped, two of whom died of illness months after Mr. Muse's arrest, while still being held off the Somali coast.

Far from being "conscripted into service by hunger or any other duress," the government said, Mr. Muse and his men "appeared to relish even their most depraved acts of physical and psychological violence and abandoned all pretence of human treatment of their captives."

The prosecutors described Mr. Muse as "the undisputed leader," saying he threatened to kill his captives and even aimed a gun at Captain Phillips, pulling the trigger, and laughing after it clicked but did not fire.

Mr. Muse's lawyers said they agreed that Captain Phillips had "conducted himself with great bravery," but they said a sentence of 27 years would provide heavy punishment and send a strong message of deterrence.

In another dispute, the government contends that Mr. Muse made coded phone calls from jail after his arrest in which he relayed an order to kill a ship captain.

The defence argues that the calls, while pertaining to piracy matters, were misinterpreted by the government, and because of their timing, could not have involved such a threat. Rather, they said, the calls concerned payment of a debt Mr. Muse owed.— © New York Times News Service






R.K. Raghavan , the distinguished former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), spoke to J. Venkatesan in the context of the Supreme Court asking the Central government to set up a Special Court to try the 2G spectrum scam case. In the hour-long interview done in New Delhi on February 13, he also spoke on a range of issues including the future of the CBI, and the need to strengthen it by means of a special enactment and insulate it from political influence. Excerpts:

The Supreme Court is monitoring the CBI investigation into the mammoth 2G spectrum scam. How far do you think the probe will go? Will it meet the same fate as those announced earlier into other big scams?

I'm quite confident that the investigation will be taken to its logical conclusion with several charge sheets [being filed] against many individuals. I'm equally sanguine about a speedy trial. The Supreme Court may even fix a deadline for its conclusion. It could possibly direct a day-to-day trial.

Can the CBI go beyond the conspiracy angle and take action against the beneficiaries of the 2G scam? Do you think a separate court could bring quick justice in this case?

It would be ridiculous if the beneficiaries are not proceeded against. The CBI will undoubtedly do this within the framework of the law.

Do you think the Supreme Court should constitute a committee to monitor a further probe, as you have suggested?

I strongly endorse this. Since this is a massive investigation, a committee, headed by a former Supreme Court judge or [former] High Court judge, a reputed lawyer who is knowledgeable in criminal matters, and a former CBI officer, perhaps of the rank of Inspector General of Police, may be of great assistance to the court. It should be able to report to the Supreme Court from time to time on the details of the progress in the investigation.

Do you think the Supreme Court should confine itself to monitoring the investigation, or can it go further, taking steps such as vetting the charge sheet? Will the Supreme Court approving the charge sheet affect the rights of the accused to claim discharge from the case?

This is a matter for debate. Going by the importance of the matter, nothing can be left to chance. Vetting of the charge sheet can be done by the committee that I have suggested. This will ensure that there are no gaps. This procedure will not in any way prejudice a fair trial; the accused will have every opportunity to defend themselves.

The Supreme Court is now seized of the matter of the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). Do you feel that the process of the CBI Director's appointment should be similar to that for the CVC's appointment?

I strongly believe that the CBI Director's appointment should also be done by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Union Home Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Of course, it should be by consensus. None will have a veto power. The current procedure makes the Director feels obliged to the ruling party or coalition, even though he is generally chosen on the basis of seniority and merit and he enjoys a fixed tenure of a minimum of two years. This is a step that would further strengthen his independence from the executive.

Should the CBI be vested with more powers, free from political influence?

Insularity from political pressure is an absolute must. At present such insularity does not exist. The Single Directive [as spelt out by the Supreme Court in Vineet Narain] that requires government approval for even a preliminary enquiry against officers of and above the rank of Joint Secretary, considerably whittles down the Director's authority. Worse is the dependence on the government for preferring an appeal against acquittals. The provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure in this regard, which vests authority on the government [whether or not to appeal] needs to be deleted so that the Director becomes the sole authority in the matter. At present, this authority is perceived as being misused by governments.

What is the future of the CBI and its role in combating corruption and other crimes?

It is not all that well-known that the CBI suffers from a serious resources crunch. It has about 4,000 officers and carries a large number of vacancies at any point of time.

The actual number of investigating officers works out to about 1,000. They are required to handle the 1,000 and odd new cases registered every year and also tackle the huge number of pending cases. How do you expect speedy investigation in such a situation? Also, promotion opportunities for directly-recruited officers of the CBI are far too limited, leading to a severe morale problem. If the CBI is treated like any other government department, we will be stuck with an inefficient machinery, that too at a time when corruption in public services is nearly at its peak.

More than anything else, the CBI needs statutory recognition. It survives on an executive order and derives powers from an antiquated Delhi Special Police Establishment Act. Several draft Bills for a CBI Act prepared at different points of time are pending with the government. But there is no political will to bring a draft bill before Parliament. This is because no political party would like to see a strong CBI that does not depend on the mercies of the executive. As in the case of corruption, this indifference cuts across party lines. And no party is a saint as far as the misuse of the CBI is concerned.

If the organisation enjoys relative independence, we must thank the former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma, for his judgment in the hawala case (1997) wherein he laid down a procedure for the appointment of a Director and gave a mandatory tenure of two years. I think this tenure is too short for a Director to leave an impression of his abilities. Remember, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States enjoys a 10-year tenure so as to make it co-terminus with a U.S. President's two terms in office. It is the President who appoints the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director, of course after obtaining the Senate's ratification.

My vision is that the CBI should be as powerful and esteemed as the FBI. This is possible only if it receives a massive outlay in terms of manpower and technology. I want it to be on a par with the FBI in being able to investigate the most complicated cyber crimes, including any possible cyber attacks on the Indian defence and information technology systems. At present it does not possess this capability.

Divesting the CBI of its authority to take up cases involving terrorism through a new National Investigation Agency (NIA) is highly debatable. This is a poor reflection on the ability of India's premier investigating body. Even if this step cannot be reversed, what is the harm in making the NIA a wing of the CBI, so that the CBI Director oversees its work? After all, you choose the seniormost and the most competent Indian Police Service officer to head the CBI. Why don't you use his talent to solve terrorist crimes? The argument that he does not have the time to take up this task is specious.

What is your experience as the chief of the Special Investigation team (SIT) in monitoring the Gujarat riots cases? Are you satisfied with the progress so far?

The SIT, comprising officers from both Gujarat and outside with a good track record of investigation, is an interesting experiment. It is a good tool through which courts can ensure objectivity and quality in controversial and complicated investigations. If it succeeds — there is no reason why it will not — it would provide the greatest assistance to all courts, including the Supreme Court, in future contingencies. For me personally, this has been a great learning process. My interaction with two great lawyers — Harish Salve and Raju Ramachandran — who are the amicus curiae appointed by the Supreme Court, has been a rewarding experience. They have done a great job in bringing the balance required in a contentious matter under probe. Handling the non-governmental organisations here has required great skill and patience. I am the richer for this. More than all these, if I have survived these three years, it is solely because of the unfailing courtesy and understanding shown to me by the distinguished three-member Bench of the Supreme Court. Also relevant is the cooperation extended by the Union Home Ministry and the State government.

I must mention here that the Supreme Court directive on witness protection has been strictly enforced. Wherever there was even a hint of a complaint, the SIT has moved fast. This has ensured that the deposition of prosecution witnesses, especially victims, has been in an environment generally free from threat or inducement. I am satisfied with the progress made by the SIT .One case, the main Godhra case, is ready for pronouncing the judgment, slated for February 19. Except for two other cases, [concerning] Naroda Gaon and Naroda Pathiya, in the rest of the six cases the trial is nearly over. My nine teams have done a great job, despite several odds.

What are your comments on the CBI's handling of the Aarushi-Hemraj murder case, in which the court has issued summons to the dental surgeon couple?

The CBI faced a formidable task here, with no eyewitnesses to the ghastly crime. It was honest enough to admit its failure in this regard, and rested with pointing out its suspicion. Yes, possibly, in the initial stages, giving too many details to the media was unwise. But then, you must remember it was operating under the full public glare and it was driven to take a position halfway during the investigation. I'm sure the CBI will be able to learn from this [experience], which the CBI top brass will disseminate down to the last CBI official.






China's neighbours have long been familiar with its proclivity for easy aggression. With India and Vietnam — despite the fact that the latter is a communist state like China — there has even been a clash of arms, although not of long duration. This might suggest in both cases that Beijing only wished to make a political statement through the use of howitzers. In both cases, Beijing determined that the quickest way to settle an argument was not through discussion but with the use of guns, not unlike warlords of yore. With respect to Taiwan — which Beijing claims to be a part of China — it has lined up missiles as a show of force and invited countervailing action by the Americans, theoretically bringing the region to war between what arguably are two of the most advanced fighting forces of the world, without heeding the wider consequences of such brinkmanship. Acts of this nature on the part of China have naturally made all of its neighbours wary in their conduct toward this country. Not without reason, it turns out. A recent article in the influential journal Qiushi (Seek The Truth), published by the Chinese Communist Party, makes plain that China loves war.

"Throughout the history of the new China (China since 1949, or communist China), peace in China has never been gained by giving in, only through war. Safeguarding national interests is never achieved by mere negotiations, but by war," notes the write-up. Viewpoints such as these bear kinship with the notion of the "gunboat diplomacy" of colonial powers in the 19th century and in the early part of the 20th. Consanguinity between this belief and the American doctrine of "pre-emptive war" is not hard to establish. Is it hubris that makes China — whose rise India gullibly supported in the late Forties and the early Fifties, going to the extent of engineering its installation as a permanent member of the UN Security Council — articulate militaristic ideas such as this in an official magazine of the party that runs the Chinese state which has many features of a military dictatorship? A Chinese foreign or security policy stance based on the belief-system espoused through the Qiushi write-up conceivably implies that the countless rounds of boundary discussions between New Delhi and Beijing have been a waste of time and that the communists across the Himalayas would agree to a final border demarcation only on their terms, settling the latter through recourse to military means. It can be argued that the above is an ideological-political write-up, not crystallised government policy. But an article in which seven of China's neighbours — besides this country, Japan, Vietnam, Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia and the Koreas — are named as being servitors of an American plan to "contain" China is unlikely to be seen as passing thoughts of a party hack in vigour mode.

"We must send a clear signal to our neighbouring countries that we don't fear war, and we are prepared at any time to go to war to safeguard our national interests," the article also notes. This may be seen as a hysterical re-statement of the age-old reality that all nations must be prepared for war if all else fails. But is it more since the advocacy is in favour of "sending a clear signal"? Either way, the neighbours that Beijing is not shy to name are unlikely to look upon such bitter outpourings with equanimity. They would naturally seek to make their own preparations — political, diplomatic and military — in order to dissuade the authoritarian Chinese leadership from emitting signals of war. Some may be inclined to take a benign view of the sabre-rattling. It is argued that when the communist power is in the midst of a leadership change, contention at the top can cause muscle-flexing in some quarters. Nevertheless, as they say, it never hurts to be prepared.






In the past week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has come under pressure on three counts. First, at his meeting with leaders of opposition parties, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee seemed to indicate the Congress was willing to concede a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) inquiry into the 2G telecom scandal if that was the only route to saving the Budget Session of Parliament from disruption. Should this perception be correct, it cannot please Dr Singh and his inner council.

Sections of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) have been opposing the JPC idea because they fear it will ask hard questions of precisely what and when Dr Singh knew about the spectrum bazaar that the disgraced A. Raja had been running as telecom minister. Did Dr Singh ignore advice from the law and finance ministers and refuse to curb Mr Raja? If so, why did he do so? These concerns, as well as the general fear that a JPC may be quickly reduced to an all-purpose fishing expedition, have had the PMO in a funk.

It is not as if Dr Singh's adversaries — his non-sympathisers, if you prefer — in the Congress and in the Union Cabinet are unaware of his misgivings. If they are shrugging shoulders and saying a JPC is inevitable, it is at least partly because they believe it will embarrass Dr Singh. In short, it will create an uncomfortable situation for Dr Singh that others, those with a smaller stake in Dr Singh's political career, can live with.
Second, Arun Shourie, the former telecom minister, has charged he warned Dr Singh about the telecom scandal even while it was occurring, identified a whistle-blower within (possibly) the department of telecom and sought a meeting with the principal secretary to the Prime Minister. Perhaps Mr Shourie is overstating his case and perhaps he is fighting several battles — within his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and elsewhere — at the same time. Yet, is he entirely making up his claim?

That is what the Congress spokesperson alleged when he more or less accused Mr Shourie of being a liar. However, it is telling that no denial of such an interaction with Mr Shourie — maybe even a short conversation in Punjabi in the corridors of Parliament, as some have put it –— has come from the PMO. Dr Singh has retreated into his habitual silence. In the public mind, a grave accusation by Mr Shourie — like him or not, he has a certain standing among the Indian middle classes — is going uncontested by Dr Singh himself.
That Dr Singh reportedly spoke to Mr Shourie on the phone over the weekend and invited him for a cup of coffee in the coming days may assuage individual insecurities and egos in New Delhi. Will it solve Dr Singh's wider credibility problem?

Third, the sweetheart deal between the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and a dubious private company, which apparently received valuable spectrum at cut-price rates, has implicated the PMO. If nothing else, it is answerable for severe negligence. The department of space comes under the ambit of the PMO and if Isro and an unknown company — which is being linked, as it happens, to yet another former Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam minister in the Union government — entered into a dodgy agreement then, at the very minimum, the PMO is guilty of lack of oversight and of incompetence.

What is all this adding up to? Nobody is accusing Dr Singh of personal wrongdoing or of financially benefiting from decisions of his government. However, his remarkable ability to look the other way when irregular decisions are taken by various arms of his government, and even by agencies of which his office has direct charge, is hurting him. If his civil servants, including senior functionaries in the PMO, can mask tricky contracts and agreements from him, Dr Singh is losing a key attribute: the eye for detail, the ability to pore over thick files — in the manner of an old hand in the Government of India — and identify the one hidden loophole. There is also the cynicism with which he has watched, but not intervened, as swindles have beset his government.
Under direct attack in such a manner for the first time, and with his push for economic reform and a more purposeful overhaul of the Union council of ministers not finding traction, where does this place Dr Singh? There are some in the Congress who believe — and a smaller number who actually hope — he will throw in the towel, leave 7, Race Course Road and walk away from a situation he cannot personally be comfortable with. There is another view that his government may just limp along, given it has three-and-a-half years of its term left.

Either way, however, Dr Singh is out of political capital. His administration is looking decidedly lame duck. The appointment of a JPC may buy it time and allow a temporary "business as usual" phase, but paradoxically — given what even a semi-hostile JPC could do to the government — it will reinforce the lameness of the duck. In real terms, as a measure of solid policy initiatives, the Manmohan Singh prime ministry may be over.
Dr Singh has served India well. He has been India's best ambassador at the global high table. As an intellectual among heads of government, a sober, thinking man, he has set the standard for future Prime Ministers as they seek to represent India among the powers of the world. However, recent months have also exposed the limitations of having an essentially apolitical man as Prime Minister, and of a "dual system" that separates hard political authority from a technocratic management of government. In the short run, such a system seems innovative; in the long run, it is not sustainable.

Those are thoughts for the future. For the moment, Mr Singh is being called to account for possible acts of omission, negotiating traps his colleagues are laying for him and trying to understand the fickleness of the public mood and of media adulation. For him, the sense of gloom is unmistakable. As for India, 2011 already seems one grim year.

Ashok Malik can be contacted at






Has the Union government finally veered round to the view that it will accept the demand of the Opposition to set up a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to inquire into the 2G spectrum scam in the interest of ensuring that the forthcoming budget session of Parliament proceeds smoothly? That was the impression some of those present at an all-party meeting convened by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on February 8 had. "The government thinks no price is higher than what would ensure smooth running of the House", the finance minister reportedly said.

If the formation of a JPC is indeed announced after the budget session of Parliament begins on February 21, it would give the government a temporary reprieve — but only just that. For the criticism directed against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, namely, that he chose to turn a blind eye to the corrupt practices of his erstwhile Cabinet minister Andimuthu Raja, would continue unabated. It's a "lose-lose" situation for the incumbent regime. If it does not agree to a JPC being set up, it risks the budget session going the way of the winter session of Parliament when no legislative business was conducted. But by accepting the demand for a JPC, the government will inevitably convey the impression that it buckled under pressure from its political opponents.
Why was the Congress, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and Dr Singh in particular opposed to a JPC? As finance minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Dr Singh had personally deposed before two JPCs in the 1992 Harshad Mehta scam and nine years later in the 2001 Ketan Parekh scandal, both involving stock market manipulation. He has apparently argued that if he has to appear before an all-party panel of MPs, the Opposition on both the Right and the Left would try their level best to make a spectacle, a huge tamasha out of the occasion that would not just demean him personally but also the office he holds. Opposition members of the JPC would indeed make the most out of the media attention that is bound to be given to the proceedings of such a committee.

Both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the Communists have made it clear that the budget session of Parliament may get washed out if the government does not agree to establish a JPC. The choice before the government is that if it does not set up a JPC, Mr Mukherjee will read out his Budget proposals for the coming fiscal year in a House in which the entire Opposition is absent. This would further damage the already-battered image of the government. So the UPA government is faced with a Hobson's choice: damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Even as Dr Singh steadfastly refused to accede to the formation of a JPC, his colleagues tied themselves up into silly knots which they will now find difficult to disentangle. The ruling party's strategy appears to be one of obfuscation — announce a new telecommunications policy after trashing the findings of a constitutional authority like the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) by pretending that nothing untoward happened and then blame past governments for their alleged misdemeanours.

The Congress is desperately hoping this strategy will work in short run, at least till the outcome of the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala and Assam is known. It also hopes the BJP government in Karnataka will get mired even deeper in corruption scandals. All of which would ensure that there are no mid-term elections even if the UPA-2 government in New Delhi remains in a state of atrophy.

There are many reasons why the government appears helpless. The manner in which the Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas was appointed, overruling the objection of the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, is one. The other important reason is the proactive manner in which the Supreme Court is monitoring the investigations of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

On February 10, a bench of the court asked the government to constitute a special court to exclusively deal with the second-generation spectrum cases. The bench comprising Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly emphasised that the CBI "must have a free hand to question anyone" and wondered if the agency's "freedom is curtailed" because it was seeking short periods of remand for the accused, including Mr Raja.
The Supreme Court did not stop there but remarked that there were people who considered themselves to be above the law of the land. The judges added that the law should catch with such people and the fact that the names of certain individuals were in the Forbes' list of millionaires should not dissuade the CBI from questioning them. Was the court, in this instance, merely referring to Shahid Usman Balwa of D.B. Etilisat (formerly Swan Telecom) or were the judges also alluding to prominent corporate captains such as Ratan Tata and Anil Ambani who head companies that have become embroiled in the spectrum scam?

The claim by the new Union communications minister Kapil Sibal that the government did not incur any loss because of the manner in which 2G spectrum was allotted in January 2008 is finding few takers. Why just the CAG, even the latest set of recommendations put out on February 9 by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India indicates that the losses, "presumptive", "notional" — call them what you like — are stupendous, running into many tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of crores. Mr Sibal's proposed new telecom policy has raised more questions, the most important of which is a simple one: If public auctions for allocation of spectrum are desirable now, why was it not in 2008?

Mr Sibal has the reputation of being a smart lawyer. But will his new policy result in more litigation? As for whether the Congress-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam alliance will continue in the run-up to the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu scheduled for April-May, your guess would be as good as mine.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator









Every cell in our body has the capacity to hold infinity. We must tap the full potential that nature has bestowed on us, the potential to hold infinity in every cell of the body. For that, we must practice meditation regularly.


Meditation is like a seed. The better a seed is cultivated, the more it flourishes. Our physiology undergoes a change and every cell in the body is filled with prana (life force). And as the level of prana in the body rises, we bubble with joy.


The culturing of meditation into our system is normal. Some people call it the higher state of consciousness; I call it the normal state of consciousness since we are endowed with the ability to live in that state.


Meditation helps in two ways — it prevents stress from getting into the system and simultaneously helps release already accumulated stress.


Regular meditation also leads to happiness and fulfillment; to sensitisation of the sensory organs thereby intensifying the experiences of seeing, tasting, feeling, etc; and to greater intuitiveness.


With the assimilation of meditation into daily life, the fifth state of consciousness, cosmic consciousness, dawns. Cosmic consciousness perceives the whole cosmos as part of oneself.


When we perceive the world as a part of us, love flows strongly between the world and us. This love empowers us to bear with the opposing forces and the disturbances in our lives.


A person in a higher state of consciousness is expected to know everything. But while the mind and the consciousness possess the ability to know everything, do they really need to know everything?


''All knowing'' simply means being conscious of the essence of all you know. In this state, both knowledge and ignorance co-exist and complement each other.


Deep inside, each person knows about everything in this world. As your consciousness opens and the whole system gets physically, mentally and spiritually elevated, your life becomes worth living.









Reacting to the mob uprising in Cairo that lead to the fall of the 33-year old despotic regime, a mainstream political party president in Kashmir wished the valley going the same way. In other words, instigating mobocracy is the party's panacea for Kashmir logjam. But the idea has come to the party only after suffering the humiliation and disappointment on the failure of twenty-one years of externally sponsored and abetted armed insurgency that yielded nothing except disaster. Wishing Kashmir to go Egypt way is misplaced comparison and hence sheer intransigence. It shows lack of the faculty of analyzing situations and their background. PDP chief means to indirectly instigate her party activists to replicate Cairo scenario. This in simpler words is to draw a parallel between the situation in Egypt and the one in Kashmir. No sensible person with a clear vision of past history will find this comparison rational and logical. However, the PDP president hopes that some sort of stir must take place to keep Kashmir pot boiling. The deposed Hosni Mubarak was running 333rd year of his despotic presidency. In Jammu and Kashmir, no fewer than five elections to the legislative assembly took place during that period in which one or the other mainstream political party, including the PDP, won or were returned with the strength of forming a coalition government. We had single party governments as well as coalition governments during this period depending on which way did the public opinion go. No one government in Kashmir perpetuated in its entirety as did that of Hosni Mubrak in Egypt. Where then arises any case of drawing a parallel between the two? At the heart of the revolutionary movement in Egypt there stood the soccer loving youth who the regime called "ultras". They drew inspiration from football leagues of Italy and the Italian football fans are known world over for their hooliganism and mayhem. 65% of Egypt's total population comprises the youth below 25 years of age. Football fans occasionally indulge in local politics but it is not politics that makes people rally round the football fans in hundreds of thousands. This young and energetic youth force has no ideological drive: they are not lead by any sort of religious obsession, and they have no links nor do they need any with the Theo-fascists stalking some parts of the Middle East and South Asian region especially the sub-continent. Their rallying point is and has been eradiation of poverty, corruption and nepotism. Kashmir uprising never focused publicly on these issues. There are no football fans or for that matter fans of any other entertainment or gainful employment in Kashmir except the fans of the culture of hatred. These football fans broached no particular ideology like Islamic radical propensity or Wahhabism or Salfi-ism or Marxism etc. They did not send their religious minorities like Christians and Coptic away to ethnically cleanse Egypt. On the other hand Kashmiri protestors and stone throwers were mostly the paid agents of separatists. The right hand man of Ali Shah Gilani's faction of Hurriyat namely Masarat Alam is reported to have disclosed to the police that a hefty sum of fifty lakh rupees was received by his organization from specific sources to foment trouble in Kashmir. About eight groups were formed and the head of each group, he said, was paid 6-8 lakh rupees each for distribution among the stone throwers who received anything between rupees one hundred and one hundred and fifty each for one session of stone throwing. Nothing of the sort has been reported from Tahrir Square in Egypt. The protest there was voluntary and instantaneous. No literature was distributed and no "Kashmiriyat"- type firebrand speeches laced with hatred were made. All this stands in contrast to what is obtaining in Kashmir. Furthermore the Egyptian revolution succeeded because it was leaderless and nobody aspired to be leading the mobs and street forces. The people were their own leaders. In Kashmir, there is entrenched leadership of the separatist and secessionist with a clear and transparent agenda of separating Kashmir through the instrumentality of religious factor, armed insurgency and now mobocracy. In Egypt, power has passed into the hands of the military, and the first step taken by the military is to order dissolving of the Egyptian parliament. Any party wishing the people of Kashmir to follow suit is patently inviting to run the dictation of the army. It is for the people of Kashmir to accept or reject a leadership laced with this type of dubious and perverted line of thinking.







Home Secretary G.K. Pillai has reacted to a question that has been extensively debated in various official and non official circles in the country. The issue is of withdrawal of troops from Kashmir. Separatists and their sympathizers among the cadres of some political parties have made it an issue of consequence. Along with the withdrawal of troops, the question of revoking of the AFSPA has also surfaced. There has been a good deal of debate at higher levels on this issue. For example, the Army did not favour any reduction in the size of troops in Kashmir taking into consideration the ground situation of which it has first hand knowledge. It appears that after due thought a compromise formula is on the anvil according to which neither the Army will have any serious objection nor will the public demand be ignored. The formula is of identifying areas in the state where militancy has been brought under control and situation normalized. These areas could be declared no disturbed areas. In doing so, the troops can be withdrawn from the identified areas. In this process, it is the state government that has to identify the secured areas. Hopefully the first batch of ten thousand troops will return to barracks in the first instance. As the situation improves in other areas, withdrawal will follow. This appears a sound and balanced decision except for the fact that in overall estimation as yet militancy in Kashmir has not been eradicated lock, stock and barrel. Therefore it means the bulk of the army will remain in the field for several years before total normalcy returns to the valley. The Home Secretary has made an interesting revelation at the same time while reflecting on the withdrawal of troops. He said that the Union Gvenment plans to reach the common man in Kashmir on the basis that there is a feeling that the common man finds he has no access to the source that is capable of mitigating his problems. This is something that has often been pointed out to the centre. Hopefully the centre has become wiser and will come up with new initiatives in this behalf.








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

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

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

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

For a country such as ours which spends billions of dollars every year to import nearly 70 per cent of its total military equipment, the Government seems stuck with the country's defence establishment still reluctant to lift the 26 per cent cap on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the "sensitive" sector of defence production. Despite India being one of the biggest users of conventional defence equipment and the cumulative defence budget growing at the rate of over 13 per cent annually since 2006-07, we continue to depend on imports for all our major requirements with domestic production limited to low technology items and based on purchased technology.

In a discussion paper floated last year seeking stakeholders' views, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), under the ministry of commerce, had favoured 100 per cent FDI in defence in order to attract foreign technology. It further called for an urgent need to enhance the deterrent and the operational capabilities of the armed forces. The paper stated that almost 50 per cent of India's defence equipment was suffering from obsolescence while merely 15 per cent could be called state-of-the-art.

The Government, however, now seems to be keen on allowing greater participation of the private sector and expert players in the defence sector to invite higher technology in the sector. With strong backing from both the finance and home ministries, the ministry of commerce and industry is learnt to be preparing to move a cabinet note on increasing the cap on FDI in the defence sector to 49 per cent.

The case for a firm Government stand on increasing the FDI cap is backed by the fact that it is of vital importance to the defence sector which is highly capital intensive where technology requires frequent upgrading. FDI is not just a subject of getting funds, but also facilitates access to the latest technologies and provides for a long term commitment between the foreign and local enterprise. It creates a sort of a cycle where the foreign investment upgrades local technology which, in turn, attracts more FDI with higher technology.
Defence sector needs huge investments and anyone doing so will not be looking for 26 per cent of stake. If we really want path breaking technologies to come to India, we will have to raise the stake of foreign direct investments up to 74 percent. Despite the presence of such alluring factors, Minister for Defence A. K. Antony has registered his stern disagreement with the said proposal on the ground that the Indian defence sector was not mature enough to absorb higher FDI. The reluctance of the defence establishment, sources say, is also based on the rather conventional belief that defence is a sensitive sector and that opening doors to foreign players could lead to security concerns.
The defence sector in India, which was initially subject to 100 per cent monopoly of the public sector, saw the government open doors to private participation and allows 26 per cent FDI following a policy change over the last decade. However, the policy move did not really help matters as it failed to amuse both the domestic private sector and the foreign direct investors. Over-dependence on the public sector has been cited as one of the major reasons for this failure. Also, the complete lack of enthusiasm by investors, both Indian and offshore, failed the basic aim of allowing FDI in the defence sector, which was to pool capital and foster technology partnerships to manufacture defence equipment for the armed forces and also register its presence in the export market on a significant scale.

On a global front, India's defence exports have ranged between 1.5 and 2.4 per cent of the total production. It is disappointing to note that ever since the introduction of FDI in defence in 2001, the grand total of investments in defence through the FDI route have been a meagre $15 million. As per the budget estimates (BE) for the year 2010-11, the defence sector has been allocated Rs. 1, 47,344 crore, an increase of 3.98 per cent over the BE of 2009-10. The expected defence spending over the next five years is $50 billion.

Another case for strong legislation in favour of the proposed hike is also based on the fear that our vast dependence on imports can be stifled in times of crisis, leaving India defenceless. Considering that India needs to import even basic stuff, FDI can be kept out of areas which are really sensitive. In fact, the DIPP discussion paper had allayed concerns that India-based fully foreign-owned companies may not be in the county's security interests, arguing that the concerns remained even in case of direct imports and hence could not be cited for opposing higher FDI.

There is no question of security being compromised. Whether it is the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft or the Artillery Guns, we are procuring them from outside. Once the companies set up their base in India it will benefit the country.

With India emerging as a major economic destination for several sectors, the efficient management of funds allocated in the defence budget will be of vital importance keeping in view its targets of reducing dependence on imports. What India needs today is a dedicated and technology specific policy which is flexible enough to attract frontier technology within the broad regulatory policy framework. It is vital that in the case of cutting edge technology, FDI limit be increased to 51 per cent to instil a sense of confidence in the foreign entrepreneur that he would continue to own the enterprise by holding majority stake.

An FDI cap of 49 per cent may prove totally unfruitful and could also pose as a major hurdle towards attracting high-end investments. Supporters of higher FDI say foreign investors will set up units in India that should lead to cheaper prices of defence equipment, secure supplies and steady jobs for Indians.

For India to sustain its steady economic growth and support it with a robust defence base, we need to offer opportunities which are more striking and attractive than other foreign direct investors (FDI) competitors. In order to have a strong defence industry base in India, it is vital to recognise the peculiarities of the defence sector with investor facilities in line with prevailing international standards backed by proper policy support which override the dissuasive incongruities present in the sensitive sector of defence production. . (INAV)








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 Delhi), 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 use 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. (INAV)








Empowerment of women is the most recent area which has been very well allured these days by the scientists, planners and the policy makers."

All experts are of the opinion that when the women are involved in learning of any of the scientific practices, it means that whole of the family and society stands a greater chance to fight off the problems related to the food security, environment and health.

The women who constitute half of the world's population have considerable contribution to agricultural, horticultural and olericultural production. However, they are not being much benefitted from the agricultural services. One of these services is agricultural extension education and training. Women especially of developing countries are acquiring less profit from extension programmes. Many of the Indian farm women also come off of the same category. Hence, it is the need of the hour to empower the rural women by educating them properly through the latest agricultural technology generated by the State Agricultural Universities, Indian Council of Agricultural Research Institutes and State Departments of Agriculture, Horticulture and Animal/Sheep Husbandry. This technology may consist of production of crops, growing of fruit trees and vegetables, vis-à-vis rearing and ensuring the health of the animals and poultry. Women must also be trained in mushroom cultivation, bee keeping, silk worm rearing and fruit preservation.

Empowering the women with women with scientific agricultural technology is the, "Key to achieving the food security and eventually a sustainable healthy food system for all of us as stated by Dr Jaequeline Ashby, Director of the Rural Innovation Institute at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, Colombia." In those areas where the men migrate in search of seasonal labour, the women are left wholly solely incharge of the family, food production and most of the decisions they take themselves.

A number of studies have evinced that when the women control the income generated from agricultural commodities, they properly invest in the food security, health care and proper education of whole of the family. As producers and labourers the women utilize all the learnt technologies for improving agricultural production and productivity and generating income. The women are also influential in making household decisions and decreasing the use of harmful pesticides as they are often the primary members of the household in selecting and storing the seeds for the next year's crop and so can influence the choice and adoption of the new seeds. The women are the ones who cook the food, keep the houses neat and clean, wash the clothes and raise the children. They can maintain hygiene by way of following good cooking practices during preparing the food, providing neat and clean water; good animal health care and using traditional medical practices. Women also conserve the natural resources like water, soil, forest and grasslands as they constitute pivots in the family and can play a big role in communities mobilization of various activities in maintaining environment ecology.

Even in the age of 21st century more than 50 percent of the women in various parts of the world haul water for domestic use. In Indian Himalayan states like Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, women in the rural areas walk along distance to transport water for domestic use. This too includes bringing of water for cattle's consumption both during summer and winter in farflung areas as in some parts of these states water supply schemes are not effective and in some other parts these schemes have not yet been introduced. The women thus, bear the brunt of all these injustices. This is the reason why we believe in that women can render the right decisions because they have more life experience and we can say, "water and women are synonymous with each other," and must be given equal role for ensuring the sustainability of water resources.
Rachel Carson, Maria Cherkasova and Vandana, are some of the worth mentioning names of women environmentalists. Rachel Carson believed that pesticides and chemicals from industries could damage the earth environment. Maria Cherkasova is a journalist, ecologist and Director of Centre for Independent Ecological Programme. Vandana Shiva is an internationally famous Indian physicist, ecofeminist and activist.
In West Bengal, the sal forests which used to be damaged by the forest fires, overgrazing and repeated coppicing have been brought under the management of cooperative committees. The committees are controlled by the women folk and strict instructions have been used by the committees regarding the felling of sal trees.
Women can very well assist in transferring the scientific health findings research into communities in respect of antiretroviral and HIV (Human Immuno Deficiency Virus) related treatments. Women, indeed, make up an increasing proportion of people infected and affected HIV/AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Feminization of HIV/AIDS epidemic also stands increase the number of children infected with HIV through mother to child transmission. Half a million children become newly infected with HIV in 2006. About 90 percent of all children acquired the infection from their mothers during pregnancy and breast feeding. Many children born to HIV infected women also stand to lose their mothers to AIDS related illness.
Suggestions and Priorities:

* Involve the women in participatory plant breeding programme as this leads to greater food security for the family as a whole.

* Several programmes for women which stand implemented to address their varied needs require to be strengthened.

* Schemes to provide skill development for income generation, microcredit, awareness creation and child protection should be resorted in letter and spirit.

* Protection of the fair sex from domestic violence is very important to ensure their contribution to the progress of the nation.

* The prevention act from domestic violence should be implement with the same intention an spirit in which it was enacted

* The declining female sex ratio requires for strict implementation.

* More training programmes relating to make food security more sustainable, sustenance of environmental and ecological balance and health problems should be organized.



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





PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti has created an avoidable controversy, which is not only harmful for India but also for her own political interests. All those present at her power-point presentation on her "Kashmir vision" in Srinagar on Saturday were surprised to see the map she used, showing Aksai Chin and the Karakoram region as parts of China. Her slideshow had Jammu and Kashmir's map superimposed on foreign currency notes. The state was shown as being under the control of three countries —- India, Pakistan and China. Being a senior politician associated with a mainstream party, she should be extremely careful about not indulging in any act which goes against the country's officially stated line on such a sensitive issue as its borders. Whether she did it intentionally or otherwise is not known, as she has not clarified her position while reacting to the condemnatory remarks by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and many others. The Chief Minister is right when he says that "this is not acceptable to us". Any Indian who has the country's interests dear to him or her will have a similar opinion.


New Delhi considers the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, including the areas occupied by Pakistan, as an integral part of India. Pakistan has handed over a part of the Karakoram region to China illegally. India cannot accept it as Chinese territory nor can New Delhi ever give up its claim over Aksai Chin, illegally occupied by China. These are the issues on which all political parties, national as well as regional, should speak with one voice and support the official line. Anyone who indulges in an act that weakens the country's national interests deserves to be condemned severely. The PDP leader has done a great disservice to the nation. Those who demand her party's de-recognition on the question have a valid point to make.


Mehbooba should know how to conduct herself when it comes to handling our national issues. That she has a soft corner for the separatists in Kashmir is known to one and all. It would be a sad development if she, too, starts behaving as these anti-India elements do. 









THE Punjab Public Service Commission stands discredited again. A vigilance inquiry has found that money had exchanged hands in the 2008-09 selections of 312 medical officers. The last Congress government led by Capt Amarinder Singh had unearthed scandalous PCS selections made during the previous Badal regime by the then commission Chairman, Ravi Sidhu, who was hand-picked by former Chief Minister Harcharan Singh Brar for the top post. The present commission Chairman and members were appointed by Capt Amarinder Singh as Chief Minister. Earlier, only the Chairman was indicted for corruption. This time it was team work.


The latest vigilance findings, submitted to the Punjab and Haryana High Court, have disgraced the commission, no doubt, but the Captain too has lost the high moral ground he once occupied on the issue of corruption. There will be few takers for his feeble attempt to remove the mud hurled at Chairman S.K.Sinha and others. He has rushed to question the vigilance team's credibility without, perhaps, reading its 42-page report. Whether the report stands to judicial scrutiny is for the high court to see. Understandably, corruption is no longer an issue with the state Congress in general and the Captain in particular.


The tendency of politicians to disregard merit and appoint cronies to key posts is destroying institutions. Universities, corporations and boards are packed with political loyalists. Secondly, the law-breakers often manage to find relief in judicial delays. Had Ravi Sidhu been given quick, deterrent punishment, the replay of sordid events might not have occurred. A public service commission is a constitutional body and its office-bearers are given security of service so that they can discharge their duties without fear or pressure. But job security should not be allowed to stand in the way of bringing the accused to justice. Inordinate delay shakes public faith in the system. In an otherwise murky scenario the Union Public Service Commission stands tall and clean. Its credibility has seldom been questioned. Why state bodies tend to stink deserves a serious thought. There is something definitely rotten in the state of Punjab. 
















CABLE networks provide access to news and entertainment for a huge number of Indians and are often the only viable alternative in rural and semi-rural areas, since the cost of individual DTH services is too high for most families, and terrestrial services are limited to Doordarshan and other government broadcasts. Over 13 crore Indians own television sets, according to one estimate, and the cable networks provide access to most of them. The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, had laid the foundation of better management and regulation of cable networks, but it needs more teeth. From time to time, there have been allegations that these cable networks are monopolies, especially at the level of various states. In some states, the political hand behind cable networks is apparent. This has led to situations where cable networks were blanked out during times when news inimical to the political overlords was being telecast.


The monopolies must be broken up. More competition brings better service, at better rates for the consumers. Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni's recent statement that the monopolisation of the cable network system in some states, including Punjab, was not acceptable and that the government would tackle this issue soon is welcome. It is good that the need for such intervention is being recognised by the government. As ever more people connect to multiple channels through their cable networks, their interest needs to be protected.


Besides access, another contentious issue is content. From time to time, there has been public outrage at the television media testing and occasionally stepping across the boundaries of what is acceptable. Even television news has come under a clout for sensationalism and worse. The industry needs to make its self-regulatory mechanism more effective so as to provide redressal to aggrieved parties. Surely, good content, delivered through a transparent and competitive mechanism, is not too much to ask for in this day and age. 









THE scenario of the judiciary overstepping its power of review and the sensitivity of the executive in having its actions interfered with by the judiciary was again brought out sharply with the comment of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while inaugurating the 17th Commonwealth Law Conference at Hyderabad. The broad approach of the Prime Minister in this matter is not new (he has expressed it earlier also). But the sharpness and causticity this time was expressed strongly when he cautioned, "While the power of judicial review must be used to enforce accountability, it must never be used to erode the legitimate role assigned to the other branches of the government."


This is so notwithstanding the fact that the government itself is quite happy to let the Supreme Court supervise the CBI investigation in the 2G spectrum scam, hoping that this will deflect the demand for a JPC (Joint Parliamentary Committee) probe. Similarly, the government is not opposing the matter of foreign accounts of Indians being enquired into by the apex court so that it can avoid having to disclose their names to the public.


The sharpness, I suspect, may have been induced by what, and I say with all respect, was the uneven sharp attack on the executive by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court (Justice Ganguly) while attending a conference of lawyers on "Gender concern in conflict zone". He said, "It was shocking to see how the government allows and appreciates such ministers. Not only that, and also gives them a Cabinet post. It is not a dignified act. I would call it a shameless act."The background reportedly seems to have been that in December a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court (of which Justice Ganguly was a member) had strongly castigated the action of the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Mr Deshmukh (now a minister at the Centre), in having stopped the police from registering an FIR against a moneylender, a relation of a Congress legislator. This action of Mr Deshmukh was certainly condemnable, and the Mumbai High Court had called it gross interference by the executive in shielding a private moneylender belonging to the ruling party. The Supreme Court had justifiably in its judgment rebuked Mr Deshmukh, saying that the Chief Minister should not have interfered with the criminal justice system, and this act was unconstitutional. The court imposed a fine of Rs 10 lakh on the state government. I fully appreciate the action of the Bench (though it would have been more appropriate if the fine was imposed on Mr Deshmukh personally rather than on the state because it was the individual unconstitutional action of the Chief Minister — the state is a different personality).


The above action of the Bench had been widely appreciated. But these strong and rather unprecedented observations from a sitting judge gave it a different contour and context, more so when the judge was speaking at a seminar on a subject which had nothing to do with the impropriety of the politicians. It was on a sober and important topic of gender justice. This was, and I say with respect, because many a time a sitting judge, even if he is rightfully indignant during the hearing, has been advised by elders to keep his cool. There is no denying that in the court many occasions arise when a normal person would lose his cool and feel like shouting, but the hoary wisdom of great judges is always to try and put a restraining hand on oneself.


I remember an incident at the Lahore High Court where a rather short-tempered judge would go on interrupting the arguments of a senior mild-mannered lawyer by saying, "rubbish". So, the senior counsel at the end kept his brief aside and very innocently addressed the judge, politely saying, "I hope your lordship is well because nothing but rubbish is coming out of your lordship's mouth". The message was conveyed strongly, though put in an apologetic manner. Even outside the court, the sitting judges are expected to keep the same restraint on their language – may be, unknowingly the Lachhman Rekha was crossed in this instance.


Loard Atkin had long ago given a friendly warning, "Wise judges never forget that the best way to sustain the dignity and status of their office is to deserve respect from the public at large by the quality of their judgments, the fearlessness, fairness and objectivity of their approach, and by the restraint, dignity and decorum which they observe in their judicial conduct."


Also, the judiciary could, with some embarrassment, be reminded of its own conduct that the judges against whom allegations of corruption are being enquired into are still being allowed to sit in courts.


But that is no reason why the great instrument of judicial review should be downgraded. Judicial review is inherent in a written constitution. Wherever there is a written constitution the supreme law is the law of the Constitution, and for even Parliament to accept that its powers are limited by the written Constitution is not in any manner to derogate from its sovereignty but only to accept that its sovereignty, like the sovereignty of the executive and the judiciary, is limited by the written Constitution.


Politicians seem to think that the courts ought to give to all decisions of Parliament their seal of approval automatically. But that would mean being untrue to the oath taken by the judge, who can only uphold the lawful decisions, and cannot keep silent in the face of illegality.


It also needs repeated reaffirmation that the mandate in the Preamble to the Constitution, "We the People", empowers both the legislature and the judiciary equally. The transit legislature elected for a particular period cannot arrogate to assume the mandate of sovereignty of the people exclusively to itself. Humility in all three instrumentalities of the State and of recognition of their respective limited sovereignty will make it easier for the country to avoid any unnecessary collision.


