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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

EDITORIAL 16.02.11

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



Month February 16, edition 000756, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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























































































3.      RED ALERT



































2.      EASING WAY







2.      GEARING UP FOR 2012?




1.      RAHUL AT NEHU  

2.      OF 'FLEXIBILITY'  















6.      30 Steps to Better Government - By GENE L. DODARO















1.      OUT OF TUNE





































































By upholding the disqualification of five independent legislators, the Karnataka High Court has delivered a clear message to elected representatives who think nothing of destabilising a Government they are a part of or support, for personal gains. The five MLAs perhaps believed they could get away because of their independent status, but the fact is that by virtue of their open alignment with the BJP Government in the state and active participation in matters of governance, they had become 'deemed' members of the party, and thus attracted disqualification for their revolt against Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa in accordance with the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution which deals with political defections. This is a position that has been taken in the past by our courts, including the Supreme Court. The High Court verdict is an endorsement of the Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly's decision to disqualify the legislators and a rejection of the legislators' claim that the Speaker had mala fide intent in passing the disqualification order and had failed to follow due procedure. The High Court had earlier dismissed similar allegations made by 11 BJP legislators who too had revolted against the Government and were disqualified. All 16 MLAs will now look to the Supreme Court for relief but in the meantime they find themselves with little support. Their handlers — the Congress and the JD (S) — have retreated after their carefully executed plan backfired. It must have been obvious to these parties — or at least to their seasoned leaders — that the open rebellion by the legislators could not have passed muster, yet they actively provoked the MLAs to embark on the suicide mission. This was because they had factored in the partisan role of Governor HR Bhardwaj who was expected to dismiss the Government at the slightest sign of instability. From all accounts, he played his part to a large extent, entertaining petitions by the 11 legislators against the Chief Minister and waiting for the right time to strike. He could have easily done away with the letters, on the ground that he was not the right authority and petitions for a new Chief Minister should be sent to the party chief. But when the Speaker stepped in to disqualify the rebels, Mr Bhardwaj's ploy failed and he retaliated by instructing the Chief Minister to conduct a vote of confidence twice within a week — both of which Mr Yeddyurappa won, much to the Governor's dismay. The High Court ruling has thus exposed Mr Bhardwaj as well.

The verdict comes as a huge relief to the BJP Government in the State and to Mr Yeddyurappa in particular, who has been battling dissidence within the party for some time now. Although the Chief Minister enjoys a clear majority in the Assembly, something that would have been in doubt had the disqualification been set aside, it is by no means a comfortable margin. Moreover, he continues to face internal strife that he must quickly suppress, if he has to complete his term. In the flush of victory, he must then reach out to his detractors and strike a balance between his authority as head of the Government and the aspirations of those who feel left out in key decision making or slighted by some of his actions. Conversely, those unhappy with his style of functioning must also seek a middle ground and ensure that personal ambitions do not torpedo the only BJP Government in South India.






Only days after the Iranian Government claimed to support protestors in Egypt and Tunisia, its brutal suppression of demonstrators at home is a hypocritical but sadly predictable response to a popular uprising within its own borders. On Monday, security forces in Tehran and other cities across the country fired tear gas and even bullets at peaceful demonstrators who were marching against Iran's authoritarian regime, under the pretext of supporting popular movements in Egypt and Tunisia. Violent clashes between the demonstrators and security officials took place across the country and have reportedly claimed the life of at least one protestor — a death that the State-run media has blamed on opposition leaders. In fact, Iranian authorities were so petrified of a few thousand unarmed, peaceful demonstrators that it deemed fit to deploy an array of security officials, from plainclothes officers to anti-riot police, to disperse the crowds and silence their anti-Government slogans. Authorities also clamped down on telephone and cellular phone communication and Internet was slowed down to a crawl. Additionally, several anti-Government activists were arrested while prominent opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were placed under house arrest and later even threatened with execution! And yet, it was only a few days ago that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had cheered the protestors demanding the resignation of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. But of course Mr Ahmadinejad was not really rooting for democratic values as much as he was waiting for the coast to be cleared for Iran's rise to regional supremacy. The collapse of the largest Arab nation into a state of chaos and anarchy — the inevitable result of popular movements — Mr Ahmadinejad had calculated was sure to bring increased prominence to Iran.

However, Iran's clever President had forgotten that he was living in a glass house, surrounded by a nation full of young men and women who had neither forgiven him for the electoral fraud he manufactured in June 2009 to forcibly keep himself in power, nor were major fans of his extremist brand of politics. And of course, they were also not particularly amused by Mr Ahmadinejad's hollow support for democracy and his call to overthrow an unpopular autocrat in Egypt, which only met with global ridicule. If anything, young Iranians have used the opportunity to stage similar protest marches in their own country — a move that has now proved extremely embarrassing for the Iranian regime. Mr Ahmadinejad's Government had sought to portray the collapse of Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali's secular regimes as the rise of Islamism in the region; even, proudly pointing out that Iran was decades ahead with its own Islamic awakening and the others were now just following in its footsteps — a claim has fell flat on its face when pro-democracy supporters took to the streets.









India should buy the best planes. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may force US aircraft upon the Air Force.

Intense dogfights were witnessed last week at Aero India 2011 in Bangalore between eight countries representing six fighter aircraft for clinching India's biggest defence contract: The 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft worth $10 billion. The aircraft are Boeings F/A-18 Super Hornet, Lockheed Martins' F-16 IN Super Viper, MiG Corporation's MiG-35, Saab's Gripen NG, Dassault's Raphael and a four-nation European consortium's Eurofighter, Typhoon.