The writer is a retired Chief Justice of the High Court of Delhi.








Wearing a ponytail is no easy task in this part of the world. It is just not part of our culture. When I first took to this ishtyle, my wife dismissed it as "an ugly sparrow tail" announcing that she liked me in the turban more. My mother said I had to do a 'ponytail' one day as I was always living like an animal dirtying the house around.


A female journalist in Ludhiana took a special liking to it. She would strategically sit behind me at the press conferences to take revenge from mankind. "All my life and especially in school, boys teased girls pulling their plaits or ponytails. Now , I can get back to all of them through you." So, at press conferences, or wherever I saw her, I had to keep more attention behind than front.


Beggars embarrass me the most. They take me as a rich NRI and keep calling, "Ammricaaa waale munde, kujh de ja." At weddings especially in the villages, they are after you like anything. You can't get rid of them by giving Rs 10 or Rs 50. They throw it back, "Ambricaa waale munde, dollar shollar de," (American boy, we would accept dollars only).


Once I was visiting a school in a suburb of Ludhiana for a news story. I had hardly stepped inside when a boy saw me from the window of his classroom on the second floor, "Look, gutt wala bhai," (see, a man with a ponytail). His entire class and then students from other classes also perched out calling me "gutt wala bhai, gutt wala bhai."


When people say it is not our culture, I think of an incident in Jaipur, where a senior politician earned the ire of youngsters saying Malls were not part of Indian culture and holding hands while roaming around in such places was against our culture. He had to withdraw his statement when youngsters opposed it tooth and nail arguing India was a land of kamasutra and Khajuraho temples also.


Now, holding hands has different meanings in different countries. A Canadian journalist visiting Punjab shared her dilemma with this writer. "Is being gay cool in India," she asked.


"No, why?" I asked.


"I see men hugging each other on the streets and talking holding hands. Girls also hold each other's hands and hug. Back in Canada, only gays do this." I explained to her the Punjabi culture of men hugging each other and just holding hands, at times, playfully checking and exhibiting their strength, so typical of college youths."


She was surprised "Strange, girls and boys meant to hold each other's hands walk at a distance while they playfully hold hands of their own gender." When I explained, exhibiting love openly is not Indian culture and covering oneself completely in public was considered good morals, her male colleague left me speechless with another query. "I don't understand what the real Indian culture is. There are decently dressed girls on the street but all girls on posters of films and advertisements are naked or scantily dressed. Which is real India and which is real culture?"








A little over a hundred and thirty years ago, Rakhmabai, a young woman was taken to court by her husband, Dadaji because she refused to allow him to consummate their marriage. She had ample reason — she'd been married at the age of 10, she was now nearly 22, many years had passed since the marriage and she and her husband had not been in touch, so when he returned to claim his 'property', the property refused. The Bombay High Court, biased at the time (like courts everywhere) towards men, and facing pressure from Hindu nationalists, ruled in favour of the husband.

A few years later, in 1889, an eleven year old girl from Bengal, Phulmonee, died because her 35 year old husband, Hari Mohan Maitee, insisted on enforcing his 'right' to have sex on her.

These two incidents are believed to have been the precursors of legislative change, leading to the Age of Consent Act of 1890, which raised the age of consent from 10 to 12 years. At the time, the debate was couched very much within the frame of marriage, and 'consent' basically related to consummation rather than to consensual sex outside of marriage - something that no doubt existed, but was not taken into account in the legislation of the time.

Today, things are very different. Consensual sex outside marriage - and indeed within marriage - is everywhere known to be a fact of life. But the legislation governing it is mired in confusion and tied up in knots. Men and women in India attain majority at the age of 18 - that is when they are eligible to vote, learn to drive, and so on. But the age of consent, or the age at which they can have consensual sex is 16, with some exceptions such as in the state of Manipur where it is 14.

As if this were not bad enough, some years ago (in 2004) a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court suggested that the age of consent be raised from 16 to 18 in Kerala, to bring it in line with, as the judge then said, a legal system ' in which an age of 18 is used for other purposes - like the Indian Majority Act, the Contract Act, the Juvenile Justice Act, the Child Marriage Restraint Act and the Representation of People Act.'

And to further confound the confusion, we now have a new ruling from the Delhi High Court - the same court that gave us the landmark verdict on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code - that fixes different ages of consent for homosexuals and heterosexuals, and different ages for different kinds of sex (vaginal/penile/oral/anal).

Clearly the law can sometimes provide a great deal of entertainment and ever since the Delhi High Court verdict, the media has been full of calculations and speculations about who can have what kind of consensual sex at what age. This doesn't, however, take away from the questions that underlie these changes.

There's little doubt the situation today is different from what it was in Rakhmabai's time. Young men and women grow up and mature faster, life has changed, sexual freedom and activity outside of marriage are more widespread, and alternative sexualities are being recognized. Legislation then, has to keep pace.

But can people really mature faster within one set of administrative borders and not in another? What is the logic of having a different age of consent in Manipur, for example? Or what is the logic of making the age of consent different from, say, the age of majority?

Why, further, should people, whether heterosexual or homosexual, be 'allowed' to have certain kinds of sex at one age, and not at another. Does anything change from the night you are still 17 to the day you become 18? And more, will people actually follow the rule of the law in their personal interactions? Or, put another way, how far can the law go into dealing with personal lives?

There are no easy answers to these questions and the High Court has asserted that this is for parliament to decide, and to remove the confusion. Whether or not the confusion will be removed is difficult to say, but what is certain is that given the proliferation of child trafficking and paedophilia, the issues of what is consensual and when can consent freely be given, will only become more complex.


The author is director of Zubaan Books, an imprint of Kali For Women, the first feminist publication in India. She is a writer, publisher, historian and feminist.








WE do not know at what age Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. What we do know is, that, after tasting the fruit Adam blamed Eve for succumbing to the snake's trickery. In John Milton's Paradise Lost, he called her a snake. Since then women have to bear the brunt of sexuality for both the genders.


Before the society acquired the 'civilised' status, women enjoyed far greater freedom and autonomy. For, they were revered as mysterious beings with magical powers who could produce children out of nowhere. The all-women clans of pre-Paleolithic era excluded men. Not only this, men were required not to kill any woman, and often not even female animals. Women cohabited men as and when required, and male children were sent off to join men once they came close to ten years of age.


Ever since man understood the reason behind these magical powers of woman - himself- he brought her down from the pedestal. Since then sexual rights of a woman have been politicised- controlled under different pretexts by family, clan, society, religion and now the governments.


In her controversial book Woman's Evolution ( Which was banned in all the Arab countries for obvious reasons) Evelyn Reed, US based communist anthropologist unraveled layers of deep rooted need in all societies to control woman's sexuality and gradually move from matriarchy to patriarchal system. As patriarchy prevailed, women lost right over their fertility, which became a subject of ownership for man, clan and at times a nation and its pride. Numerous fertility rituals, traditions and ceremonies across societies are echoes of that forgotten past, which the human societies like to wear as tattoos on their civilized-status.


Woman added to the prosperity of a clan by adding more hands to till in the agrarian society- which lent justification to family's control over her fertility. The rapid industrialisation of the twentieth century and unprecedented developments in medicine and contraceptives freed woman from the burden of carrying children, returning the lost paradise to her. Having control over her fertility, the emancipated woman has been reasserting her larger role, tilting the balance in her favour.


Despite all these developments, the politics over her fertility does not seem to end. Age of consent has a direct relation to a woman's age of fertility. In the twenty first century, as life is redefined completely with advancements and sophistication in choices of contraceptives, it is but absurd to debate what should be the age of consent for the young, which goes without saying centres around the woman. When ads of emergency contraceptive speak to the vulnerable girl every hour of the day, so much of debate over the issue leaves one confused. The draft Bill on sexual offences against children fixes the age of consensual sex at 16, and of non- penetrative sex at 12, which raises certain questions on the wisdom behind such conclusive decisions.


To begin with, The Ministry of Women and Child Welfare clarified that the need to bring this bill was realized to protect children from different kinds of sexual exploitation. But, it does not clarify what brought the wisdom to ascertain the age of consent at 16, and not 14 or 15 or 12 , as is the case in many other societies. Did the ministry engage sociologists, psychologists, and hormone experts to come to the age of 16 ( see box) , or the decision was based on a survey conducted to ascertain at what age adolescents can be considered mature enough to give consent for sexual act. What was the nature of sample, which age group, from which geographical area, rural or urban, rich-poor? There is no information on these accounts.


Consensual sex is not a matter of biological maturing alone, several factors are at play to prepare an adolescent for sexual maturity. A girl working as labourer at 14, fending for herself, would have a different level of maturity from a girl pampered and protected in a public school life. Their responses vary in all other respects, including sexual maturity. Setting of early menarche in urban girls has also affected sexual maturity of adolescents, which needs to be taken into consideration.


For over hundred years, Canada had age of consent fixed at 14. Two years back, the laws were changed under the assumption that younger adolescents at 14 were less capable of making healthy choices about sexuality than older adolescents at 16. These policies create hardship for those who are accountable for enforcement. Perhaps what is required is to educate the young about the right they have over their body and give more emphasis to sex education in schools rather than once again prepare a black and white draft for a very grey area. 



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




One of the high points of economic and fiscal reform in India in the past two decades has been the progressive moderation of direct tax rates. Thanks to this, the ratio of direct to indirect taxes has risen, a sign of greater progressiveness and equity in India's taxation system. Direct taxes are not easily passed on, as indirect taxes tend to be, and so their incidence is more directly on the individual or firm paying the tax. While this has been a positive trend, the ratio of total tax revenues to national income has, in fact, come down in recent years and remains below 12 per cent. India has a very low tax/GDP ratio by world standards. Apart from widespread tax evasion and avoidance, the complete exemption of certain types of income from taxation, like agricultural income, has made it that much more difficult for the tax authorities to capture all taxable incomes. While the Indian middle class is happy with existing rates of taxation and the government is in no position to increase the direct tax burden on the middle class, and while it is true that the greater challenge before the government is to reduce wasteful and socially unproductive expenditure, the fact also is that a case can be made for improving the equity dimension of the Indian tax regime. Most analysts do note that income and wealth inequalities have widened in India, even though poverty itself may have come down. The Business Standard's annual listing of Indian billionaires, to be published later this week, will show India's rich getting richer, and this is most starkly demonstrated by their extravagant homes, their private jets and luxury yachts. Has the time come for the government to introduce greater equity into the tax regime by dipping into the increasingly deep pockets of India's wealthy?

There are several ways in which Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee can impart to his Budget a more progressive bias, something that will go down well with his own party's liberal instincts and allow it to claim that the Budget is not just "pro-poor" but, in fact, "anti-super-rich"! One simple intervention that may not yield much in terms of revenue but will pinch the wealthy is to bring back wealth tax in some form. An inheritance tax, a death duty and long-term capital gains tax and a tax on dividends received are some such instruments that the government can use. Indeed, the new direct taxes code has some of these ideas and they are worth implementing to make India's tax system more progressive. The wealth of just 657 BS Billionnaires has been estimated to be Rs 16 lakh crore. Taxing away just 0.1 per cent of that would yield a revenue of Rs 16,000 crore. A 10 per cent long-term capital gains tax, with the securities transactions tax dumped, and a death duty or inheritance tax can easily generate another Rs 10,000 crore, netting a cool Rs 26,000 crore of additional direct tax revenue, without hurting the middle class. Not only would this help Mr Mukherjee in his fiscal house-keeping but it would give his party a talking point at a time when it is being accused of corruption and currying favour with corporates. Some, including the stock market, would cry foul and the government must factor that negative response in. But many would cheer a government dipping into the deep pockets of the super-rich.








While the recent sporadic performance of the Indian manufacturing sector has justifiably evoked both concern and comment, another well-documented facet has not received commensurate attention. Organised sector manufacturing in India turned capital intensive in the 1990s and the trend continues inexorably. Research by Business Standard indicates that India Inc added over Rs 13 trillion in fixed assets over the past decade, with over 80 per cent of this accretion since 2005. On the other hand, labour costs using "wages and salaries" as a percentage of gross sales as a proxy, have remained flat at about 6.5 per cent during the same period. Since wages and salaries have increased across the board, it implies that recruitment in manufacturing firms is either flat or may even have declined slightly. Capital expenditure by the private sector has contributed substantially to both manufacturing sector productivity and by extension overall economic growth for two decades. Large-scale investments in cutting-edge technology have helped Indian manufacturing firms ramp up capacity, gain economies of scale and rapidly move up the technology ladder. Increased firm-level productivity has led to a virtuous circle, wherein investment was largely driven by retained earnings, which allowed firms to be largely impervious to periodic interest rate hike in the past. However, the global slowdown has dented profits, which has considerably reduced this self-financed capacity expansion of 2003-2008. Higher cost of capital and the prevailing eco-political uncertainty has resulted in a drying up of non-infrastructure fixed capital formation.

Sharp increases in labour productivity has obviated the need for new hiring, though it is a cause for concern that the impressive capacity expansion in the organised sector has not resulted in economy-wide spillovers by way of forward and backward linkages. This largely pertains to the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) sector, which, barring a few notable exceptions, has been excluded from organised sector's expansion. SMEs are the Cinderella of the manufacturing sector despite their substantial contribution to exports and employment. They are overwhelmingly undercapitalised, plagued by technological obsolescence and skill deficiency of workers.


 Comprehensive labour reforms that include flexible labour laws, allow contract manufacturing and create a social security network to support those displaced are the way forward. Investments in human capital development will have to be accelerated. An uncomfortably large proportion of students in India barely make it past primary school. There is no dearth of empirical evidence that underlines the contribution of universal secondary school education to a robust manufacturing sector. The report by the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council to the prime minister outlines a strategy to stimulate inclusive manufacturing growth in the country. A 12 to 15 per cent annual growth that it targets for the sector may seem a tad ambitious, but can be achieved if backed by relentless dedication. The automobile sector has shown the way by investing in the upgrade of the technological capabilities of the ancillary sector. It needs to be expanded to other sectors on a war footing







Various forms of common "European bonds", more precisely eurobonds, have been proposed recently as a way out of the current euro crisis, with proponents stressing the promise of lower borrowing costs. But this seems mostly to be wishful thinking. To see why, one needs only to reflect on the longer-term benefits that one might expect from such bonds. Would European bonds carry lower interest rates than the average rates for national bonds?

Proponents of European bonds argue that they would create a much larger and more liquid market than those for national bonds. But this advantage is likely to be limited, a potential savings of a few tenths of a basis point, given that the interest rates on similar, high-quality sovereign bonds — such as those issued by Germany and Austria — differ by only this amount.


 Another purported advantage of European bonds could be risk pooling: if the risks that individual eurozone members experience payment difficulties were not too dissimilar — and not too closely correlated — joint issuance of bonds should, in principle, reduce credit risk for European bonds relative to the average risk of national bonds.

But that is not an argument that can be used at the present time, when eurozone risks are so lopsided (zero for the core and considerable for the periphery) and, among peripheral countries, so highly correlated (they are vulnerable to the same shocks, e.g., higher interest rates or low growth).

Thus, the eurozone-wide gains from European bonds are likely to be negligible. The key insight of the dismal science bears repeating: there is no free lunch. What debtor countries gain in terms of lower financing costs would be offset by the losses for creditor countries both in terms of higher borrowing costs and lower interest income.

But countries such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain face a real problem: now that their consumption and construction booms have ended, a long period of slow growth looks unavoidable. At the same time, they have to pay much higher interest rates, driving up their debt while their capacity to service that debt stagnates. Lower interest rates are thus vital for these countries.

But it is unlikely that European bonds would achieve even this limited aim. There have been many proposals, but all share two features. First, they would allow eurozone countries to issue bonds that are guaranteed "jointly and severally" by all members up to a certain level — for example, 40 per cent of GDP, as in the latest proposal by Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker and Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti. Second, the European bonds would be senior to private claims. This second component is crucial, because it would make all other government debt junior.

In practice, this would mean that if Greece, say, were to have to restructure its debt once the bonds had been issued up to the limit, it would presumably service these bonds (which essentially represent official multilateral debt) in full, with private lenders bearing all the losses. The value of private claims would thus fall.

Issuing European bonds would not lower a country's overall debt, but only change its composition. We know that companies cannot change their total market value by changing the composition of liabilities (making some claims senior to others). The same applies to countries: making some claims senior to others would not lead to lower average borrowing costs, owing to the higher cost of private financing after it is reduced to junior debt.

The partial substitution of national debt with European bonds might reduce the marginal debt-service cost for distressed countries while they are being issued. Ultimately, however, their average cost would not be lower, because, again, if official creditors are senior to private lenders, large-scale official financing — which is used mainly to repay maturing debt — would impede governments' access to private credit markets.

Moreover, as more European bonds are issued, this problem becomes more acute, because the existing overhang of private debt becomes increasingly risky. As borrowing costs tend to rise proportionally more than the increase in risk, a country with a large volume of European bonds outstanding might actually face higher borrowing costs. Experience also shows that bad risks are often shut out of the market, which implies that a country with a high debt burden and many European bonds outstanding might not be able to issue any private debt at all.

Of course, if member countries were willing to pool all their borrowing, they might gain, on average, a small reduction in debt-service costs. But this would require Europeanisation of overall economic policy, including, for example, tax rates and pension rules. Given that eurozone members rejected even the idea of automatic sanctions for countries with excessive deficits, they are not likely to countenance such a wide-ranging loss of sovereignty.

Does this imply that European bonds are a bad idea in general? No. If all member countries had little public debt, issuing European bonds up to 40 per cent or 60 per cent of GDP would cover all their funding needs, and they could reap a modest liquidity premium. Markets would not allow them to issue much additional debt, and there would be no default risk. A key condition for contemplating European bonds is thus that public debt first be reduced to a sustainable level. But this is not on the official agenda, at least for the time being.

The author is director of the Centre for European Policy Studies

© Project Syndicate, 2011






Is Indian media ill-equipped, both morally and materially to deal with competition? Do we need to control the number of news outlets to control the quality of news?

For a hardcore libertarian, that is a difficult thought to deal with. Yet it has been building up for a year now. The last straw was the latest issue of Open magazine. Aarushi Talwar's murder is the subject of an essay by author Patrick French. It is an intestine-curdling read.


 In 2008, Aarushi, the daughter of a doctor couple, was murdered. The couple has been hounded — by both the authorities and the media — ever since. The essay is the stuff of middle class nightmares. It tells you the story of bad policing. It also shows the truly ugly face of Indian media.

In a country that has long prided itself on a free press and high journalistic standards, the complete lack of training and judgement from some of the top newspapers and television stations is startling. So, while media freedom has brought justice for Jessica Lall or Priyadarshini Mattoo, it has also ensured that the Talwars' personal and professional life is more or less over.

Disclaimer: This is not just about the Aarushi case. But after years of defending the news media at every public forum and talking about how all the mistakes are about evolution, not intent, I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that maybe it isn't so. My assumption was that the TV news industry is just about seven years old. Evolution will bring maturity and things will settle down. But to what? Ill-trained dolts passing judgements on issues they haven't researched? Editors under perpetual pressure from owners?

Television news is a case in point. There are 115 news channels in India, the largest anywhere in the world. As competition increases, some amount of tabloidisation is normal, even good because it makes news more relevant. But competition has also stretched resources. There aren't enough trained people to handle this growth — on the business or the content side.

The result is evident on air. If a reporter is the sort who cries loudly when someone dies, she assumes that a mother who is dry-eyed while talking about her murdered daughter is faking it. And she says that, on air, with a halo of moral superiority.

For long, media critics have blamed entertainment television of being regressive, but watch half an hour of Hindi news on some of the most popular channels to see truly regressive opinions being spouted freely on air. The whole context of right and wrong, on how women should behave or families should operate comes from an orthodox, regressive mindset. So a doctor couple that is friends with other couples is surely into "wife swapping", and a teenage girl who has "sleepovers" is basically having it off with someone, by implication.

Most TV reporters are imposing their half-baked moral judgements on the audience because editors are allowing them to. Editors and publishers simply don't have the time, energy or money, or all three, to take them through the ropes.

The result: In a market where the context of news was set by some really good brands, the drop in standards has been nauseatingly dizzy.

Most of it shows in the numbers. News viewership has actually fallen by one whole percentage point over the last two years, ad revenues are stagnant at about Rs 1,500 crore and some channels go for as little as Rs 300 per ten seconds. Margins are in a free fall because costs, especially those of distribution, have gone through the roof. You could argue that this shows a market ripe for consolidation. That, however, will not solve the problem of falling standards. So, a market solution is out for now.

On the policy front, three things could help. One, pushing digitisation so that pay revenues become a reality and channels can invest it in content. Two, tightening licensing norms, which is already happening. Three, making the content code applicable to anyone launching a channel, not mandatory currently.

These, however, will only facilitate a better news-gathering environment. A more practical solution, arguably, lies in setting a benchmark that is above the market — commercially and content-wise.

The BBC, a high-quality and popular news channel, is funded by the British taxpayer. As a result, it has pushed up standards of programming, forcing private stations to do the same if they want audiences.

Maybe it is time for Doordarshan (DD) to do the same thing. That can happen if it is given real autonomy but with all the taxpayer money and legislative support it already gets. If audiences flock to DD or any other good broadcaster which has the luxury of ignoring competitive pressures, private broadcasters too will up the ante on content quality. And those who can't compete on it will move out.

Write to me if you can think of any other democratic solution.  









It's St Valentine's Day. You're at the fair with your girlfriend. She's eyeing a giant, white teddy bear at the hoopla stall. She's looking at you with entreating eyes. You step forward. You miss once, maybe twice, but on the final try, throw the ring perfectly around the glass. You win the toy for her. You're her hero!

 For the next month and a half, we're asking the Indian cricket team to play the role of doting boyfriend. So that on April 2, at the Wankhede stadium, they can win the World Cup for Sachin Tendulkar.
    In every post-match press conference, there is always one guy who stands up and asks: whom do you dedicate your century to? The answers are the same. My Dad, my Mom, my coach, my elder brother, sometimes God for making me so fortunate. But this year, parents, siblings, teachers and deities have been forsaken.
    Dhoni wakes up every morning and says, oh we must win it for Sachin. Sreesanth keeps thinking of ways he can make Paaji's dream come true. It's a remarkable show of bonhomie, and of appreciation for everything he's done over 22 years. But here's my question: If they're all playing for Sachin, who's playing for India? More importantly, who is Sachin, himself a member of the team, playing for?


The 'Win it for Sachin' campaign – being run by newspapers, TV channels, and Internet fan forums – is of course not his fault. Sachin hasn't asked his colleagues to win the World Cup for him, or his followers to root for India because this may be his last chance.


But this mixing of issues – India's World Cup chances and our obsession with making sure every one acknowledges Sachin as the greatest – is symptomatic of a cricket culture with flawed priorities, where the fixation with individuals, particularly Sachin, routinely leads to strange gestures and absurd comments.
    Dream Teams, annual all-star XIs, Hall of Fame nominations, and lists measuring the form of players at various points in history, are meant to be academic sidebars in a sport that isn't about subjective analyses on who was better than whom. But we spend so much time and energy scanning these tables, certain that Tendulkar will always be on top; ready to celebrate when he is, prepared to cry out if he isn't. We don't even bother to see what's being measured, and how the results were arrived at.


 We're not happy that he figures in the same sentences as Bradman, not unless they're about Sachin being better. If he joins Twitter, we run month-long campaigns to ensure he gets the most followers.
    But even by those standards, putting Sachin's personal triumph ahead of a World Cup title is asking his team mates to make a peculiar leap of faith.


If you had a chance to live a perfect life shorn of variables, like a film script in which every encounter, every success was pre-defined, would you cast yourself as the lead protagonist or choose to be a sidekick?

 Cricket, like any team sport, is made up of individual ambitions that come together for a larger group cause.

One man's goal cannot be another man's motivation.

    It would be great if Sachin was part of a World Cup winning team before he stopped playing. It would, in some sense, be the perfect end to a fairytale career. But lifting the World Cup is hard enough without the added pressure. Sachin doesn't need it; his colleagues can definitely live without it.

 In any case, we thought 2007 was going to be his last shot. Who is to say he won't be around for another?








 The Prime Minister got it absolutely right when he stressed, last week, the need to modernise the marketing of farm produce in order to diversify and boost agricultural output. Dr Manmohan Singh made this signal departure from tradition at a Delhi conference of the International Food Policy Research Institute, which body makes, in its nomenclature, a useful distinction between food policy and food production, a nuance generally missing from Indian agricultural policy that has tended to conflated food policy with production. Traditionally, the stress has been on improving the input side of farming, to the exclusion of the post-harvest supply chain and market linkages. In the process, we have built up an inefficient chain of transactions and logistics between the farmer and the consumer. The linkage between the farmer and the consumer that exists now is not only inefficient and wasteful and subject to abuse and manipulation but also inimical to boosting production. Any hint of a shortage in relation to demand immediately leads to hoarding and price manipulation, leading to a spurt in the price at the consumer end without any of that higher price going back to the farmer. Such inefficient transmission of price signals kills incentives on the farm to invest in more acreage, better inputs or innovative crop husbandry. This, obviously, has to change. In the Indian success with boosting grain production, the marketing question was subsumed in official procurement. Notably, wherever official procurement was absent, so was the green revolution. The successful Operation Flood for milk, under the aegis of Amul and Verghese Kurien, combined value addition, marketing and an organisational form for the first two, to create white magic. Fruits and vegetables and the more diversified food basket now demanded by prospering Indians will probably call for innovations of the Amul kind.


The PM rightly said that agricultural marketing will mean a larger role for the private sector. Policy that hobbles the private sector in agricultural marketing has to be changed at the state level. This calls for more enlightenment at the state level and persuasion from the Centre.







The differential pricing and taxation of petrol and diesel produce a huge economic distortion and must end. Indians bought 26% more cars than last year this January, and sales of commercial vehicles like trucks and buses grew by nearly 13%. India's near-9% economic growth and an expanding middle class eager to own its own wheels are driving this growth. But there are speed breakers ahead. The government's decision to free petrol prices immediately sent petrol prices northwards. Owners of petrol-fuelled cars are grumbling and companies that make these vehicles fear that price-sensitive consumers will shift to diesel-fuelled vehicles. Unsurprisingly, India's largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki, which makes mostly petrol cars, grew less than 15% in January, its lowest growth since March. Diesel prices, lower than petrol, are kept that way by the government which fears that high diesel costs will fuel inflation via higher trucking charges and higher costs on farms that use diesel pumps and tractors.


But different pricing for the two fuels has created an economic distortion: India's transport network is skewed towards diesel engines largely because it's cheaper than petrol. Yet inside a refinery, both fuels cost the same amount of money to make. One option is for the government to slap a one-time tax on diesel vehicles to discourage sales. But this is unlikely to work: over time, the economies of running on cheaper fuel will overcome most one-time taxes. The other option is for New Delhi and state governments to slash the many taxes which make the pump price what it is. By a rough estimate, between 50% and 60% of the petrol and diesel price paid by consumers goes to governments. Some of these charges are for dedicated uses like building highways, others are duties like customs, excise and sales taxes. To keep the petrol-diesel price distortion at bay, the government must cut customs and excise on petrol and equalise fuel prices. It should also prod states to cut local taxes. No government likes to cut taxes, but this is a cut that'll make taxpayers happy and eliminate a huge economic distortion.







    One of the funniest moments in the movie "3 Idiots" is when the student Rancho replaces the vernacular word chamatkar (meaning wonderful things) with balatkar (rape) in the written speech prepared for Teachers' Day at the Imperial College of Technology and the insufferable Chatur Ramalingam, who is good at mugging up Hindi words even if he doesn't understand their meaning, goes on to praise the principal in sentences like "Pichle batthees saal se inhone is college mein nirantar balatkar kiya": (For the past 32 years, he has continuously done rape in this college"). Last Friday, when India's external affairs minister inadvertently read out for three minutes his Portuguese counterpart Amado's speech at the United Nations, Pakistan's TV news-channel networks were perhaps thinking of the movie "3 Idiots" when they gleefully telecast the Krishna gaffe while ridiculing India's ambitions of becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It was almost as if Krishna had read out the Pakistan foreign minister's speech! The far-more restrained Indian media termed the incident a faux pas. It was perhaps fortunate that the Portuguese foreign minister's speech which Krishna read out did not reflect the somewhat more controversial characteristics of Amado who once allowed his little daughter to stand in a row of army generals so that she could salute US president Obama during a visit to Lisbon! Unlike the 57-year-old Amado, the 78-year-old Krishna has a reputation for being proper to the point of stodginess. With India pitching to be a permanent member of an expanded and reformed UN Security Council, Krishna could perhaps suggest a minor reform that copies of all speeches of all foreign ministers carry in big, bold letters the speaker's name and nationality!






Overseas investors are running scared of putting money in Indian projects. Nothing else explain how numbers for foreign direct investment are falling off a cliff. In 2008, the year financial markets melted down all over the world, India attracted arecord $41 billion in overseas investment. The next year, as the financial crisis morphed into global recession, direct investments dipped slightly, to a little less than $35 billion.

But in the first eight months of this fiscal year, as the West gets back to normalcy, the number is an appalling $14 billion, diving 60% from last year's number. Sure, there are four more months to go since November numbers came in, but what are the chances that we'll pull in another $21 billion worth of investments in those four months? Nil.

This winter, India was the theme at Davos and the government tried its best to hardsell the many ideas of India, playing up themes like our noisy democracy and the rule of law. That seemed to be working, but suddenly there's something about India that's spooking overseas investors. That thing is arbitrary regulation implemented by babus, which looks whimsical to outsiders — and we're not talking about environment minister Jairam Ramesh here.

One of the classic cases of this is how babus at the oil ministry have stalled a $9.6 billion buyout of Edinburghbased Cairn Energy's Indian assets by Vedanta, a company listed in London. You might wonder what the oil ministry has to do when one foreign company buys out another one's shares in an oilfield here. Well, the ministry and stateowned explorer ONGC say that they have a beef with the way royalties are paid to the government.

ONGC holds 30% stake in Cairn's highly-productive oilfield in Rajasthan, but pays all royalties to the state government. The oil ministry now says that if the deal is to be done, then Cairn also has to pitch in and pay a share of those royalties. Superficially, this sounds nice and logical, but it's utter bunk.

The reason why Cairn doesn't pay any royalty to the state of Rajasthan and ONGC does is because the central government's rules say so. These rules were written in the 1990s, when the government wanted foreign companies to hunt for oil in India and told investors that if they took the risks of oil exploration, they wouldn't have to pay certain taxes. Attracted by terms like this, Shell and around 30 other companies came into the exploration business.

By the mid-1990s, Shell couldn't make any headway and sold the Rajasthan field to Cairn, which invested over $600 million — and struck oil. It was only after Cairn took all the risks, paid for them, and found oil that ONGC stepped in and acquired 30% stake.

Why wasn't ONGC bothered about paying all the royalty all these years? Because there's something else in the fine print which says that if ONGC wants, it can get a refund from the central government for all the royalties that it is paying. So the royalty-payment beef is actually between ONGC and the central government, not with Cairn India.

It's actually a smokescreen to block or delay the Cairn-Vedanta deal. This becomes clear when you remember that there are more than 25 similar contracts all over the country and the oil ministry isn't bothered with any one of those.

Not satisfied with the royalty issue, the babus in Shastri Bhavan, where the oil ministry has its offices, have put up several other barriers to the deal. One of them asks Cairn to give in to the government's wishes any time there's a dispute between the two on contracts or some other issue. Thus far, Cairn and the government have settled all disputes through arbitration.

So why is the government pressing one company to give up its legal rights? Why now? And which company in any free country will happily surrender its legal rights to the government?

    The babus want reassurance that Vedanta — a mines-to-metals conglomerate — has the technical savvy to run an oil business. They seem ignorant of the fact that 'technical skills' can be hired — they're called engineers and many of them already work for Cairn. If these guys had their way, then Dhirubhai Ambani, who started off trading yarn in Bombay and had no 'technical' skills, would never have built the country's largest oil-tochemicals empire.

Investors come in different stripes: some are risk takers that get into uncharted waters, like Cairn, discover oil and then want to get out and repeat the whole thing elsewhere. Cairn wants to exit because it wants to go and explore in Greenland. As risk takers exit, other investors take up the mature project, run it and expand. Without this churn, ordinary business would grind to a halt.

Cairn, and many overseas investors, need to be sure that they can exit India just as easily as they came in to invest. Unfortunately, it's just this assurance that this government can't — or won't — give. Well, then, it's got to get used to the idea of falling foreign investment, at least in the oil sector. India isn't the easiest place in the world to go hunting for oil. Africa is a vast, relatively under-explored part of the Earth. As that continent wakes to political stability, global oil will happily invest billions to hunt for and refine oil in Africa.
As the new mantri in Shastri Bhavan, this is Jaipal Reddy's first serious test of leadership. What his bureaucrats are doing to the Cairn-Vedanta transaction needs to be reversed, the deal has to be green-lit. If the oil ministry continues to drag its feet, put up apparently ridiculous objections to block a simple ownership change, it'll send out a simple, powerful message to the world: stay away from India.









No Full Stops Here

Hats off to L K Advani's neversay-die spirit. The RSS brass and its obliging BJP leaders might have jointly reduced the 83-year-old saffron 'iron man' to the ceremonial post of NDA chairman. But those who had hoped Advani would allow himself to fade out, just as A B Vajpayee did as NDA chairman, by treating his new post as a semi-retirement-cum-advisory role, now realise their wishes aren't quite coming true. Name any issue, you have Advani either leading a delegation to the President or shooting off a letter to the PM. He also seems to be making use of his experience as a former journalist. So every Sunday, the perennial lean day for news flow, Advani makes it a point to blog, practically on every subject — his take on politics, hunt for black money, or an analysis on why a movie failed to click, etc. Sometimes, Advani's musings have tricky fallouts. His recent blog against the "feudal" and "sycophancy culture" of the Gandhi family-led Congress, alas, coincided with BJP's own "rebel Gandhi", Varun, flaunting the fact that his bride will wear his grandmother Indira Gandhi's sari and that the wedding guest list includes some erstwhile Rajas of UP's feudal past! The in-house question now is whether Advani's latest blog, deftly reiterating his stand on "secular Jinnah", is meant to trigger another controversy or just test Mohan Bhagwat & co's level of confidence for a countershow at a time when the RSS is feeling the heat of the probe into Hindutva terror.


Karma Believer

'Fifteen days' is what Union minister of state (independent charge) for steel Beni Prasad Verma promised himself on January 19 to manage a "course-correction" on his "flawed" ministerial status. This former Cabinet minister for communications in the United Front regime was airing his discomfort on having been reduced to junior minister this time. But this former Mulayam Singh Yadav lieutenant's Cabinet hopes still remain a dream. But then, Verma is too experienced to make asong and dance of his displeasure as was done by his former Cabinet colleague in the UF regime Srikanth Jena when he was made a MoS in UPA-2. A sulking Jena then made a spectacle of himself by vowing not to attend his office till he was elevated to the Cabinet rank only to crawl back a few weeks later. So, learning from his fellow ex-socialist's experience, a dutiful Verma has taken the more productive "work-is-worship" line in his pursuance of a 'proper' ministerial profile.

Alternative Planes

Investigators who had gone to arrest DB Realty MD Shahid Balwa were in a quandary as to how to bring him to Delhi for questioning. The agency had contemplated getting him by train, but given the short duration of the transit remand, they were unable to do so. The high-flying Balwa was taken aback when CBI officers told him they were unable to catch the late night flight from Mumbai and, therefore, will have to wait for the morning flight. Balwa immediately offered his private jet to the investigators, saying he had not one but two on standby always! The offer was politely declined and Balwa was told that he would have to fly economy class on a commercial flight. Maybe, he could have flown on his private jet had he come to Delhi on his own after the CBI summons!

Occupational Hazard

Last week's all-party meeting to try and end the JPC stand-off turned out to a one-sided soundbyte match. With the government/Congress representatives choosing to be rather economical with their words during their post-meeting interaction with the media, the Opposition leaders carried the day with elan. They merrily told media persons how the government side had indicated accepting the JPC demand, with one minister saying no price is big enough to ensure smooth functioning of Parliament. This saw the mandarins at Congress headquarters either ducking the questions or shooting in the dark when reporters asked for their endorsement of the Opposition interpretation of the outcome of the meeting.

One could see many secondrung Congress leaders later complaining how they had been kept out of the loop and thus failed to have any clarity on the emerging situation. But then, old timers will tell you the real skill of reading the Congress' mind doesn't involve following soundbytes, but working one's way through the bylanes of cultivated ambivalence and secret plots.







    It's not just a billion Indian cricket fans who will be rooting for Dhoni's boys to win the 2011 World Cup which begins on February 19 and concludes on April 2. With roughly 70% of the global revenues from the game being generated from India, the TV advertisers and sponsors have a vested interest in Team India doing well all the way up to the finals. The experience of World Cup 2007 is still fresh in mind for advertisers and sponsors who go by not just runs, wickets and catches but TRP ratings which rose from 5.46 at the start of the previous tournament in the West Indies to 7.25 during India's first match against Bangladesh. However, once India was knocked out in the first round after losing to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the TRP ratings for World Cup 2007 matches plummeted to 0.71. The loss in terms of viewership was estimated at . 153 crore even though some sponsors talked about how their relationship with cricket was long-term and not just confined to one tournament. A leading soft-drink manufacturer's televised Blue Billion campaign quickly gave way to a theme stressing youthful resilience, with cricketing stars being replaced with reel-life ones from Bollywood!
All that is in the past. However, with the TV rights for the 2011 and the 2015 World Cup being sold for $1.1 billion and with sponsorship rights going for $500 million, the one thing that is constant is the fervent desire among all advertisers that Team India gives its best performance this time. The 43 days from February 19 will be a nervewracking period for not just the World Cup squad led by Dhoni or for a billion Indian cricket fans. Every catch taken by the Indian team will be watched with anticipation, every stroke with appreciation and every wicket with applause by not just the fans but by sponsors and advertisers. TV ad-rates for cricket are reportedly up 50% over last season's level and double what they were for the 2007 World Cup. Some advertisers are reportedly asking for a separate package for World Cup 2011 matches featuring India. The cumulative adspend on cricket tournaments in India in 2011 (the World Cup is soon followed by IPL-4) has been projected at over . 2,000 crore, 85% of the ad-spend for all sporting events and one-fifth of the overall television ad-spend for the year, up from 13% in 2010. And so what if India has won just one of the previous nine World Cups?

For the organisers, a successful 2011 World Cup tournament means everything going according to schedule at all venues, not just in India but Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. For the security personnel, the focus will be on ensuring roundthe-clock safety and pre-empting any terrorist threat. For Indian fans, however, the only thing that matters is that their team wins first the round-robin group games so that it makes it to the knock-out stage and then goes on to reach not just the semi-finals but the finals and lifts the 2011 World Cup. However, going by previous World Cup history, few teams have shown the kind of dominance demonstrated by first the West Indies in 1975 and 1979 and then by Australia in 2003 and 2007 when the opposition was brushed aside.
The teams are more evenly matched in the 2011 World Cup. While India are the favourites in subcontinent conditions, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Australia are all strong teams. A resurgent England could spring a surprise. Pakistan is the most unpredictable of teams, capable of defeating the best on its day and losing to mediocre sides the day after. Unlike Australia, India has not chosen a second wicket-keeper, the logic apparently being that there are enough days between matches for skipper Dhoni to recover from any niggle. India has also taken a bit of arisk by going in with just four fast bowlers, of whom Praveen Kumar is recovering from an injury. While Zaheer, Munaf and Nehra are expected to play in the eleven, an injury to one of them could leave the Indian team short of a bowling option. The exuberant Sreesanth has now replaced Praveen Kumar. With India expected to play just one spinner in the eleven, with Harbhajan being supported by part-timers like Yuvraj and Raina, the choice of both Ashwin and Piyush Chawla is a bit strange even if the pitches take more spin in March. India has a very strong batting line-up but key players like Sachin, Sehwag and Gambhir are recovering from injuries. Hopefully, they will all be fit by the time the World Cup starts. Hopefully, the Indian middle order will do better than it did in South Africa in January's ODI series.
The coming tournament could be the last World Cup for Sachin Tendulkar. There are reports that the 50-over ODIs could be discarded sooner than later, with viewers preferring the shorter T20 format where the entire game is over in three hours and can be telecast during prime time. If that is so, the 2011 World Cup could be the last chance for the world's finest cricketers to create ODI history. With a galaxy of great players and promising youngsters in action, the 2011 World Cup will be a festival time for the world's cricket fans even as advertisers use it as a highprofile platform to launch new products/campaigns for the Great Indian Market!








Received wisdom among hardcore rationalists is that once scientists discover the so-called Theory-of-Everything it would be the end of the road as far as faith was concerned. And that such an all encompassing empirical enlightenment would deal an overdue death blow to religion and other "juvenile superstitions". The statement is not without contradictions. For in the West the ancient Greek philosophical tradition which examined the nature of reality was in fact already a non-theistic tradition. But as noted by British philosopher Anthony Grayling, this function was later taken over by the church when religion hijacked philosophy along with a huge amount of the really important ethical and spiritual aspects of our lives.

Now science is once again catching up and is slowly beginning to make religious notions about reality obsolete --to the extent that the church has had to make embarrassing concessions and even apologise to science. So, on the face of it, it seems those rationalists are probably right and the time has come when the death blow to religion is ready to be delivered. What happens to our all our philosophy and ethics then? Enter Stephen Hawking. In his latest book The Grand Design he maintains that since philosophy itself has not kept up with modern developments in science, it is dead too and scientists are the new torchbearers in the quest for knowledge. Does this mean science is going to be the religion of the future? Can spirituality survive a non-theistic substrate?






Farm output has rebounded, yet beyond a minor post-harvest reprieve during March and April, there is nothing to suggest a genuine and sustained price relief for consumers.

Without doubt, there has been a welcome rebound in farm production in the kharif and rabi seasons of 2010-11; but any smug feeling over the crop size and price expectation would be wholly misplaced. The base effect explains the high percentage of growth vis-à-vis last year. The second advance estimate of the Ministry of Agriculture, released recently, is the first advance estimate for rabi season crops and is subject to revision. Those in industry and trade do not share the government's optimism, especially over the wheat crop estimate. They see the crop at 80 million tonnes and no more; and chances are they are right. Various crops are still in the cultivation stage and it will be several weeks before wheat, for instance, is harvested. Persisting risks to rabi crops cannot be wished away. Signs of rising temperatures in the northern plains are beginning to cause anxiety. Pulses are, of course, sure to set a new record in output, as widely anticipated. Perhaps for the first time in recent memory, the annual production target is likely to be achieved. Yet, ironically, there will be some kind of a toss-up between wheat and pulses (mainly, gram or chana) in the next few weeks. While wheat thrives in cooler temperatures, pulses need warmth. The rice production estimate for 2010-11, at 94 million tonnes, is far short of the targeted 102 million tonnes. Although rebounding from last year's adverse weather effects, crops such as coarse grains, oilseeds and sugarcane are still below their peak output.

As for food prices, beyond a minor reprieve during March and April, following the harvest and arrival pressure, there is nothing to suggest a genuine and sustained relief for consumers. To be sure, higher farm output usually translates to higher farm incomes and thereby to higher demand for consumption goods, including food. The income elasticity of demand for essential foods of mass consumption is well known. On the other hand, the demand-supply equation for major food commodities are still tight. Edible oil prices are at elevated levels because of international factors. Sugar prices are waiting to cut loose. There is mounting pressure on the government to permit sugar and wheat exports, in addition to rice exports of specified varieties allowed recently under a limited ceiling.

It is unclear if the Government plans to do anything special or different to boost the next kharif output. However, trade policies are turning out to be antagonistic to farmers, as has been proved in the case of cotton, which despite an admittedly record crop has a ceiling imposed on exports. . The stakeholders in the farm sector deserve a far more holistic approach to agriculture and agribusiness policies.







Unless the Railway Minister shuns the populist track and makes way for sweeping structural reforms, the behemoth will find itself in a financial crisis.

After presenting a White Paper and Vision 2020 document to Parliament, the Railway Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, preferred to completely sidetrack them, while presenting the Rail Budget for 2010-11.

With her eyes fixed on the West Bengal elections, she once again resorted to a spate of populist announcements neglecting the core activities of the Railways, even as the finances of the organisation had come under severe strain.

Not surprisingly, railway finances are in a pretty bad shape this fiscal. According to reports, earnings from freight and passenger tariffs have taken a hit of over Rs 4,000 crore between April and December 2010.

Freight earnings are said to have been impacted by a substantial reduction in the loading of iron ore for exports; the impact on earnings on this count alone has been to the extent of Rs 2,500 crore.


The much-acclaimed 'turnaround' story of the Railways, which was making waves in business schools not so long ago, now appears to have suddenly gone off-track and headed towards a sudden decline.

The Railways' operating ratio — an indicator of efficiency — which had come down to 75.9 per cent in 2007-08 has already crossed 95 per cent now, higher than the budget estimate of 92 per cent. It may be recalled that the cumulative cash surpluses of the Railways before dividend during the four years ending 2007-08 had amounted to Rs 68,778 crore.

The cash surplus of over Rs 25,000 crore during 2007-08 was 25 per cent higher than that in the previous year.

However, the cash surplus declined to Rs 17,400 crore in 2008-09 and was projected at a meagre Rs 1,328 crore in the Rail budget for 2010-11.

According to sources in Rail Bhavan, the Railways has a net deficit of around Rs 2,500 crore. According to insiders, it may not be left with any funds this year to appropriate money into two critical reserves — the capital fund and development fund — that provide for purchase of new assets and improvement in passenger amenities.

In a desperate attempt, the Railways raised freight charges on some key commodities such as sugar, chemicals, oil cakes and some petroleum products, with effect from December 27, 2010, by about four per cent so as to compensate for the increasing operating and fuel costs. It has also put on hold all PPP projects for want of funds. While there is no denying that the additional financial burden on the system, consequent to the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, has affected the resource availability of the Railways for capital investment, the consistent refusal of Ms Mamata Banerjee to shun the populist track has only added to the resource crunch of the behemoth.


Her last budget, for instance, appeared like the Finance Minister's national budget with accent on social sector schemes such as setting up of hospitals and diagnostic centres, kendriya vidyalayas, model degree colleges, technical and management institutes, Tagore Museum and Academy, drinking water bottling plants, and so on, at the cost of the core activities of the Railways.

According to experts, Ms Mamata cannot but blame herself for driving the organisation in the red. She has stubbornly refused to raise passenger fares for suburban sections and lower classes on long-distance trains even as the losses from passenger operations were projected to zoom to Rs 19,120 crore in 2009-10 from Rs 14,000 crore in the previous year.

Incidentally, these fares have not been raised for the last seven years even as the operating costs have escalated. However, this has not discouraged her from announcing a spate of new trains, thus adding to the losses. Though she had promised 1,000 km of new lines every year, she has not been able to deliver even 10 per cent of that.

And what is her strategy to deal with the impending financial disaster facing the Railways? She had proposed non-payment of dividend to the government for five years from 2009-10 to mobilise resources for expansion plans. Expectedly, the Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, is reported to have disapproved this plan. According to sources, the Finance Ministry has indicated to the Railways that an increase of over Rs 14,000 crore in revenue was possible with a logical realisation from passengers.

Not changing the lower class passenger fares has already cost the Railways over Rs 61,000 crore during five years ending 2009-10. The year 2010-11 is expected to add another Rs 20,000 crore to these losses.The average passenger fare-to-freight ratio in India at 0.3 is very low compared to China's 1.2 and South Korea's 1.4.

In a note, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had requested the Railway Minister to make a beginning at reducing railways' excessive dependence on freight for garnering revenues by raising fares. But this plea was ignored and she has indicated that even in the forthcoming budget, there would be no hike in fares.

Instead, she has sought a two-fold increase in gross budgetary support from the Finance Ministry in the coming Rail Budget to tide over the financial crisis and expedite the completion of various ongoing projects.

She has asked for Rs 39,600 crore gross budgetary support against Rs 15,875 crore t he Railways got in the last budget. Unless the Railway Minister shuns the populist track and makes way for sweeping structural reforms, the behemoth will find itself in a serious financial crisis.

Perhaps, the time has come to go for the much-needed corporatisation of the Railways, as recommended by various committees in the past.









It is possible for the Budget to ensure that cotton farmers benefit from high prices, without the textiles industry and consumers being hurt as a result.

There is nothing wrong with cotton prices going up, and farmers making a decent profit for a change. The issue is to align policies such that the farmers can make their money, even as the textiles industry is assured of raw material and inflation in textiles kept under control.


Cotton prices have risen steeply as a result of the global shortage of cotton over the last two years. It is expected that world cotton stock would be exhausted by the end of this cotton year.

When global financial crisis broke out, all commodity prices, including cotton, crashed. The acreage under cotton fell steeply in most countries. Barring US and India, there is little subsidy or support for cotton farming in most other countries. Not surprisingly, these factors caused the first year of lower production than consumption.

Prices rose above 100 cents per pound and cotton was once again a good crop to grow. Consequently, acreage under cultivation went up across the globe.

However floods in Pakistan, parts of India and Australia brought cotton production down to below consumption levels for the second year in a row.

Naturally, the price of cotton is rising steadily and steeply. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our cotton farmers to make a decent profit and move cotton out of its image of being the crop that triggers farmers' suicides in Maharashtra. We should welcome this God-given opportunity to our farmers to make a decent living.


The problems arising out of this situation cannot be brushed aside. These are:

There is a global shortage of cotton and the MNC traders are keen to buy up the available cotton and export it after ensuring steep price hikes.

MNC traders have abundant cheap funds.

Indian mills do not have enough funds to stock very expensive cotton (it has become twice as expensive as last year). Besides, the cost of funds is very high for the Indian mills.

With the increase in cotton prices, the textiles inflation index will fast outpace average inflation. Unless we overcome the downsides with least cost to the country, we may be forced to deny our farmers an opportunity to make a decent profit.


We need to come out with an action plan in quick time, with the Budget round the corner. Some of the possible approaches are:

Advice and enable banks to provide $ loans at LIBOR plus 1 or 1.5 per cent to carry cotton up to six months with 10 per cent margins. This will put Indian mills on a par with international traders and help them stock up their raw material requirements.

Open up trade for exports in a calibrated manner after two months, after giving this facility to the mills, giving them time to procure their stocks.

To keep the inflation of textiles at lower than the prevailing level in spite of the steep increase in cotton and fibre. We should remove customs duty on intermediaries in polyester production and on polyester fibre.

This will bring down polyester prices in the domestic market by over 15 per cent (on a par with world prices).

We should bring down the excise duty on polyester fibre to 4 per cent, the same as on textiles. As in the case of most developing countries, in India too the use of synthetic fibre will climb and reach the 60 per cent level.

These two steps, increased synthetic fibre consumption and reduced fibre prices, will bring down inflation due to textiles products in the domestic market, even as we allow our farmers the freedom to price their produce at international prices.


The country will not lose much as it is hardly earning revenues from the import duty on fibre intermediaries or fibre imports (as practically no import is taking place).

On the other hand, the government is doling out thousands of crores as DEPB on fibre exports consequent to the notional duties on fibre intermediaries. Reduction in fibre duties will have a smaller negative impact than the positive impact of zero DEPB on fibre exports.

In the final analysis, cotton farmers can make a decent profit by being connected to international prices.

Fibre producers can enjoy similar protection as their cotton fibre counterparts, while giving up the unwarranted DEPB protection.

The domestic market can quickly move to 60 per cent synthetic fibre and reduce textile products prices and inflation. Mills can have adequate cotton at similar financing costs as international traders. Meanwhile, the nation will remain revenue-positive.

(The author is Managing Director, Loyal Textiles Ltd.







The annual shortfall of 50 million personnel is best met by bringing about changes in vocational education and institutional arrangements in PPPs.

The establishment of a large number of institutes of higher learning points to an effort to meet the demand for white-collar professionals. However, the problem is particularly acute with respect to blue-collar workers.

Despite the best efforts of more than 20 ministries through various skill development programmes, we have created an annual supply of only one million workers, leaving a shortfall of 50 million personnel. This will make it difficult for India to emerge as a manufacturing hub of the world, after China.


Realising the limitations of the Government, both India Inc and the policymakers have joined hands and initiated some corrective measures. One such key initiative is by the Directorate General of Employment and Training (DGET), one of the key bodies assigned to develop workforce with vocational skills. It has launched programmes like 'Up-gradation of 1396 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs)' and the Modular Employable Scheme (MES) in public-private partnership (PPP) mode.

'Up-gradation of 1396 ITIs on PPP', a supply-side financing technique, focuses on enhancing existing infrastructure by providing an interest-free loan of up to Rs. 2.5 crore to the private sector partner (PSP). Though the scheme has upgraded more than 800 ITIs, it is often deliberated upon as an inappropriate method for service delivery. Similarly, in MES, DGET provides a per student support of Rs 15 per hour to the PSP, which provides such courses. However, the model has its own implementation challenges. Demand-side financing technique demands a robust monitoring and evaluation framework for measuring the performances of individual institutes.


The answer lies in setting up a hybrid PPP model, which would incorporate the merits of both financing techniques. Besides creating the robust framework, the onus lies on the government to undertake the challenging task of bringing about an overall change in the present system of vocational education and the PPP institutional structure. A few key changes that need to be implemented are:

Viability gap funding (VGF) should be redefined as 40 per cent of the total cost rather than capital cost. The rule has been made keeping in mind large infrastructure projects where capital cost constitutes bulk of the total cost, but is inappropriate for service delivery project, which needs support at the operation stage also.

Government norms for performance should be output-based rather than input-based. Existing norms such as class size and student teacher ratio should be replaced with more realistic technique, that is, output-based norms such as employment generation and student pass ratio which would drive operational excellence while providing operational flexibility to the PSP.

Finally, it is time for the government to acknowledge the contribution made by the private players, or profit-making institutions, in providing quality education. Historically the role played by non-profit organisations in education sector has been very crucial, however, in the present scenario, such non-profit institutions have reduced.

Allowing profit making institutions would induce transparency and capital market efficiencies into the education sector, besides making it easier for the private sector to access capital.

(The author is Executive Director and Leader-PPP, Government Services. The views expressed are personal.)







                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL





Perhaps the most effective antidote to 9/11 will prove to be 2/11, the day Hosni Mubarak conceded the game was up with his 30-year-old dictatorship and left town under military escort for the beach.

We've tried invasions of Muslim lands. We've tried imposing new systems of government on them. We've tried wars on terror. We've tried spending billions of dollars. What we haven't tried is tackling what's been rotten in the Arab world by helping a homegrown, bottom-up movement for change turn a US-backed police state into a stable democracy.

This is the critical opportunity Egypt now presents. Islamist radicalism has thrived on the American double standards evident in strong support for the likes of Mubarak's regime. It has prospered from the very brutal repression that was supposedly essential to stop the jihadists. And it has benefited from the reduction of tens of millions of Arab citizens to mere objects, shorn of dignity, and so more inclined to seek meaning in absolutist movements of violence.

If westernised Egyptians and the Muslim Brotherhood can co-exist in Egypt's nascent Second Republic, and if a long-subjugated Arab people can show that it's an actor of history rather than its impotent pawn, the likelihood of another Mohamed Atta walking the streets of Cairo will recede.

In 18 riveting days, Egypt has become a key to the unresolved 9/11 conundrum, the one US President Barack Obama promised to tackle by building bridges to the Muslim world, before Afghanistan diverted him.

"If we get Egypt right, it could be the best medicine to get rid of radicalism", Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel prize-winning Opposition figure, told me.

In West Asia you expect the worst. But having watched Egypt's extraordinary civic achievement in building the coalition that ousted Mubarak, having watched Tahrir Square become cooperation central, and having watched the professionalism of the Egyptian Army, I'm convinced the country has what it takes to build a decent, representative society — one that gives the lie to all the stereotypes associated with that dismissive shorthand, "The Arab Street".

In fact, post-Tahrir, let's retire that phrase.

Speaking of streets, I watched them get cleaned the morning after the revolution. All the sweeping, dusting and scrubbing tempted me to suggest that there was no need to get carried away and try to turn the glorious metropolis of dust, Cairo, into Zurich. But Marwa Kamal put me right.

Kamal, 26, looked proud in her purple hijab. She was next to a sign saying, "Sorry for disturbance, we build Egypt". I asked why she swept. "All the dirt's in the past", she said. "We want to clear out the old and start clean."

A retired chemist, Mahmoud Abdullah, stepped in: "This is a very precious generation", he told me, pointing at her. "They did what we failed to do."

Right now Egypt has no President, no vice-president, no constitution, no parliament and no significant police presence on the streets. But it has the meeting of generations between these two Egyptians; and it has a new sense of nationhood forged through countless other barrier-breaking discoveries of 18 shared revolutionary days.

Perhaps it was a good thing that, cocooned with his yes men, Mubarak proved so stubborn, locked in the prison of his formal Arabic and his hubris while language and nation unloosed themselves. I think it was over once the Army declined to shoot. But by lingering, Mubarak gave Egyptians time to get to know each other.

Revolutions, like wars, have their interludes of boredom. They were filled with chat. And what did Egyptians find? Here's one scene: Marwa Kassem, 33, westernised, living in Geneva, talking to bearded Magdy Ashour of Muslim Brotherhood sympathies. She'd rushed to Cairo after the uprising began. He'd joined the protests after a friend was killed. If they'd passed each other in the street a month ago, each would have pulled back from the other, divided by fear.

He tells her he was arrested at regular intervals. How often? Sometimes twice a month. And? Ashour's 14-year-old son is watching. He asks him to leave, saying, "I want to show him freedom, not my cowardice".

A frisson of tension stirs. Ashour stands up. They stripped me naked, he says, blindfolded me. He links his hands behind his back: this is how Mubarak's security goons shackled him. They hung me from a hook on the wall, he says. Then came the electric shocks: to his toes, nipples, genitals.

There are tears in his eyes now. There are tears in Kassem's, too. He pulls up his pants to his knee, revealing a terrible black scar on his calf. She cannot look. Why this treatment? "They wanted to know if I knew Osama Bin Laden."

What they both want now, this secular woman and this religious man, these two Egyptians, is a state of laws and rights.

Overcome 9/11 through 2/11: the road to reconciliation leads not through Baghdad or Kabul but through Tahrir.






In the past week, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has come under pressure on three counts. First, at his meeting with leaders of opposition parties, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee seemed to indicate the Congress was willing to concede a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) inquiry into the 2G telecom scandal if that was the only route to saving the Budget Session of Parliament from disruption. Should this perception be correct, it cannot please Dr Singh and his inner council.

Sections of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) have been opposing the JPC idea because they fear it will ask hard questions of precisely what and when Dr Singh knew about the spectrum bazaar that the disgraced A. Raja had been running as telecom minister. Did Dr Singh ignore advice from the law and finance ministers and refuse to curb Mr Raja? If so, why did he do so? These concerns, as well as the general fear that a JPC may be quickly reduced to an all-purpose fishing expedition, have had the PMO in a funk.

It is not as if Dr Singh's adversaries — his non-sympathisers, if you prefer — in the Congress and in the Union Cabinet are unaware of his misgivings. If they are shrugging shoulders and saying a JPC is inevitable, it is at least partly because they believe it will embarrass Dr Singh. In short, it will create an uncomfortable situation for Dr Singh that others, those with a smaller stake in Dr Singh's political career, can live with.

Second, Arun Shourie, the former telecom minister, has charged he warned Dr Singh about the telecom scandal even while it was occurring, identified a whistle-blower within (possibly) the department of telecom and sought a meeting with the principal secretary to the Prime Minister. Perhaps Mr Shourie is overstating his case and perhaps he is fighting several battles — within his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and elsewhere — at the same time. Yet, is he entirely making up his claim?

That is what the Congress spokesperson alleged when he more or less accused Mr Shourie of being a liar. However, it is telling that no denial of such an interaction with Mr Shourie — maybe even a short conversation in Punjabi in the corridors of Parliament, as some have put it –— has come from the PMO. Dr Singh has retreated into his habitual silence. In the public mind, a grave accusation by Mr Shourie — like him or not, he has a certain standing among the Indian middle classes — is going uncontested by Dr Singh himself.

That Dr Singh reportedly spoke to Mr Shourie on the phone over the weekend and invited him for a cup of coffee in the coming days may assuage individual insecurities and egos in New Delhi. Will it solve Dr Singh's wider credibility problem?

Third, the sweetheart deal between the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and a dubious private company, which apparently received valuable spectrum at cut-price rates, has implicated the PMO. If nothing else, it is answerable for severe negligence. The department of space comes under the ambit of the PMO and if Isro and an unknown company — which is being linked, as it happens, to yet another former Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam minister in the Union government — entered into a dodgy agreement then, at the very minimum, the PMO is guilty of lack of oversight and of incompetence.

What is all this adding up to? Nobody is accusing Dr Singh of personal wrongdoing or of financially benefiting from decisions of his government. However, his remarkable ability to look the other way when irregular decisions are taken by various arms of his government, and even by agencies of which his office has direct charge, is hurting him. If his civil servants, including senior functionaries in the PMO, can mask tricky contracts and agreements from him, Dr Singh is losing a key attribute: the eye for detail, the ability to pore over thick files — in the manner of an old hand in the Government of India — and identify the one hidden loophole. There is also the cynicism with which he has watched, but not intervened, as swindles have beset his government.

Under direct attack in such a manner for the first time, and with his push for economic reform and a more purposeful overhaul of the Union council of ministers not finding traction, where does this place Dr Singh? There are some in the Congress who believe — and a smaller number who actually hope — he will throw in the towel, leave 7, Race Course Road and walk away from a situation he cannot personally be comfortable with. There is another view that his government may just limp along, given it has three-and-a-half years of its term left.

Either way, however, Dr Singh is out of political capital. His administration is looking decidedly lame duck. The appointment of a JPC may buy it time and allow a temporary "business as usual" phase, but paradoxically — given what even a semi-hostile JPC could do to the government — it will reinforce the lameness of the duck. In real terms, as a measure of solid policy initiatives, the Manmohan Singh prime ministry may be over.

Dr Singh has served India well. He has been India's best ambassador at the global high table. As an intellectual among heads of government, a sober, thinking man, he has set the standard for future Prime Ministers as they seek to represent India among the powers of the world. However, recent months have also exposed the limitations of having an essentially apolitical man as Prime Minister, and of a "dual system" that separates hard political authority from a technocratic management of government. In the short run, such a system seems innovative; in the long run, it is not sustainable.

Those are thoughts for the future. For the moment, Mr Singh is being called to account for possible acts of omission, negotiating traps his colleagues are laying for him and trying to understand the fickleness of the public mood and of media adulation. For him, the sense of gloom is unmistakable. As for India, 2011 already seems one grim year.

- Ashok Malik can be contacted at [1]







In the end, US President Barack Obama made a hugely important but unintended contribution to the democracy revolution in Egypt. Because the Obama team never found the voice to fully endorse the Tahrir Square revolution until it was over, the people in that square now know one very powerful thing: They did this all by themselves. That is so important. One of the most powerful chants I heard in the square on February 11 night was: "The people made the regime step down".

This sense of self-empowerment and authenticity — we did this for ourselves, by ourselves — is what makes Egypt's democracy movement such a potential game-changer for the whole region. And in case other autocrats haven't picked up on that, let me share my second favourite chant from the streets of Cairo after President Hosni Mubarak resigned. It was directed at the dictator next door, Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya, and it went like this: "We're not leaving Tahrir until Gaddafi leaves office". Hello, Tripoli! Cairo calling.

This could get interesting — for all the region's autocrats. Egypt's youthful and resourceful democrats are just getting started. Up to now, the democracy movement in the Arab world was largely confined to the US-led liberation of Iraq, which, because it was US-led, has not been able to serve as a model for emulation. If, and it remains a big if, Egypt can now make the transition to democracy, led by its own youth and under the protection of its own armed forces, watch out. The message coming out of Cairo will be: We tried Nasserism; we tried Islamism; and now we're trying democracy. But not democracy imported from Britain or delivered by America — democracy conceived, gestated and born in Tahrir Square. That will resonate among Arabs — and in Iran.

Some people worry, though, that the Egyptian Army will strangle this Egyptian democracy movement in its crib. Personally, I think the Army leadership is a little afraid of the Twitter-enabled Tahrir youth. The democracy movement that came out of Tahrir Square is like a tiger that has been living in a tiny cage for 30 years. Having watched it get loose, there are two things I would say about this tiger. One is that anyone who tries to put it back in that little cage will get his head bitten off. And, two, any politician who tries to ride the tiger for his own narrow interests, not for the benefit Egypt, will get eaten by it as well. Iran, the other day, issued a declaration urging the Tahrir youth to make an "Islamic revolution", and none other than Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood told Tehran to get lost because the democracy movement here is pan-Egyptian and includes Christians and Muslims.

But here's the big question in Egypt now: Can this youth-led democracy movement take the power and energy it developed in Tahrir Square, which was all focused on one goal — getting rid of Hosni Mubarak — and turn it into a sustainable transition to democracy, with a new Constitution, multiple political parties and a free presidential election in a timely fashion? Here, the movement's strength — the fact that it represented every political strain, every segment and class in Egyptian society — is also its weakness. It still has no accepted political platform or leadership.

"It is essential that the democracy movement now form its own leadership and lay down its own vision and priorities which it can hold the government to. Otherwise, all this effort can be lost", cautioned Rachid Mohamed Rachid, the liberal former minister of trade and industry, who declined to continue serving in Mubarak's Cabinet before the revolt happened. "They have to have a vision of what Egyptian education should be, about agriculture policy and human rights. Getting rid of Mubarak was not the only hope. That ultimate goal is to have a new Egypt".

Ever since this revolt started, America, Israel and Saudi Arabia seemed to hope that there were two choices here — one called "stability" that would somehow involve Mubarak, and the other called "instability", which was to be avoided. Well, let me put this as plainly as possible: Here in Egypt, stability has left the building. For which I say: good riddance. Or as Ahmed Zewail, the Egyptian-American Nobel Prize-winning chemist, put it to me: Egypt was stable these past 30 years because it had no vision, no aspiration and was "stagnating". That kind of stability couldn't last.

That's why today Egypt has before it only two paths, and both are unstable. One is where this democracy movement falters and Egypt turns into an angry Pakistan, as it was under the generals. And the other is the necessarily unstable, up and down transition to democracy, which ends stably with Egypt looking like Indonesia or South Africa.

This will be hard. Many tough days lie ahead, but they will be made much easier thanks to the self-confidence bred here among Egypt's youth the past three weeks. Watching so many Egyptians take pride in their generally peaceful birth of freedom — to listen to them say in different ways to themselves and each other, "I am somebody" — was to witness one of the great triumphs of the human spirit.






K. Shankar Bajpai, a former Indian ambassador to Pakistan, China and the US has been chairman of the National Security Advisory Board. In an interview to Ramesh Ramachandran he says that there is no harm in trying to talk to Pakistan "but we may have to face a stalemate".

Q. How do you view India's decision to resume peace talks with Pakistan?

A. The Government of India is quite right in saying that dialogue is the only way forward with Pakistan if one wants solutions. The only worrying question is, does the other side want solutions.

Since its inception, Pakistan's policy has been determined by people who saw no benefit to themselves in pursuing good relations with India. I don't see any force at work in Pakistan today which wants to change that policy. Therefore, it is very clear that if talks is the way forward then the onus is on Pakistan to carry it forward. Let's see if they mean it. I have my doubts, but let's see.

At the same time, by saying no to talks for the last few years India has neither been able to force Pakistan to change its policy nor make amends for the terrorist attacks against India. So our policy of no talks was leading nowhere. It is an open question, but there is no harm in trying to talk to Pakistan. But we may have to face a stalemate. In short, seeking solutions is the right objective for India though we have to also adjust to situations on the ground, i.e. objective and activity may not always be in tune.

Q. What has changed between the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 — when we suspended the "composite dialogue" with Pakistan — and now to warrant resumption of talks?

A. Time is change in itself. We should not lose sight of the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan. The assassination of Salman Taseer has been applauded by the lawyers who are seen as a liberal-minded section of Pakistan. If that is so, then the liberal elements in Pakistan need India's encouragement if there is to be hope for Pakistan to become a modern-minded, democratic country. I have doubts about that myself but there is no harm in talking. We are trying it out because things happening in Pakistan cause problems to India. If India can have a catalytic effect to encourage Pakistan to draw back from extremism, we should try it. We need to adapt to change, but along with change in Pakistan's attitude it's the changes within Pakistan that should concern us.

Q. India says the proposed talks should not be called "composite dialogue" — but how are these talks any different when its structure resembles that of the composite dialogue?

A. Labels don't mean anything. Although the media likes them, the point is what are the issues to be discussed and in what format; whether "X" number of issues are discussed simultaneously or separately; or "X" is changed to "Y", are matters of diplomatic convenience and suitability rather than of high policy.

Q. Do you see international pressure on India to resume talks with Pakistan?

A. What else can the international community say other than to make up with Pakistan? Nobody can twist our arm if we are strong enough. We have to deal with our problems by first putting our house in order. Also, the political spectrum within India should not indulge in cheap politics on issues of national importance.

Q. Does India have leverages over Pakistan to impose costs on it if it does not give satisfactory answers on the issue of terrorism?

A. When we talk of leverages we must understand that India is four times the size and power of Pakistan. Our problem is that the instruments of state action have become rusted and inefficient; therefore, we need to become an efficient state. Leverage depends on your ability to use your power.

Q. How would you respond to the talk of various scenarios, such as a two-front war with China and Pakistan?
A. Every analyst would want the government and people of India to be constantly aware of the fact that we have two neighbours with whom we have unsettled problems and they have the power and possible reasons for conflict with India. Therefore, it is perfectly natural to have contingency plans. That does not mean conflict will erupt but it has to be considered a possibility and prepared for. If we are really strong it would not be a worry.

Q. How do you view reports that Pakistan is expanding its nuclear weapons programme?

A. We must organise ourselves. We must not take 20 years to decide which arms to purchase!

Q. Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, a former Pakistan foreign minister, says the Pakistan Army was on board the backchannel talks with India, but Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has said that the military will remain India-centric until outstanding issues are resolved. What do you make of this?
A. It is so obvious this is the (Pakistan) Army's view they need not say it. Unfortunately, they are not open to reason. As I said before, things change but Pakistan refuses to recognise the change. India has in the past few decades shown it has no desire to attack or undermine Pakistan but elements in Pakistan seem determined to undermine India.

Q. Do you subscribe to Mr Kasuri's view that both sides had come very close to a resolution of some of the issues?

A. On the basis of available information, indications are that the backchannel talks made enormous progress on arriving at a basis for a new relationship. But the situation changed within Pakistan and then people there were not interested.






Has the Union government finally veered round to the view that it will accept the demand of the Opposition to set up a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to inquire into the 2G spectrum scam in the interest of ensuring that the forthcoming budget session of Parliament proceeds smoothly? That was the impression some of those present at an all-party meeting convened by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on February 8 had. "The government thinks no price is higher than what would ensure smooth running of the House", the finance minister reportedly said.

If the formation of a JPC is indeed announced after the budget session of Parliament begins on February 21, it would give the government a temporary reprieve — but only just that. For the criticism directed against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, namely, that he chose to turn a blind eye to the corrupt practices of his erstwhile Cabinet minister Andimuthu Raja, would continue unabated. It's a "lose-lose" situation for the incumbent regime. If it does not agree to a JPC being set up, it risks the budget session going the way of the winter session of Parliament when no legislative business was conducted. But by accepting the demand for a JPC, the government will inevitably convey the impression that it buckled under pressure from its political opponents.

Why was the Congress, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and Dr Singh in particular opposed to a JPC? As finance minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Dr Singh had personally deposed before two JPCs in the 1992 Harshad Mehta scam and nine years later in the 2001 Ketan Parekh scandal, both involving stock market manipulation. He has apparently argued that if he has to appear before an all-party panel of MPs, the Opposition on both the Right and the Left would try their level best to make a spectacle, a huge tamasha out of the occasion that would not just demean him personally but also the office he holds. Opposition members of the JPC would indeed make the most out of the media attention that is bound to be given to the proceedings of such a committee.

Both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the Communists have made it clear that the budget session of Parliament may get washed out if the government does not agree to establish a JPC. The choice before the government is that if it does not set up a JPC, Mr Mukherjee will read out his Budget proposals for the coming fiscal year in a House in which the entire Opposition is absent. This would further damage the already-battered image of the government. So the UPA government is faced with a Hobson's choice: damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Even as Dr Singh steadfastly refused to accede to the formation of a JPC, his colleagues tied themselves up into silly knots which they will now find difficult to disentangle. The ruling party's strategy appears to be one of obfuscation — announce a new telecommunications policy after trashing the findings of a constitutional authority like the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) by pretending that nothing untoward happened and then blame past governments for their alleged misdemeanours.

The Congress is desperately hoping this strategy will work in short run, at least till the outcome of the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala and Assam is known. It also hopes the BJP government in Karnataka will get mired even deeper in corruption scandals. All of which would ensure that there are no mid-term elections even if the UPA-2 government in New Delhi remains in a state of atrophy.

There are many reasons why the government appears helpless. The manner in which the Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas was appointed, overruling the objection of the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, is one. The other important reason is the proactive manner in which the Supreme Court is monitoring the investigations of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

On February 10, a bench of the court asked the government to constitute a special court to exclusively deal with the second-generation spectrum cases. The bench comprising Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly emphasised that the CBI "must have a free hand to question anyone" and wondered if the agency's "freedom is curtailed" because it was seeking short periods of remand for the accused, including Mr Raja.

The Supreme Court did not stop there but remarked that there were people who considered themselves to be above the law of the land. The judges added that the law should catch with such people and the fact that the names of certain individuals were in the Forbes' list of millionaires should not dissuade the CBI from questioning them. Was the court, in this instance, merely referring to Shahid Usman Balwa of D.B. Etilisat (formerly Swan Telecom) or were the judges also alluding to prominent corporate captains such as Ratan Tata and Anil Ambani who head companies that have become embroiled in the spectrum scam?

The claim by the new Union communications minister Kapil Sibal that the government did not incur any loss because of the manner in which 2G spectrum was allotted in January 2008 is finding few takers. Why just the CAG, even the latest set of recommendations put out on February 9 by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India indicates that the losses, "presumptive", "notional" — call them what you like — are stupendous, running into many tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of crores. Mr Sibal's proposed new telecom policy has raised more questions, the most important of which is a simple one: If public auctions for allocation of spectrum are desirable now, why was it not in 2008?

Mr Sibal has the reputation of being a smart lawyer. But will his new policy result in more litigation? As for whether the Congress-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam alliance will continue in the run-up to the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu scheduled for April-May, your guess would be as good as mine.

- Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator








IT was a distinctly chastened Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who spoke with the benefit of hindsight before a huge crowd on Sunday. It was fairly obvious too that he was anxious to switch gears; remarkably feeble was his criticism of the Trinamul Congress. And never once in his 20-minute address did he utter the word, 'industrialisation', the kind of high-voltage economic planning that he now realises will do the CPI-M in. Indeed, the striking feature of the Chief Minister's performance at the Brigade rally was the forthright condemnation of the Indian National Congress. For once this was a faint echo of the Karat line and not the standard perception of the Bengal lobby that flirtation with the Congress is necessary for survival. Mr Bhattacharjee has seldom been so robust in his criticism of the Congress for the ballooning inflation, the serial scams, the stashing away of ill-gotten wealth in banks abroad and the national government's refusal to divulge the names of the account-holders. The small print of his message was that should there be a general election now, the denouement of the Congress at the Centre will be no different than that of the CPI-M. 
The Chief Minister is said to have been applauded by the gathering when he dwelt on the need for rectification. For once, he avoided the generic expression of cadres; he was specific in his target ~ a "section of leaders who did commit mistakes because of their haughty attitude". The reference was clearly to the belligerent loudmouths in Alimuddin Street. The home-truths might not have been pleasing to the ears of all seated on the dais ~ the need to admit mistakes and win over those fellow-travellers who "have turned away from us" (post-Nandigram). Rather obliquely, Mr Bhattacharjee even hinted at a possible crisis of relevance. "We have to make the people understand our relevance." For all that, he must acknowledge that the essay towards rectification hasn't even been initiated despite the serial defeats. Inexplicably, the task remains in the realm of present indefinite.

Equally unconvincing was the focus on the development of the listed classes. Going by the parameter of education alone, the latest state government report points to the sharp increase in the school dropout rate among Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe children. A survey on the basis of other parameters can be no less distressing. In real terms, therefore, the Chief Minister had little or nothing to boast of before the admittedly massive turnout.





VALID as well as disturbing are the apprehensions expressed by the Chief of the Air Staff that those who miss the flight to supply 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft to the IAF might try to stymie the acquisition by alleging corruption in the selection process. The hectic "promotional" activity by the six producers in the running for $10 billion deal suggests that they will use all means at their disposal to secure the contract ~ and that would include doing the dirty, not just on their rivals but also on the already protracted evaluation and selection exercise. It was obviously in the context of a helicopter acquisition programme remaining grounded that Air Chief Marshal PV Naik went on record that "some dissatisfied vendors among those not chosen for cost negotiations may put a spoke in the wheel and derail the process by going to the Central Vigilance Commissioner with complaints leading to a delay". Only days earlier the defence minister had hoped that the selection and cost negotiations would be sewn up by September. The prevailing climate in which just about every big-ticket defence deal triggers kickbacks allegations ~ a Bofors legacy ~ would facilitate the commercial dogfight the Chief had in mind. The track record points to ease with which leaders of Opposition parties, and the media too, can be sucked into the muckraking: recall how former prime minister HD Deve Gowda overnight became an expert on the capabilities of two competing Russian tanks, regurgitating what one producer had claimed in a widely circulated press release a few days previous. It is not surprising that upright officers shy away from acquisition-related assignments, sadly that leaves the field open to the wheeler-dealers.
The Air Chief did not, and could not have said so, but the defence minister's obsession with his squeaky clean image could be exploited. Particularly since clouds of corruption hang heavy over UPA-II. More than one deal has been deferred because of allegations, not much has been done about verifying them. Inadvertently perhaps, a challenge has been presented to the defence ministry. It must now ensure that all aspects of the evaluation, selection and pricing process of the MMRCA are transparent. More importantly once it has taken a decision ~ political/diplomatic pressure from the producer countries will certainly come into the picture ~ it must have the courage to stick to its guns.




Nitish Kumar has embarked on a bout of social engineering that is distinctly aimed at consolidating the famous election victory. The land distribution drive envisages a remarkably inclusive policy that ought to take care of the bulk of the populace in a state where the land question can make or mar political dispensations. The backward and "extremely backward" communities, so-called, will for the first time be provided with homestead land. Thus far, these two class groups had been excluded from the overall construct, the special privilege being reserved only for the Mahadalits. Clearly, the Chief Minister is anxious to broadbase the entitlement as a distinctive feature of Bihar's public policy. "Backwards" (19 per cent) and "extremely backwards" (32 per cent) constitute 51 per cent of  the state's perdurably poor,  a testament to the grim social reality despite the fact that the development model has been fairly effective under the JD(U) chief minister. And if the 15 per cent Mahadalit segment is added, the land reforms on the anvil ought to take care of 66 per cent of the people. Ergo, the decision on the allotment of homestead land is doubtless a forward movement in terms of land reforms. No less critical is the fact that Ram Vilas Paswan's Dusadh community, which had thus far been excluded from the scheme, will be brought under the purview of the revamped land sector.

The move is politically significant, quite obviously aimed at placating Paswan's caste group. In a sense, Nitish is anxious to reward the subaltern sector that had backed him to the hilt in the assembly elections. He has also scored over such worthies as Lalu Prasad and Paswan who were interested in wooing their own caste groups. Whether it is political expedience or social engineering, it must be acknowledged that the chief minister's package has been able to cut across party lines and traditionally rival class groups. The subaltern ~ whatever the label ~ comes through as a compact segment that needs to be taken care of... and on the strength of concrete action and not through bickering and violence as in Bengal. This is the profound message of Nitish's land reforms. Sure, Operation Barga had also conveyed a similar message that was tragically trashed by defiantly ambitious cadres. Bihar is set to script a new chapter in subaltern studies.








THE English writer, Martin Amis, has called a skyscraper in Mumbai with 300 servants "disgusting". Although he didn't say so, the reference was obviously to Mukesh Ambani's high-rise home. He also said that money was "evil … dirty … associated with rubbish and excrement", which provided a clue to his thinking. Even then, would he have used the word, disgusting, for a palatial establishment in London with four times as many staff members ? Why is Ambani's 27-storey Antilla, built with his own money, a sickening sight for him while the much larger Buckingham Palace, where the British royal family lives a subsidized existence, is not ?
There is little doubt, though, that Amis is not alone. To most people, Antilla is an object of derision tempered by a sense of disbelief that a single family will live in it. Although the towering structure may become a tourist attraction, nearly all the gapers will look upon it with a disdainful smile and not with a mixture of awe and reverence which the Buckingham Palace evokes. Shah Rukh Khan's sea-front abode is also pointed out to newcomers by auto-rickshaw drivers, but it is seen with curiosity and a tinge of admiration for a matinee idol rather than critically. In Antilla's case, the most favourable reaction will be bewilderment along with an attempt to imbibe the message of the in-your-face showiness it conveys.

It is not difficult, however, to explain the contradictory responses to the two "homes" in Mumbai and London. Their origin lies in the familiar perceptions of the zamindar and the bania, the landed gentry and the merchant, the patrician and the plebian, the aristocrat and the nouveau riche. But what is intriguing is that the advent of democracy, where everyone is supposed to be equal, has not changed these stereotypical images. Even when the feudal overlords are castigated in fiction and films for their hauteur and rapacity, they still arouse respect for their wealthy lineage whereas the man of commerce is an object of contempt from even the lowly because of his grasping nature and middle class background.

No credit is given to him for having worked his way up by his own efforts. Instead, his acquisition of wealth is ascribed to profiteering although the landlord's affluence is also suspected to be the result of expropriation. Yet, while the shopkeeper is sneered at for being sly and untrustworthy, the landlord, for all his faults, is always larger-than-life, even in his sins. This attitude is probably truer in India than anywhere else. Hence, the growing influence of feudalism in politics with the political families automatically taking a higher place in parties.
Even in outfits which professed to be more democratic, like those of the communists, it was a patrician like Jyoti Basu with his arrogant demeanour and lack of fluency in Bengali suggesting a convent education, who was the first choice to be chief minister in West Bengal when the comrades gained power. As was the Brahmin, EMS Namboodiripad, in Kerala. When the French intellectual, Andre Malraux, asked Nehru about Indian communists, the Prime Minister said, "one of our states, Kerala, is communist: all the same, the members of the central committee are Brahmins".

As a corollary to the fact of feudal dominance in social and political life, the trading class has always held a lower place in the Indian scene. In addition, it has damaged its own reputation by indiscreet and less than fair behaviour. Invariably depicted in poor light in films ~ and not in India alone, vide Oliver Stone's Wall Street ~ the merchant class shot itself in the foot by being among the first to acquire the reputation for amassing black money. So, when a 27-storey residence comes up, it cannot but be mocked.

There is another side to the story. Notwithstanding the ancient hedonistic counsel: javat jeevan sukham jivet, rinom kritya ghritam pivet (live in happiness all your life; consume ghee even if you have to borrow), conspicuous consumption is disfavoured in India. It is a legacy of Gandhian austerity although the Mahatma never knew how much the Congress had to spend to keep him poor, as Sarojini Naidu said about her Mickey Mouse. But, throughout history, Indian culture has extolled abstemiousness. The feudal class is generally excluded, however, in this context. The zamindar would not have aroused fear and respect if he did not live in a sprawling palace.

The governing classes have unhesitatingly imbibed this tradition, which is the gift of the British, who also understood that a country cannot be ruled from a middle class home. Hence, the Raj Bhavans along with the intimidating paraphernalia of blaring of sirens as the lord and master passes by along sealed-off roads. Clearly, money is not "evil" for the patricians, who have inherited it from land, the ancient source of wealth and power. But it loses its glitter if acquired in the market place.      

The writer is a former Assistant Editor, The Statesman






Mr Kapil Sibal surely keeps his bureaucrats in the human resource development ministry busy. The latest announcement to be made by his ministry and the minister personally at the 98th Indian Science Congress pertains to the creation of Indian Ivy League universities. It made headlines in India and I decided to seek the reaction of a number of IIT postgraduates and faculty members currently at my university. Most of them had not heard of Ivy League universities and could not quite grasp what our esteemed minister meant. Disconnect between a tiny elite and the rest of India, including its best and the brightest, could not have been starker.
For the record, Ivy League refers to eight universities on the north-eastern seaboard of the USA and includes Harvard and Yale. In practice, it means elite private universities in that country. The Economist, known for its pro-American bias, had an article in 2006 titled Poison Ivy: Not so much palaces of learning as bastions of privilege and hypocrisy. According to the publication: "University behaviour is at its worst when it comes to grovelling to celebrities. Duke University's admissions director visited Steven Spielberg's house to interview his stepdaughter. Princeton found a place for Laura Bush ~ the President's niece and a top fashion model ~ despite the fact that she missed the application deadline by a month." The weekly concludes: "But the wind (of change) is going to blow a heck of a lot harder, and for a heck of a lot longer, before America's money-addicted and legacy-loving universities can be shamed into returning to what ought to have been their guiding principle all along: admitting people to university on the basis of their intellectual ability." The situation has only gotten worse with the recent recession. One wonders why our education minister wants to import the phenomenon to India.

The Economist critique concerned undergraduate education at elite private universities in the USA and possibly some professional schools there which offer courses on business and law. The graduate (postgraduate in the Indian sense) programmes of these and many other public universities in the USA are the envy of academics all over the world. Elite private universities use their enormous income from tuition fees and huge donations from the alumni in return for future "admission rights" of their children, to support the graduate studies of the truly-deserving brilliant students. But this is not the exclusive prerogative of those institutions. A large number of public universities compete with them on equal terms. In The Times of London ranking of world universities, among the top 50 universities listed, there are 16 private and 11 public varsities from the USA. A look at the top 100 names makes it clear that public universities far outnumber the private ones.

It is sheer madness to try to compete with the elite private universities in the USA ~ especially if one considers their enormous income from tuition fees and endowment. But the refreshing fact is that many public universities there do just as well. It is only sensible to follow these public institutions if we want to set up world-class universities in India. How could these public universities in the USA do so well? They have huge undergraduate enrolments, with some of them taking on as many as 40,000 students. This makes it possible for such universities to hire a large faculty, even full professors. They are also allowed to make negotiated salary arrangements with outstanding scholars. By contrast, elite private universities are limited in number and smaller in size. They can only have so many people on the faculty. Faculties everywhere compete for grants to augment their salaries during the summer. These grants are highly competitive, but not biased against public institutions.
When Mr Sibal spoke at the 98th Indian Science Congress, he must have been speaking about creating world-class universities in India and used the term Ivy League only to impress the foreign dignitaries there. Most world-class universities are at least 100 years old. Academics agree that it takes a long time to develop a unique scholarly tradition. Creating world-class universities from scratch in India would mean waiting for at least another 50 years. It only makes sense to see if we can develop some universities we already have into world-class institutions. How do Indian universities fare in terms of age and tradition? We know that three universities in the Western tradition were established in India as early as 1857, following the model of the University of London. By 1927, we had 17. The Indian Universities Act of 1904 stipulated that universities should, among other things, provide opportunities for research. This spurred the humble beginning of research activities in Indian universities. Soon enough, significant research on Indian philosophy and Indian history came about, aided by pioneering work of some foreign scholars. Studies pertaining to Sanskrit language, literature and philology also scaled dramatic heights. Starting with Jagadish Chandra Bose, we made small but impressive strides in a number of scientific fields as well. In short, for a country under the colonial yoke, our modern universities had an auspicious start. This was augmented by some research institutes, often established ad hoc, which included the Asiatic Society, the Bose Institute and the Indian Statistical Institute. CV Raman even received Nobel Prize in Physics as early as 1930.

After the Second World War, universities mushroomed all over the world to encourage more students to take up higher education. Economic motive and ideals of democratisation certainly acted as catalysts. Every effort was made, though, to build on the autonomous tradition of the existing universities. India also started on the same path. Education was on the concurrent list in the Constitution and the Central government's involvement in universities was minimal. This could not continue for long, though, as it would violate Parkinson's Law. Very soon, some universities were brought in the Central Government's ambit and a number of new ones were opened. IITs were developed from strategic economic considerations. Finally, research institutes ballooned under the patronage of a number of Central ministries.

With Central government largesse and better working conditions available, these newly-created Central universities lured away a large number of talented researchers from other institutions. The IITs also attracted many top scientists for the same reason. The last blow came to the traditional universities when a number of research institutes were granted permission to confer their own degrees. This resulted in a complete breakdown of the research infrastructure of well-established universities in India. Soon enough, the competitiveness of traditional Indian universities were totally undermined at the international arena.

Universities that rightfully got their Central university status were Visva-Bharati, Banaras Hindu University and Aligarh Muslim University. These universities had unique research traditions and the potential of becoming world-class universities under proper policy initiatives. Why that did not happen is a different story altogether. But the fact remains that some of the Central universities started with a lot of promise. They attracted many (potentially) top academics. Some of them may still develop into world-class universities in time. A more dramatic step would be to resuscitate some old universities. This is a tough process, but the only way of getting the quick results that our minister and Indian academics hope for.

To start with, we have to pick and choose from these traditional universities because of our limited resources. The choice must also reflect the regional realities of our vast country. All selected universities must be made unitary in character and relieved of all affiliated colleges. All must have vibrant undergraduate programs, which actually represents the age group that is most original and energetic. These universities must be allowed to compete between themselves by providing them a level-playing field. Central financing should be subject to a common set of rules and budget must be responsibly allocated without minimal political interference.
All selected universities must have engineering faculties and, if possible, should have teaching hospitals attached to them.  Recent developments in scientific research make this imperative. Furthermore, every effort must be made to facilitate smooth interaction of each university with all government research institutes in the neighbourhood. Care should be taken to allow joint research activities based on common proposals, hire government researchers as part-time faculty at the universities if necessary and provide university postgraduate students easy access to nearby research institutes. Most importantly, appointees of these universities coming from another academic/research institution in the country must not encounter any financial disadvantage, including interference with pension rights, while taking up the offer.

Arrangements must be made for students of these universities to transfer to another for one semester without any adverse effect on their graduation schedule. This practice, common in Europe earlier, has been effectively revived in an orderly fashion by the European Union under the Socrates Program. A similar programme is important for a country as culturally and ethnically diverse as India. Finally, every world-class university should, be definition, have international representation. Efforts must be made to attract foreign students and faculty to these universities, even if for short periods. With explosive growth of Asia and the attendant need for highly-trained manpower, the potential for attracting foreign students to India is unlimited. With a similar cultural background and the additional advantage of English as the medium of instruction, many parents in other Asian countries would feel more comfortable about sending their children to India rather than to the West. But for that to happen, we should have confidence in our own institutions first. Hope Mr Sibal appreciates that.

The writer is ex-dean and professor of applied mathematics at the University of Twente, The Netherlands







The other day when I was at a neighbourhood shop to buy some items of grocery. I suddenly remembered that the list I had given to the shopkeeper did not include chhoti illaichi (cardamom) and long (cloves) ~ condiments my wife uses for preparing various savoury dishes for the family. So, as the shopkeeper was about to go around to collect my things from various shelves, I asked him to add both these items in the list.

"How much of chhoti illaichi and long, sir?" he enquired, pen poised in hand.

Now the fact is that shopping for household provisions normally falls in the domain of my wife, and it is only when she is indisposed or busy otherwise that I attend to this job. I have therefore only a vague idea about the prices of certain household provisions ~ and also of how much cardamom and cloves she actually needs to run the kitchen. So, making a guesstimate, I said, "I think 200 gram of each item will suffice."
The shopkeeper was a little surprised, but he put it down in the list. As he set about his task, I heard him mutter something about prices of spices and condiments shooting through the roof in recent months.
When all my things had been packed in a carton, the shopkeeper gave me the bill. I checked each item and the sum charged for it, but when I came to cardamom and cloves, my heart missed a beat to find that Rs 400 was the price of 200 gram of cardamom. Slightly less shocking was the sum he had charged for the same quantity of cloves ~ Rs 250.

"I am afraid you have made a mistake," I said to the shopkeeper.

"What mistake, sir?" asked the shopkeeper.

"You have charged me Rs 400 for cardamom and Rs 250 for cloves."

"There's no mistake," he replied. "In fact, I have charged you the lowest price for these items. And next time when you come to this shop for these things, please be prepared to shell out a bit more for them. It is not just onions, the prices of spices and condiments are also rising by the day."

"Oh, never knew chhoti illaichi and long were so dear!" I said.

"Oh, were you expecting them to be as cheap as namak?" the shopkeeper asked me with a derisive titter.
"No need to be sarcastic," I said somewhat sharply.

The shopkeeper, a little cowed down, became all politeness and courtesy. "I am sorry if I gave offence," he apologised, "but the fact is that prices of all essential commodities are rising, even though the government keeps claiming that inflation is coming down. When we tell our customers that the prices of spices, pulses, refined oil, ghee and some items of confectionery are rising by the day, they think we are using this pretext to overcharge them. A few of them even accuse us of fleecing them. But the truth is that we make very little profit out of them. By the way, sir, if you don't mind, may I ask you why're you buying so much of chhoti illaichi and long? Are you arranging a big marriage feast for guests?"

"Oh no, nothing of the sort," I replied, a little surprised at this question. "Frankly, I have no clear idea as to how much of chhoti illaichi and long our household actually needs in a month. In fact, mine was just a rough estimate."
"Then your rough estimate is wrong," said the shopkeeper. "I know your wife never buys more than 20 grams of chhoti illaichi and the same amount of long from our store. Normally, this is enough for a small family. I always say to my customers: Never buy more than what you actually need."
And the next moment I saw him taking away the 200 gram packs of cardamom and cloves from the carton and substituting them with the 20-gram ones.







UN Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon has noted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's decision to step down, and said that he was monitoring developments in Egypt. In a statement issued by UN spokesman Mr Martin Nesirky in New York, he said: "I respect what must have been a difficult decision, taken in the wider interests of the Egyptian people."

He reiterated his call for a transparent, orderly and peaceful transition that met the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people and included free, fair and credible elections leading to the early establishment of civilian rule. Mr Ban also urged the interim authorities to chart a clear path forward with the participation of all stakeholders. He stressed that during this process, it was vital that human rights and civil liberties were fully respected, and that genuine and inclusive dialogue were assured. "The voice of the Egyptian people, particularly the youth, has been heard, and it is for them to determine the future of their country," the statement quoted Mr Ban as saying.  Mr Ban commended the people of Egypt for the peaceful, courageous and orderly manner in which they have exercised their legitimate rights. "I call on all parties to continue in the same spirit, and that the UN stands ready to assist in the process," the Secretary-General said in conclusion.

Rights cast aside in West Asia  

UN human rights chief Mrs Navi Pillay has said that international human rights and humanitarian law is constantly being cast aside in West Asia, as she stressed issues such as illegal settlement activity and the lack of accountability for rights violations committed by both Israelis and the Palestinians.  "International human rights law and international humanitarian law are not negotiable. No individual or State can be considered exempt, if they violate the law," Mrs Pillay said at a Press conference in Jerusalem after a week-long visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, according to a Press release issued in New York. She noted that the settlement of Israeli citizens in the occupied Palestinian territory was "clearly prohibited" under international law.
Mrs Pillay said all state actions in support of the establishment and maintenance of settlements should be stopped. She wanted a halt to all settlement-related activities in East Jerusalem, and actions to coerce Palestinians to leave the area, including evictions, demolitions, forced displacements and the cancellation of residency permits on a discriminatory basis. "East Jerusalem is being steadily drained of its Palestinian inhabitants, in clear-cut defiance of Security Council resolutions," she stated. She cited lack of accountability as a major concern. On Gaza, Mrs Pillay called for the lifting of the blockade imposed by Israel since June 2007 when Hamas took over the area, calling the policy "illegal" and "not warranted by Israel's legitimate security concerns". She urged the militants in Gaza to halt firing rockets immediately. She called for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Hamas for over four and a half years.

Mrs Pillay added that she remained troubled by numerous human rights issues, including women's rights and the use of the death penalty, related to actions by the de-facto authorities in Gaza.


Japanese envoy for Preah Vihear

Unesco head Ms Irina Bokova named Mr  Koïchiro Matsuura, a Japanese national, as special envoy for Preah Vihear, a Hindu temple listed on the World Heritage List that has been damaged in recent border clashes between Cambodia and Thailand.  According to a Press release issued in New York, Mr Matsuura, the former director-general of Unesco, will visit Bangkok and Phnom Penh to discuss how the site can be safeguarded, the agency said.

anjali sharma








When the going gets tough, a political party often goes back to its roots. But that is not necessarily a winning strategy. Narendra Modi may go back to the Bharatiya Janata Party's Hindutva fundamentals in times of stress, but he would know that his winning formula has to be his record in governance. The Left in West Bengal seems unable to make such a distinction. It truly believes that going back to its past is the best way of weathering the storm it faces at present. The Left Front's rally at the Brigade Parade Grounds was a replay of old politics. It suggested that the beleaguered Communist Party of India (Marxist) cannot think of any other way of countering the challenge from Mamata Banerjee than by returning to the politics of rallies, demonstrations and bandhs. For a brief while, it seemed as though Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee understood the futility of clinging to this outdated politics. But the return to street politics shows that he remains hopelessly tied to his party's ways. Even more disappointing is the fact that governance and development have taken a back seat in the chief minister's scheme of things. But the CPI(M) may be hopelessly wrong in assuming that the people of Bengal want to go back and not forward.

The biggest irony could be that the CPI(M) is actually helping Ms Banerjee by relapsing into its old, discredited politics. The contrasts between the CPI(M)'s and the Trinamul Congress leader's strategies became sharper after the Brigade rally. Ms Banerjee, too, has had her share of street politics. But she has carefully moved away from the politics of bandhs and more strident forms of street shows. Instead, she has lately cultivated the image of a politician who increasingly uses issues of governance and development as the principal tools of her politics. And recent elections show that the change in her politics is paying off. Mr Bhattacharjee used Sunday's rally to try and polish his party's battered image. He asked party workers to be "humble" and admit "mistakes with bowed heads". The course correction should have begun with the leaders themselves, including the chief minister. The people can easily see through this half-hearted attempt at image makeover. The CPI(M) clearly lacks the will and the courage to admit to the real mistakes of its politics. Going back to its past can only make the party's future even more uncertain.






Even the harshest critic of the United States of America would admit to the latter's tenacity in improving ties with Pakistan, the US's most critical and most difficult partner in the 'war on terror'. Given the investments, it seems strange that the US should suddenly turn its back on all the advances made in bilateral ties with Pakistan on the issue of Raymond Davis, the Lahore embassy staff who recently gunned down two Pakistani men in self-defence. The US has not only suspended high-level diplomatic exchange but also called off the trilateral meeting with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its argument is that Mr Davis, as part of its embassy staff in Lahore, enjoys diplomatic immunity, which Pakistan is denying him by refusing to hand him over to the US. The more Pakistan drags its feet on the issue, the more insistent the US gets with its demand for Mr Davis's release. Clearly though, the US is not only misreading the situation in Pakistan, but also forcing the civilian establishment in Pakistan into a corner. The complications in this affair have a lot to do with the confusion in Mr Davis's diplomatic status, and this remains, thanks to the initial doubts that the US created by its conflicting statements on the kind of work its employee did in Pakistan. The cloud of suspicion still hangs as the US has refused to come clear on the matter.

The doubts, together with the Pakistan government's silence on Mr Davis's status, have created an explosive situation on the ground. Pakistan's ability to hold on to Mr Davis has suddenly become a symbol of the country's sovereign will, which the government will be seen to be compromising the moment it goes soft on the hostage issue. If religious parties and radical Islamists were so long pushing this case, now members of the ruling party too seem to be arguing for it vociferously. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the former foreign minister, has recently alleged that he was being arm-twisted into certifying Mr Davis as a "diplomat". It is obvious that the issue of Mr Davis has become the latest vehicle of anti-West, jingoistic nationalism. It is bound to be heightened every time the US threatens Pakistan with an ultimatum. Instead of driving the beleaguered minority government into a more uncomfortable spot, the US should try to defuse the crisis the way it has resolved others — that is, diplomatically.







For the last fortnight we've been hypnotized by the drama unfolding in Cairo's Tahrir Square. There could have been no better start to the second decade of this century than the democratic revolution in Egypt. There was an exhilarating 19th-century quality to the whole affair: the People took to the streets, manned the barricades in the name of Liberty and the Despot fell. Even more remarkably, it was a non-violent revolution. Hundreds died but the violence was perpetrated by the State; the revolutionaries themselves kept the peace.


The Mubarak regime has been replaced by a higher military council which has announced that it will constitute a committee to amend the Egyptian constitution, have the amended constitution approved by a referendum and then hold an election in roughly six months. There's been a great deal of speculation about the kind of Egypt that will emerge from the revolution. Many commentators, especially a certain kind of Western pundit, have warned of the dire prospect of a fundamentalist takeover in a post-Mubarak world, with the Muslim Brotherhood playing the designated role of Islamist bogey.


For the most part, this is self-serving nonsense. The appropriate cautionary tale here isn't Iran, it's Algeria. In Algeria, when a democratic election threw up an Islamist party as the winner, the army annulled the election and tens of thousands of people died in the turmoil that followed. There ought to be an election in Egypt and the party that wins it ought to be acknowledged by everyone as the legitimate government of the country. It is unlikely to be the Muslim Brotherhood, but even if it is, the West will learn to work with it, just as it learnt to deal with rightwing Zionists like Avigdor Liebermann and Binyamin Netanyahu.


My interest as an Indian is not so much in the kind of party that forms the government in a democratic Egypt as in the kind of constitution that this new Egypt gives to itself. This interest has something to do with the Egypt I travelled through 30 years ago.


In December 1980, Midan Tahrir was just a square on a city map to me, not the site of a democratic revolution. I was a graduate student trying to escape an English winter, specifically its daylight deficit, by travelling east to Egypt. Anwar Sadat was still president, though in less than a year's time he would be assassinated and Hosni Mubarak would begin his 30-year reign as Egypt's strongman.


That lay in the future; I was indifferent to Egyptian politics: my main concern was eking out a month in Egypt on £150. But despite being a self-absorbed backpacker, something of Egypt's political nature did filter through. I learnt, for example, that Egypt had a substantial Christian minority. I walked through a town called El Minya crowded with colonial facades with long windows and louvred shutters and discovered that half its population consisted of Coptic Christians. Christians accounted for at least 10 per cent of Egypt's population but the Egyptian government's estimates tended to be lower because the State didn't want to acknowledge the presence of such a large non-Muslim minority.


I remember my disappointment at learning that the Egyptian state was embarrassed by the size of its Christian population because I grew up in India in the 1960s, a time when Nasser's Egypt had been held up as a secular Arab nation. But by 1980, Egypt's long affair with authoritarian rule had compromised its commitment to a secular state.


Extended states of emergency since Nasser's time had allowed the State to either destroy secular political opposition or to co-opt it, which meant that the oppositional space came to be monopolized by the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. After Sadat signed the Camp David Accords, he was expelled from the Arab League and widely attacked in the Arab press as a renegade. Already unpopular because of the regime's ruthless response to the food riots in 1977 and increasingly insecure about his political base, Sadat tried to shore himself up by burnishing his credentials as a political Muslim. In 1980 (just before I got to Egypt for my holiday) he amended the 1971 constitution to formally make Egypt an Islamic state.


Egypt had been through four constitutions since it became a republic in 1956. Before the republic, the constitutional monarchy had been based on the first national constitution of 1923. All these constitutions had been secular in nature, that is, they hadn't defined the state in terms of Islam. Sadat's 1980 amendment did just that. Article 2 of the amended constitution declared:


"Islam is the Religion of the State. Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia)."


Despite the National Democratic Party's secular pretensions and in spite of its constant invocation of the

Islamist bogey in the shape of the Muslim Brotherhood to keep itself in power, historically it was this party, the party of Sadat and Mubarak, which passed the unprecedented constitutional amendment that turned Egypt into a Muslim state.


Thanks to the higher military council, this pernicious constitution is now suspended and open to amendment. If the promise of Egypt's democratic revolution is to be fulfilled, the constitutional committee will have to make sure that Article 2 is unambiguously struck out of the constitution. In their deliberations, Egypt's constitution makers could usefully reflect on the South Asian experience in constitution making.


Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka (Ceylon) amended their constitutions at different times to enshrine the principle that a country is defined by the religious faith of the majority. In both cases, the parties that took the first step in this direction were secular parties which decided to pander to majoritarian sentiment: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party and Solomon Bandaranaike's Sri Lanka Freedom Party. In Pakistan, this paved the way for the further 'Islamization' of the State under subsequent regimes and the creation of an ugly, illiberal political culture where citizens were arbitrarily persecuted by invoking a blasphemy law and where the governor of the country's largest province could be assassinated for his opposition to it. In Sri Lanka, the primacy granted to Buddhism and the Sinhalese majority led to endless civil war.


In contrast, India's constituent assembly created a Constitution which enshrined both freedom of worship and equality under law without mentioning secularism. The Constitution has, for more than 60 years, successfully sustained a liberal democratic state that doesn't have to look to the army to guarantee a secular order.


The lesson that the Egyptian constitutional committee ought to draw from this contrast is that any concession to majoritarianism corrodes a democratic order. It creates two classes of citizens: those who belong to the definitive majority become 'organic' or 'natural' citizens, while those who fall outside this category have to be 'naturalized' through tolerance. Not only does constitutional majoritarianism create discontent and disaffection amongst minorities (reduced as they are to second-class citizenship), it allows religious extremists to set the political agenda because they can use the constitution as warrant for their never-ending quest to realize the perfect Buddhist or Islamic or Hindu state.


Seemingly reasonable people will argue in the course of Egypt's constitutional deliberations that Egypt ought not deny its essentially Muslim nature, that Islam contains within itself the generosity, the tolerance, the values to sustain a democratic state. We've heard these arguments before and they are bogus. No faith, regardless of its qualities, ought to be allowed to define a political order which includes citizens who don't belong to that faith or don't believe in it. If Egypt's new constitution makers learn this lesson and delete Article 2, the revolution of Midan Tahrir will have been secured. If they don't, the tumult of the past fortnight will remain just that, just noise, great sound and fury signifying nothing.







Just weeks away from her 21st birthday, Claudia Aderotimi took a plane to Philadelphia. She was going to get a silicone injection that would "enhance" her bottom and perhaps her chances of starring in hip hop videos. The injection was administered in a hotel room in Philadelphia. Within hours, Claudia developed severe chest pains and was rushed to a hospital. She died soon afterwards. The British-Nigerian, who lived in London, had believed that she could "take the world by storm" with her "talents". But according to some sources, she had recently been dropped from a music video when it was discovered that she was wearing padded trousers to make her bottom look larger. Evidently, talent was not enough.

Liquid silicone injections have long been banned by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States of America; there is a high risk of the silicone travelling to other parts of the body, with fatal results. In Claudia's case, the silicone is believed to have entered her bloodstream and then reached her lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. It is also possible that she was injected with industrial and not cosmetic silicone. Casualty rates for silicone injections are high, and alarming side-effects have been reported. But, cheaper than implants, such injections remain popular among women and transgender people. This illegal procedure appears to have become something of a ritual — people gather in "pumping parties" to inject silicone into their bodies, especially around the hips and buttocks.

Claudia's death seems to reveal the anatomy of a fetish. It is of a piece with the generous curves and jiggling bottoms popularly seen in music videos. The round bottom has been fêted in songs like "Bootylicious", "Candyshop" and the 1992 hit single, "Baby got back" — " I like big butts and I cannot lie". This object of contemplation is so compelling that at times the directors of the video for "Baby got back" can only flash the words "rump", "rear", and other suitable synonyms, on the screen. When the controversial video was first released, some welcomed it as the celebration of a different standard of beauty. Fair, blonde and thin made way for a more voluptuous physique and darker skin.

Over time, this alternative model of beauty would be fetishized and most popular videos crowded with large, quivering bottoms. Singers like Beyoncé Knowles and Jennifer Lopez became famous for their ample posteriors, Lopez even going so far as to insure her bottom for a fortune. This fetish would soon become a cliché, one that Claudia died for. She is believed to have been introduced to the injections by a transgender hip hop star called "Black Madam".

Maybe the fetish for sizable bottoms has far older antecedents than the hip hop video. In the early 19th century, the "Hottentot Venus" was 'exhibited' in Europe as a freak attraction. This woman, whose name was Sarah Baartman, had an extremely large bottom. She gyrated her naked behind to the wonder of large crowds in London before being sold to an animal trainer who took her to France. Baartman also became the object of much 'scientific curiosity' and her skeleton and genitalia were preserved after she died.

There is something ugly about the way in which Baartman was gawped at, prodded and parts of her preserved in brine. And there is a refusal to recognize her as an intelligent human being. It is chilling that this refusal should be echoed by the directors who dropped Claudia from their video for not having a large enough bottom. Perhaps it is typical of a fetish to suspend reason and be obsessed with its own object. Popular culture has been cruel and dogged in its pursuit of this particular fetish. Claudia was just another casualty of this culture.






Waking up with the sun the other day, I began cursing Norman Cousins. Cousins, an American journalist, who overcame a difficult medical condition with frequent bouts of laughter (and vitamins), is considered to be a pioneer in 'humour therapy'. His claims about the healing powers of laughter attracted the attention of the international medical community. Inspired by his example, laughing clubs were formed all over the world. At present, according to some estimates, there are reportedly 6,000 such clubs across 60 countries.

I was supposed to meet the members of a laughing club that morning, and I blamed Cousins for forcing a fellow journalist out of bed at an unearthly hour. Half an hour later, still muttering to myself, I found myself in front of a field. Elderly women and a handful of old men were standing silently in a neat file. Suddenly, someone barked out an order and the members tilted their heads backwards and began to laugh as if possessed. Birds took flight from the trees, while I sniffed suspiciously for traces of laughing gas in the air. Having made sure that there was nothing wrong with the people or the air, I decided to meet the members who welcomed me warmly.

That laughter is therapeutic had been discovered by our wise sages. Laughing clubs, which came into existence much later — first in Mumbai in 1995 — have since mushroomed in Calcutta too. (They are thought to number around 70 in this city.) Despite claims of humour therapy being unscientific, contemporary research is now examining whether laughter can be looked at as a cheaper alternative to treat serious conditions such as bronchitis, lung and chest infections, obesity and depression.

As I stood watching the members follow their exercise regime — some of the tasks, such as "Lion Laughter" or "Milk Shake Laughter", are especially difficult to master — I reflected on some of the intangible benefits of these institutions. For instance, our culture teaches women, and elderly men, to be forever inhibited by and ashamed of their bodies. But here was a group of women and men whose unrestrained movements in a public space seemed to indicate their determination to unshackle themselves.

Such institutions, as I was to discover soon, also foster a sense of belonging. As I chatted with the members, I realized that a story about laughing clubs remains incomplete without chronicling the reasons behind their admission: a retired government employee's terror of the pity and silence he evoked at home; a housewife's determination to take an independent decision for once, a school teacher's need to discipline his own life. Each tale served as a tiny window on to the larger social processes that are shaping our lives and times.

A notable feature of most laughing clubs is the absence of young people. A recent survey that was conducted on laughing clubs in and around Calcutta confirmed this fact: 75 per cent of their members are over 50 years old, 22 per cent are aged between 30 and 50, while three per cent are below 30 years. Can this reluctance on the part of young men and women be explained solely by the paucity of time? Or does it also have to do something with a difference in attitude towards health? The attraction of a perfectly toned body among the young seems to have overwhelmed their need for a healthy mind.

I also began to ponder the perverse eagerness with which we bracket the elderly and their activities as unproductive. Many laughing clubs are involved in welfare activities such as educating underprivileged children, but they receive very little support or recognition from the government. Equally chilling is the government's indifference towards India's elderly: not only towards their needs but also to the possibility of using the community as a valuable resource pool of knowledge and experience.

Norman Cousins has since been forgiven. Laughing uproariously with the head tilted backwards at the crack of dawn may not be my idea of improving my health. But meeting a group of elders with a steely resolve to change prejudices made me appreciate the importance of accommodating and respecting different people and ideas.







Human beings are resourceful creatures. Amongst their many talents are an uncanny ability to engender insecurity in others, and an equally inexplicable talent for feeding off those insecurities. Every festive season, with its sudden spate of revelry, is witness to such skills. People, in the midst of their customary air-kissing, pause to comment on how much weight the other person has lost. A quick glance at the face of the loser (of weight) confirms that receiving such a compliment is akin to having won the lottery. But (oh horror!) if one is told that he or she has put on a few pounds, then the party is over even before it has begun, and the wounded soul mopes. Until, of course, someone very brightly suggests that they try power yoga for 'shocking results'. After all, as Kareena Kapoor said, it had helped her to 'loose' some weight, and look at her now.

That one's lack of success in achieving fitness may have less to do with the efficacy of a normal exercise regime and more to do with one's resolve does not seem to occur to many wounded souls. It did not occur to me either. I learnt what 'inertia' really meant when I was asked to stop bemoaning my weight-gaining lot and make exercise a daily habit. What people want are quick-fixes. And today, these quick-fixes are available in every nook and cranny.

But none of these really is a 'fix'. One would look at a newfangled power yoga asana and wonder why anybody would pay thousands to practise it, when ancient forms of yoga like the hatha and the jnana yoga have proved so beneficial for mind and body. Now there is even something known as AcroYoga. Designed in 2003 in the city of San Francisco, it is a mixture of partner yoga, acrobatics and Thai massages. While the efficacy of these 'dynamic' new practices is a different matter altogether, the fact remains that yoga in its older forms did not seem to have given its practitioners any cause for complaint — unless, of course, not being able to achieve complete fitness overnight was unacceptable.

And if AcroYoga were not enough, even more bizarre yoga forms have emerged in the United States of America. One of them is known as Doga, or Yoga for Dogs. This claims to have enhanced yoga's beneficial effects on the human heart and mind. A dog and its owner meditate on one mat. They achieve peace together. The dog, if it's a small one, can even be placed on its owner's body during an asana to help flatten the pelvic arch. Wonders never cease — and the wonders of Doga must sound very plausible, for it has become a rage in the US.

As a dog lover, I am well acquainted with the powerful role played by dogs in the happiness and contentment in people's lives — whether or not they practise strange forms of yoga. One wonders about the logic that went into devising Doga — or even power or AcroYoga, for that matter. In a state of collective desperation bordering on hysteria, most people seem to be in pursuit of instant acquisition — of beauty, fitness or wealth. And resourceful human beings know exactly how to milk this insecurity for all its worth. Kareena Kapoor may have shrunk to a size zero, but most seem to forget that the healthy way to fitness takes time.






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




The good thing about the conviction of former Kerala minister R Balakrishna Pillai by the supreme court in a corruption case is that a politician has been punished for his misdeed.

Politicians are rarely made to pay a price for their misdemeanours and escape the long arm of the law in various ways. Corrupt or illegal acts often do not come to the surface; even when they do, investigations are shoddy and are undertaken to bury the issue and finally cases are scuttled by exploiting loopholes or influencing witnesses.

But the Pillai case, after going through many twists and turns, finally reached a welcome denouement with the apex court sentencing him to one year's rigorous imprisonment and a fine. The fine of Rs 10,000 is a pittance against the loss of over Rs 2 crore he caused to the government by conspiring with a  contractor to escalate the cost of a work related to a hydro-electric project when he was irrigation minister over 25 years ago.

The bad thing about the judgment is that it took two decades for the country's judicial system to finally punish a corrupt politician. Pillai had been found guilty by a special court in 1999 and sentenced to five years' jail.

The high court acquitted him but the supreme court has now overturned the high court verdict. In the process the apex court also reduced the sentence to one year's jail on the ground that the accused has undergone mental anguish in the last many years because of the prosecution proceedings. Should the mental anguish of an accused be a mitigating factor that makes him eligible for a lighter sentence? Pillai was defiant all along and still is, and did not suffer any anguish.

The long delay in bringing a guilty person to book exposes the inefficiency of the judicial process. The supreme court noted this. But in spite of many similar observations by the court in the past and declarations that steps would be taken to reduce delays, cases drag on interminably. Pillai's co-accused in the case is in a coma for the past two years, and is sure to escape his punishment of imprisonment for one year.

Yet another matter of concern is the felicitations Pillai is receiving from his party, the Kerala Congress (B), and its alliance partners like the Congress, after the conviction. He is being made a hero and the judiciary is castigated and even shown as corrupt. What a turn!







This year's Aero India at Bangalore's Yelahanka airbase was bigger and better than in previous editions. With 675 defence companies from over 30 countries in attendance, the air show — till recently India's biggest — became Asia's biggest this year.

Aerobatic displays were more spectacular than ever before. Not surprising considering this is the big opportunity that aircraft manufacturers get to impress Indian buyers and the public alike. The significance of this year's Aero India lay in the fact that this was the last air show before the Indian government makes its decision on purchase of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). Pegged at $11 billion, the MMCRA deal is being hotly contested by six companies.

But for the Russian MIG-35, which did not show up this year, the other contenders were at Yelahanka strutting their stuff and wooing IAF officials. Their attempt to influence the decision in their favour will not end with the conclusion of the air show. Defence Minister A K Anthony said that merit alone will determine the decision on the combat aircraft deal. This is heartening but he must ensure that this is indeed so.

India's military modernisation plans have made the Bangalore air show a must-attend event for aircraft manufacturers. After all, up for grabs are deals worth billions of dollars for purchase of fighter aircraft, helicopters and transport planes. However, deals for civilian aircraft are no less enticing. With India's civil aviation sector expanding rapidly, the demand for civilian aircraft is growing and India has emerged the fastest growing market in the world. Analysts say that India will need over 1,000 civilian aircraft over the next two decades, worth a whopping $138 billion.

India is a massive market for the aircraft business and if the mood at Aero India 2011 is any indication of the desperation and determination of aircraft companies to clinch deals with India, then it is evident that Delhi is in a commanding position to drive a hard bargain. This is quite in contrast with the situation even a few years ago and today, India is in a position to dictate terms in the purchase of aircraft. This is an advantage it must put to full use. Officials in India and abroad will be seeking to influence decisions. Merit, price and long term reliability should determine purchases









The democratic nation proved that the fears of lower castes were wrong. They enrolled into regional language education in a big way.

One bright morning in 1960, when I was about eight, a newly appointed single teacher came to my house. My mother had already cleaned our courtyard called 'vaakili' and was sprinkling the dung water all around the courtyard. I was about to assist my elder brother in untying the cattle and go along with them for grazing. The teacher asked my mother to send me and my elder brother, who was about 10, to school. What she told him shocks every one of us in retrospect: "Ayyaa — if we send our children to school to read and write devil Saraswathi will kill them. That devil wants only brahmins and baniyas to be in that business."

For centuries the so called goddess of education was against the dalit learning, reading and writing in any language. She was the goddess of education of only the high castes — mainly of the brahmins and baniayas. But the lower castes, who were denied of education treated her as a devil that would kill their children if they go to school.

The notion that she kills us was so deep that my grandmother fought with my mother for she was terrified of our imminent death, after I and my brother — not my sisters in any case — were sent to school. She used to pray Pochamma — our village goddess — that she should protect us from Saraswathi. Within a few months after we were sent to school my grandmother died of a future shock that we would not survive at all.

The democratic nation proved that those fears of lower castes were wrong. They got into regional language education in a big way. The goddess of Sanskrit education was adopted by lower castes as their goddess of regional language education too. Several school teachers across the country — many of them were OBC teachers — installed Saraswathi photo even in government schools, ignoring the fact there could be a muslim or a christian or any other minority students in the schools.

It is a known fact that there were several hindu teachers who made humiliating remarks about muslims and christians that they do not have goddess of education like Saraswathi and hence inferior in educational values. Saraswathi Shishumandirs have cropped up all over the country. In the '70s and '80s the aggressive ownership of 'matru bhasha' (mother tongue) theory and adoption of Saraswathi as goddess of Indian education had acquired a nationalist overtone. So militant was that nationalism that any opposition to installing Saraswathi's portrait in the schools and colleges would only invite fist blows.

The right wing student organisations started installing her portrait in the university departments. The regional language departments made Saraswathi an educational-cultural symbol. Unmindful of the secular constitution of the nation even the university teachers — mainly of regional language departments sporting a visible saffron tilak on the forehead, began to treat others who operate outside that cultural norm as inferior.

A walking goddess

With the increase of women teachers in schools, colleges and universities Saraswathi was made almost a walking goddess in the nation. Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Guru Nanak whose life though revolved around education to all humans never appeared on the nationalist map of education.

While the majority OBCs, some dalits and tribals began to worship Saraswathi in regional educational centres — of course on the real pooja day the priest talked to her only in Sankrit, in spite of the fact, that under her sharp and well decorated nose that language died to a point no return, except that soliloquous priest nobody understands the slokas, she has become goddess of all Indian languages.

While the historical backwards were enjoying their new status of proximity to mythical Saraswathi, the living Saraswathi in the company of her cousin Laxmi shifted her real operative base to the other world, called colonial English world. The backward class people of India, as of now, have no entry so far.

The recent decision of the Central government to introduce English teaching from class one in all government schools will enable all the lower castes of India are going to enter into a new phase of English education. Though this method of English teaching does not take the dalit-bahujan and minority community children to the level of convent educated upper castes, it makes a new beginning of dreaming for egalitarian education in future.

English education is the key for adopting the modernist approach suitable to the globalised India. The upper castes have handled the contradiction between English and their native culture quite carefully. But when it comes to teaching English to the lower castes they have been proposing a theory that English will destroy the 'culture of the soil'. Having realised the importance of English the Central government has taken a right decision.

However, the next stage should be moving towards total abolition of the gap between the private English medium schools and the government schools in terms of both infrastructure and teaching methods. Even about the language both the public and private schools must be brought under two language formula of teaching 50 per cent syllabus in English and the other half of the syllabus in the regional language across the country.

(The writer is associated with the Maulana Azad National University, Hyderabad)






Social sector schemes could have assimilated a majority of backward caste people in the mainstream.
Series of financial sector scams, food inflation, increase in crime rate, loss of assets due to maoist and terrorist attacks, flight of young talents to developed nations, loss of biodiversity, demographic change in Indian border states, caste proliferation, growing religious intolerance, growth of regional satraps, blurring of national issues, exit of mass leaders and the emergence of business with foreign agents show the country has lost its core strength — the nationalism.

India has lost hundreds of crores of rupees due to overt and covert parochialism which leads to regional imbalance. Parochialism affects the selection process in sports disciplines which results into India's poor show in Olympic game. Both Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mamta Banerjee like their predecessors have disproportionately allocated trains for political mileage in their own states. The reported loss of Rs 7,465 crore in Indian Railway in the current year in spite of huge demand for rail tickets attributes to lack of financial appraisal in train allocation.

Link language

The national language Hindi is yet to be used as a communicative language for domestic trade. A Maharashtrian farmer finds it difficult to directly access buyers in outside state due to lack of knowledge in Hindi. Similarly, poor artisans from Tamil Nadu and Orissa end up with middlemen due to their inability to communicate in Hindi. In the process, they lose their profit margin. More than the language, it is the caste proliferation which has a devastating impact on India's economy, society and polity. Permanently, branding a community as backward not only causes huge confidence loss among its members but it leads to erosion of talent.

In the last six decades not a single backward community in India has shed its backward tag and joined the mainstream. Hundreds of social sector schemes could have assimilated a majority of backward caste people in the mainstream. In 1950, there were 1,108 scheduled castes and 744 scheduled tribes in India. The number is expected to reach 5,000 after the finalisation of caste based census. Recently, Nitish Kumar government has qualified economically weak higher caste to get the social sector benefits.

The day is not far when all Indians will be branded as backward caste.

Similarly, religious activism pushes the society into a mono culture trap and causes huge economic loss due to erosion of many small and sustainable economic activities which are always enshrined in a multicultural society. It is an utter shame to talk about global citizenship when the country suffers from social crisis. Healthy nationalism can address social divisions. Nationalism cannot be equated with Nazism which was built on the premises of revenge and territorial expansion. Mahatma Gandhi said one cannot achieve internationalism without having nationalism. Today's globalisation is nothing but an extension of nationalism. The developed nations seldom allow globalisation to cross the border if it affects their interest.

President Obama in his first State Union address in January 2010 said "to encourage business to stay within our border, it is time to finally slash the tax break for companies that ship our jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in the US." According to the Global Trade Alert, a monitoring organisation, the G-20 nations have introduced over 400 trade restraint measures, which are manifestation of national interest only. In the 60s and 70s, nationalism had catapulted war ravaged Japan, western and European nations into developed nation status.

In India, nationalism has grown into a cosmetic level. The independence day starts with Lata Mangishkar's number "O mere watan ki log…" and switches over to "Dil dhak dhak karne laga…."

In 1882, the French philosopher Ernst Renan outlined his understanding of what makes a nation in his famous essay entitled 'Qu'est-ce qu'une nation?' ('What is a Nation?'). Renan said a nation is the culmination of a long past of endeavours, sacrifice and devotion. A heroic past, great men, glory, that is the social capital upon which one bases a national idea.

To have common glories in the past, to have a common will in the present, to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still more, these are the essential conditions of being a people. The existence of a nation is a guarantee of liberty, which would be lost if the world had only one law and only one master.'

India has all the ingredients of what Ernst Renan has outlined. This is high time for all Indians to protect and preserve the country's social capital for the growth of nationalism.







The universe is a vast space, but it's impossible to gauge the immensity of it.

When I was eight years old, I spent 3 years of my life in my ancestral village. Our ancestral home was a big black stone-building with an earthen floor and an earthen roof.

In those days, the mid 60s, our home was in the midst of vegetation amongst local farms, and hence our lives were intertwined with nature. During the warm nights, we would enjoy gazing at the cloudless star-lit skies. It being a village, there were no streetlights and on a full-moon night the cosmic canopy was an indescribable sight meant for fortunate eyes. There were, however, a few lampposts lit by hurricane lamps in the village which merely served as navigational points since the whole village was submerged in darkness every evening.

I was studying in third standard, when I first read about the solar system. It was an immediate fascination to watch the night sky and, maybe, spot some planets. With unwavering enthusiasm, I spent hours on end watching the countless twinkling stars unaware of the easier ways spotting planets or stars and constellations. What  fascinated me the most were the uncertain things, such as the vastness of the universe and the possibility of other life-forms being out there.

I wondered if one could travel beyond our skies, how long could the travel last, how many miles, etc. There probably was a wall somewhere, millions of billions of miles beyond our planet; there probably were millions of billions of miles of space on the other side of the wall too, interspersed with constellations and solar systems and planets. The idea of such infinite space, something that I couldn't fathom, and something that is so difficult to fathom, was maddening. And I didn't even know if anyone could explain it.

We all know that the universe is a vast space, but it's just impossible to gauge the immensity of it. So, after a couple of years, when we moved to a town in north Karnataka, I visited the town's library to find an answer. I found out that one, Robert Goddard had built a rocket to explore the skies. So, back then, in my quest to find the truth, I wrote to Robert Goddard, C/o Nasa, USA, not knowing his precise address.

The magnanimous Nasa authorities probably read the letter of this young inquisitive child and indulged my enthusiasm by mailing it to the correct address. After a couple of months, I received the reply appreciating my inquiry and informing me that Robert Goddard had passed away in 1945. But what his wife, Esther C Goddard, carefully mailed along with her reply were Robert Goddard's printed autograph and his photograph.

For many years after that, I followed the space exploration milestones crossed by America and the USSR and collected autographs and photographs of all astronauts and cosmonauts. But, despite everything, my primary question regarding the size and constituents of space remained unanswered. Add to them other questions and we realise that we have acquired some knowledge of space but we still don't know many things.

Are there many more earths like ours, many more places where life exists? Where are we in relation to other solar systems? Can human beings reach or communicate to other places in the universe? Or are these just imponderables?

I wonder whether scriptures and mythology can explain what science can't. Or do they complement each other? If one goes by religion, He is the creator and He alone knows the answer. At the moment, I think I will have to settle for that.








We have all heard talk, threats and tantrums in the recently strained relations between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), partners in the coalition that rules Goa. But it has all been restricted to words, with no action.

That situation changed on Sunday, when the NCP announced that it will contest 15 out of the 30 wards in the forthcoming polls to the Corporation of the City of Panjim (CCP) to be held on 13 March. It's all very well for a party to say it is 'capable' of going it alone in a coming election. It is another matter to actually float a panel against one's coalition partner, especially in elections to the municipality of the state's capital.

NCP General Secretary Avinash Bhonsle has said that the party will release the names of candidates only when it files the nomination papers on Wednesday. But the panel is not Mr Bhonsle's to float. Its main architect is NCP Benaulim MLA Francisco alias Mickky Pacheco.

Mickky first announced he was putting up a panel for the CCP elections after Education Minister Atanasio alias Bubush Monserrate participated in a Congress MLAs' revolt against his re-induction into the cabinet. Mr Monserrate is testing the waters to see if he can contest the election from Panjim, and put up his wife Jennifer from his pocket borough of Taleigao.

But that is not only some way in the future, it also depends on what happens between now and then, not least the CCP elections themselves. If the Monserrate panel (already announced) sweeps the polls, then the possibility of a Babush candidature from Panjim moves from the realm of possibility into probability.
But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also announced its intention of setting up a panel; 25 candidates' names have been announced, and the remaining are to be decided shortly. Following that announcement, Mr Monserrate has been steadily making changes to his already announced panel, and it now contains 55 per cent 'new faces'. How will the NCP bid queer his pitch?

More important, if this announcement is followed up by actual action, it will have implications for the alliance with the Congress for the next assembly elections, already fraying at the edges, thanks to all the high-decibel talk on both sides about 'going it alone'.

If the alliance falls apart, no doubt it will affect the poll prospects of the Congress and even possibly lose it a number of seats. But the effect on the NCP will be nothing short of disastrous. Even a single MLA would be a bonus. Therefore, it must think this step through carefully.

Shourie's silence

Former Telecom Minister Arun Shourie seems to have discovered his voice and recovered his memory a little late in the day. Only after his role in authoring the infamous 'First-Come-First-Served' telecom policy was exposed by the Justice Shivraj Patil Commission, has Shourie 'remembered' that he told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about A Raja's 2G Scam, but that the PM ignored his warnings.

His own party, the BJP, has openly contradicted his claim that it did not want to raise the scam in Parliament in 2009 despite his suggestion to do so. Ever since his departure from the Upper House following his fall from grace in the BJP, Shourie has been quiet. He cannot now with any credibility claim: "I told you so."






Sunday, 6 February 2011, the Herald front-page report states: 'Goa should be the happiest state in the world by 2035; where every Goan will do well, there is harmony, pristine nature and development without destruction, eminent scientist Dr R A Mashelkar said in the inaugural lecture of the D D Kosambi Festival of Ideas at Kala Academy, Panjim on Saturday. Pointing out that innovation and knowledge will drive the present century, he said Goa – owing to its small size, high human development indices, education and widespread knowledge of English – is best suited to be a knowledge economy.' Dr Mashelkar then went on to describe himself as a dangerous optimist. The real danger is that the younger generation may start taking the notion of India Shining seriously. They may swallow the big lie about India being the financial powerhouse of the 21st century even though they can already see and smell India - the environmental shit-house of the world.

How do you build a great India on a foundation of moral and ethical turpitude? Corruption in every walk of life, even at the highest levels of academia, plagued with more than its fair share of bogus educational qualifications, leaked examination papers and plagiarism. Surely Dr Mashelkar has experienced this first-hand. He would have seen, from close quarters, how rotten-to-the-core are our elites. He wants 1.2 billion Indians to get up each morning and say: My India. What an India that will be. Unfortunately, the idea of India exists as a figment of the imagination of about 300 million people. The other 900 million people wallow in the dirt and the poverty of Bharat.

'On 8 January 2011 Gokul Singh Gond, of Druminia village, Madhya Pradesh, places his dead daughter Sohagvati on the back of his bicycle and pedals 10 kilometres to the nearest district hospital for an autopsy. On the same day, cricketer Gautam Gambhir was auctioned for 2.1 million dollars for the fourth edition of the IPL, the highest amount of money offered for the services of a cricketer, in the history of the game. If there are two images that could capture the idea of India in the 62nd year of its republic, they are these. On the one hand, India is poised to send its business classes to take over the world when, on the other, it condemns vast sections of its citizens to sub-human existence. The signature of the Indian republic at 61 is the almost seemingly unbridgeable chasm between the worlds of the Gokul Singh Gonds, and the rest. Of course, there was always contempt for the poor by the rich, but the biggest change in the post-liberalisation era is that the have-nots are not looked down upon, but they simply don't exist!!!' wrote Nissim Mannathukkaren.

Dr Mashelkar and his ilk will unwittingly misguide thousands upon thousands of youth, because they don't see the nightmare that is hidden in the dream. So our demographic disaster becomes a demographic dividend. Our students rush to first-world destinations for education, employment, emigration or some a combination of all three. This has spawned an entire industry based on corruption, cheating, fraud… So, our 'students' finish up being beaten by hoodlums, or electronically tagged like stray cattle.

This is the generation that will soar and take India to its tryst with destiny, but most curiously and painfully, it will soon dawn on one that this generation's idea of India is divested from any interest in how majority of Indians live. It does not feel that there is anything obscene in building a $1 billion dollar home in a city, in which four crore people live in slums. For it, the idea of India does not extend beyond the Tatas taking over Jaguar, or the nation doing well in cricket. The angst about the staging of the Commonwealth Games is not seen when millions of tons of grains rot in granaries in a nation where more than 75 per cent of the population live on less than Rs20 per day. The heart that swells up with pride when the rupee got a symbol or when 'Slumdog Millionaire' wins an Oscar, goes cold when it actually sees a person from the slum.

Twenty-four year-old Reema Bhardwaj, who was nine months pregnant, died after she was denied admission at a government hospital in Ghaziabad. The baby could not be saved either.

Yet, it remains a country of paradoxes. Despite having the tag of being known as the destination for medical tourism, India has been apathetic, even callous, about the health needs of its' poor. Despite having cutting-edge medical technology, we appear to have scant regard for life. Reema could probably have been saved with timely treatment and more importantly, some humane behaviour in accordance with the sacred Hippocratic Oath.
One could argue that ideas like secularism is thriving considering that urban India spends more on Christmas than Diwali, and that malls in Delhi heralded-in a white Christmas last year with snow, elves, reindeers and trees studded with 400,000 Swarovski crystals! But real India will take another half a century to see Santa. Till then, the Chamars and Madigas will continue to be lynched alive, for daring to wear sandals or ride a scooter. We are still in denial that something like caste or heinous oppression based on it exists. While the Indian state would do anything to question the equation of casteism, with racism in international fora, the 'forward' castes among the generation text are willing to immolate themselves if there is a semblance of threat to the order decreed by Manu!

The Indian Republic is now a senior citizen and so is Dr Mashelkar. Does he care that a few months ago, Beebi Lumada, an Indian 'house-maid', was stranded at Muscat airport, having lost her passport. After five days at the airport, she turns delusional and dies of shock. Even when India plans to send a man to the moon, it could not send a man from its own embassy to help a poor woman in distress. The idea of India in the present, is one which curiously does not include most Indians. It is the idea of India, without the Gokul Singh Gonds and the Beebi Lumadas.

The Mashelkars of this world will only make sense when such injustices stop being associated with the idea of India. When the Indian state is not constrained to charge Dr Binayak Sen and Arundhati Roy with sedition. Until then, the Mashelkars and Kakodkars of Goa will continue to live their delusions of grandeur in their ivory towers.

What is the good of knowledge if our youth are reduced to so many programmed, computerised robots?






Ever since I moved to Goa, I have had my mornings ruined by something I call the 'Bizarre Birthday Boy Bonanza'. Open your morning paper and you are confronted with page after page filled with ads wishing some leader or the other, a happy birthday. We are informed that 'his birth was a gift to his parents and the people of Goa', we are invited to admire his 'many achievements and astounding dedication to the people of Goa'. In bad verse and in worse prose, his virtues are extolled. The same face stares up at you replicated a dozen times across several pages.

Do the politicians in question actually imagine that the public takes this to be a genuine outpouring of love and affection? Do they think that such orchestrated antics buy them validity? That we believe that all these people madly love them to death and consider their birth a bigger event than the birth of the saviour?
In actual fact, the public is laughing its head off – mostly at the pug-ugly photos of the birthday boy plastered all over the papers. It's enough to put you off your breakfast. To my mind, even funnier were the over made up and air brushed pictures of a leading politician's daughter. If you can't bully them with displays of power, try to seduce them. We were told that she had displayed astounding signs of leadership while in school, that she spent her time bringing succor to the poor and the sick. That, but for the slight difference in age and looks, here was Mother Teresa herself. And they think we actually believe this stuff, written by PR agents with a very loose grasp of the English language.

Let's take a closer look at the people who have rushed into print to declare their admiration and love of Birthday Boy. Analysing the list will give you a perfect understand of exactly what interests intersect in the base of power and corruption. The list reveals the tangled web of favour trading and political equations – all out in the open, dressed up to attend a birthday party. There is business, big and small, local governance, and the local grass roots gang, also known as 'loyal supporters'.

The business houses proudly display their names. You will find 'ship building', 'industrial estate', and plenty of construction companies. If they have gone the distance to buy an ad, you can only imagine how much more money has been contributed in less public domains. Then there are the government servants who should be ashamed to display so clearly that they are mere tools in the hands of the local power man. Yet there they go – long lists of Panchayat members, and even Zilla Members. If the names of your panchayat members appear below reams of badly written praise for a known crook and tainted minister, I would suggest that you never vote for them again.

Then there is, of course, the aam admi. Entire families put down their names in long eager lists. And here lies what is wrong with the state of Goa. The long list is actually a list of the morally corrupt and sycophantic. It is these people – rushing forward to fawn in print – who have brought Goa to the state it is. There can be no corruption without a coterie. One can understand those with business and power equations at stake doing what it takes to defend their interests. But much worse is the moral bankruptcy that expresses open admiration for a man who has got where he has, by underhanded means. When Goan families feel the need to roll over and lick shoes in print, we should worry about the state of Goa.

Corruption is the big issue of the moment in Goa. As this goes into print Goan citizens are coming together to plan a mega march against corruption.

We have already seen what the boiling over of the common man's discontent can do in Egypt, and we can only hope for a tidal wave like that in Goa. Only a tidal wave can wash away the institutionalised, hardened structure of corruption that holds this state imprisoned.

While politicians must be held accountable and pay the price for what they have done to this state – equally must the ordinary citizen who allowed corruption to thrive, be held accountable. And in the lists of names of those who wish the corrupt a long life and happy days, we will find a starting point. If you recognise any of those names – tell them that they are not celebrating a birthday. They are celebrating the destruction of our state, and they should be ashamed.








Last week, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made the grave allegation that scams worth Rs 63,000 crore were unearthed in the Northeast, and said that it would approach both Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil seeking a thorough inquiry into the issue. Releasing reports titled ''Congress governments' loot of the Northeast'' and ''Hydro Power Scam Arunachal — North East'', BJP President Nitin Gadkari said that strict action should be taken against all those found guilty. ''I will meet the President with the records. The leaders of the Opposition in the two Houses will meet the Prime Minister. We hope the government will order an inquiry in the interest of the country,'' said Gadkari. According to BJP leader Kirit Somaiya, ''hydropower projects in the Northeast are of Rs 400,000 crore. Kickbacks have been given per mega watt of projected capacity. Highly technical projects of crores of rupees have been given to new start-ups''.

These are very serious allegations that the BJP, as the principal opposition party of the country, has levelled against the ruling Congress, and the ruling party must disprove the allegations or let a thorough inquiry be conducted so that the truths and falses could be brought to light. The Congress cannot just rubbish these allegations and castigate the BJP for having launched a conspiracy of sorts. When it comes to the Northeast, special mention must be made of Assam, considered as one of the most corrupt States of the Union. The CAG report on the State says that ''non-regularization of excess expenditure led to uncontrolled financial expenditure and breach of Constitutional provisions in the last three financial years''. The report adds: ''...Failure/non-implementation of the existing control mechanism not only led to huge excess expenditure over Budget provisions but also violated the codal provisions... The reasons for excess expenditure over the Budget provisions, however, were not audited.''

So what does Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who is never tired of blowing his transparency trumpet, have to say? The case of monstrosity of corruption pertains not just to the State of Assam in the corruption-hit Northeast but to the rest of the region too. What this development-starved region awaits is a mass crusade against the loot of the masses by their own elected representatives in cahoots with their bureaucratic cronies. Look at Egypt: how a mass, but peaceful revolution, transformed the entire face of the simmering grievance against authoritarianism and how the people's desire was ventilated in such an incredibly non-violent fashion. We feel that the Northeast, hit by militancy resulting chiefly from corruption indulged in by so-called people's representatives that has led to underdevelopment, ought now to be witness to mass protests against misrule arising out of the sheer loot the public exchequer despite the loud cry that there is a functioning democracy in place. What worth is this democracy if it is not of the people, by the people and for the people? What worth is this much-vaunted democracy if the prime target of the so-called democrats, our very own elected representatives, is swindle of money meant for the development of the poorest of the poor? Does a democracy, in the real sense of the term, function this way — existing only for the ruling politicians and their bureaucratic yes-men? Must not this system, if it were to be democratic, serve the aam aadmi first? Where have we come to after all these years, after those selfless sacrifices made by our founding fathers?






Latest data released by the CSO (Central Statistical Organization) showed the farm sector would grow by 5.4 per cent in 2010-11, which, in turn, is definitely a smarter result compared to 2009-10 when the same grew by 0.4 per cent that was a matter of concern for every Indian. The overall estimated growth (8.6 per cent in 2010-11), fastest since 2008, would, thus, be led by the farm sector duly reinforced by positive support from the services and manufacturing sector. As compared to the growth by 8 per cent in 2009-10, the assessment now (2010-11) is that the services sector would grow by 9.6 per cent while the manufacturing sector would grow by 8 per cent. The estimated growth, if materialises, would definitely be better as the inflation factor has already been affecting the growth process of the economy.

A close look at the sector-wise assessment done would reflect that while the agriculture (inclusive of forestry and fishing) would grow by 5.4 per cent in 2010-11 as compared to a disastrous 0.4 per cent recorded in 2009-10, mining and quarrying would grow by 6.2 per cent (down from 6.9 per cent a year ago); electricity, gas and water supply sector would grow by 5.1 per cent (down from previous 6.4 per cent); construction is to grow by 8 per cent (up from 7 per cent achieved previously); trade, hotels, transport and communication sector would grow by 11 per cent (up from previous year's 9.7 per cent); financing, insurance, real estate and business services wing set to grow by 10.6 per cent (up from last year's 9.2 per cent); and community, social and personal services' growth would be in the order of 5.7 per cent (a dip from last year's satisfactory performance at 11.8 per cent).  

As per the estimates made for the farm sector by the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, increase in production of food grains and oilseeds would be in the order of 6.5 per cent and 11.9 per cent, respectively as compared against the previous year. Production of cotton and sugarcane would go up by 41.2 per cent and 15.2 per cent in 2010-11 while that for fruits and vegetables would grow by 4.1 per cent and 3.8 per cent respectively. No doubt, at this juncture the assessments are noted with satisfaction to a significant extent as the overall situation on the food front has been, in the recent past especially, far from being satisfactory with food prices ruling high all over the globe. Where is the journey towards feeding the world population at a reasonable price? Food prices are going up on a continuous basis – demonstrations as well as social unrest have badly affected a number of capital cities.

Are we not really entering a difficult stage, globally and nationally, in agriculture? In Sri Lanka 32 per cent of country's food requirements is met simply by imports for which the annual expenditure is 100 billion Sri Lankan rupees. In Indonesia rice imports reached 1.33 million tonnes in 2010 to maintain stockpiles and help ease consumer prices. The main consideration for importing the rice was the failure to meet production targets due to natural disasters, climate anomalies and pest attacks. Even though the government is very optimistic about maintaining rice self-sufficiency, as was accomplished in 2008-2009, it is not easy to maintain stable rice production. Success of food production is highly dependent on many factors such as land size, farming inputs, technology, infrastructure and financing, as well as product marketing and farmer institutions. Instability and problems with rice production, marketing and distribution are typical issues in Indonesia's agricultural development. Many new challenges need to be properly addressed for the developing economies in a systematically time-bound manner to ultimately reach the end of the tunnel. Of course, side by side, it is good to note that seven strategies for agricultural revitalization regarding farmland, seed provision, infrastructure, human resources, financing, farmer institutions and industrial development related to agricultural sector have been formulated on this score.

No doubt, in the developing world progress in revitalizing each sector has come, but it indeed is not enough. Rural industrial sector's development related to activities like agricultural product processing is also moving at a snail's pace. Many agricultural products have been traded and exported in raw or semi-processed form with low value additions. In fact most of the developing world's commodity exports (e.g. crude palm oil, sheet rubber, dried coffee and cocoa) remain confined to a handful of commodities and as such any downward tilt in the import demand for such commodities virtually throws such exports front out of gear! That is why one of the future challenges of industrial development will be to produce various refined agricultural products of higher quality and value additions. More meaningful (with long term vision) incentives should be offered to help boost the rural industrial sector.

More new breakthroughs in each developmental issue should be designed and proposed. For example: instead of granting land, the government could offer different types of support programmes for farming households who do not receive land. Many types of rural industries, livestock, handicraft and food processing can be explored as alternatives. Next, it is a well known fact that regarding revitalization of seeds, some critical problems emerge as farmers are still facing difficulties in accessing high-quality seeds and the reality is that high seed prices from the monopolies or oligopolies of multi-national and national corporations have been hampering farmers' progress.

That is, optimum use of local resources (high-quality seeds and environmental-friendly bio-fertilizers, insecticides and the like) will also benefit local farmers. For the solution of the seed problem, there should be research and development of high-quality, mass-produced seeds and sold at reasonable prices and be quickly transferred from lab to land. Infrastructure bottlenecks create hindrances at every stage, water access being the most crucial factor. As water shortage is the main problem amid the global climate change, water should be managed and used wisely as poor maintenance of irrigation facilities still occurs in many places. Central and local governments need to invest appropriately in irrigation facilities keeping in view the long-term objectives. Proper development of existing rural markets and roads will also support various activities of farming households (input provision and product marketing). It may be reiterated that quality improvement of human resources can be done through well-organized agricultural extensions, formation and activation of farmer groups and associations providing greater opportunity for them to participate in decision-making processes. The practice of extending various credit schemes for farming activities involving farmer groups have already been located as a success and the micro-financing efforts must move at a greater pace for such economies.  

Linkage and integration among small-scale producers, producer cooperatives, local traders, processing industries and exporters deserve to be highly promoted. Actually, the need is there to ensure concrete support from the government level, which, in turn, could speed-up improvement in agricultural productivity. Better pricing policies will also improve farming households' income and employment scope. Significant improvements in productivity and commodity prices will directly determine such economies' food security and farmers' well-being, among others. Dwindling food stocks and rising prices reflect the reality – the very concern, which, in turn, must be given top priority. Tackling the threat of climate change and reducing yield gap are the crying needs, among others. Time is ripe for dealing firmly with the agricultural disarray.

A positive approach to agriculture and rural development essentially calls for: capacity building for farmer organizations, water user associations, herders associations, trade associations, land tenure security and redistribution (community based land reforms, land registration and tilting); building capacity of local government, reducing risk and vulnerability for farmers, nutrition and household food security interventions, rural finance plus off-farm rural work (through agro-industry, agricultural services, rural infrastructure).

Next week we shall talk about the impact of climate change on agricultural productivity and the MDGs.

Dr BK Mukhopadhyay

(The writer, a management economist, is an Associate Professor, NERIM, Guwahati )





It is interesting that Facebook and Twitter should contribute to the revolution in Egypt. That social networking is gaining popularity is not the point, nor is it that the younger generation is finding an outlet in the internet domain. The point is whether the new system of interaction — of reaching out to one another and sharing feelings for a common cause — has begun to revolutionize the way people think and act. A Facebook provocation has triggered the unprecedented uprising in the Arab world; perhaps the dictator in Mubarak has the remorse that he let his countrymen have unbridled access to the virtual world! What next? Could it be that people would prompt each other across the internet for public activism and change the existing public discourse? Could it be that the gift of freedom that the internet has come to be symbolic of, would challenge the epicentre of individual liberty — America, which has so long patronized totalitarian regimes to further its geopolitical interests, which has ignored the democracy aspirations of a whole gamut of people despite espousing the cause of democracy in other places, and which has, therefore, run counter to the very values it has otherwise stood for? Egypt's has been a classic case of the use of internet to tell the source of that freedom — America — that change could be anywhere if a freedom-loving people were to choose so.




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



On paper, President Obama's new $3.7 trillion budget is encouraging. It makes a number of tough choices to cut the deficit by a projected $1.1 trillion over 10 years, which is enough to prevent an uncontrolled explosion of debt in the next decade and, as a result, reduce the risk of a fiscal crisis.

The questions are whether its tough choices are also wise choices and whether it stands a chance in a Congress in which Republicans, who now dominate the House, are obsessed with making indiscriminate short-term cuts in programs they never liked anyway. The Republican cuts would eviscerate vital government functions while not having any lasting impact on the deficit.

What Mr. Obama's budget is most definitely not is a blueprint for dealing with the real long-term problems that feed the budget deficit: rising health care costs, an aging population and a refusal by lawmakers to face the inescapable need to raise taxes at some point. Rather, it defers those critical issues, in hopes, we assume, that both the economy and the political environment will improve in the future.

For the most part, Mr. Obama has managed to cut spending while preserving important government duties. That approach is in stark contrast to Congressional Republicans, who are determined to cut spending deeply, no matter the consequences.

A case in point: the Obama budget's main cut — $400 billion over 10 years — is the result of a five-year freeze in nonsecurity discretionary programs, a slice of the budget that contains programs that are central to the quality of American lives, including education, environment and financial regulation.

But the cuts are not haphazard. The budget boosts education spending by 11 percent over one year and retains the current maximum level of college Pell grants — up to $5,500 a year. To offset some of the costs, the budget would eliminate Pell grants for summer school and let interest accrue during school on federal loans for graduate students, rather than starting the interest meter after graduation.

Those are tough cutbacks, but, over all, the Pell grant program would continue to help close to nine million students. The Republican proposal would cut the Pell grant program by 15 percent this year and nearly half over the next two years.

The Obama budget also calls for spending on green energy programs — to be paid for, in part, by eliminating $46 billion in tax breaks for oil, gas and coal companies over the next decade. Republicans are determined not to raise any taxes, even though investing for the future and taming the deficit are impossible without more money.

The budget would also increase transportation spending by $242 billion over 10 years. It does not specifically call for an increased gas tax to cover the new costs, though it calls on Congress to come up with new revenues to offset the new spending. Republicans want to eliminate forward-looking programs like high-speed rail.

The budget is responsible in other ways. It would cap the value of itemized deductions for high-income taxpayers and use the savings to extend relief from the alternative minimum tax for three years so that the tax does not ensnare millions of middle- and upper-middle-income taxpayers for whom it was never intended. For nearly a decade, Congress has granted alternative minimum tax relief without paying for it.

House Republicans want to leave military spending out of their budget-cutting entirely, but Mr. Obama's budget reduces projected Pentagon spending by $78 billion over five years. If anything, Mr. Obama could safely have proposed cutting deeper, as suggested by his own bipartisan deficit panel.

The bill for the military is way too high, above cold-war peak levels, when this country had a superpower adversary. There's a point where the next military spending dollar does not make our society more secure, and it's a point we long ago passed.

Mr. Obama's budget also includes a responsible way to head off steep cuts in what Medicare pays doctors. It would postpone the cuts for two years and offset that added cost with $62 billion in other health care savings, like expanding the use of cheaper generic drugs.





The Roman Catholic hierarchy in this country has promised accountability and justice for children sexually abused by priests. We fear it has a long way to go. A new inquiry has found that nearly a decade after the scandal engulfed the American church, children are still in peril and some leaders are still stonewalling investigations.

A grand-jury report released Feb. 10 accused three priests and a teacher in the Philadelphia Archdiocese of raping two young boys in the 1990s. It also accused a senior church official of knowingly endangering thousands of children by shielding accused priests for years.

The Philadelphia district attorney brought sexual-assault charges against the priests and teacher, and charged Msgr. William Lynn, with two counts of child endangerment, apparently the first time a church leader has been criminally charged with covering up abuse.

Monsignor Lynn was secretary of the clergy under retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, responsible for investigating abuse allegations from 1992 to 2004. Instead, according to the grand jury, he shuffled credibly accused priests among unsuspecting parishes, putting "literally thousands of children at risk of sexual abuse."

The report said at least three dozen accused priests remain in active ministry in the archdiocese, nearly all unidentified. The grand jury asked the archdiocese for its records on the accusations against those priests; months later, the archdiocese has not fully complied.

These are not the first accusations against the Philadelphia Archdiocese. A blistering grand-jury report in 2005 exposed the abuse of hundreds of children by more than 60 archdiocesan priests, lamenting that the church's cover-up had succeeded since the statute of limitations made it impossible to prosecute the predators.

The recent grand jury said it had no doubt that the scale of the crimes and the extent of the official cover-up went far beyond the cases of sodomy and rape it documented in horrifying detail. It cited continued institutional weaknesses that allowed such crimes to go undetected or unpunished — an obsession with secrecy, a concern for abusers over victims, the inherent conflict in having "victim assistance coordinators" who are supposed to help stricken families but who are church employees with divided loyalties.

The grand jury has implored the current leader of the archdiocese, Cardinal Justin Rigali, to fully cooperate with its investigation and institute reforms, beginning with opening its files on abuse accusations, swiftly removing credibly accused priests from ministry and financing truly independent investigations.

It also urged Pennsylvania to suspend for two years the civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims.

States across the country should do the same. There will be no justice or healing until all victims' voices are heard and the church finally shows true accountability.





New York's chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, is taking on the problem of money in judicial elections. At his urging, a state judicial board is proposing to bar more than 700 elected judges from hearing cases involving any lawyer or party who contributed $2,500 or more to the judge's campaign in the preceding two years.

The beauty of the proposed rule, which is scheduled to be announced on Tuesday in Judge Lippman's State of the Judiciary address, is that it will make the disqualification or recusal decision a routine, administrative matter.

The rule, which is expected to go into effect after a 60-day comment period, still needs some fine-tuning. As currently written, it would be easy for special interests to game the system by making contributions to judges they want to avoid in order to force their disqualification from hearing their cases. That should be addressed with a provision allowing opposing counsel to waive a judge's disqualification.

Thought also must be given to how to handle independent campaign expenditures on behalf of a judge's candidacy. These pose the same conflict issue as direct contributions to candidates.

Members of New York's highest court — the Court of Appeals, on which Judge Lippman presides — are chosen by a merit appointment system. Because of that, the state has been spared the multimillion-dollar judicial campaigns that have become all too common in states that elect their most powerful judges.

The money levels may be lower in New York, but the problem is still there. In races for the State Supreme Court, New York's highest trial court, about a third of the candidates spend more than $75,000 on their campaigns — with many contributors giving $2,500 or more. In a 2008 Democratic primary for Surrogate's Court in Manhattan, the three candidates together raised nearly $900,000.

The new rule is an important step toward ensuring the impartiality of New York's courts. Judge Lippman cannot stop here. He should also push for a bar on judges doling out receiverships and other lucrative court assignments to favored donors.








Early in Eugene Jarecki's documentary, "Reagan," you hear the voice of Ronald Reagan saying, "Someday it might be worthwhile to find out how images are created — and even more worthwhile to learn how false images come into being."

Indeed. The image that many, perhaps most, Americans have of the nation's 40th president is largely manufactured. Reagan has become this larger-than-life figure who all but single-handedly won the cold war, planted the Republican Party's tax-cut philosophy in the resistant soil of the liberal Democrats and is the touchstone for all things allegedly conservative, no matter how wacky or extreme.

Mr. Jarecki's documentary does a first-rate job of respectfully separating the real from the mythical, the significant from the nonsense. The truth is that Ronald Reagan, at one time or another, was all over the political map. Early on, he was a liberal Democrat and admirer of Franklin Roosevelt. Reagan's family received much-needed help from the New Deal during the Depression.

It is well known that Reagan was the head of the Screen Actors Guild. And though he was staunchly anti-Communist, he did not finger anyone when he appeared before the rabid House Un-American Activities Committee. But Mr. Jarecki learned that at the height of the Red Scare, Reagan had been secretly cooperating with the F.B.I. He was registered officially as Informant T-10.

No less than other public figures, Reagan was complicated. He was neither the empty suit that his greatest detractors would have you believe nor the conservative god of his most slavish admirers. He was a tax-cutter who raised taxes in seven of the eight years of his presidency. He was a budget-cutter who nearly tripled the federal budget deficit.

The biggest problem with Reagan, as we look back at his presidency in search of clues that might help us meet the challenges of today, is that he presented himself — and has since been presented by his admirers — as someone committed to the best interests of ordinary, hard-working Americans. Yet his economic policies, Reaganomics, dealt a body blow to that very constituency.

Mark Hertsgaard, the author of "On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency," says in the film, "You cannot be fair in your historical evaluation of Ronald Reagan if you don't look at the terrible damage his economic policies did to this country."

Paul Volcker, who served as chairman of the Federal Reserve during most of the Reagan years, commented in the film about the economist Arthur Laffer's famous curve, which, incredibly, became a cornerstone of national economic policy. "The Laffer Curve," said Mr. Volcker, "was presented as an intellectual support for the idea that reducing taxes would produce more revenues, and that was, I think, considered by most people a pretty extreme interpretation of what would happen."

Toward the end of his comment, the former Fed chairman chuckled as if still amused by the idea that this was ever taken seriously.

What we get with Reagan are a series of disconnects and contradictions that have led us to a situation in which a president widely hailed as a hero of the working class set in motion policies that have been mind-bogglingly beneficial to the wealthy and devastating to working people and the poor.

"It is important that we stop idolizing our public figures, lionizing them," said Mr. Jarecki, in an interview. He views Reagan as a gifted individual and does not give short shrift in the film to Reagan's successes in his dealings with the Soviet Union and other elements of what Mr. Jarecki called "the positive side of Ronald Reagan." The film also has interviews with many Reagan stalwarts, including James Baker and George Shultz.

But when all is said and done, it is the economic revolution that gained steam during the Reagan years and is still squeezing the life out of the middle class and the poor that is Reagan's most significant legacy. A phony version of that legacy is relentlessly promoted by right-wingers who shamelessly pursue the interests of the very rich while invoking the Reagan brand to give the impression that they are in fact the champions of ordinary people.

Reagan's son, Ron, says in the film that he believes his father "was vulnerable to the idea that poor people were somehow poor because it was their fault." A clip is then shown of Ronald Reagan referring to, "The homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice."

"Reagan," an HBO documentary, will be shown on Presidents' Day to U.S. military personnel on the American Forces Network. It will be available soon in theaters and home video release. It is an important corrective to the fantasy of Reagan that has gotten such a purchase on American consciousness.

Roger Cohen is off today.






Tyler Cowen's e-book, "The Great Stagnation," has become the most debated nonfiction book so far this year. Cowen's core point is that up until sometime around 1974, the American economy was able to experience awesome growth by harvesting low-hanging fruit. There was cheap land to be exploited. There was the tremendous increase in education levels during the postwar world. There were technological revolutions occasioned by the spread of electricity, plastics and the car.

But that low-hanging fruit is exhausted, Cowen continues, and since 1974, the United States has experienced slower growth, slower increases in median income, slower job creation, slower productivity gains, slower life-expectancy improvements and slower rates of technological change.

Cowen's data on these slowdowns are compelling and have withstood the scrutiny of the online reviewers. He argues that our society, for the moment, has hit a technological plateau.

But his evidence can also be used to tell a related story. It could be that the nature of technological change isn't causing the slowdown but a shift in values. It could be that in an industrial economy people develop a materialist mind-set and believe that improving their income is the same thing as improving their quality of life. But in an affluent information-driven world, people embrace the postmaterialist mind-set. They realize they can improve their quality of life without actually producing more wealth.

For example, imagine a man we'll call Sam, who was born in 1900 and died in 1974. Sam entered a world of iceboxes, horse-drawn buggies and, commonly, outhouses. He died in a world of air-conditioning, Chevy Camaros and Moon landings. His life was defined by dramatic material changes, and Sam worked feverishly hard to build a company that sold brake systems. Sam wasn't the most refined person, but he understood that if he wanted to create a secure life for his family he had to create wealth.

Sam's grandson, Jared, was born in 1978. Jared wasn't really drawn to the brake-systems business, which was withering in America. He works at a company that organizes conferences. He brings together fascinating speakers for lifelong learning. He writes a blog on modern art and takes his family on vacations that are more daring and exciting than any Sam experienced.

Jared lives a much more intellectually diverse life than Sam. He loves Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and his iPhone apps. But many of these things are produced outside the conventional monetized economy. Most of the products are produced by people working for free. They cost nothing to consume.

They don't even create many jobs. As Cowen notes in his book, the automobile industry produced millions of jobs, but Facebook employs about 2,000, Twitter 300 and eBay about 17,000. It takes only 14,000 employees to make and sell iPods, but that device also eliminates jobs for those people who make and distribute CDs, potentially leading to net job losses.

In other words, as Cowen makes clear, many of this era's technological breakthroughs produce enormous happiness gains, but surprisingly little additional economic activity.

Jared's other priorities also produce high quality-of-life gains without huge material and productivity improvements. He practically defines himself by what university he went to. Universities now have nicer dorms, gyms and dining facilities. These improvements have not led to huge increases in educational output.

Jared is very health conscious and part of a generation that has spent much more on health care. This may help Jared lead a vibrant life in retirement. But these investments have had surprisingly little effect on productivity or even longevity.

For Sam, income and living standards were synonymous. But for Jared, wealth and living standards have diverged. He is more interested in the latter than the former. This means that Jared has some rich and meaningful experiences, but it has also led to problems. Every few months, new gizmos come out. Jared feels his life is getting better. Because he doesn't fully grasp the increasingly important distinction between wealth and standard of living, he has the impression that he is also getting richer. As a result, he lives beyond his means. As Cowen notes, many of our recent difficulties stem from the fact that many Americans think they are richer than they are.

Jared is also providing much less opportunity for those down the income scale than his grandfather did. Sam was more hardhearted, yet his feverish materialism created more jobs.

Jared worries about that. He also worries that the Chinese and others have a material drive that he and his cohort lacks. But he's not changing. For the past few decades, Americans have devoted more of their energies to postmaterial arenas and less and less, for better and worse, to the sheer production of wealth.

During these years, commencement speakers have urged students to seek meaning and not money. Many people, it turns out, were listening.






ARCHAEOLOGISTS finished a remarkable dig last summer in East London. Among their finds were seven earthenware knobs, physical evidence of a near perfect 16th-century experiment into the link between commerce and culture.

When William Shakespeare was growing up in rural Stratford-upon-Avon, carpenters at that East London site were erecting the walls of what some consider the first theater built in Europe since antiquity. Other playhouses soon rose around the city. Those who paid could enter and see the play; those who didn't, couldn't.

By the time Shakespeare turned to writing, these "cultural paywalls" were abundant in London: workers holding moneyboxes (bearing the distinctive knobs found by the archaeologists) stood at the entrances of a growing number of outdoor playhouses, collecting a penny for admission.

At day's end, actors and theater owners smashed open the earthenware moneyboxes and divided the daily take. From those proceeds dramatists were paid to write new plays. For the first time ever, it was possible to earn a living writing for the public.

Money changed everything. Almost overnight, a wave of brilliant dramatists emerged, including Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson and Shakespeare. These talents and many comparable and lesser lights had found the opportunity, the conditions and the money to pursue their craft.

The stark findings of this experiment? As with much else, literary talent often remains undeveloped unless markets reward it.

At the height of the Enlightenment, the cultural paywall went virtual, when British authors gained the right to create legally protected markets for their works. In 1709, expressly to combat book piracy and "for the encouragement of learned men to compose and write useful books," Britain enacted the world's first copyright law. Eighty years later, America's founders expanded on this, giving Congress the authority to enact copyright laws "to promote the progress of science and useful arts."

Copyright, now powerfully linking authors, the printing press (and later technologies) and the market, would prove to be one of history's great public policy successes. Books would attract investment of authors' labor and publishers' capital on a colossal scale, and our libraries and bookstores would fill with works that educated and entertained a thriving nation. Our poets, playwrights, novelists, historians, biographers and musicians were all underwritten by copyright's markets.

Yet today, these markets are unraveling. Piracy is a lucrative, innovative, global enterprise. Clusters of overseas servers can undermine much of the commercial basis for creative work around the world, offering users the speedy, secret transmission of stolen goods.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on Wednesday on "targeting Web sites dedicated to stealing American intellectual property," and the White House has pledged to propose a new law to address rampant piracy within the year. But writers and other creative workers should still be worried.

The rise of the Internet has led to a view among many users and Web companies that copyright is a relic, suited only to the needs of out-of-step corporate behemoths. Just consider the dedicated "file-sharers" — actually, traffickers in stolen music movies and, increasingly, books — who transmit and receive copyrighted material without the slightest guilt.

They are abetted by a handful of law professors and other experts who have made careers of fashioning counterintuitive arguments holding that copyright impedes creativity and progress. Their theory is that if we severely weaken copyright protections, innovation will truly flourish. It's a seductive thought, but it ignores centuries of scientific and technological progress based on the principle that a creative person should have some assurance of being rewarded for his innovative work.

Certainly there's a place for free creative work online, but that cannot be the end of it. A rich culture demands contributions from authors and artists who devote thousands of hours to a work and a lifetime to their craft. Since the Enlightenment, Western societies have been lulled into a belief that progress is inevitable. It never has been. It's the result of abiding by rules that were carefully constructed and practices that were begun by people living in the long shadow of the Dark Ages. We tamper with those rules at our peril.

Last July, a small audience gathered at that London archaeological dig to hear two actors read from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the place of its debut, where theater's most valuable walls once stood. While the foundations of the Theater (as it was known) remained, the walls themselves did not. When Shakespeare's company lost its lease, the members dismantled the Theater's timber frame and moved the walls to a new site across the Thames, naming their new playhouse the Globe. Shakespeare's paywall traveled with him.

The Globe would later burn down (a cannon fired during a performance of "Henry VIII" touched off the blaze) and was quickly rebuilt. Its final end came in the mid-17th century, at the outset of a bloody civil war, when authorities ordered the walls pulled down. The regime wasn't motivated by ideals of open access or illusions of speeding progress. They simply wanted to silence the dramatists, who expressed a wide range of unsettling thoughts to paying audiences within.

The experiment was over. Dramatists' ties to commerce were severed, and the greatest explosion of playwriting talent the modern world has ever seen ended. Just like that.

Scott Turow, a novelist, is the president of the Authors Guild. Paul Aiken is its executive director. James Shapiro, a member of the guild's board, teaches Shakespeare at Columbia.






EVER since Joan Didion's book "The Year of Magical Thinking" began its lengthy run as a bestseller in 2005, a number of first-person accounts of losing a husband have been published. Among them were Kate Braestrup's "Here If You Need Me," Anne Roiphe's "Epilogue" and Kay Redfield Jamison's "Nothing Was the Same." This week, they are being joined by Joyce Carol Oates's "A Widow's Story," which recounts the death of her 77-year old husband, Raymond Smith, from complications following pneumonia in 2008. While these memoirs are often moving, they are also highly subjective snapshots that don't teach us much about how we typically grieve, nor more importantly, for how long.

In the past decade, social scientists with unprecedented access to large groups of widows and widowers have learned that, as individual an experience as grief may be, there are specific patterns to its intensity and duration that are arguably more helpful in guiding the bereaved in what to expect. They have found that most older people who lose spouses from natural causes recover much more quickly than we have come to expect. In fact, for many, acute grief tends to lift well within six months after the loss.

This discovery and subsequent work in the field has been driven primarily by George Bonanno, a clinical psychologist at Teachers College, Columbia University. Before he began his research, few bereavement studies had ever looked at what percentage of widows and widowers recovered quickly, and what percentage were still mired in sadness years later. And none had managed to evaluate the respondents before their loss to get a sense of their overall emotional well-being.

But by tapping into an existing, long-term survey called the Changing Lives of Older Couples Study, done at the University of Michigan, Mr. Bonanno was able to obtain baseline measurements of more than 1,000 married individuals. Participants in the study who subsequently lost a spouse were then invited for follow-up interviews at intervals of 6, 18 and 48 months after the death.

The single largest group — about 50 percent — showed very little sign of shock, despair, anxiety or intrusive thoughts (the hallmark symptoms of acute grief) even six months after their loss. Those subjects were also screened for lethargy, sleeplessness, inability to experience pleasure and problems in appetite — the classic symptoms of clinical depression — and came up clean on those as well. That didn't mean that they didn't still miss their spouses, but that they had returned to somewhat normal functioning, contradicting the popular maxim of widowhood that "the second year is harder than the first."

Mr. Bonanno summarized the surprising phenomenon in a 2004 article in the American Psychologist: "Resilience to the unsettling effects of interpersonal loss is not rare but relatively common, does not appear to indicate pathology but rather healthy adjustment, and does not lead to delayed grief reactions."

As for the remaining participants, about 15 percent exhibited grief symptoms that were moderately high at 6 months but almost completely gone by 18 months. For another 10 percent, those who were still having problems at 18 and 48 months, grief had become chronic.

There were two additional groups that had never been considered in the literature: people who were depressed before and after their loss whose troubles seemed to be a pre-existing condition (about 10 percent), and people whose depression improved following the loss (also about 10 percent), suggesting that the death of a spouse actually alleviated stress.

Loss is forever, but thankfully, acute grief is not. Yet we rarely come across books (or plays or movies) about women who begin to stabilize after six months and start dating after a year or so because, perhaps, that narrative conflicts with our romantic fantasies that each of us is meant to spend our time on earth with only one soul mate. Ms. Didion's situation was highly unusual, with her husband's death compounded by her daughter's fatal illness, but Ms. Oates's followed the more common trajectory, and in 2009, she remarried, although that event is not mentioned in her book.

When Mr. Bonanno published his findings, they were initially met with disbelief, along with criticism that his sample had simply not included the worst cases. But he has since replicated the results in other data sets of bereaved individuals and gradually, his trajectories have become the standard among clinical researchers who measure how people respond to loss compared to the statistical norms. Perhaps we will begin to update our own popular notions about grief as well.

Ruth Davis Konigsberg is the author of "The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss."







You know, of course, that the United States government has a huge debt — and it's rising.


But did you know that your "per-person" share of the national debt already amounts to $45,300?


Congress has a "legal debt limit" of $14.29 trillion. But since the non-limiting limit is expected to be reached in March — or, certainly, no later than May — what is Congress planning to do?


Will it cut spending — or keep on spending and just vote to raise the meaningless debt limit once again?


Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said failure to raise the debt limit would be "catastrophic" and would mean default by the United States. He says default would create in effect a "long-lasting tax on all Americans and all American businesses," killing millions of jobs.


But won't increasing the debt risk catastrophe? We haven't created jobs with deficit spending of the past few years. Why would more of the same help?


In the debate on what path is more apt to avert disaster, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner sensibly came down on the side of budget cuts. He said, "The American people will not stand for such an increase [in the national debt] unless it is accompanied by meaningful action by the president and Congress to cut spending and end the job-killing spending binge in Washington."


But perhaps you see "the handwriting on the wall" — in more red ink: The debt limit almost certainly will be raised, and Republicans will try to force Democrats to agree on some future — but probably inadequate — spending cuts.


Well, what do you, as an American taxpayer, think of all this?


Do you believe Democrats in Congress and President Barack Obama are responsibly facing their responsibilities? Do you think Republicans in Congress are boxed in by the threat that if they don't go along with raising the national debt limit, they will be blamed for harming the economy?


Our leaders have us in a terrible mess. There is no quick cure. But don't you believe it is time — really past time — for the president and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to begin to face financial facts and cut our excessive spending?







A home fire on Maude Street in Chattanooga was fatal for 14-month-old Destiny Jackson and critically burned her brother, Antonio, and their mother's best friend, Brandy Curry, who was baby-sitting while the mother was at work.

Fire claimed another life, that of Carla Nolan, on Ely Road about an hour later.

Quite a different tragedy took place while two University of Florida students, 20-year-old Grant Lockenbach and 18-year-old Michael Pirie, were exploring Ellison's Cave in nearby Walker County, Ga.

They were with some other students when some equipment fell in a deep drop. An attempt to retrieve it went awry, and the two apparently became stuck in a freezing waterfall. They suffered hypothermia. When would-be rescuers reached them, it was too late to save them.

Life is precious. Untimely deaths in accidents are especially painful.






Two deadly tragedies were perpetrated by evil men on the other side of the world this past weekend. Probably none of us knew any of the victims. But humane Americans were shocked nonetheless by the murders of many human beings in Afghanistan and Iraq.


We recall the words of famed English writer John Donne (1572-1631), who wrote poignantly: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." We may recall those words because noted American writer Ernest Hemingway chose some of them for the title of his famed Spanish Civil War novel, "For Whom the Bell Tolls."


At any rate, we are, indeed, "involved in mankind" in troubled parts of the world.


One of our current frustrating involvements has American troops fighting terrorists in Afghanistan. Last Saturday, Taliban insurgents wearing explosives-laden vests attacked an Afghan police headquarters, fired automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades — then blew themselves up. They killed at least 21 people and wounded dozens of others indiscriminately!


In a separate horror, north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of Shiite pilgrims — killing 36 people.


Who, indeed, knows "for whom the bell tolls" — when, and where and why?


The Iraq tragedy occurred among people visiting a noted mosque in Samarra, north of Baghdad.


Some Americans, though unfamiliar with the geography of Iraq, and perhaps not familiar with English writer William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), may recall his retelling of an ancient story of a man who encountered a woman he recognized as Death, in a Baghdad market. The man was so frightened, he mounted a horse to flee Baghdad — going to Samarra.


Asked why she had made a threatening gesture to the man, "Death" responded that she had meant no threat: "I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."


In real life — and tragically in real death — Samarra was the site of the suicide bombing in Iraq on Saturday. The bomber committed his savage act in the midst of a crowd of Shiite pilgrims who had traveled to the noted al-Askari mosque. Dozens were injured, besides those who died. Some may recall the shrine's golden dome, which was destroyed in a 2006 bombing, and is being rebuilt.


These latest attacks remind us of man's sometimes lethal inhumanity to man.







With our president, Congress, governors, state legislatures, local governments and many individuals facing public or personal financial problems, you surely noted the story on the front of Sunday's Times Free Press about how Mayor David Pennington of nearby Dalton, Ga., has faced his government's troubles.


Pennington isn't in public office for the salary. It's only $7,000 a year, and he donates that to Dalton State College. His other job is an insurance business.


But his city and his fellow residents of "the carpet capital of the world" have faced tough times economically. "I knew one of our problems is that we are taxed to death," the mayor said. So over the past few years, he led his City Council to cut spending by millions of dollars!


It certainly wasn't easy, or popular with some. Spending cuts rarely are. It meant, for example, eliminating dozens of city jobs. But Dalton's fiscal picture is brighter today.


Some people run for office to be popular, to have a job and so forth. But some run, are elected and then really serve by doing a responsible job for the people.


You can judge in which category Dalton's mayor fits.








Last Wednesday, we ran a story on our front page on a plan of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan to arm thousands of village recruits as the latest tactic in the decade-long war with the Taliban. The story originated with the Financial Times of London. We reported what that institution wrote from an interview with Gen. David Petraeus, along with our own background. That background we added, without any comment or editorial amplification, was that the project is similar to Turkey's own "village guard" system launched in the early 1980s to battle the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

The next day, our editor received the following email:

"Dear David Judson,

"My name is Belqis Omar, Media Advisor for ISAF Public Affairs Office in Kabul, Afghanistan. My colleagues came across an article which was released on your Daily News with wires. I was instructed to communicate Gen. Petraeus' reaction regarding this article: "This is nonsense. I've never mentioned the Turkish system, was not even aware of it, and never mentioned it to the FT, as the article below states. ALP is an Afghan system, conducted in accordance with Pres Karzai's explicit direction.

"Please make the appropriate changes in your article. Please let me know if you have any comments in this matter.

"With respect,

Belqis Omar

Senior Media Advisor

ISAF Public Affairs Office"

We responded to Ms. Omar, explaining that our story did not suggest the comparison was made by the FT. We added that it was ourselves who felt it was an important context to the news and would, accordingly, not be changing the story on our website. We did offer to make space available for anything on the matter Gen. Petraeus would like to say. Further, we offered to make a reporter available to interview the general or his designee to discuss the project in Afghanistan. The offer remains. But since our reply to Ms. Omar, we have heard nothing more from the general. So we do offer our opinion: His is an exceedingly foolish plan.

For Turkey's own village guard scheme is probably the closest comparable project to what we understand to be coming to Afghanistan. And the introduction of heavy firepower into the complex clan and feudal dynamics of Turkey's Southeast has proven a disaster. Our "Village Series," still on our website, explored how the selective dispensing of guns and money set village against village, family against family and escalated violence. The May 4, 2009, massacre in Mardin, in which people wearing snow masks attacked an engagement ceremony, opened fire and killed 44 people, including pregnant women and seven children, is another example of the pathologies that can be released with the creation of paramilitary regulars.

Village guards remain a bad idea for Turkey. It portends being an equally disastrous idea for Afghanistan. We remain open, of course, to arguments to the contrary.

The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.






Evaluating recent developments in Egypt and the Middle East on CNN Türk on Saturday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said "a common awareness that is outside the nation-state" was emerging in the region. Davutoğlu also characterized this as the "start of a historic turnover" in the Middle East which cannot be rolled back.

At first glance this appears an innocent enough remark given that he went on to stress the importance of democracy and the will of the people as this process unfolded. However, a deeper look at this remark may merit a different assessment of what he is saying.

It is clear that "a common awareness" is spreading across the Middle East which has the notion of "people power" at its heart. It is also clear that the driving force of this awareness is a demand for justice, equality and higher standards of living. From a secular perspective these are commendable views.

However, if one is to take Davutoğlu's remarks from the perspective of political Islam, it is clear that the hope is that this "awareness" will channel "the democratic will of the people" toward more Islamic regimes, which ultimately have less to do with the notion of a nation-state and more to do with the idea of international Islamic unity.

This, at any rate, is Iran's open desire judging by the statements of the highest echelons of the mullah regime in that country concerning developments in Egypt.

If Davutoğlu is referring to the emergence of a common awareness which, while being above the notion of being a nation-state, has at its heart a call for justice and democracy in the universal sense, then there is no problem. If, on the other hand, he is talking of a common awareness that is emerging which has Islamic identity at its core, then there are problems in what he is saying.

The notion of "Dar al-Islam" ("the House of Islam"), like the notion of "Christendom" throughout much of European history, is a universal concept as far as orthodox Muslims are concerned. Therefore, it can be debated whether an Islamic outlook on life is in the final analysis compatible with the "nation-state," which ultimately divides the "House of Islam."

Assessing Davutoğlu's remarks in this light, one cannot help but wonder if this is what he suggests when referring to an "emerging awareness above the concept of nation-state." Given the closeness the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, feels toward Islamic regimes and groups, as well as some of its practices at home that upset Turkish nationalists and secularists alike, one is forced to ask this question.

Of course Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is using the nationalism card now on certain issues with a view to gaining the nationalist votes in the general elections to be held in June. But he has given enough signs during his political career that suggest his Islamic identity comes first while his Turkish identity comes second.

Put more bluntly, it is not inconceivable, given this backdrop, that what Davutoğlu meant in his remarks to CNN Türk was that a common Islamic awareness is emerging in the region which would unite people above their sense of belonging to a specific nation-state.

If this is indeed so, and we still give him the benefit of the doubt since it could be that this is not what he meant at all, then it is clear that he is misreading developments in the region.

If we take the case of Egypt, for example, the sense of being "Egyptian" was much more apparent among the anti-Mubarak protestors than the notion of being Muslim. One cannot remember how many times one heard the remark, "Today I am proud to be Egyptian," from jubilant demonstrators after Hosni Mubarak announced his resignation.

Neither was the sense of solidarity displayed by Egyptians since Jan. 25 based specifically on an Islamic awareness. The reason for this we think is that Egyptians – the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims – are highly aware of their religion anyway, which is intertwined with their national identity.

We will, as mentioned, give Davutoğlu the benefit of the doubt and assume that what he meant is that a common secular democratic awareness is on the rise in the region, and this is what cannot be rolled back.

But he must understand in return that given the AKP's political outlook, which is based on an Islamic worldview, any remark emanating from the government, such as his words to CNN Türk cited above, cannot be taken at face value.







The Turkish Foreign Ministry, which has gradually been transformed into a puppet master's election office, is aiming for "zero problems with neighbors" but is failing to attain even friendly relations with northern Cyprus.

The reason is that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, sees Turkish Cypriots as a bunch of people whose political culture can be transformed into that of its own. The AKP pours money into the northern Cyprus, builds mosques everywhere but has somehow been unable to "tame" Turkish Cypriots!

The most sensible member of the AKP Cabinet, Minister Cemil Çiçek, was affected by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's insult of seeing northern Cyprus as a "servant girl."

I cannot decide what it is? Is he a minister of the Republic of Turkey or a governor of a colony in northern Cyprus?

I will make a summary of a news article today and then share quotes from Erdoğan and Mehmet Ali Talat, the former northern Cypriot president.

The news story:

"Police led a raid on the house of Soner Yalçın, the daily Hürriyet columnist and Oda TV founder, early in the morning. Four people were detained as part of the ongoing 'Ergenekon investigation.' The police search was investigating possible membership in the Ergenekon terror organization and provoking people to hatred and enmity. The police reportedly had a search warrant for other Oda TV managers as well. Regarding the police search in Yalçın's house, Ergenekon detainee and former daily Cumhuriyet columnist Mustafa Balbay said: 'We have prepared a list of the next detainees in line. Yalçın was on top of the list. If this is the way of exercising your profession, this is inevitable, we thought. I do not want to reveal others on the list.'"

Republic of Turkey Prime Minister Erdoğan, meanwhile, said: "Fear is not in our politics. There are no efforts at artificial threats, rumors or artificial fears in our policy to survive."

Former president of northern Cyprus, Mehmet Ali Talat said:

"We have a difference of style with Turkey. People in northern Cyprus criticize each other, but never insult each other. In Turkey, this is being done, however. They'll get used to our style of communication. Provocateurs are only warned in northern Cyprus unless they apply violence, nothing else is done against them. In Turkey, provocateurs are detained or suppressed or forced to remain silent. As the world is heading toward broader democracy, we cannot narrow our sphere of democracy."

He is absolutely right!

When the prime minister ordered investigations against politicians who disagree with him, such as Süheyl Batum of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, a prosecutor immediately launched an investigation. The prime minister has also entrusted transformation to security officials who trample on workers merely checking out electricity poles.

On the other side, the former northern Cyprus president defended protestors although he disagrees with them!

It's being said that Egypt is taking Turkey as an example.

C'mon, my foot!

I'll also be glad if Turkey doesn't take after the "military tutelage" in Egypt as an example for a "civilian tutelage" in this country!

As this trend of "modeling" has just begun in the Middle East, is it not better for Turkey to take after northern Cyprus' culture of democracy?






They wouldn't do it for al-Qaeda, but they finally did it for themselves.

The young Egyptian protesters who overthrew the Mubarak regime on Saturday have accomplished what two generations of violent Islamist revolutionaries could not. And they did not just do it non-violently; they succeeded because they were non-violent.

They also succeeded because they had reasonable goals that could attract mass support: democracy, economic growth, social justice. This was in marked contrast to the goals of the Islamist radicals, which were so unrealistic that they never managed to get the support of the Arab masses.

Even to talk about "the masses" sounds anachronistic these days, but when we are talking about revolution it is still a relevant category. Revolutions, whether Islamist or democratic, win if they can gain mass support, and fail if they cannot. The Islamists have got a great deal of attention in the past two decades, and especially since Sept. 11, but as revolutionaries they are spectacular failures.

The problem was their analysis of what was wrong in the Arab world. Like most extremist versions of religion, Islamism is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Its diagnosis essentially says that the poverty, oppression and humiliation that Arabs experience are due to the fact that they are not obeying God's rules, especially about dress and behavior, and so God has turned His face from them.

The cure for all these ills, therefore, is precise and universal observance of all God's rules and injunctions, as interpreted in their peculiarly narrow and intolerant version of Islam. Men must grow their beards, for example, but they must not trim them. If only they get these and a thousand other details right, the Arabs will be rich, respected and victorious, for then God will be willing to help them.

The Islamists never talked about the Arabs, of course. They spoke only of "the Muslims," for their ideology rejected all distinctions of history, language and nationality: The ultimate objective was a unified "Caliphate" that erased all borders between Muslim countries. In practice, however, most of them were Arabs, although Arabs are only a quarter of the world's Muslims.

Osama bin Laden is a Saudi Arabian. His deputy, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, is an Egyptian. The great majority of the founders of al-Qaeda were Arabs. That makes sense, for it is the Arab world that has seen the greatest fall from former prosperity, lives under the worst dictatorships, and has suffered the greatest humiliations at the hands of the West and Israel.

From Turkey to Indonesia, most non-Arab Muslim countries enjoy reasonable economic growth, and some are full-blooded democracies. Their governments work on behalf of their own countries, not for Western interests, and they do not have to contend with an Israeli problem. If there was ever going to be mass support for the Islamist revolution, it was going to be in the Arab world.

Revolutionary movements often resort to terrorism: It's a cheap way of drawing attention to your ideas, and it may even lead to an uprising if the target regime responds by becoming even more oppressive. The first generation of Islamists thought they would trigger an uprising in Saudi Arabia when they seized control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979 and in Egypt when they assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

There were no mass uprisings in support of the Islamists either then or later, however, and the reason is that Arabs aren't fools. Many of them intensely disliked the regimes they lived under, but it took only one look at the Islamist fanatics, with their straggly beards and counter-rotating eyeballs, to know that they would not be an improvement.

A second generation of Islamists, spearheaded by al-Qaeda, pushed the strategy of making things worse to its logical conclusion. If driving Arab regimes into greater repression could not trigger pro-Islamist revolutions, maybe the masses could be radicalized by tricking the Americans into invading Muslim countries. That was the strategy behind the Sept. 11 attacks – but still the masses would not come out in the streets.

When they finally did come out in the past couple of months, first in Tunisia, then in Egypt and already in other Arab countries as well, it was not in support of the Islamist project at all. What the protesters were demanding was democracy and an end to corruption. Some of them may want a bigger presence for Islam in public life and others may not, but very few of them want revolutionary Islamism.

It is a testimony to the good sense of the Arabs, and a rebuke to the ignorant rabble of Western pundits and "analysts" who insisted that Arabs could not do democracy at all, or could only be given it at the point of Western guns.

It is equally a rebuke to bin Laden and his Islamist companions, hidden in their various caves. They were never going to sweep to power across the Arab world, let alone the broader Muslim world, and only the most impressionable and excitable observers ever thought they would.






Hosni Mubarak is a horrible dictator; a conniving weasel who has sold out the Palestinian cause. A tyrant who kept the autocracy regime in Egypt alive through U.S. grants. It is not likable, doesn't hold water.

Everyone is pleased by the incidents in Egypt. The removal of a dictator from his post has made everyone happy. From U.S. President Barack Obama to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, all are comfortable for lining up with the right side. To my surprise, how everyone is simmering against Mubarak.

 "We'll all die," Erdoğan initially said to ruin Mubarak's hope of resistance. Following Mubarak's resignation, he said, "Constitutional democracy should be founded in Egypt. The will of Egyptians should be reflected in the ballot box without stain." Therefore, he guided our fellow friends and brother Egyptians in the "right direction." It's good for him.

But of course, he didn't do any of this alone. Mr. Erdoğan, a key representative of democratic movements in the world, didn't forget to consult with other distinguished leaders on the Egyptian issue. After all, global democracy will rely on global consultations.

Two like-minded

Mr. Erdoğan met with democratic dictator of Syria, Asad, on Egypt a week ago. The two issued a joint statement reading that for the demands and expectations of Egyptian people and prevention of further pains, the sides will collaborate. That in particular was quite illuminating.

Before he departed for Syria, Erdoğan in another statement talked about what he spoke to this lovely dictator, Asad, about:

"During our eight years in government, we have always made assessments over democracy in meetings with Asad."

In other words, Asad and Erdoğan are hand-in-hand evaluating democracy and then invite Mubarak to lend an ear to his fellow countrymen.

Of course, the son of the late Hafez al Assad is not the only dictator who Erdoğan likes. Cutie dictator of Sudan, Omar al Bashir, who is accused of genocide by the International Criminal Court, is among Erdoğan's friends.

It is known that Erdoğan gave theological support to Bashir by saying, "A Muslim does not intend for genocide." In those days, citizens of Turkey felt proud and joy for experiencing democracy provided by a prime minister who practiced his religious accumulation of knowledge to support dictators in the international arena.

We even thought about selling arms to Bashir, who is the favorite dictator of our government although he allegedly committed genocide in his country. Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül, for instance, said three years ago, "There are some demands of Sudan; let's say, they are about arms, but we're still examining," believing that a Muslim cannot commit genocide.

Adorable dictators

Asad and Bashir are dear to the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. But of course, dictators are not the only ones who the governing party loves in that region. There is this Hamas, for instance; elected by the people and for this reason treated with respect. And we know that Hamas officials said they take after the al Bashir regime. We also remember Khalid Meshal, a Hamas leader, congratulating Bashir for gaining the trust of the Sudanese.

Al Bashir is a dictator, Erdoğan likes him.

Asad is a dictator, Erdoğan likes him.

Erdoğan likes Hamas for being elected by the people.

Asad and Bashir, not elected by the people, are liked by Hamas. Erdoğan and Hamas like each other, too. So much so that dictator Asad and non-dictator Erdoğan teach a democracy lesson to Dictator Mubarak.

This is the politics of conscience designed by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Erdoğan. Selecting dictators in the Middle East, it is. In other words, this is not different from the U.S. politics that supported Mubarak or from the French politics that supported Ben Ali in Tunisia until yesterday.

Don't confuse us with "conscience" rhetoric; line up with old colonialists who love to exploit dictators. This is where you belong, not where the people are.

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









An incident on a Lahore street in which three people died, two shot and one crushed to death, has sparked a chain of events that have increasing regional and international gravity. The Davis affair's latest casualty in purely human terms is our ex-foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, whose refusal to recognise Davis as a diplomat or accord him immunity ultimately cost him his job. Qureshi's principled stand earned him the disapproval of Hilary Clinton who wanted his head on a plate – and got it. The Foreign Ministry has been parked for the time being with Hina Rabbani Khar, something of an unknown quantity in terms of expertise in foreign affairs. Another casualty are the trilateral talks between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US which were scheduled for 23-24 February – but not anymore. These were part of an occasional but essential dialogue between three key players, and to find them on ice will do nothing to advance the quality of the already shaky communication between them. The reason for the 'postponement' is said to be because of 'political changes' in Pakistan. American officials in Pakistan have stated quite bluntly that there will be no high-level discourse until the resolution of the Davis affair.

And then there is the Silence of the Drones. It may be purely by coincidence or it may not, but there has not been an attack by drones anywhere in Pakistan since Davis was arrested. The last such attack was on January 23. Davis was arrested on January 27. Could it be that somebody in the US administration worked out that continuing the drone strikes was going to make a bad situation even worse? The highest-profile casualty may be the meeting between President Zardari and President Obama. It will be remembered that Obama made a commitment to inviting Mr Zardari to Washington after he chose not to visit Pakistan before or after his recent trip to India. A failure to offer a date to Zardari would be the diplomatic equivalent of having a shoe thrown at you. There were rumours, later denied, that our ambassador to Washington had been warned of a possible break in diplomatic relations unless Davis was released; and there are reports that President Obama made a brief call to President Zardari on Friday evening – itself an unusual event. The Davis affair is increasingly toxic. Perhaps Ms Rabbani will prove a little more compliant than Mr Qureshi. And perhaps America will think a little more carefully before sending its gunmen to do a diplomat's job.







An especially unsavoury war of words appears to have broken out within the PPP, following the cabinet changes announced a few days ago. Some PPP leaders have initiated a bitter attack on ex-foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, after he let the world know why he had to go. The attacks on Mr Qureshi are quite obviously ludicrous. The new Information Minister, Firdaus Ashiq Awan, has maintained that Qureshi developed differences with the party because he opposed arrest warrants for General Musharraf – a charge Mr Qureshi has denied – while other party 'loyalists', including former minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, have accused him of trying to blackmail the party. Perhaps, the most remarkable statement on this count comes from Federal Law Minister, Babar Awan, who has said no former minister should issue statements on the Raymond Davis affair, and that only the government has the right to do so. Mr Awan seems unfamiliar then with the concept of free expression or his party's avowed and now increasingly affected commitment to it. While some efforts seem to be on to patch things up, with Shah Mehmood Qureshi and President Zardari holding a meeting described as cordial, there seems to be a lack of recognition within the party that such conduct will only damage the PPP and its standing in the public eye. Rather than the airing of inflammatory statements, the matter needs to be sorted out calmly. Mr Qureshi has asked that he be offered an explanation as to the reasons for his unexpected ouster from the foreign ministry. And if it is not US pressure, then the PPP should say what it is.

Increasing differences have emerged within the PPP over the past three years. Party stalwarts – including Naheed Khan – have now been pushed to the outskirts of the party. Former ministers such as Sherry Rehman remain disgruntled. And apart from office-bearers, there are many veteran workers who complain they have been neglected and that no one has inquired after their welfare. These include some who were injured in the 2007 Rawalpindi blast that killed Benazir Bhutto. The growing lack of harmony within the party threatens its future. There has already been much comment on the lack of competence within its ranks. The departure from the cabinet of persons of the caliber of Shah Mehmood Qureshi can only add to the impression that the party has few people to assist it in the task of guiding the country out of crisis. The issue of sovereignty is also being discussed everywhere. Given the many problems the country faces, the PPP needs desperately to stand together. It does not take a great deal of wisdom to see this. The attacks on the former foreign minister need to stop and affairs need to be conducted in a more dignified manner – for the sake of the country and its people.







With the recent appointment of Syed Masood Kausar as the Governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's, three out of the four governors in the country now belong to the ruling Pakistan People's Party.

The other two are Sardar Abdul Latif Khosa in Punjab and Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi in Balochistan. Despite accusations of misuse of power in the past, Khosa became governor after his PPP colleague Salmaan Taseer's assassination.

Magsi, whose wife is also a minister in the top-heavy Balochistan cabinet, served as the PPP chief minister in the province from 1993 to 1996 during prime minister Benazir Bhutto's second stint in power. However, due to tribal considerations in the past he made it a point to contest provincial assembly elections as an independent candidate from his native Jhal Magsi area. He then manoeuvred his way into becoming minister on a few occasions, and even became chief minister once.

The Sindh Governor Dr Ishrat Ul Ebad Khan, who was made governor by military dictator General Pervez Musharraf in December 2002, is a card-carrying member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). He hassurvived major political changes due to his loyalty to his party leader Altaf Hussain and on account of his party's enormous bargaining power. He was the youngest governor of Sindh at the time of his appointment and after more than eight years in this position should be on course to becoming the longest serving occupant of the governor's mansion in Karachi.

All four governors are, therefore, partisan in the sense that they owe their positions to their political parties and remain committed to a particular ideology and leadership. They haven't quit their parties and will most likely return to the fold once they lose their most coveted jobs as governors.

One cannot expect in the existing politicised situation, a different arrangement in terms of appointment of non-political persons to those positions of power that should ideally be non-partisan. There is no harm in appointing politicians to such positions including the president and governors, but they should give up politics and party offices and strive to become acceptable to all Pakistanis after accepting such well-paid jobs.

President Asif Ali Zardari, who appoints the governors, is still co-chairman of the PPP. He didn't resign from his party office after becoming the president because the PPP co-chairmanship confers on him an authority that will outlast his present job as the president of Pakistan. It would have been good for the country if it had a president who was above political and party considerations. This didn't happen instead the Presidency became a centre for political activities of the PPP and its allies.

The same was the case at the three governors' houses in Karachi, Lahore and Quetta, and now the fourth one in Peshawar could become the PPP headquarters in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's. In fact, the PPP leadership in the province pleaded the case that it needed to have its own man as the governor to facilitate party workers and get things done to improve the PPP's image and strength. They often complained that the workers of the Awami National Party, the PPP's most steadfast ally and senior partner in the ruling coalition in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's, could approach the chief minister's house in Peshawar and seek their party nominee Ameer Haider Hoti's help in removing their grievances, but the PPP activists had no such place to turn to. Now, they will have no difficulty in finding the most famous address in Peshawar where they could go to seek help and favours from Governor Masood Kausar. Their joy was evident at the governor's oath-taking ceremony where slogans of 'PPP Zindabad,' 'Jeeay Bhutto' and 'Jeeay Zardari' were repeatedly chanted.

President Zardari in any case wanted a PPP man as the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's governor, but first he had to persuade the military leadership to accept the change due to the sensitive nature of the job. Unlike the other governors, the one in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's has more than a ceremonial job as the head of the administration in the adjoining Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), which has been the focus of international attention for the past decade on account of the 'war on terror' and where militancy remains a potent threat.

Since 2003, the military has been conducting operations against militants linked to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other groups in Fata and the willingness of the army high command was necessary while replacing the apolitical Owais Ahmad Ghani with someone like Masood Kausar, who has spent his life doing politics and practising law.

Another hurdle for President Zardari was seeking ANP's approval in the appointment of the governor. The ANP would have preferred its own nominee as the governor. As this wasn't possible, it began looking for someone in the PPP who shared its political ideals. Of the PPP candidates for the job, former federal minister Anwar Saifullah Khan was unacceptable to the ANP due to the Saifullah family's opposition to the renaming of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) as Pakhtunkhwa, and its support for the Kalabagh Dam project.

The ANP leadership was also unwilling to forget the betrayal of Anwar Saifullah's mother, Kulsum Saifullah, who was elected MPA in the 1970s with the support of the erstwhile NAP – the ANP's predecessor – before abandoning it to seek greener pastures. Even otherwise, Anwar Saifullah was a lateral entrant to the PPP, having joined it after winning a provincial assembly seat from Lakki Marwat district in the 2008 general election and support for his candidature within the party was uncertain.

Masood Kausar was a latecomer as a candidate for the governorship, but it didn't take him long to become the frontrunner due to his party credentials and in absence of other strong candidates. He was reportedly considered for other political jobs in the government in recent years and failed to get one due to opposition from within the PPP ranks and other considerations.

Fortunately for him, the ANP decided to support him and this seems to have clinched the issue in his favour. In fact, the ANP leaders including Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti publicly congratulated Masood Kausar weeks before he was to become the governor (during the fateha said last month for the deceased PPP leader and another former governor Maj Gen (Retd) Naseerullah Babar in the latter's village, Pirpiai, in Nowshera district. Like the ANP leaders, Masood Kausar is secular, liberal and democratic and on occasions also nationalist in his views. He would be expected to serve as a bridge between the PPP and the ANP.

Owais Ghani has had a long innings, having served as governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's for three years and a month and in the same position earlier in Balochistan for four and a half years. Before that, he was a provincial and then a federal minister also during General Musharraf's rule. He clung to his job after the 2008 general election, primarily due to his smooth relationship with the military. The military's presence in Fata meant that most decision-making there was being done by the top brass of the army and Owais Ghani didn't have to do much. The same should be true in case of Masood Kausar as long as the military remains deployed in the tribal areas and the militants aren't fully defeated.

The Kohat-born Masood Kausar, who is a brother of late poet Ahmad Faraz and at 72 appears a bit old for the job, has offered sacrifices due to his loyalty to the PPP. He has been amply rewarded by his party in turn – the party has enabled him to become a provincial minister, assembly speaker and senator. Though major reforms in Fata appear difficult at this stage, Masood Kausar could make a difference by implementing President Zardari's hollow announcements to amend the Frontier Crimes Regulation and extend the Political Parties Act to the tribal areas in a bid to empower the neglected tribal people.


The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim










The political leadership and its economic team have choreographed their comments on the state of the economy by displaying confidence over the growing strength of the country's external balance of payments. Rising exports and remittances, surplus in current account balance, and growing foreign exchange reserves have been showcased in particular. Through this article, I would like to caution the political leadership in general, and economic team in particular, against misplaced optimism over the state of external balance of payments.

On the strength of strong export performance, relatively weaker import growth, exceptionally robust growth in remittances and services receipts, Pakistan's current account balance is currently in a comfortable position. It is hazardous to read too much into these numbers. Temporary improvement in the external sector is not on account of policies but rather, due to extraneous factors, borrowed resources and a one-off event.

Pakistan's exports have registered an impressive increase of 19.4 percent in the first half (July-December) of the current fiscal year. Firstly, the base effect has played an important role in inflating the export growth number. A 19.4 percent increase in exports must be viewed against a decline of 7.7 percent last year. Secondly, the impressive increase in exports is driven largely by the price effect. The price of cotton is at a record high due to the failure of crop in major cotton producing countries. Pakistan has benefited immensely from the surge in cotton prices despite substantial decline in exports of various textile items in terms of quantity.

Rice has been one of the major driving forces of exports during the last two years on account of an unprecedented surge in international prices and major increases in production owing to domestic price incentive. International price of rice is returning to normal and domestic production of rice is on the decline thus reducing the exportable surplus. In quantity terms, the export of rice has registered a 4.6 percent, and 34 percent decline during July-December and December 2010, respectively. 'Dutch Disease' phenomenon appears to be in the offing as Pakistan may not be receiving a windfall gain in terms of extraordinary surge in exports prices.

Let me turn to remittances. Expatriates have sent $5.3 billion remittances in the first half of the current fiscal year – up by almost 17 percent over last year. What is driving remittance growth in the midst of collapse in global economy during the last three years? The US economy is still struggling and the European debt crisis is keeping Eurozone economies in a depressed mode. Collapse in oil prices has affected the economic activities in oil-rich countries and Dubai's economy has not yet recovered fully after its debt crisis. Almost 87 percent remittances are coming from the oil rich countries, US and the UK.

Remittances are up by 10 percent from the US, 141 percent from UK, 60 percent from Saudi Arabia, 80 percent from UAE and most importantly, 205 percent from Abu Dhabi in the last three years for the same period (July - December). Why have remittances surged from UK and Abu Dhabi? Is there any economic rationale for this unprecedented increase? In my view, there is no economic rationale for such an exceptional increase in remittances.

Then, what is driving the flow of remittances? One reason that comes to mind but is hard to substantiate through data is the reverse flow of corruption money. No one would deny that corruption is at an all time high in Pakistan. Print and electronic media are publishing and broadcasting stories of corruption on a daily basis. Where is this corruption money going? Are corrupt people keeping these monies under the mattress or depositing it in commercial banks? The answer is obviously no. Is it hard to believe that these monies are flowing out to the favourite destinations through Hundi/Hawala system and flowing in as remittances thereon and becoming legal and tax free money? I leave it to the experts of the State Bank of Pakistan to dwell upon this.

Pakistan's current account was in surplus to the extent of $26 million in the first half of the fiscal year. Robust increase in remittances as well as extraordinary increase in services receipt on account of $743 million reimbursement under the coalition support fund (CSF) from the US played important roles. The CSF appears to be a one-off element for the current fiscal year.

Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves are at an all time high at over $17 billion, sufficient to finance five to six months of projected imports. This is nothing but false comfort as these reserves have largely been borrowed from the IMF at a high cost. Out of over $17 billion of reserves, $8.7 billion are IMF money and with global food and fuel prices on the rise, Pakistan's import bills are likely to soar. Foreign exchange reserves may come under pressure and with the IMF program under suspension, the slide will be very steep.

The surplus in the current account could turn into an unsustainable deficit if cotton prices return to normal level, food and fuel prices surge globally, and slippages in budget widen, as anticipated. Pakistan must concentrate on bridging the revenue-expenditure gap. Political parties negotiating with the government team on multiple points agenda are wasting national time. Every effort should be made to protect the economy. There will be no politics without sound economics.

How to protect the economy should be the only agenda. They must come to an agreement on tax reform, that includes imposition of RGST, bringing agricultural income under direct tax net, resolution on binding constraints of provincial governments to salvage the new NFC Award, agreement on a pass-through mechanism for oil prices, resolution of power sector subsidies by reforming WAPDA/PEPCO, and agreement on outright privatisation or restructuring of rotten PSEs. Non-economic issues can be resolved once the economy returns to the path of recovery.

The Writer is Principal and Dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ahkhan







Mosharraf ZaidiOn February 2nd Indian strategic affairs guru, Krishnaswamy Subrahmanyam passed away at 82. Subrahmanyam or Subbu was well known among Pakistani defence thinkers and analysts. His characterisation of the East Pakistan crisis, as an "opportunity of a lifetime to cut Pakistan to size" was about as popular as his frequent characterisation of the break up of Pakistan in 1971, as one of India's great achievements. More recently, he worked tirelessly to align India's nuclear ambitions to the country's relationship with the United States. At a memorial service held for him on Saturday however, no one remembered Subrahmanyam as a tormentor of Pakistan.

Instead, the memorial described a man as the godfather of long-term, strategic thinking, a factory of ideas, and a crafter of young talent. It is only natural that the substance of Subrahmanyam's positions will be seen differently in Pakistan, than it is in India. Yet as Pakistan absorbs the "Raymond Davis" incident and goes through yet another epileptic fit about a single incident, the life and times of K Subrahmanyam might offer some insight for Pakistanis who want to live in a homeland that is peaceful, prosperous, powerful, and proud.

It is not surprising that the debate over the American "diplomat" widely referred to as "Raymond Davis" is focused on the small stuff – the Vienna Convention, diplomatic immunity, Shah Mehmood Qureshi's newfound passion, Hillary Clinton's bad mood and US government's angst. These kinds of distractions are exactly what the Pakistani national discourse has become very adept at. Take a single incident and derive numerous analytical angles from it.

Of course, the "Raymond Davis" incident is more than just a one-off event. For all the national pride at stake, Pakistan is not going to take the ghairat angraai to its logical conclusion. Since 1947 Pakistan has consistently made long-term strategic choices that position the country as a junior and dependent partner to the United States in this region. This continuum is not about to be changed because people are having nationalist heart attacks on TV talk shows and at anti-US rallies.

Similarly, for all the real (and contrived) outrage of the US government, Uncle Sam is not going anywhere. US troops in Afghanistan, the high-cost of the NDN and long-term US interests in South Asia will continue to require Pakistani acquiescence to the US in order for the US to continue its business in the region.

Clearly, Pakistanis cannot accept ugly (and clearly less skilled) versions of Jason Bourne to drive around shooting up Pakistani citizens. It is ok to state this point forcefully and passionately. However, it is not ok to evade the context in which things are happening.


This context is complex and disturbing. There are two separate wars that are taking place in Pakistan. One is the Pakistan-versus-the-terrorists war that has ravaged the tribal areas, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The other war is the counter-terrorism war that the US is fighting against Al-Qaeda, and its affiliates, on Pakistani territory. This war is not restricted to the "Af-Pak" border. It is right across the country. Neither war is taking place without the consent and active participation of the men and women of the Pakistani military.

The first war is incomplete because it is ideologically incoherent, especially for westerners. It is not a war against all extremists. It is a war against those extremists that have declared war on Pakistan.

The second war is incomplete because it is functionally and operationally incoherent, especially if you live in Pakistan. It is not a war that has formally been declared. It is not entirely clear who and what is being used to fight the war. It is not a war that can be measured by parliaments or by body counts.

The first war is a war of the past. It is a war of the 19th century being fought by a 20th century military that is more accountable to a foreign country's leaders than it is, to its own.

The second war is a war of the future. It is a war of the 21st century being fought with a 19th century disregard for rule of law, being fought by warriors that are accountable to no one.

This is the real world. It is the medium and possibly long term context within which a single one of possibly hundreds of American instruments of war killed two Pakistanis in the middle of a street, in broad daylight, at an intersection where no American diplomat I know, will ever wander knowingly.

We can choose to obsess about a single meeting between Husain Haqqani and Tom Donilon. Or the relative measure of Shah Mehmood Qureshi's patriotism, versus that of the president's. But we should be aware of what those choices represent. They represent a deliberate refusal to examine the incident within the strategic framework of Pakistan's national security, economic and political realities. They represent an underdeveloped conception of strategy. Perhaps, more than anything else, this infatuation with petty information represents a collective cowardice to accept the present starkness of reality, and commit to altering the future.

A vision for a reality-based narrative of the future is what K Subrahmanyam has bequeathed to India. His enormous shadow lurks over India's current strategic success, as largely as any other. Yet twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, very few Indians would have predicted the parade of honours and memorials upon his death. Throughout the cold war era, Subrahmanyam was seen as too pro-Soviet. After testing nuclear weapons in 1998, Subrahmanyam increasingly came to be known as too pro-American. At his memorial, Indian journalist Inder Malhotra pointed what is often not obvious to critics of public figures at the time. That Subrahmanyam never changed his central stance, that he was neither pro-Soviet, nor pro-American. He was simply interested in the path that offered the greatest benefits to India. He was just pro-Indian.

This is a powerful lesson. The greatest burden carried by some of Pakistan's most valuable strategic minds is not the substance of their perspectives, but often the labels we attach to them. Our thinkers are either too pro-American, or too pro-establishment, too closely allied with the Pakistani military, or too deeply invested in democracy. This silliness has to stop.

"Raymond Davis" is a transient story. There is a much larger and deeper discussion to be had. Being reasonable and rational and having a long-term view of the present and the future does not have to come at the cost of sentiment. Indeed, perhaps the most poignant moment at the Subrahmanyam memorial was during the final tribute, made by Subrahmanyam's son, UCLA professor Sanjay Subrahmanyam. The professor said that his father's realism would have made no sense, in the absence of sentiment. Sentiment, he said is what gave realism, true meaning.

In trying to understand and make sense of the "Raymond Davis" case, Pakistanis need not extinguish their sentiments. They simply need to leverage them to successfully navigate a complex future. The details of the Vienna convention are peripheral to that complexity and to the future. The question isn't of diplomatic immunity. It is of Pakistan. How did we get here, and where do we want to go?


The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy.








Like every other people, the Americans are well within their rights to pursue their national interest and objectives. Though lack of knowledge of the region's social setup or pure arrogance may at times lead them to the opposite result, which hurts rather than protects such interests. Nonetheless, the Americans' pursuit of their international goals and agenda and requisite activities towards that end are neither new nor novel.

Imperial Britain tried to keep other countries under its influence in the heyday of its power and dominance in the world. The Soviet Union had the same territorial ambitions and international dreams of dominance and followed it religiously. Since the world became unipolar Washington has been trying to dominate countries from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan to Pakistan. Tomorrow, China will follow the same trajectory after becoming the dominant global power.

Every country posts its intelligence agents or creates client agents in important countries around the world for espionage. Every embassy is involved in intelligence gathering for his country of origin and is always on the look to enlist services of host country's politicians, civil servants businessmen, journalists and people from other walks of life.

Pakistan is very important to the US in many respects. Both countries relations are convoluted at best. The nature or our relations compel the Americans to try to post its own operatives here or enlist the services of others for this purpose. Any other country with such stakes in Pakistan or having such serious security concerns and threats perceptibly originating from here would be spying on our important personalities and institutions. So it is unjust to blame or scorn Americans for this kind of activities. Rather, this blame and scorn should be reserved for our authorities and rulers who permitted people like Raymond Davis to carry out non-diplomatic activities in Pakistan.

Our rulers and real power-wielders are conniving with Americans on drone attacks. So what is the point to the protestations? The Americans have designed an elaborate security checking systems for Pakistanis. They do not issue visas even to generals and rulers from this land unless they get their fingerprints first. Our elites are kept to wait for months for security clearance. On the contrary, our rulers and authorities issue visas even to Americans with fake identities. So why should we blame the Americans?

Were our spooks, who are used to eavesdropping on hapless Pakistanis, not aware of the presence and activities of people like Raymond Davis? They must be informed, but may been directed to stay away from these viceroy-like guests and treat them as sacred cows. Once someone among those sacred cows does something like that done by Raymond Davis, why should we cry?

Five months ago I had broken the news of illegal issuance of visas to foreigners in this newspaper. The report had detailed how the Pakistan's consulate in Dubai had issued illegal visas to 86 Americans and 150 Indians at the behest of Zardari House, Dubai. These illegal visas were issued from a Third Country and that too within the shortest period. Some of the visas were issued on the day the visa applications were submitted, while some visas were issued on holidays. And none of the persons was vetted by the ISI or the interior ministry as required under the rules. Our rulers neither contradicted nor clarified this news published in the largest Urdu and English newspapers.

The news report asked that if all the Americans and Indians came here for legal activities, why were their visas not issued by the Pakistani embassies concerned? It was astonishing that some of the Americans had mentioned the Presidency in Islamabad as the address where they would stay. After five months no contradiction or rebuttal has been issued by the Presidency or the government.

How many other "Raymond Davises" have been issued such illegal visas and are still staying in Pakistan is not known to me or other ordinary Pakistanis. Nor do our rulers feel obliged to explain it to the people. So when the Mozang Sqaure incident happened, why the protests against the Americans? Aren't those Pakistanis who are wont to scorn America and protest against them wasting time and money on this useless exercise? If courageous enough they should first deal with those authorities and real power brokers in Pakistan who never tire of begging for American economic and material assistance, and in return have secretly permitted and connived in drone attacks within Pakistan. We should take on those elites who always violated the law of the land to please American masters. As such, they turned Pakistan into a lawless country and international hunting ground for killers in the garb of diplomats and spies.

It is apt to repeat the saying, "A man cannot ride your back unless it is bent."

The writer works for Geo TV. Email:








The writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK.

"Strategic petulance" roared the headline of a story in a Western newspaper claiming that Pakistan had almost doubled its nuclear arsenal in the past two years.

Another paper portrayed the expanding arsenal as a challenge to US national security strategy and cast Pakistan as the "lone holdout". The Washington Post reported that Pakistan was now the world's 'fifth largest nuclear power' and working on a fourth plutonium reactor at Khushab to modernize its arsenal.

Almost identical reports in the Western media seemed to rely on unnamed "non-official sources" to make these claims. Few cared to place the issue in a broader context or consider the chain of developments, including the 2008 Indo-US civilian nuclear deal and President Obama's support for India's membership of multilateral nuclear regimes, that have affected the regional strategic equilibrium and aggravated Islamabad's insecurity Nor did they refer to Pakistan's repeated warnings that these actions would be consequential for the subcontinent and oblige Islamabad to act to preserve the credibility of nuclear deterrence.

The publication of these leaked reports was no coincidence. They surfaced in the immediate wake of the position taken by Pakistan's envoy on January 25 at the opening session of the 2011 Conference on Disarmament (CD) on negotiations for a treaty banning the production of bomb-making fissile material.

Speaking on the Fissile Material Control Treaty (FMCT) Ambassador Zamir Akram recalled the grounds on which the treaty was being opposed by Pakistan and cited "serious recent developments" that had strengthened this position. The "discriminatory waiver" provided to India by the Nuclear Suppliers Group will "further accentuate the asymmetry in fissile material stockpiles in the region to the detriment of Pakistan's security interests". Further, US support for India's membership of four multilateral export control regimes had reinforced a pattern of "selective and irresponsible behavior" that undermined the international non-proliferation regime.

All of last year, and since talks on an FMCT resumed in 2009, Pakistan made its reservations clear about the proposed treaty aimed only at prohibiting future fissile material production. Without the treaty taking into account the existing asymmetry in stocks, the imbalance between Pakistan and India would be frozen, placing Pakistan at a permanent strategic disadvantage. This call for a flawed treaty to also promote disarmament objectives by accounting for prior fissile stocks found support from the G-21 group of developing nations at the CD.

As defined at present, the scope of the treaty - covering weapons-grade uranium or plutonium - offers India the opportunity to build strategic reserves of stockpiles, and widen the disparity with Pakistan. India's fuel agreements with many countries - following the NSG waiver - will assure supply and enable it to process reactor-grade material. This is only a small step away to its conversion to weapons-grade material.

As currently envisioned the FMCT obliges Pakistan to accept a limit on its deterrent capability, which does not apply to India because of the preferential treatment it has received.

The National Command Authority in its meeting on 14 December 2010 voiced concern over what it called trends of "exceptionalism and discrimination" and vowed not to accept any undermining of the country's strategic deterrence or an approach "prejudicial to its legitimate security interests". This defined Pakistan's negotiating position at Geneva ably articulated by Ambassador Akram.

Apart from an orchestrated media campaign, a number of diplomatic efforts by Western countries have been underway to isolate Pakistan on the FMCT issue. One effort was launched last month in Geneva by the UN Secretary General's representative to the CD aimed at convening an exclusive meeting between Ban Ki-moon and envoys of the five permanent members of the Security Council (P-5) and countries heading regional groups. The purpose was to evolve a common P-5 position in the absence of Pakistan and other concerned nations.

But Pakistan was able to mobilise support from the G-21 group and press the point that an exclusive gathering of select representatives was contrary to the UN principle of sovereign equality. As a result, the Secretary General decided to call off the meeting and instead address a plenary of the CD.


A second diplomatic salvo fired this year to sideline Pakistan on the issue is an initiative launched by Australia and Japan on 3 February 2011 to convene a side event on the FMCT. Ostensibly designed to assemble delegates and experts to clarify definitions in the proposed treaty - "fissile material", and "production" among them - its intent is two-fold. One, to underscore that the FMCT is the only issue "ripe" for negotiations in the CD, and two, to start a process to pre-cook critical treaty elements to serve as "building blocks" for negotiations in the CD.

The authors of this initiative have disclaimed that this 'expert event' will be any pre-negotiation. But they have failed to dispel the impression that convening a meeting outside the CD is an opening effort to test the ground whether in the face of the continuing stalemate in the CD, talks can be taken to an alternative forum.

Calls to explore such venues have previously taken several forms on the basis of spurious arguments about the "inadequacy" of the CD's rules of procedure (by consensus) and working methods. Those calls have in the past been thwarted by the majority view that stressed the centrality and validity of the CD as the world's sole multilateral arms control negotiating body and the need to respect the unanimity principle.

That is why attempts to shift treaty negotiations to 'parallel' venues have always fizzled out. A rare case was the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was 'transmitted' in 1996 from a deadlocked CD to the UN General Assembly in New York for adoption and signing. But the treaty had already been negotiated over many years in the CD itself.

The latest Australian-Japanese move has already faced a setback with China's decision not to attend - the first sign of fissure in the P-5. Non-participation by others including Pakistan would denude this 'side event' of any legitimacy. It would again underline that attempts to by-pass the 65-nation CD would be an exercise in futility that will delay and complicate, not accelerate the process of building consensus.

The answer to the present impasse is not to circumvent the established disarmament machinery but ensure that the FMCT negotiations take into account the security concerns of all states and not just the priorities of the powerful few.

Three key facts are essential to keep in view when considering the present state of play in the CD.

One, holding Pakistan responsible for the impasse in negotiations by the high priests of disarmament ignores the track record of the very nations making this accusation. Since 1993 the multilateral quest for an FMCT has seen a prolonged stalemate. A principal reason for this was the decade-long US refusal to accept international mechanisms for verification. Only when the Obama Administration changed this position on verification did Washington unblock the talks.

Moreover, progress in the CD on three of the four core issues on its agenda - nuclear disarmament, negative security assurances for non-nuclear states and prevention of an arms race in outer space - is at present being blocked by the US and its Western allies. So singling out Pakistan as the only country impeding the CD's work is incorrect.

Two, the present stalemate on the FMCT is the consequence of actions taken by the US and its Western allies to promote nuclear exceptionalism for India. It is this discriminatory conduct that has undermined the negotiations. This selective nuclear policy has not only exacerbated Pakistan's security anxieties but also driven the region on to a potentially new arms race.

And three, unless talks on the treaty accommodate the legitimate security concerns of all states progress is unlikely, regardless of diplomatic pressure or assurances that Islamabad recently received from Washington that the FMCT is not a vehicle to secure Pakistan's de-nuclearization.

The work of the CD has to proceed on the principle of equal and undiminished security of all states.








President Obama, in his recent State of the Union address, has reiterated his promise to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan this year. He also appeared very confident that the US will succeed in Afghanistan despite the fact that over the past two years all the Obama administration's policies aimed at stabilising Afghanistan have ended in complete failure.

In a bid to counter the intensifying insurgency, the Afghan government and NATO troops have been setting up community-based armed militias. To date, thousands of men have been recruited to such bodies in various parts of Afghanistan. The growing resentment against foreign troops and the withdrawal from ISAF of troop contributing states this year have made it difficult for the US to continue its occupation of Afghanistan. So NATO military units in Afghanistan are turning to the 'private militias' of warlords for help.

This new programme reveals the Obama administration's serious difficulty in learning the right lessons from history. A few years ago, tribal militias were formed in specific parts of the country but were disbanded after they were deemed ineffective. In many cases, the militias turned to criminal activity or took part in tribal feuds.

General Stanley McChrystal, the former US commander in Afghanistan, also opposed the formation of armed militias. He said that "This is an area where warlords and militias got a very, very bad name, so we don't want to create anything that makes the Afghan people think we're going the wrong direction". The tribal warlords and their private armies are already despised for their role in ravaging Afghanistan after Soviet troops withdrew in 1989.

General Petraeus is of the view that this policy is part of a broad American push to forge relations with Afghanistan's tribes and armed militias will be more like police – trained, uniformed and paid by Karzai government. But according to senior US military officials, despite the fact that some of the militias have been given uniforms, training and identity badges they remain loyal to the warlords who recruited them.

The irregular armed groups have been formed without any proper coordination with local tribes who want peace. There are also frequent cases of Afghan soldiers turning their guns on NATO soldiers – an indication of the disenchantment surrounding the war effort.

In the southern city of Kandahar these militias are feared more than the militants and referred to as 'death squads'. The armed groups publicly carry out killings of innocent people under the protection of both the Afghan government and foreign troops.

The irregular forces have frequently been found responsible for human rights abuses and have threatened the stability and peace of northern Afghanistan. Interestingly, the very idea of creating militias is in contravention of the Geneva Conventions that make it illegal to use civilians in war.

The militia commanders are also hiring underage boys in their ranks for different illicit purposes in an environment of criminal impunity. This turmoil has also opened the door to the re-emergence of Taliban influence in the area and will possibly allow the Taliban to infiltrate the militias. According to the Afghanistan Rights Monitor, "in terms of insecurity, 2010 has been the worst year since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001".

The last nine years have proved that the US cannot win the war in Afghanistan. There is dire need to defeat the Taliban politically, and here the US has failed miserably.

Email: rizwanasghar7@yahoo. com








AS situation in Egypt has not returned to normalcy even after Hosni Mubarak's departure from the scene as people are skeptical about what is in store for the country, trouble has erupted in Yemen as well where for the third straight day on Sunday protesters marched through the capital calling for political reforms and the resignation of the country's US-allied president. Police used truncheons to stop protestors, many of them university students, from reaching the capital's central Hada Square.

Though the magnitude and scale of the demonstrations in Yemen is somewhat insignificant and this is not being seen as a serious threat to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, growing protests are a source of uneasiness in most of the Middle East regimes and the situation could take some awkward turn if timely measures were not taken to respond to the aspirations of the people. It is, therefore, time for rulers to analyse the situation dispassionately to arrive at the right conclusion as to the causes of this unrest and how best to tackle it. In our view, societies of the Middle East are deeply religious and conservative and attempts to westernise them are causing resentment. Modernization is something else as there can be no progress and development without adoption of high technology but westernisation of the predominant Islamic society is something quite different. Therefore, serious efforts should be made to ensure safeguarding and preservation of Islamic values and proud traditions. Similarly, with the passage of time the gulf between the rulers and the ruled is widening and this is creating frustration among masses. In this media age, incidents like scions of ruling classes spending millions of dollars at a casino in a single night cause ripples among people, who legitimately question propriety of such actions and misuse of national wealth. The rulers will have to introduce transparency in governance and the tendency of herding people like sheep and goats should be discarded. People are calling for reforms in the system and it would be in the fitness of things to respond to their demands before these go beyond control.








THE tirade of some PPP stalwarts against their former colleague – ex-Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi is a classical example of how politicians behave selfishly to advance their personal or party interests. Leaders of the Party including some Federal Ministers are hurling all sorts of accusations on Qureshi giving an impression as if he was responsible for all the mess that the country finds itself in these days.

We would leave aside as to what caused the ouster of Shah Mahmood Qureshi from the Cabinet — whether it was a deliberate attempt to punish him for not surrendering on the issue of immunity to American killer or decision of the Party leadership to assign him some other portfolio for some other reasons. But character assassination of one of the shining stars of the previous Cabinet, who steered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a deft manner, is really shocking and lamentable. Politics is indeed a strange game where angels of one time are dubbed as devils of another time, throwing all the good work or contribution made by the victims to the cause of the Party and the country. Sherry Rehman faced similar situation in the recent past, Farooq Leghari met the same fate and even one of the PPP stalwarts has claimed that Qureshi was trying to become another Leghari. Another Minister has alleged that Qureshi had gone berserk after arrest warrants of former President Pervez Musharraf were issued. We would also point out that this tendency is not confined to PPP alone as politicians belonging to other parties and groups too have been indulging in similar behaviour. All this is happening despite the fact that we consider ourselves democrats and in democracy everyone has the right to differ. This narrow-minded culture of dog biting amounts to self-infliction, as by doing so politicians are damaging their own image.







PROMINENT Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was detained at Airport on Sunday evening when he was to board for homeward journey after performing at shows and giving personal concerts in India. He has been charged with carrying $ 1,24,000 which had been given to him by his Indian Manager Chitresh Srivastaya as part of his contract.

The arrest of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has revived the old wounds of treatment meted out to Pakistani artists whenever they visit India. It is a typical Indian mindset to harass the visiting Pakistanis and to find out something which could create media hype for character assassination of Pakistanis and bring a bad name to the country. Rahat, the nephew of legendary singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is popular both in India and Pakistan while his uncle had fans the world over and was a symbol of Pakistan's soft image. So there was definitely an Indian plan to arrest Rahat for publicity the world over so as to discredit the Pakistanis. On the other hand Indian businessmen, sportsmen and artists whenever they come to Pakistan are accorded due respect and never searched at the airport and they carry whatever they earn. Rahat has been regularly performing at shows and giving personal concerts and he reportedly told investigators that he asked to be paid in foreign currency for his performances and thus there was no illegal act on his part. Instead of arresting Rahat, the officials must have questioned the Indians who paid him from their pockets but one is sure that no action would be taken against them. It is known the world over and even reported frequently in the media that Indian nationals transferred billions of dollars to foreign banks but so far none has been detained. That fully exposes the Indian law under which the Pakistani singer has been detained for ulterior motives. The Interior Minister Rehman Malik did well to direct the Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi to provide necessary legal help to Rahat while the Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir called Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad on late Sunday night asking him to ensure that no official should misbehave with the singer during interrogation and that the matter be resolved as soon as possible. Anyhow it would be advisable for the Indian leadership and officials to avoid creating such petty issues as they create hurdles for people to people contacts and improvement in relations between the two countries.








"No body can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice. If you are a man, you take it" – (Malik Shahbaz) Malcolm 'X'

It is not difficult to know what would be the ultimate out-come of the conflict in Egypt as it depends on the dialectics of the two opposing will and the stronger has already won. One represents the decades old dictorial rule of Hosni Mubarak, supported by the military and industrial group of United States of America, helping to grow a bloated Egyptian military business (Milbus), 'big civil business mafia', and Hosni Mubarak amassing US$ 75 billion, as the richest man in the world. The second, represents the broad masses of Egypt, led by Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed and ruthlessly suppressed by the military dictators for over five decades. The uprising now has entered into the third week, demolishing Mobarak's power and prestige, brick-by-brick, forcing the change, which has become inevitable.

The Uprising: It is led by Muslim Brotherhood founded by Hassan-al-Banna in 1920. By 1930 it launched the movement as a legalist non-violent anti-colonialist resistance against the Zionist expansionism. The objective was to establish a democratic Islamic state, based on broad-based educational and socio-economic reforms. Hassan-al-Banna was assassinated by the British in 1949, and Syed Qutub took over. He was hanged by Nasser in 1966, which led to the creation of the 'Jehadi Wing' and growth of militancy in the movement. Aiman-al-Zawahri, now as a leader of Muslim Brotherhood, remains a marginal figure because of his opposition to Muslim Brotherhood's "policy of liberalism and peaceful participation in Egyptian politics."

The main-stay of the popular movement is 'Muslim Brotherhood,' which provides the leadership and the organizational structure, sustaining the uprising and its growth, as more and more people are joining the movement, with its multi-faced identity. It has a 'Jehadi' wing as well as a 'Militant wing' and a large segment of youth, who value the western traditions of democratic freedom, human rights, secularism and nationalism, deeply rooted into their psyche. Yet there is no conflict within the movement led by Muslim Brotherhood, which considers itself a centrist religious mainstream political movement, consolidated by decades of confrontation and persecution. For definite, they do not want an Iranian model in Egypt.

Mubarak-Military-American Nexus Since 1952, Egypt has been ruled by the military and with Hosni Mubarak coming to power, the Americans formed the Nexus, with the military, which enjoys huge defense budget, and a 'Milbus Empire' consisting of valuable properties, big businesses, defense industries and huge national development projects. It has strong links with the political leadership in Cairo and Washington and with the defense industries cartel, retired and serving bureaucrats, serving with multi-national business tycoons and the Jewish lobby. No wonder Washington has posted to Cairo, Frank Wisner as their special envoy, for "damage control sub-contracting crisis management and providing strategic global advice, concerning business." He is a special choice of Obama and Hillary Clinton to bail-out Mubarak and protect the interests of the Nexus. He has blocked all moves for reconciliation with the movement, promising to protect Hosni Mubarak and his huge stock of wealth, property and assets, by prolonging the confrontation, trying to wear-out the patience and stamina of the movement, which unfortunately is gaining strength with each passing day. Mubarak, an Air Force officer himself, his Vice-President, the Chief of the Defence Staff, about 50% military legislators in the House of Representatives and the military governors, together, provide the last hope to the citadel of Mubarak's power, built over the decades.

Possibilities The movement led by Muslim Brotherhood is most likely to hold-out and win. Mubarak-Military-Washington nexus will yield, to their demands, through a negotiated settlement. The first round of talks has failed. The process is to be restarted to find a way-out, before the situation gets out of control. Ultimately, it is the military, maintaining a neutral stance, will come forward, to intervene and find a negotiated settlement. Following issues are critical: Dictatorship and the dominant role of the military has been rejected. The military therefore has to accept a subordinating role to the future democratic set-up.The movement draws 'diverse vision' together and would desire to be a full partner in the process of change – a democratic state in the 'Turkish style' despite, "behind the unified, hierarchal façade, contradictory influences being at work" The negotiations should focus on the formation of a national government first, made responsible to frame a constitution, formulate the election modalities and hold elections within a specified time frame.

The change should not be taken as a set-back to the ongoing process of Arab-Israel rapprochement. In fact a more realistic and popular approach would be possible now. It is essential to ensure Israel's security concerns, checks on nuclear proliferation and militancy. A balanced US-Egypt relationship must emerge, to ensure flow of aid and assistance, as central to the negotiated settlement and for the sake of peace in the region. The fall of Mubarak must herald a new era of freedom and democracy, to guarantee peace within the country and the region as a whole. The hoax of Islamic extremism, should not blur the vision for the greater cause of the people of Egypt.

Conclusion This is a revolution in the real sense, which has galvanized the Egyptian nation, demanding freedom from decades of oppressive rules of the despotic rulers. There is no turning back for them. The government has lost the contest, though temporarily shielded by the military which has shrewdly maintained its neutrality and retains the ability to mediate. The military should mediate, not to protect its own Milbus, not to protect Hosni Mubarak's 75 billion dollar fortune, and not to become a part of the American Game to consolidate its hold and influence over Egypt, but to establish the supremacy of the democratic will of the people of Egypt. Change is inevitable and it must come at the behest of the military, to achieve balance between various elements of national power, safeguarding vital national security interests, as is the case in Pakistan now, enabling it to overcome successive waves of crises.

P.S. As I write these lines, the military under General Tantawi, is reported to have taken over the control of the country, not in a coup, but through consensus reached with Mubarak and the Americans. The Brotherhood leadership has not been consulted, which creates doubts about the intentions of the military. Hence the masses will remain on the streets, till the military accepts a subordinating role in the future democratic set-up, and Mubarak leaves the country.

—The writer is former Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan.







Raymond Davis was taken into custody on 27 January by Lahore Police when he was trying to escape after committing a double murder. He has been locked up in Kot Lakhpat jail under tight security and his case is pending in Lahore High Court. He has so far been in police remand for 14 days. For his release, the US officials are distorting facts which amount to indulging in falsehood. When one lie is uttered then there is no end to it. String of contradicting statements has been made to prove that Davis is an administrative and staff member of US Embassy in Islamabad and that he enjoys full diplomatic immunity from criminal jurisprudence and as such his detention and subsequent trial is invalid. They are even hiding the killer's real name.

Reliable resources suggest that Davis is a retired Lt Col who had served in Special Forces. He manages a small private security business in Las Vegas , Nevada in Colorado under the name of Hyperion Protective Services. He has been visiting Pakistan for the last three years pretending as a defence contractor. All his three visas issued by Pakistan Embassy in Washington are official and non-diplomatic. He has admitted that he works as a consultant in Lahore US Consulate. He is undoubtedly not a diplomat but an intelligence operative employed under a cover appointment. He came to Pakistan with a specific mission of espionage and terrorism. He refreshed his espionage and shooting skills under the auspices of Blackwater managed training centres in USA.

Davis is faced with four murders; two by act of terrorism with his own hands in a public place, and the other two indirectly as a consequence to direct murder. The driver of the backup SUV which trampled Ubaidur Rehman to death has still not been handed over to the authorities' despite repeated requests made by the Punjab government and the police. That way the driver and four others who were sitting in the car are absconders and consul general is guilty of sheltering and protecting criminals. Having committed series of grave crimes, question of Davis 's immunity becomes immaterial. An impression is being built that the two slain persons were gangsters with criminal background who wanted to inflict body harm to Davis and that the latter had to fire in self defence when attacked to save his skin. Earlier on it was said that Davis fired when confronted by two armed men. So far no clue has been found that Faizan or Faheem had attacked him or even pointed a gun at him. Faheem however had a licensed gun which he was carrying on the day of occurrence for self-protection.

Another story is that Davis had prior links with the two victims. Tough talk by the two irked him so intensely that he pulled his gun and shot them dead. This piece carries some weight since otherwise there was no earthly reason for Davis to drive in a private car with a fake number plate unescorted and singly and that too in a crowded place like Mozang. He had come well armed to deal with suchlike emergent situations and may have put the backup vehicle in consulate on standby call. Yet another story is that when Faheem and his colleague Faizan stopped their motorcycles next to his car at the red traffic light; seeing a pistol in the hand of one of them, Davis got jittery and imagined that he will be harmed bodily and hence spontaneously pulled out his gun and started shooting at them even when they had moved ahead of him once the traffic light became green. He fired at Faheem from a distance of 4-6 feet and at Faizan from 16 feet distance. Out of nine bullets he fired, four pierced through the back of Faizan while Faheem received two bullets in the back and one in front.

Vienna Conventions are being heatedly discussed these days. Based on Vienna Conventions 1961 and 1963, Pakistan formulated its own Diplomatic and Consular Privileges Act 1972, which is applicable to all diplomats and others working in embassies and consulates in Pakistan . Like all other countries, Pakistan 's constitutional laws take precedence over international laws and not vice versa. The US which sees our institutions with contempt wants to bulldoze our laws and impose its own or international laws over us despite the fact that it has scant regard for international laws when it comes to defending its own national or individual interests.

Under Pakistan law he will be tried for possessing illegal arm and ammunition thus violating Arms Ordnance of 1965; for taking law into own hand to kill; which is punishable under section 7 of anti-terrorism act 1997. Intentional murder is punishable under Section 302 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Killing a person by rash and negligent driving is punishable under section 279 and 320 of PPC, while harboring a criminal falls under Section 216 of PPC. The mood of the US officials has become somber and they are getting impatient and irksome. Each day spent by Davis in the lockup is hurting their ego and the pain of egoism is becoming unbearable. The US has its own compulsions and can ill-afford to leave it's under cover employee Davis in a lurch since it will have a negative impact on its worldwide intelligence network. Davis-like trigger-happy Rambo's are found snooping in every nook and corner of the world. Davis conviction by Pakistani court would demoralize them and make them over cautious.

American leaders completely forget how the suspects in thousands were picked up on mere suspicion and pushed into Bagram Airbase, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Gharib jails, tortured for years without trials and then released in half-mad conditions after failing to establish that they were terrorists. Afghan's Ambassador in Islamabad Mullah Zaeef who enjoyed diplomatic immunity was among them who was severely mal treated. Dr Aafia after keeping her secretly detained in Afghan Prison for five years without any legal access, torturing and sexually abusing her, she was shifted to USA where the US court awarded her 86 years imprisonment. In case of double murderer Davis, within 48 hours the US patience began to wear thin. Veiled threats are being hurled that in case Davis is not released speedily it will mar Pak-US relations. Ever-smiling and effervescent Hillary Clinton known to be chummy with Shah Qureshi has become stone-cold. In protest, she cancelled her meeting with him in Munich . Sycophant Haqqani is being badgered to prove his claim that he is America 's trusted man. He has been sent to Islamabad and told not to come back without Davis . Pak-Afghan-US Summit in last week of this month is in doldrums and so is the aid flow. With every passing day trust deficit that had begun to narrow down is again widening and America 's patience is fast running out.

It doesn't behove a super power to take the matter of Davis to its heart and make it a prestige point particularly when it knows that the accused is an imposter, who entered Pakistan under a fake name, carries forged passport and visa and has murdered two innocent Pakistanis in broad daylight. The US is brazenly bullying Pakistan to set aside its laws and release Davis . Instead of the US getting defensive, our leaders are feeling sheepish and apologetic for not being able to set Davis free so far. Unpopular ruling regime must think twice before taking an unpopular decision lest it cooks its own goose. Vienna Convention doesn't provide a carte blanche to a killer under any circumstances. Likewise, diplomatic immunity doesn't mean license to kill. If he is quietly handed over to USA , it will further fan terrorism and fuel extremism and hasten the collapse of tottering regime.

—The writer is a security analyst.









After 9/11, Pakistan was under tremendous pressure from the US and the West; despite joining the war on terror they continued to suspect Pakistan for aiding and ensconcing the Taliban operatives. It was perhaps in this backdrop that then president Pervez Musharraf acted as a 'game-changer' in the region by making an offer that Pakistan would resile from the stated position on Kashmir provided India did the same. He relied on Track II diplomacy and spelled out his out of box solution comprising four phases in chapter International Diplomacy of his book 'In the Line of Fire'. With Pakistan and the US on loggerheads over the arrest of Raymond Davis who killed two motorcyclists, our government functionaries believe that there is need for a change in the strategy. Addressing the Diplomatic Correspondents Association on "Pakistan-India ties – Perspectives and Future", Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said: "Pakistan would certainly like to play the role of a game changer as far as our own affairs are concerned, especially in our immediate neighbourhood". He added that geographic compulsions were compelling the country to set directions.

He however did not elaborate how the country envisioned its role as a 'game changer' in the region. He was also upbeat that Pakistan had made significant progress in ties with India and Afghanistan. He described the resumption of peace talks with India as a 'significant breakthrough', but did not raise expectations from the renewed process. Knowing India's past, mere promise for resumption of talks cannot be viewed as a significant progress. During the last six decades, many rounds of dialogue including the stalled composite dialogue were held, but there was no progress on resolving the core issue of Kashmir. On 24th May 1964, Sheikh Abdullah was asked by Jawaharlal Nehru to help in solving the complex problem, and he visited Pakistan as his emissary. In his meeting with president Ayub Khan, Sheikh Abdullah suggested formation of confederation of India and Pakistan, which was politely rejected by the former. Nehru died on 27th May, and Sheikh Abdullah stated in his memoirs that they were very close to resolve the Kashmir issue. "Unfortunately history is merciless and death snatched from him (Nehru) the chance to make amends for what he had done", observed Sheikh Abdullah.

Historians and authors have also referred to the meeting between Sheikh Abdullah and president Ayub Khan, and quoted former having said that they were close to finding a solution to the Kashmir dispute that Nehru died, and so did the initiative to resolve the dispute between the two countries. Earlier, Jawaharlal Nehru had declared on the floor of assembly that India would honour the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Kashmir. Anyhow, many a time, ideas were floated by leaders of SAARC countries for the formation of South Asian Economic Union. In the 11th SAARC Summit declaration there was proposal for the creation of a South Asian Economic Union on the pattern of European Economic Union, it was an admission that the countries were not oblivious of the challenge posed by the changed realities vis-à-vis the WTO. But first of all the countries of the region would have to resolve the disputes; and there could be no progress unless the major irritants were removed. We have an exemplar in the European Union, as Europe was increasingly a continent of diverse people, races, religious factions, united by ideas and ideals. Despite all that, formation of the European Union by no means was an easy task.

It has to be said that at the time of formation of the EU all the disputes had been resolved. And after the end of the Cold War, some of the East European countries became members of the EU. The credit, of course, goes to the joint vision of the then French President Charles De Gaulle and German Chancellor Conrad Edenauer, which united the European nations that had fought decade-long wars, at least one 100-year war, and two World Wars causing death and destruction unparalleled in the known history. It, however, took 50 years to reach that stage; still at least four countries from the original 15-member European Union have not accepted the single currency. Since 1985, the seven nations of South Asia have been a part of the South Asian Association of Regional Co-operation (SAARC), a relative newcomer among regional groupings, which has proved a slow starter. Despite a preferential trade among the seven members, it accounts for less than 6 per cent of the total trade. And the reason is again Kashmir dispute which has stymied the progress in mutual trade between India and Pakistan.

As a matter of fact, all members are weary of India's hegemonic ambitions. Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh do not feel comfortable with India's style of conducting diplomatic and commercial affairs. Pakistan had always suspected that India would use commerce as a way to undermine Pakistan's fidelity to Kashmir. The problem is that India's avidity to achieve the big power status clouds the prospects of unity amongst the South Asian nations. Therefore, India has to give practical demonstration to dispel that impression, and Kashmir dispute should be resolved to the satisfaction of all the stakeholders: India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. After the end of the Cold War, when the US and the West have changed their priorities, and even attitude towards their allies, it is time that developing countries also review their own priorities and goals in the drastically changed international landscape. India should understand that this century belongs to Asia, which is a threat to the US and Europe. Therefore, policy to contain China is predicated on the premise that Asia be the next theatre of third world war.

During the Cold War era, the US had always tried to win India on its side, but failed. Indian leadership has since the disintegration of the USSR been responding favourably to the overtures by the US for making India a strategic partner. Meanwhile, the US and India have concluded nuclear agreement, whereby US will share advanced cutting-edge technology with India. It has helped India enter the Nuclear Club, and also lobbying for a permanent seat at the Security Council for India. As a matter of fact, there are two commonalities between the US and India. The former is a sole super power and India aspires to be one, and secondly both fear the unstoppable rise of China as a super power. But winds of change in the sub-continent had swept the region in May 1998 when Pakistan detonated six nuclear devices in response to five detonated by India. Pakistan is indeed a nuclear state, and now Asia has three nuclear states. And any war between the nuclear states could be disastrous not only for the region but beyond. One can hope that India will review its policies, and resolve the Kashmir dispute so that people of India and Pakistan, rather the whole region could live without fear.







It is something very positive and encouraging that India has a very neat and clean judicial system. If on one hand, the non-Hindu minorities are being maltreated by the Indian security forces, on the other hand marvelously judicious courts of India are providing relief to the crushed ones. A few days back, in the second week of February 2011, the unshaken words of Virender Bhatt, the Additional Sessions Judge of a Delhi Court were resonating in the court room, determined with the passion of honesty and devotion to the sincerity to profession, "These four police officers have brought utter shame and disrepute to the whole Delhi Police force. In my opinion, there cannot be any more serious or grave crime than a police officer framing an innocent citizen in a false criminal case. Such tendency in the police officers needs to be curbed with a stern hand. Such black sheep, who are out to defame and bring into disrepute the whole police force, need to be identified from the whole flock and taken to task." The worthy Judge was giving his verdict after hearing the case of seven Indian nationals who remained behind the bars for more than six years since the first of July 2005. The charge sheet filed against these seven so-called ISI agents said that these accused were arrested after a bloody encounter. The police also claimed to have recovered from them fake currency of Rs 50,000 , a sketch of Palam Air Force station, an AK-47 assault rifle, several magazines, cartridges and hand grenades. According to the charge sheet the accused persons disclosed that they were working on the directions of Pakistan's spy agency ISI. However the honourable court remarked that the encounter story plotted by the police in this regard was 'carefully scripted in office', reported Times of India.

Framing the ISI in every act of terrorism has become the most favourite activity for the security forces of India. It seems that most of the time and resources are being lavishly wasted on digging out the roots and connections of the ISI in India but yet so far no one has succeeded in achieving the desired objectives; neither the Indian Central Bureau of Intelligence nor the Raw. From the Mumbai blasts to the Samjhauta Express burning, the ISI was blamed baselessly just after the occurrence of the incidents, even before the regular investigations could have started. In India, from 1999 to 2011, one can find a long list of culprits and criminals arrested in the name of the ISI but the exemplary judicious courts of India very honestly and impartially rejected to be a part of this blame game. In the last 12 years more than hundred people have been arrested under the allegations of having their links with the ISI but fortunately they all got acquitted. Various record files of different newspapers provide a lively proof to this reality.

The Express India posted a report on July 20, 2004 with reference to a city sessions court of Ahmadabad which acquitted three persons alleged to be ISI agents. They were also accused of being involved in drug trafficking, supplying fake currency, arms and drugs in Gujarat and Rajasthan. In the order, principal judge of the city sessions court C S Oza said, "The prosecution had mentioned the accused as ISI agents but had failed to prove charges against them. No prima facie case seems to exist against three accused'' According to the charge sheet filed against these three Indian Muslims, they were arrested by the Crime Branch on January 23, 2001, near a telephone booth in Vatva allegedly while making phone calls to Pakistan. The charge sheet said that the accused were working with Pakistani ISI agents to build a network for supply of arms and ammunitions in the State. The Khaleej Times of 2nd July, 2005 reported another case of the same type in which a Kolkata court acquitted eight Indian Muslims who were branded Pakistan's spies and charged with waging war against India. In the landmark verdict the judge Sourish Mukherjee not only ordered their immediate release but observed that the police had no evidence whatsoever against the accused persons and failed to produce even a single witness. The collapse of this high-profile case which was cited by authorities in New Delhi and Kolkata as 'proof' of ISI's operations in India not only left the police with egg on its face but also exposed the Indian establishment's habit of ISI fixation in every criminal activity; says the paper.. On 12 June 2008 there comes another report of the Indian Express and of so many other news sources regarding the ten people who were arrested in 1999 by Assam Police which branded them as ISI Agents. The Assam Police could not prove their ISI Links in the court even after 9 years of keeping these people behind the bars and ultimately they were released by Guwahati Court as there was no evidence against these people being ISI agents. During the case hearing some of the newspapers alleged that the Assam Police was in a habit of arresting people in the name of being ISI agents only to collect source money from the Centre. Somewhere in 2010, a Naib Subedar of 25 Rajput Regiment, Fayaz Khan had to face a summarily court martial on allegations that he had links with Islamic terror groups and the ISI but luckily all allegation against him proved false and partial. The Armed forces tribunal issued orders to reinstate him at the post of religious teacher but the defence ministry refused to reinstate a Muslim soldier acquitted of the charges of being an ISI agent. The helpless Naib Subedar is still waiting for justice but no one is willing to lend him a helping hand because he is a Muslim.

Things are still the same even after such a long period of twelve years. The blame game against Pakistan is on; the two opponent teams are in the field; one of the team is the ISI and the other one consists of the players from USA, Israel, UK and India. Let us see what happens next in this never ending match.

—The writer is a defence, strategic affairs analyst.










Time and again, the professional political class loses sight of what matters in federal politics, and mainstream voters remind us how they know what really counts. Last week many observers were preoccupied with the travails of Tony Abbott, rather than serious scrutiny of the government. Nowhere was this more obvious than on the ABC's Insiders program, which wrapped up the week as if the opposition were the only issue. Talkback radio, online posts and letters to newspapers showed the public was less easily distracted, and opinion polls continue to show that voters remain underwhelmed by Julia Gillard and her minority Labor government.

Adding significantly to the Prime Minister's dilemma is something else that occurred last week -- another cabinet leak. It is difficult to overstate how this lack of executive solidarity is both a practical problem and a symptom of dysfunction. This, understandably, is a rare conundrum. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd suffered cruel blows from cabinet leaks, and Ms Gillard suffered similar embarrassment during last year's election campaign. Now, with the revelations of Mr Rudd's dissent during cabinet's health deliberations, the ugly games continue. We can all speculate on the possible political winners and losers from these shenanigans, but we are certain the ultimate loser is the nation, because of the diminished quality of government.

Central to the cabinet's operation, as the executive decision-making body of government, are the concepts of collective responsibility and confidentiality. They allow our executive to debate issues freely, yet deliver decisions with uniform authority. Cabinet leaks, even seemingly petty stories of disagreements, cut across both of these important principles. While members of our executive are worried about score-settling and internal attacks, they cannot argue freely in cabinet, and thus limit their opportunity to deliberate in the best interests of the nation.

This continued malicious leaking therefore was potentially the most important political development of last week, although it attracted less attention than it warranted. The Prime Minister must find a way to stop this, which means forging what has been elusive for Labor so far: unity. Without it, her government will fail.






Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has shown sound political judgment and an understanding of the importance of her state's recovery task by opting to take on the job of Reconstruction Minister. The flood and cyclone disasters that have redefined her premiership have left a legacy of damage that will live beyond the next election, expected late this year. It is good politics to ensure she is at the forefront right up to the poll, turning an election that once promised to be a referendum on privatisations past into a vote of confidence, at least in part, on the reconstruction effort. Perhaps, given the importance of the task, Queenslanders would expect no less. But some will be cynical about Ms Bligh pushing other issues aside and staking it all on her recovery management skills. At least the added pressure, focus and accountability this invites upon the reconstruction task should help to encourage the best results. We shall see.

Meanwhile, the flood disaster inquiry will continue its work, including examination of the government's actions. The decision to lower the levels in the Wivenhoe Dam this week, in anticipation of possible heavy rains, appears to confirm reporting by Hedley Thomas that high levels of storage before last month's floods were a mistake. Concession or not, such sensible precautions are to be welcomed because the trials of last month will be worthless unless we learn from them. The dual purposes of the dam, flood mitigation and water storage, clearly must conflict with one another at times. The fact that this week's release of 290,000 megalitres amounts to a year's water supply for Brisbane underscores that point.

Wivenhoe's operating manual, sensibly, is being reviewed and in the end these matters must demand some fine judgments. Natural Resources Minister Stephen Robertson admits lessons already might have been learned from last month and such admissions should be made without direct political consequences for now. Eventually, the inquiry will reveal whether foresight and oversight were adequate. Hindsight tells us Wivenhoe Dam already has prevented some flooding events and we should await the verdict on whether its management mitigated or exacerbated the latest Brisbane flooding. With so much to do, and so many questions to be answered, Ms Bligh must resist the temptation to rush to the polls, at least until after the inquiry's August interim report.







This newspaper has long argued that the next round of productivity gains to be made in micro-economic reform lies in streamlining commonwealth/state relations. This challenge has been canvassed over several years at the annual Economic and Social Outlook conferences run by The Australian and the Melbourne Institute. For this reason, we welcomed Kevin Rudd's interest in sorting out the Council of Australian Governments and ending the "blame game" between Canberra and the states. Four years ago when he threatened to take over the hospital system if the states did not get their houses in order, it seemed a promising, if ambitious, intervention and the Queenslander looked set to be an interesting prime minister.

We know better now. Mr Rudd failed to get to first base on the plan. The hospitals plan stitched together at COAG last April was, from the start, hobbled by the West Australian government's refusal to sign up. And things did not improve as the year wore on. Almost 12 months later, the new Prime Minister has negotiated a deal by jettisoning the core idea of Canberra as the dominant funder and dropping Mr Rudd's plan to claw back 30 per cent of GST money. The politics add up but Julia Gillard has not advanced reform. Indeed, the deal looks like a conventional health funding agreement rather than anything approaching the transformation promised by Mr Rudd.

That's disappointing, given that both Mr Rudd (in January last year) and Ms Gillard (this month) have made much of the need to improve national productivity. Streamlining the structure of our health and hospitals systems would have been a good place to start but Ms Gillard has had to cut her cloth to fashion a deal that boosts funding in the hope that Canberra will be able to force an "efficient price" on the states. Before the weekend, there was room for optimism about Ms Gillard being able to extract more transparency from the premiers and institute funding based on a calculation of what hospitals actually do, rather than block grants. With some states digging in on the structure of the funding model itself, the chances of real change from this in-principle deal seem to be receding.

The entire process represents an opportunity lost for Labor, in part because Mr Rudd aimed too high. People on both sides of politics have at times backed the need for a centralised hospital funding model. As the Coalition's health minister, Tony Abbott favoured a federal takeover but could not convince John Howard of the practicalities of such a policy. In government, Mr Rudd's ambition quickly collided with the realities of a federal bureaucracy that demonstrated during the global financial crisis that it was not much good at delivering major programs. Even so, Mr Rudd would have had a shot if he had focused on two or three key areas of reform, including hospitals, after he won government, instead of spreading himself over a grab bag of initiatives.

The limited hospitals outcome suggests Canberra needs a more innovative approach to getting the states to change. Almost 20 years ago, Paul Keating used competition payments to encourage reform. Ms Gillard could do worse than take a leaf out of his book.






Julia Gillard's agreement with the states on a reorganisation of hospital funding is both an ending and a beginning. It ends the period of uncertainty which began with Kevin Rudd's half-finished attempt at reform. Yet Sunday's deal is really only the start of negotiations: the full detail of the arrangements has yet to be thrashed out. Ahead lies the complex challenge of setting an efficient price for hospital services while ensuring quality of care is not compromised. The basic outline of the scheme, though, is clear: local boards to administer hospital networks and an independent authority to allocate funds to them contributed 50:50 by states and the Commonwealth. Performance will be measured and published by a separate authority to ensure the best practices become standard.

The Prime Minister claims to have reduced bureaucracy, although that remains to be seen. Eliminating Rudd's planned eight state-based funding bodies is no great achievement because they were never actually created. Her alternative, though, is better because it is simpler. By bypassing state health bureaucracies she can claim credit for considerable progress towards a rational and less politicised hospital funding system. By bringing administrative control closer to communities she effectively counters any complaints about interference with states' rights.

The NSW Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, has held off from endorsing the model, but there is a certain meanness of spirit about his suspicions. The model has been negotiated and approved by all states and deserves to be given a thorough trial in practice.

If it works as intended, it should end the argy-bargy over hospital funding. Arguments over which types of procedure are funded by which level of government have impeded the quest for a more effective system. Perhaps the chief measure of the success of the Gillard changes will be whether they do indeed eliminate this paper-shuffling and refocus the system's energy on providing the best care.

Gillard and her party will be worried that the public, as shown by the Herald/AC Nielsen poll published yesterday, has turned away from Labor towards the Coalition. The Coalition's fumbles during the week the poll was taken appear not to have cut its support. Labor has only one choice if it is to regain voters' trust: to play a long game. Gillard's government will have to work gradually through the agenda of reforms mapped out by Kevin Rudd but begun by him with inadequate preparation. She must make steady progress over the next 12 months towards rational reforms which bring demonstrable improvements for voters. Reform of hospital funding has been a good start. 





It is almost in the nature of organised crime that the proceeds are so large the crime bosses can buy the most advanced weaponry, technical gadgets and secret banking services, and the most expensive legal advice - sometimes leaving overburdened and under-resourced police forces floundering in their exhaust fumes. Governments consequently are drawn to the idea of super-cops: elite forces with skills at unravelling money trails and gathering intelligence, spared of mundane police work to focus on big targets, given powers not trusted to regular officers.

So it has been with the NSW Crime Commission, an agency set up more than 20 years ago, with powers that include, most critically, the right to demand answers from its targets even at the risk of self-incrimination - with jail the penalty for not answering. Has it made noticeable inroads into organised crime in this state? We are not sure: there are lots of drugs, lots of shootings, and lots of bling out there. Secrecy has to be part of the commission's modus operandi, but the Herald's investigative reports over recent days suggest we could be told more about its practices and its results.

An inquiry by the Police Integrity Commission supports this view. It asks whether the commission's twin tasks of investigating crime on one hand, and confiscating the proceeds on the other, are not at odds with each other. Confiscations have created an unsavoury partnership through bargains to avoid court cases. The criminals secure a percentage that can be returned safe from further seizure; the state keeps the rest to pay for drug clinics and the like - repairing the damage of crime - which it would otherwise have to fund from general revenue.

We learn that the commission has very limited regular oversight by a management committee of outsiders, that its commissioner, Phillip Bradley, operates without deputies, and that its organisational structure has no mechanisms to detect and prevent misconduct or manipulation by criminals. We learn of agreements involving substantial amounts of seized assets requiring a single signature, of leaks and possible tipoffs foiling police investigations or putting informants at risk.

It is the old problem of who guards the guardians. The public does not need to know the detail of the commission's operations, which would be counterproductive; but it does need to know that they are subject to regular independent review, and that the organisation is not a law unto itself.

It is particularly important in NSW, where the histories of policing and crime have long been too closely intertwined.





A GOVERNMENT'S fate is rarely predictable less than six months into a term of office, as the seesawing fortunes of John Howard's successive governments attest. That knowledge will be some comfort to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her ministers as they read the findings of the Age/Nielsen poll we published yesterday, but they will also be aware of the differences between their predicament and any faced by Mr Howard. He never led a minority government, dependent on the precarious support of crossbenchers for retaining office. Ms Gillard, however, is in precisely that position; she cannot be sure of being able to choose the time of the next election, and does not have the luxury of being able to plan a re-election strategy accordingly.

The poll records the biggest lead the opposition has yet attained over this government, 54 per cent of the two-party preferred vote compared with 46 per cent for Labor. On the face of it this would deliver a comfortable election win for the Coalition, although optimists in government ranks might retort that the movement of the vote since November, 3 per cent either way, is not statistically significant. But that is only marginally more consoling than saying that the glass is half-full. The reality is that Labor is trailing the Coalition, and that Ms Gillard has not securely established herself as the nation's leader. She still leads Opposition Leader Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister, 51 per cent to 41 per cent, but incumbents typically do score better in answer to that question. The number of respondents who disapprove of her performance, however, has risen from 39 per cent in November to 43 per cent now - and that is a statistically significant change.

If there are indications of the next election result in this poll, they may be found in the distinction voters evidently make between their overall assessment of the government and their preference on particular issues. Ms Gillard may have trouble negotiating through Parliament her levy for reconstruction after the Queensland floods, but Mr Abbott has gained little traction among voters with his campaign against it. A clear majority, 52 per cent, support the levy but, as the poll shows, a clear majority would vote for the Coalition.

Conventional electoral wisdom holds that when government is at stake voters do not decide principally on issues but on whom they trust to govern. This poll is at least partial vindication of that view, though Mr Abbott cannot exult too much in it. The Coalition has opened a commanding lead over Labor, but his own approval rating, 46 per cent, is significantly lower than the 52 per cent who approve of Ms Gillard.

With Mr Abbott failing to win strong personal support among voters, and with Ms Gillard picking up support on a contentious issue such as the levy, what might explain the government's malaise? As The Age has noted before, Ms Gillard is instinctively a deal maker in politics. Every prime minister must be prepared to deal, of course; all democratic politics requires negotiated solutions, and minority governments survive by deals. Negotiating Labor back into office after it had lost its majority remains Ms Gillard's outstanding achievement as Prime Minister. To lead, however, requires more.

Her renegotiation of the resources rent tax, for example, has diluted the tax while only gaining the support of part of the mining industry. She has done what Kevin Rudd was unable to do by winning in-principle support from all the states for a new healthcare agreement; but she has done this by reducing the Commonwealth's share of funding without being sure that future state revenues will allow them to meet their shares. And she has yet to begin the greater task of setting a carbon price, a goal on which sectional interests will oppose her. It will require all her deal-making skill, but deals alone won't deliver an effective outcome.





IF ONLY benchmarking and testing lifted performance as governments seem to believe they do. Standards could be set for Australian cricket, requiring batsmen to score a century and bowlers to take five wickets every second innings. Public pressure to perform must then have its effect. Except it doesn't work that way. To improve performance, it is essential also to understand the reasons for underachievement and to change practices. Unfortunately, education policy seems so obsessed with standards, testing and reporting that the core processes of teaching and learning are neglected.

We have heard little about funding to attract enough able and fully qualified teachers and to give schools all the resources they need to meet new national curriculum standards. We have heard a lot about NAPLAN tests. All schools' results are posted on the My School website, which federal School Education Minister Peter Garrett said would for the first time show how much students had improved between tests. Improvement is seemingly taken as a given, whereas back in the real world of schools the struggle continues. Many resort to ''teaching to the test''.

State education bureaucrat John Nelson recently resigned over a cursory inquiry into a huge improvement in just two years by one school in Broadmeadows. With 85 per cent of students from non-English-speaking backgrounds and 85 per cent of parents on low incomes, the school leapt into the top 5 per cent in spelling and punctuation and top 15 to 20 per cent in reading in Australia. This was attributed to specialist programs and a lot of NAPLAN practice tests. Any real gains in literacy and numeracy are an achievement. Yet, as Mr Nelson says, if the school found a way to transform its teaching and learning, ''why hasn't it been shared with other schools as world's best practice?''

If struggling schools knew that showing up badly in tests meant they would get all the help they need, they would probably wear the initial stigma. Yet all the standards being set and the test results being published do nothing to help schools overcome chronic shortages of qualified teachers in key areas such as maths and languages. Without them, the national curriculum can't be taught. Many schools also need much more help to overcome social disadvantages before they can even tackle the usual challenges of teaching.

Ultimately, the newly included financial data on My School may create pressure for greater equity by highlighting the gross disparities in the resources of the best and worst-performing schools. The value of published results does depend on what governments and schools do about them.








The crowning of The King's Speech at the Bafta awards was indeed a bitter-sweet moment for the UK Film Council, which funded it and is now being axed. The council had its critics – it was too top-heavy, with a wage bill to match; it tried to compete with Hollywood instead of funding the sort of film that would never attract attention from the big studios; and besides, it picked its fair share of lemons. Anyone remember Sex Lives of the Potato Men? For all that, the goal of a "self-sustaining UK film industry", which was the council's brief when it was set up 10 years ago, remains as elusive as ever. The rolling caravan of British actors, scriptwriters, producers, cameramen, special effects wizards exists – but somehow never at the same time and in the same place. We can be as creative as we like – Harry Potter is a worldwide brand. All that happens is that Leavesden studios in Hertfordshire which produced it is bought up by Warner Brothers. Hollywood is spending record sums in Britain but the profits flow out as fast as the jobs come in. The scrapping of the UKFC will, in the short term, increase the funds that the British Film Institute (which takes over most of its functions) can disburse in lottery money. That still leaves the problem of how a future Mike Leigh or Ken Loach of this world will find funding. What is needed is policy and a body which will support films that can secure European co-funding. Not Hollywood sell-outs but commercially successful British films with their own distinctive audience.






When a prime minister tells the public that too many people have stopped taking responsibility for their own lives, something is going wrong. At best it signals a prime minister who does not quite have his finger on the pulse. At worst it suggests a leader who is becoming impatient with the voters for failing to get his self-evidently obvious message. Yesterday, David Cameron yet again relaunched his "big society" project and gave the impression that the idea's failure to catch fire was the public's fault rather than Mr Cameron's own. The big society was his passion, he insisted, so he was going to go on about it until it succeeds. Mr Cameron did not actually tell us to pull our socks up. But he got dangerously close to it.

All prime ministers get this way if they do not watch out – and it is almost invariably a bad sign. Gordon Brown told us to try harder to be more British. Tony Blair insisted we should wake up to the threats from which he promised to protect us. John Major exhorted us to all get back to basics. Margaret Thatcher lectured us to stop drooling and drivelling about how much we care about others. In each case, the prime ministers sent a message that they were on a different wavelength from the public. In Mr Cameron's case, the message is that he just doesn't understand where the rest of us are. For a man with his background and his privileges, this is dangerous stuff.

In principle, there is not just nothing wrong with the big society; there is lots right with it. Citizens should have a sense of solidarity with each other. They should give something of themselves to their neighbourhood and their community. They shouldn't expect the state, especially the central state, to provide them with their goods and jobs in all circumstances. They should not pass by on the other side. They have responsibilities as well as rights. They should give what they can as well as take what they need. Bottom up is frequently better than top down. Small is often better than large. Local can be preferable to national or international. Every political party – Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour, too – has this instinct and tradition in its history and its DNA.

What is more, Britain already is that kind of society. Solidarity, community and small platoons are indeed under attack in many ways, not least from globalisation, information technology and multiculturalism, all of which pose challenges as well as delivering immense benefits. But helping out, volunteerism, charity and self-help are not exactly non-existent in modern Britain. All kinds of intermediate bodies thrive, from trade unions, faith and parents' groups to not-for-profits, fund-raisers and community campaigns. Some are not what they once were. Others have never had it so good. Of course more could be done and there are pressing needs to be addressed. But it is nonsense to pretend everything is broken – as well as an insult to the millions who already do so much amid such stressed and busy lives.

Ed Miliband is wrong to claim that the big society is merely a cloak for reducing the state. But Mr Cameron is wrong to provide him with the opportunity to allege it. The truth is that asking individuals to do a bit more and the state to do a bit less is a philosophy for optimistic and prosperous times. It makes far less sense when times are insecure and people have such pressing anxieties and needs. These are times when the state, though constrained and short of resources, is needed more than ever by many. It is deeply unfair to the richness of the ideas that animate the big society to pretend it is nothing but a smokescreen for the dismantling of the state. The time for the big society will come. But that time is not now, not in this way, not on the threshold of the cuts that are due to be inflicted and felt at the end of March. The big society is a potentially important idea. But Mr Cameron has only himself to blame if people conclude that he is up to no good with it.








Once sailing ships battled their way through the seas off Cape Horn. Now container vessels make their way through the Panama canal. The purpose is the same: to link the markets of the Pacific world with those of the Atlantic, trading the raw commodities and consumer goods that power the global economy. Like the Suez canal, the Panama canal is a vital pinch point and an immensely profitable strategic asset. Last week oil traders scrambled to plan alternative supply routes in the event that the Egyptian crisis closed the Suez canal.

Less attention has been paid to the dramas being played out in central and South America, but they could have greater consequences. The building of the Panama canal, running 50 miles between two oceans, was an engineering triumph, completed by American engineers after decades of struggle through thick forest and swamps. By modern standards, though, it is small, crowded and expensive: carrying some 300m tonnes of shipping a year against the planned 80m, or about 5% of all world trade. The largest modern cargo vessels cannot fit in it and Panama's neighbours look jealously at the revenues it produces, an average of $50,000 per ship. As China's economy grows –this week it overtook Japan's and is the second-largest user of the canal – so does the pressure to find alternatives.

One scheme – now under way in Panama, despite its controversial environmental consequences – will widen the lock gates at the canal entrances, to allow bigger ships to use it. Other vessels dock on the west coast of the United States and unload their containers directly on to giant trains that carry them to American consumers in the east. This week attention also turned to a Columbian-Chinese plan to build a similar rail link across the South American country, bypassing the Panama canal to the north. This so-called "dry canal" would make it easier for Colombia to export coal to China and will be taken, by those who see China as a threat, as evidence of the country's expansionism – just as Britain, France and then America found themselves battling over the Suez and Panama routes in the 19th century.

Meanwhile, to Panama's north, some suspect Iranian troublemaking in a plan to build a canal along the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border – a route considered a century ago. Nicaraguan vessels began dredging the Caribbean end of the San Juan River, intruding into Costa Rican territory. Costa Rica has protested to the international court of justice in the Hague, which is now considering its judgement. Building another canal here would cost billions: an impossible dream. But the imperial battle over trade routes is far from over.






Low-level, preliminary military talks between North and South Korea at the Panmunjom truce village collapsed on Feb. 9 when the North Korean delegation abruptly stormed out. It had been hoped that the talks, intended as a preparatory step for high-level inter-Korea military talks, would lay a foundation for lowering the tension on the Korean Peninsula. But the collapse of the talks has underlined the huge gap between the two Koreas. It has become extremely difficult to resume the six-party talks on the North's nuclear weapons program, which have not been held for almost two years.

Apparently, the low-level military talks had been promoted by the United States and China. In their joint statement last month in Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao called for "sincere and constructive inter-Korean dialogue" to thaw relations between the two Koreas. In meeting with Mr. Obama, Mr. Hu expressed concerns over the North's uranium enrichment.

In the Panmunjom meeting, South Korea demanded that North Korea apologize for a March 2010 torpedo attack that sank a South Korean corvette and a November 2010 artillery attack on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island, and take measures designed to prevent recurrence of such incidents. But North Korea said that it was not responsible for the corvette sinking, which killed 46 sailors, and that the South provoked the North into shelling the island. It made a counterproposal that the North and South discuss ways to lesson the military tension. It is possible that Pyongyang desires to upgrade the Korean War truce agreement to a peace treaty.

The collapse of the meeting has made the prospects of talks between the two countries' Red Cross organizations difficult. The talks are to deal with such humanitarian issues as reunion of family members separated by the Korean War. Despite difficulty, North and South Korea should have dialogue to lessen mutual distrust and decrease the tension. It is hoped that such dialogue could pave the way for the six-party talks' resumption.






Prime Minister Naoto Kan held a one-on-one Diet debate with opposition party leaders last week — the first such debate since he came to power in June 2010. It showed that both the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party share a view that a consumption tax raise is necessary. But both LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki and Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi made it clear that their parties will not easily sit at the table with the DPJ to jointly discuss reform of the social welfare system and of the tax system as called for by Mr. Kan.

Because the DPJ controls the Lower House, it will be able to enact the 2011 budget. A Lower House vote on a national budget takes precedence over an Upper House vote. But the debate showed that it will be extremely difficult for the DPJ to enact budget implementation bills, as different from the budget itself, since the opposition controls the Upper House and cooperation from the LDP and Komeito are unlikely to come.

Mr. Tanigaki said that since the DPJ's 2009 Lower House election manifesto is based on an assumption that the DPJ will not raise the consumption tax, the DPJ must change the manifesto and Mr. Kan should dissolve the Lower House for an election to hear voters' opinion. The LDP leader refused to join consultations with the DPJ on the social welfare and tax reform by saying that the LDP joining the consultations is like the LDP helping the DPJ break its promise with people. Mr. Yamaguchi said that Mr. Kan should take responsibility because there is no prospect that the DPJ can fulfill the promises contained in its manifesto.

Mr. Kan reiterated without going into substance that the government will present a proposal for social welfare reform in April and a proposal for tax reform in June. As to the DPJ's manifesto, he said that the DPJ will present a review of it around September. If he revises the manifesto, he will face resistance from within the DPJ and opposition from votes. If he does not revise it, the LDP and Komeito will not cooperate with him. Overcoming this dilemma will be a hard task for Mr. Kan.






Special to The Japan Times

SINGAPORE — While it is true that the Indonesian constitution does not outlaw Shiite Islam, a superficial look at the matter can be deceptive. Indonesia's state doctrine Pancasila acknowledges six faiths and pledges to treat these faiths equally: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

Such a promise of egalitarianism has helped to put the label "secular" on Pancasila and the country has traditionally been associated with religious pluralism and tolerance.

The results of a recent survey by the Indonesian Setera Institute are of interest as they suggest majority support for keeping up the status quo in religious affairs. Asked whether difference in religion was a benchmark for choosing one's friends, 81.5 percent of the respondents said that it wasn't; 88 percent opined that religion was a private matter and needed no government interference.

At the same time, 49 percent of respondents said they "cannot accept nonreligious people." 60.9 percent held that they "cannot accept" beliefs except the six "official religions" acknowledged by the state doctrine Pancasila.

The results suggest that a majority of Indonesians want the government to pursue a conservative approach toward religious matters, presumably as it would avoid controversy.

Islamist groups in Indonesia have a long history of putting pressure on authorities to ban Islamic groups they deem "deviant" and thus outside Pancasila. Shiites were once a prominent target, but in recent years, attention has shifted to the Islamic Ahmadiyah sect. Ahmadiyah is a religious movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in Punjab, India, in 1889.

Like mainstream Islam, Ahmadiyah teachings are based on the Quran and the Hadith (accounts of the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad). Ahmadis, too, observe the five pillars of Islam: the belief in a single creator and Muhammad's prophethood, the five daily prayers, alms, fasting and — in theory — the pilgrimage (Ahmadis are banned from visiting Mecca in Saudi Arabia).

A common demand is that Ahmadis should be forbidden from referring to themselves as Muslims. The main reason to perceive Ahmadiyah as a distinctive faith outside Islam is the claim that the group perceived its founder as being a prophet. A second claim is that the movement had its own holy book, named Tadzkirah. A third is that Ahmadiyah had its own holy sites in the Punjabi towns of Qadiyan and Rabwah (unlike mainstream Muslims' Mecca and Medina).

The crux is that these accusations are shared by many Muslims and most leaders of mainstream Muslim organizations. Nearly 61 percent of respondents in the Setera survey said they "could not accept Ahmadiyah."

On the question of what the government should do about Ahmadiyah, 45.5 percent said "disband" it, and 20.7 percent said "limit its expansion." Only 6.1 percent opted for "protecting" it.

In mid-2008, the Yudhoyono government issued a decree that left the legal status of Ahmadiyah unresolved. It banned Ahmadiyah from missionary activities but not from internal activities, thus leaving its members in a legal limbo. The decree gave proof of the government's determination to please broader Muslim constituencies while trying to uphold some appearance of full religious freedom.

Throughout 2010, Islamist groups have carried out raids against Ahmadiyah properties, most of them in West Java. The government follows the particular logic that mainstream Muslims were threatened by Ahmadiyah's existence. Officials like to argue that Ahmadiyah mosques should be closed in order to forestall "anarchic activities" by local Muslims, thereby taking pre-emptive actions against the victims rather than the aggressors.

The police's task is to protect citizens regardless of their religious orientation but by giving the impression of protecting Ahmadiyah, they face the danger of being labeled as being pro-Ahmadiyah and thus anti-Islam.

In sum, Islamist civil society groups have enjoyed a disproportional influence on the Yudhoyono government. Indonesia claims to be a secular state but the government has repeatedly intervened in religious and social affairs. It has yielded to Islamist pressure because of concern of a backlash by broader Muslim electorates who share the Islamists' support of the government's conservative stance on religious affairs.

The deeper cause for the problems of the Ahmadis and other nonconformist religious groups are Indonesia's constitution which is selective, and its laws which are ambiguous in its promise of religious freedom.

Indonesia is often seen as the prime example for a moderate Islam yet most Muslim leaders from mainstream Muslim organizations tend to be firm in supporting those laws inimical to the legal recognition of Ahmadiyah and other religious movements and thus to full religious freedom.

Bernhard Platzdasch is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies, Singapore






A question that has grown increasingly popular among politicians in Tokyo's Nagata-cho is: How long is Naoto Kan going to survive as prime minister?

When former Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Taro Aso had dinner together Jan. 17, Abe reportedly said, "I think the Kan government will start jolting in March and collapse in June." Aso is said to have agreed.

The conversation may sound like black humor as it comes from the men who bore heavy responsibility for ending the decades of nearly uninterrupted rule by the Liberal Democratic Party and handing over the reins of government to the Democratic Party of Japan, now headed by Kan. Abe was prime minister when his LDP lost badly in the Upper House election in 2007 and Aso was in power in 2009 when his party suffered a resounding defeat to the DPJ.

The ordinary session of the Diet was convened on Jan. 24 in an awkward situation of the governing DPJ controlling a commanding majority in the Lower House, but the LDP and other opposition groups having a majority in the Upper House.

In an apparent bid to win a certain degree of cooperation from the opposition camp for the passage of important government-sponsored bills, Kan concluded his policy speech, delivered before both houses, by saying: "I end my policy speech by urging my honorable fellow members of the Diet to make this session truly deliberative Diet."

The difficulties the Kan administration faces due to a divided Diet are not new because the same was true during the extraordinary session of last year. But the situation seems to have been exacerbated since Kan was forced to reshuffle his Cabinet late in January by bowing to pressure from the opposition parties, which had threatened to boycott all parliamentary deliberations unless he replaced two ministers against whom censure motions were passed in the Upper House in December. The concession to the opposition dealt a major blow to Kan especially because he was forced to remove then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, the key man in his Cabinet.

In the reshuffle, Kan named Kaoru Yosano as minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, only to draw bitter criticisms not only from the leading opposition LDP but from some members of his own DPJ. Yosano had held a number of high Cabinet posts under the LDP administrations until the LDP lost to the DPJ in September 2009. He defected from the LDP in April 2010 to form Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan) and declared himself to be a staunch opponent of Kan and the DPJ.

According to some observers, Kan hoped to have Yosano serve as a liaison with the opposition camp, principally the LDP, especially on matters related to reforming tax and social security systems. But the opposition groups appear to have no stomach for dealing with Yosano because of what they regard as his big "about-face."

Besides, some of the policies advocated by Yosano are said to be totally incompatible with the DPJ's basic stand.

The problems facing Kan are not limited in his Cabinet alone but are also rising within the DPJ, of which he is president. After removing Sengoku from the key Cabinet post, Kan named him acting president of the DPJ. This has led some insiders to speculate that he could be at loggerheads with the DPJ's Secretary General Katsuya Okada, as they describe Okada as a "man of principle" while Sengoku is regarded as most flexible and pragmatic.

The two could make an excellent team to lead the DPJ if they cooperate with and complement each other, they say, but a feud between them could lead to a disaster.

Kan at present faces two difficult policy issues. One is his call for Japan to join other Pacific Rim countries for the conclusion of a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that would be aimed at eliminating import duties on all commodities. This is strongly opposed by Japanese farmers, however, who fear that agriculture would be ruined if inexpensive agricultural products are allowed to enter into the country freely. The other is his pledge to come up by June with a fundamental policy on a consumption tax increase, primarily to cover the rising costs of social welfare.

While June is the deadline for him to present the consumption tax policy, there is the possibility that the Diet will still be unable to enact budget-related bills even after June 1. The current Diet session's adjournment date is June 22. This presumably is why Yukio Edano, who succeeded Sengoku as Chief Cabinet Secretary, has speculated that a "political crisis" may come in June.

With everything seemingly going against the prime minister, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara is rumored to be seeking to succeed Kan as head of the DPJ and prime minister. Even though he denies such a rumor by saying that the right man to succeed Kan would be Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, observers point to signs of Maehara's ambition to head the governing party. One such sign is his proposal that Japan should enter into direct negotiations with North Korea, based on a joint declaration issued in Pyongyang in 2002 by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the North's strongman Kim Jong Il.

But the Foreign Ministry is negative about direct talks with North Korea, which would skip the six-party talks among Japan, North and South Koreas, China, the United States and Russia to denuclearize the North. Perhaps this difference in views prompted Maehara to transfer Akitaka Saiki, a high-ranking diplomat who formerly served as Japan's top delegate to the six-party talks, to the post of ambassador to India.

It is conceivable for a schism to develop between Maehara, on the one hand, and Kan and his right-hand men, notably Sengoku, Okada and Edano, on the other. In his last-ditch effort to ride over the difficulties arising out of the lack of control over the Upper House, Kan is said to be seeking support from Komeito, which was a junior partner in the governing coalition led by the LDP until it was deposed in 2009.

But what if Komeito demands that Kan step down as prime minister?

Edano has reportedly confided to his close associates: "Mr. Kan will never step down from his post. If worse comes to worse, he will dissolve the Lower House and call a general election." The curtain on massive political confusion is likely to rise.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the February issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, social and economic issues.






In Sri Lanka the truth must be the first casualty. It happened during the war and now in cricket -- the World Cup to be precise and at a time the country is trying to showcase itself to the world as a sporting spot on the globe, after the end of decades of war.

By the time these lines are read Sri Lankans may know what would have become of the fiasco or some may argue, the pompous shots surrounding the construction of the World Cup venue at Sooriyawewa in the Hambantota district. This had been put under a cloud of uncertainty as to whether it would be opened as the latest international cricket venue in the world.

Are we to believe that what is happening now, or happened, was far from the truth which has taken a beating. At the time of writing even the experts had little or no idea whether it will actually be ready for next Sunday's World Cup opener between Sri Lanka and Canada as the International Cricket Council stood directly caught up in the impasse unable to make a ruling for nearly three months other than wait and watch one of its members live on borrowed time.

After all one is left to wonder why the ICC was pussyfooting on the matter and creating more uncertainty when a few weeks ago it declared that the world's largest and cricket's most inseparable venue, the Eden Gardens in Kolkatta was unfit to host the high profile game between England and India.

The saga that led to the impasse over the Sooriyawewa venue, brought out  two characters into focus, one a group of decision makers from the ICC and the other the Sri Lankan Tournament Director of the World Cup Suraj Dandeniya who unfortunately could not live up to his pompous boast that he was ten days ahead of schedule.

In an interview with the Daily Mirror last September, Mr. Dandeniya boasted he was "10 days ahead of schedule", referring to a November 30 deadline. With all the deadlines and extensions missed and the truth strangled for almost three months, the country was put into a wait-and-see situation for that historic date of February 20 to know the exact truth.

The ICC like Mr. Dandeniya must also be put in the dock on the question of whether it gave into the whims and fancies of Sri Lanka which is well known the world over to give its foreign visitors treatment that is "out of this world" even at the cost of its own people. A year ago two ICC officials, one a pitch expert, in a media briefing in Sri Lanka almost put the seal of endorsement on Sooriyawewa. If the February 20 match does not get off the ground, the ICC's double game of telling the Colombo media one thing and submitting another in London, and Mr. Dandeniya's grandiose rhetoric of stadium building, would be on midfield for all to see.

For this is the only way truth can have a place in what some people call a "Resplendent Isle". Or will both the ICC and Mr. Dandeniya win the match after all?





When a US President passes judgment on anything, I've conditioned myself over the years to take him seriously and do my best to read between line, words and letters. So when Barack Obama announced that 'today belongs to the people of Egypt, the underlined, bold, big-font, italicized word that jumped out was 'today'. Leaving alone the contention that the day actually belongs to the 'people of Egypt, Obama's statement implied two important things. First, 'yesterday' did not belong to the people of Egypt and secondly, tomorrow may not either. 

 A lot is being made of the sudden uprising that hogged the world's headlines over the past several weeks and overthrew Hosni Mubarak, second-wife of the bigamous USA in the Middle East (Isreal was, is and will be for a long time Uncle Sam's No. 1 bedding choice).  Some were quick to credit US-based social networking mechanisms like Twitter and Facebook for Mubarak's speedy exit. While such tools were definitely part of the process the assertion insults the courage, ingenuity, outrage and role of the thousands upon thousands who are not tech-savvy and moreover reduces them to passive recipients of revolutionary urge tossed down from a bunch of Facebook users. 

On the other hand, there is nothing to say that Egypt's tomorrow would be any different from its Mubarak-dominated yesterday. Indeed, its 'today' is in the hands of the Egyptian military, which was for years Mubarak's creature and by association that of US foreign policy. Even more interesting is the script for Egypt that's being constructed and disseminated by Washington-friendly media houses. 

A BBC analysis (February 11, 2011) extrapolates thus: 'What has happened here in Egypt can happen anywhere.  In Libya, in Iran, in Algeria, in Syria. It does not take leaders and it does not take a well-organised conspiracy.  It simply takes courage of the kind the demonstrators have shown in Egypt. The leaders of autocracies in the Middle East and way beyond should not sleep easy after this.'

One notes that there is no mention of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan or the several tame protectorates in Africa and (some remaining) in South America. These countries are not exactly democracies.  Neither is the USA for that matter.   John Pilger fires a warning in 'Egypt's revolt is coming home' (New Statesman, February 10, 2011): 'In Washington and London, the regimes are fragile and barely democratic. Having long burned down societies abroad, they are now doing something similar at home, with lies and without a mandate. To their victims, the resistance in Liberation Square must seem an inspiration. "We won't stop," said a young Egyptian woman on TV. "We won't go home." Try kettling a million people in the centre of London, bent on civil disobedience, and try imagining it could not happen.'

What the empire's media do not mention is as instructive as what they focus attention on, just like Obama's focus on 'today' and silence on 'yesterday' and 'tomorrow'.

On the other hand, was 'Egypt exactly conspiracy-free on that day which is said to have belonged to Egyptians?  F. Willian Engdahl's telling piece titled 'Egypts Revolution: Creative Destruction for a 'Greater Middle East'?' argues otherwise.  Engdahl demonstrates that 'Egypt' shows a remarkable adherence to regime-change templates 'developed by the Pentagon, US intelligence agencies and various think-tanks such as RAND Corporation over decades, beginning with the May 1968 destabilization of the De Gaulle presidency in France' and played out in Eastern Europe.  He does not dispute the motivation of genuine grievances nor defend Mubarak's regime, but nevertheless points out that Mubarak's utility value for Washington had shrunk considerably and to the point that the US, for all its apparent backing of the man, wanted him out of the equation, very much like what happened to a man called Saddam Hussein in the early nineties.

Mubarak opposed Obama's policies on Iran and on Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians. CNN, BBC and other Western media coverage carefully omitted the fact that key members of the Egyptian military command including Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan were all in Washington as guests of the Pentagon as the protests gathered force, effectively neutralizing Mubarak's ability to recover control.

Interestingly, there is less focus on what kind of governance structures or talk of roadmaps to a destination called Democracy, in the 'tomorrow' that followed the 'Egyptian Today' than there is of succession.  The debate in the media is about who will take over.  We are getting a lot of background right now, from thumbnail sketches to extensive curriculum vita.  Mohammed ElBaradei has been duly short-listed and his links to what Engdahl calls British and American intelligence and freemasonry are well known. Indeed, Engdahl claims that the anti-Mubarak rush is anything but a threat to US interests but rather have the signature of the 'colour revolutions' in Georgia and Ukraine (which rather than threaten US interests, propped them up) and the failed effort against Ahmedinejad in 2009.  Does all this mean that Egypts tomorrow will be a replay of its yesterday?  Not necessarily.  Scripts can be written but players can wreck them. 

The US-Israel script has got smudged in Turkey, Syria, Gaza and elsewhere. I would like to think the jury is out on Egypt and would love nothing more than Egypt's tomorrow too to belong to Egyptians, regardless of futures 'templated', in Washington or elsewhere. 





Egypt's jasmine revolution has all the elements of a political fairytale. Spontaneous popular protests that saw elderly and children on the streets. A day of heroism with anti-government protestors holding off determined attacks by armed bad guys. Finally, a despot who seemed destined to rule until the time he felt his son was ready to take over was toppled. And all this in 18 days. Unsurprisingly, this has proven so inspirational that the Tahrir Square revolt has had a ripple effect across the Arab world - and even triggered the odd protests in Africa and Europe.

Without detracting from the moment, it's useful to lower expectations regarding the jasmine effect. Egypt won't become a liberal democracy overnight. At best, it will begin a long and difficult journey towards creating, first, representative government and, second, an open society. The first goal is likely to be accomplished within months, as the constitution is amended to allow for free parliamentary and presidential elections. But expect it to come with one statutory warning: the Egyptian military is likely to remain autonomous. The military is wary of the country's Islamicist parties and will retain the right to intervene against them. The second goal is far more problematic. Genuine democracy is likely to result in the growth of conservative religious influence in Egypt. The hope: over a period of several years Egyptian voters will come to appreciate the benefits of secular principles, free expression, religious and social toleration. This is a slow process of popular self-education. It won't come quickly and may not come naturally. The future of the jasmine revolution may also be more circumscribed. Let there be no doubt, a movement that's toppled the forever regimes of Tunisia and Egypt has awlready made history. But there are many barriers to the revolution spreading to other countries of the region.

The foremost reason is the petroleum-rich Arab countries, which, horrified at the idea of democracy, are doling out money to defuse the economic problems that have driven poorer Arabs into the streets. Second, the militaries of countries like Syria, Yemen and Algeria are far less encumbered by concerns about shooting their own people. People's power succeeds best if they are sympathetic soldiers. The next act is less about revolt and more about reform. Egypt and Tunisia now have the political and economic evolution, gradual and non-violent, that will make them showpieces for the benefits of democracy. If they succeed in the coming years they will ensure that jasmine will permanently mark the Arab environment.






President Mahinda Rajapaksa, recently drew an inference releasing hundreds of prisoners during ceremonies on his second term. He said it is good if prisons could be out of the scene. Afterwards, on another instance, dedicating a road to late N U Jayewardene, he said that the Laws of the Land are supreme and none should interfere with them. In the earlier instance the President obviously had his innermost mindset that justice should be 'restorative rather than retributive'. In the latter the President evidently showed his thoughtfulness as a distinctive leader and democrat. It is also the President who defended the country with success, against the rebel forces receiving best of loyalty from commanding Heads of armed forces, the Police and countrymen. Afterwards he declared that the war is over and next he would begin the economic war.

This Commission on its own standing gives many of us the right speak, criticize as we will and to be heard. This equation confirms that the country's governance is sensible enough beyond doubt to preserve the rule democracy.

1. Lesson Learnt- Countrymen yearn for Comprehensive and sustainable Peace package.

The goodwill once existed in the free, integrated nation crumpled and gave in, with the war of terrorism began. The conflagration of civil war reigned a good part of the country. In consequence people lost their freedoms, peace, human rights, livelihood pattern, land ownership, housing, ecosystems, child education, and lives in large number.

The war has come to an end and peacetime is now on for sometime. Our leaders should take advantage of the peacetime to share out peace dividend to people with minimum delay. The 'dividend' in relation Peace is a broad term and in that it should enable every citizen to preserve a peaceful mind without any rampant threat or intimidation by unlawful elements. The economic freedom, reasonable wages and sense of wellbeing in warm and pride atmosphere should, all and more be the associated characteristics needed in the comprehensive and sustainable Peace.

2. Lesson Learnt- UNO did it - Sri Lanka too could do it:

The Allied Nations, China, USSR, United Kingdom and United States after becoming victorious in the World War II in 1945 were confronted with a problem and uphill task as to how best they could prevent future occurrence of a Third World War. After deliberations for many weeks, months and lengthy consultations, the world leaders unanimously and exclusively decided on a broad global policy to educate human rights (and duties) to the world citizen as the effective solution against escalation of another world war. They institutionalized the UNO with the cooperation of all civilized nations in the world and introduced Universal Declaration of Human Rights, other covenants and rules and regulations to cover every conceivable area to protect the civil/human rights of people. Today the echo of the rights of the citizens have reached every nook and corner of the world. Sri Lanka has on her part, embodied a set of Fundamental Rights in our Constitution to cover the human rights in the UDHR. When the war started in Sri Lanka 30 years ago, the militants or the followers of terror were not human rights literate. If they knew and understood what human rights were, LTTE could not have marshaled the youth support so much. The case of the uprisings and unrests in the Southern Sri Lanka too were in a parallel situation. If one were aware of his rights and also knew of his duties and obligations to his fellow beings, he would have acted different from being a militant or insurgent. In the same way probably the World War II would not have reached horrendous levels and Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been saved along with many hundred thousands of lives and post war tragedies.

3. UNO's Success Story

The development of worldwide culture on humans rights by UNO has produced a far reaching impact in global society and its success story in so far preventing another world war situation is a grand achievement.

Human Rights

Human rights, has its own influence in neutralizing the confrontational and aggressive situations. It makes mediation more feasible, opening up possibilities for de-escalation of rivalries and defusing tension between the parties at dispute. Human rights, Justice and strengthened humanitarian law play a paramount role in short-distancing the road to peace. The concept of Human Rights if implemented in practical terms could well be a terrorism-buster and contribute positively towards promotion of good governance in the long run.

4. Lesson Learnt:

 Religious leaders should have their distinctive role in reconciliation and peace process. The religions should receive the highest respect from the individual, society and the State as they did from time immemorial. This reverential position religion should receive need be in place for all time. Religion has its potential to douse the flames of ill-will and inspire tolerance and goodwill. The country should evolve a system to bring independent and politically neutral religious leaders to the fore for national reconciliation and workable peace.

Religious Leaders:

Ven. Dr. Walpola Piyananda Sri Mahaviharaya, L A, giving evidence before the Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission revealed many points of backdrop intelligence required on diplomatic arena and in Sri Lanka's future politics.

His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith Head of Catholic Church, included in his evidence, the point that "The continuance of emergency rule is detrimental to national reconciliation and inter ethnic healing" Right Reverend Duleep de Chickera, former Head of Anglican Church of Sri Lanka underlining what is needed and to be weeded out in the reconciliation process presented a large extent of details in nutshell as follows:

"The rational for continuing with the emergency is hard to see and bad for tourism, investment, reconciliation, the development drive or the peace dividend."


Freedom to choose one's religion is a fundamental democratic right. Yet we come across incidents of threats to the places of prayer.

Every person should be able to practice his religion at his own choice and observe traditions and customs without impediment. The awareness of the law enforcement authorities and Divisional Secretaries should be raised to provide protection to adherents of faiths in areas under their jurisdiction.

The government should make use of its trust to work out the peace through impending reconciliation. Promoting dialogue and freedom in communication among people would be an effective beginning. Privacy should be recognized liberally for all people. War time rules should now end to pave way for peace and reconciliation to flower.

Lionel Gulawila is General Secretary of the Diriya Foundation





Today we find that an almost complete metamorphosis has occurred among most of officers in the public service. They are no longer public servants but rather they are servants of politicians. A politician just has to say something or ask for some extra privilege and many of the bureaucrats are every ready to please them. But as for the public who cares about their woes after all most public servants have forgotten that many of the perks they enjoy accrue form the taxes that poor consumers are forced to pay often for essential food items. In fact to say that the tax payer revenue supports that public service is soon becoming a myth.

There was a time when certain Ministers insisted that when the public write about some difficulty they encounter they can write their complaints to the officer in charge of the subject or in the alternate to the director of the institution and would be assured they will receive a reply or at least an acknowledgement that the matter they wrote about is receiving attention and would be resolved in the near future. Today one can wait till the crows come home but never is there a reply from the public servant, he is too busy attending to the demands of his political bosses to be concerned about the rural framer who has not obtained his seed paddy on time.

 Many years ago a film was made in the Government Film Unit which highlighted that when a public servant was occupied with some personal work of his secretary informed whoever phoned him or wanted to make an appointment that he was at a conference.

A friend of mine recently sent a registered letter to a head of an institution frantically stating that the dual citizenship certificate issued to her daughter had not yet been received since the institution had sent a letter to a former address when she had already informed that authorities of her change of address. When she had contacted the foreign post office to which the certificate was said to have been posted they had informed her that it has been returned to the sender's office as written on the envelope, but the institution  continues to say that they have not yet received the said letter. In desperation  my friend wrote to the head of the institution  and so far she has not received any reply. Surely a head of an institution could have perused the matter and perhaps informed her that a duplicate could be issued.

We bureaucrats of earlier years remember a time when we did not spend hours at time wasting conferences and discussions but were more concerned in attending to the daily problems brought to our notice verbally or by letters written by the people. Today most people do not even know where certain Ministries or Departments are located, they are unaware of procedural changes and regulations that have come into affect, what little is know  when some Minister states that his ministry is going to do this or that. Surely it is the head of an institution that should inform the public where his offices are located and at least display what regulations or procedures have been newly introduced and when he can be met by the public.

Vague regulations are often published in the media or various ministerial policies are proclaimed or gazetted such as the Consumer Authority wanting the price list of retail items displayed in every shop, then these regulations are said to be delayed in their operation. Often the officers in charge of the subject matter are not properly instructed and especially in remote areas traders are harassed by them insisting that the regulations are in operation.

 People from far away areas come to a Asst. Divisional office or a Department and often find that the person in charge of the subject is not in his seat. They always appear to forget that they are the representatives of the people!








A soft military coup managed by the Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces compelled Hosni Mubarak to step down after 30 years of heavy-handed rule.


The end of the Mubarak era in such an unprecedented way is a testament to the sheer will and power of the people of Egypt. The Egyptians have inspired and surprised themselves and the world with a peaceful and courageous revolution and for that they deserve the support of the whole world. From this display, Egypt has emerged a new country, and the Egyptians have conquered fear and they are not going back. Yet amid this growing celebration and the joy of rebellion against tyranny, it is important not to get caught in this heady moment of jubilation, without asking the very pressing question: What will arise from the ashes of the Mubarak regime? For Egyptians, there is a long way to go to end the Mubarak regime and it is premature to say that the power vested in the government is moving to the people in the Second Republic.

To begin with, we do not know the answers to several other questions that will most likely bedevil Egypt and its leaders in coming months and years: Who will emerge from this revolution: another military leader or a civilian government? Which government can better cope with the economic reality of life in Egypt, given that some 40 percent of Egyptians live on $2 or less a day? How can the developed world recalibrate its policies toward Egypt and use its leverage to nudge along this transition successfully? How would this popular revolution and the images of euphoria of mass celebration on the Cairo's streets affect the rest of the Arab world?

No-one can say with a modicum of certainty that whether the face and political landscape of the region has changed irrevocably. What will this portend for the Arab-Israeli tensions in the region? By most accounts, other monarchies in North Africa and the rest of the Middle East may come under pressure very soon. The Egyptian experience could send out a strong message to the young monarchs of Morocco and Jordan. We have to wait and see how this experience will evolve in the near future. If democracy is going to be a reality in Egypt, the old structures of power must be dismantled. This means that the current parliament and constitution must be dissolved. Introducing amendments to the constitution will simply not suffice. We should be a little bit fearful of what comes next, keeping in mind the shape of things to come and the extent to which different groups (secular and non-secular) will be fairly and justly represented in the formation of a democratic government. True, the army decided not to go down with Mubarak, but will it be the mid-wife of a nurturing democracy in Egypt?

As we are witnessing history unfold right before our own eyes, let us not forget that a great deal is at stake. If the military "negotiate" the transition toward democracy with other groups in the interim period, good results will follow. We may possibly see free and fair elections in less than a year. But if stability and security are used as yet another excuse to postpone this transition, Egypt will be entering uncharted waters. There is no predicting what is going to happen if the major structures of the power are kept intact. As is often said, the devil is in the details. If history is any guide, the army remains a key player—either overtly or behind-the-scenes. The credibility of the army will soon be put to political test. What is going to happen to the current group of senior commanders, who have owed their positions to the former President Mubarak and have benefited from the status quo by becoming a privileged economic force in society? How are they going to deal with the demands of the majority of Egyptians who demand a fair distribution of the country's wealth and power?

Democratic reforms should start not just from civil and bureaucratic organizations but also from within the army structure itself. History has also shown us that revolutions typically begin with goodwill and a general sense of empowerment, but too often wind up with less than desirable—if not tumultuous—results. It will be interesting to see how the ensuring power struggle among Egyptian ruling elite takes shape. For now, let us celebrate this moment, which belongs not only to the Egyptians and Tunisians but also to the rest of pro-democracy advocates across the globe, for the removal of yet another dictator from the global scene but be sensitive to the sounds of alarming bells.

Mahmood Monshipouri teaches at San Francisco State University, USA








@T= The people of Egypt have won a great victory. They have defeated a dictator. They have ousted Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak fell at the feet of people power. The Egyptian people showed tremendous courage in their struggle against the dictatorship. They persevered against great odds. Their sacrifice was monumental. According to UN sources, in the course of their 18 day protest against a President who had misruled for most of 30 years, some 300 hundred people died at the hands of hoodlums and thugs serving the Mubarak regime.

While thugs targeted the people, it is remarkable that those who fought for justice, freedom and dignity were largely non-violent. Simply put, it was a peaceful revolution -- a revolution that had as its epicenter, Medan Tahrir, Liberation Square. The revolutionaries, as commentators have observed, were civil and courteous.

At the forefront of this revolution were young people, in their twenties and thirties. It was their idealism which was the fuel of this revolution. They utilized the new media to the hilt to mobilize and galvanize the masses.

The Egyptian Revolution was, in a sense, inspired by the Tunisian Revolution of 14th January 2011. Tunisians -- again many of them young men and women -- showed Egyptians and Arabs throughout West Asia and North Africa (WANA) that when human beings overcome fear, a hope, a distant goal, is suddenly transformed into reality. Because Egypt is the heart of the Arab world, its Revolution, the Revolution of 11th February, will have a tremendous impact upon ordinary men and women in the region. It will give them strength and confidence. It will empower them. The Egyptian Revolution will become the beacon that inspires the masses to stand up against corrupt, greedy rulers who betray the trust of the people. It will become the banner around which will rally all those who cherish their dignity and independence and refuse to submit to foreign dictation and dominance that has been the curse of WANA. In this regard, the Egyptian Revolution will undoubtedly provide fresh impetus to the noble Palestinian struggle for self-determination.

By a strange coincidence, the Egyptian Revolution happened on the same day as Iran's Islamic Revolution. It was on the 11th of February 1979 that the Islamic revolutionaries in Iran proclaimed victory after the military declared its neutrality and the revolutionaries took over public buildings and the Iranian State Radio and Television. 11th February is celebrated as a national holiday in Iran.

The powers-that-be in Tel Aviv, Washington, London, Paris and other Western capitals would not like to be reminded of this historical coincidence. It is a coincidence that will also send a shiver down the spine of many a monarch and president in the Arab world. More than this coincidence, both Revolutions succeeded in harnessing the energies of millions of people in their respective countries. The Egyptian and Iranian Revolutions -- some would argue -- are the two most broad-based revolutions in human history. At a great historical moment like this (I am writing this article a couple of hours after Vice-President Omar Sulaiman's announcement over Egyptian Television that Mubarak is stepping down) we should recall the other illustrious revolutions in history -- the French Revolution of 1789; the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and the Chinese Revolution of 1949. There have also been people's movements in recent decades that have succeeded in overthrowing dictatorial regimes that had lost credibility with the people. The people power movement in the Philippines in 1986 and the mass movement against the Indonesian President Suharto in 1998 would be two examples from Southeast Asia while the series of uprisings in Eastern Europe in 1989 would also testify to the power embodied in the people.

Revolutions and popular uprisings, however idealistic and altruistic its leaders and participants may be in the initial stages, do not always deliver on the freedom and justice they promise. There are many revolutions that have betrayed the people. We do not know how the Egyptian Revolution will unfold in the coming days and months. But for the time being, the people of Egypt, and indeed the people of the world, have every right and reason to celebrate. We have just witnessed the liberation of the soul of a nation. We have just embraced the triumph of human dignity.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) and Professor of Global Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia.









Traditional fairy stories have always left me a little puzzled.


The motivations of many of the characters often leave me quite bemused, while the logic of the storyline often seems to me to be dubious.


Ugly ducklings, for example, can't turn into swans. It's genetically impossible and it seems to me far more likely that the bird was a cuckoo in the first place.


And as for a prince selecting his bride on the basis solely of shoe size, or a commune of dwarfs picking up an apparently dead girl and keeping her in a glass coffin - well, all I can say is that I think authorities should have been informed much earlier. Today, however, I ha