For the United States, which in the last five years has sold more defence equipment to India than it has in the last 50, bagging the deal has become both a prestige issue as well as a return for its critical investment in the India-US strategic partnership epitomised by the 123 civil nuclear agreement.


Lobbying for the contract is picking up as the sealed envelope containing the short list will be opened in the Ministry of Defence in April or May this year and the contract signed either in September 2011 or March 2012. The commercial bids by the six contestants are also sealed and kept with the Ministry of Defence.

From US President Barack Obama to Carnegie Endowment's Ashley Tellis, all are canvassing for the US fighter aircraft and hinting it is payback time for India: 126 after 123. In April, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in New Delhi for the India-US strategic dialogue just when the envelope will be unsealed.

Last week US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Geoffrey Pyatt, at a policy forum in Singapore, spoke about Washington's preparedness to share with India now, the most advanced technology in the defence and economic domain. He said the US was talking to New Delhi a lot about the two strong American competitors for the 126 MMRCA deal.

Such a deal if it happened, he added, would revolutionise our military relationship. Also last week, Mr Andrew Shapiro, US Assistant Secretary of State, Political and Military Bureau at the State Department, was in New Delhi, pitching for military sales among other items of defence cooperation.

Indian defence analysts have told their American counterparts that despite certain glitches the Indo-Russian strategic partnership has endured. While Russia has leased a nuclear submarine to India for a second time, unpleasant memories of the US cutting critical supplies still linger. The political content of the India-US strategic partnership has to touch greater heights of mutual trust.

In 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh noted that politics plays a big part in defence deals. Indians are only too familiar with the political inducements of the Swedish Government on late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1987 over the Bofors contract and the Russian cajolery of Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao in 1991 over the Sukhoi deal consummated without any evaluation.

Another dicey contract was the one on Mirage 2000 brokered in 1982 jointly by Mr Sanjay Gandhi and Defence Secretary KPA Menon, once again without any technical evaluation as the aircraft did not exist. They tried to scuttle the perfectly legitimate Jaguar contract of 1978 negotiated by the Morarji Desai-led Janata Party Government but the British authorities blocked the attempt. While mega cost defence acquisitions were driven by political considerations (and kickbacks) quality of equipment was not compromised.

Industrialist Ratan Tata flew the F-18 and actor Shahid Kapoor piloted the F-16. The single-engine F-16 was also flown by the Indian Air Force's most versatile and highly decorated fighter pilot Retd Air Marshal Jimmy Bhatia at Bangalore. None of their efforts will enhance the rating of these fighters in the IAF's technical, flight and staff evaluation chart. The F-16 is a non-flyer because the Pakistan Air Force has had it in its inventory for 30 years. The twin-engine F-18 seems to have also missed the mark. The Russian MiG 35, a souped up MiG 29 did not show up in Bangalore. The Gripen is a great aircraft but single-engine and a lightweight equivalent of an improved Tejas LCA.

That leaves the two high-priced European contenders, Rafael and Typhoon, neck-and-neck in the race. Rather late in the day, Lockheed Martin and US Under Secretary of State for Defence Ashton Carter have indicated willingness to include India in the F-35 Advanced Stealth Fighter Programme.

India and Russia are already engaged in jointly developing the fifth generation fighter aircraft. That practically closes the door for an American fighter joining the IAF inventory. Two years ago senior IAF officers were even recommending splitting the 126 MMRCA between US and Russia.

The sealed envelope with its performance rating of the six aircraft was handed over by the IAF to the Ministry of Defence in July 2010 but a parallel dogfight is on over the offset policy between those for and against it. The MMRCA procurement procedure has been complicated by an unviable offset policy and unrealistic FDI cap of 26 per cent.


The six companies competing for the MMRCA were asked to explain their offset strategy by end this month. Authoritative sources in the IAF are drawing a possible option: On the short list are the two twin-engine European fighters, Rafael and Typhoon, both excellent but very expensive aircraft at a flyaway cost upwards of $100 million apiece. This is distinct from the lifecycle cost which could increase by 25 per cent. A third contender, the American F-18, could sneak into the short list.

Next month, when the commercial bids are opened, L1 (lowest bidder) will be invited to negotiate the final cost with the Price Negotiating Committee.

Ashley Tellis's report, titled 'Dogfight — India's MMRCA Decision', highlights how the IAF has declined 29 fighter squadrons and only by 2017 will they be restored to the authorised 39.5 squadrons. He believes that cost, technology transfers and the facility to fit into the evolving IAF force structure will determine the choice. He says that while European aircraft are 'technically superb', US entrants with older designs are 'best buys'. The US offer should be compensated, he adds, by generous technology transfer and assured access to fifth generation aircraft.

Union Minister for Defence AK Antony has repeatedly and emotionally, said that merit not politics will decide the winning aircraft. Yet only the US has the will and capacity to help raise India's global power profile. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's political instinct may let the F-18 plus fly into the ultimate deal.








Although Mr Hosni Mubarak has been ousted, under his rule Egypt recovered the oil-rich Sinai, became a tourist paradise and its GDP increased five-fold. Let us not forget that angry nations, which delegated their representatives to power, failed to be a success

Less than a week after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, it is still difficult to get a clear picture of what really happened. Why would a man who only yesterday seemed reluctant to transfer part of his authority to his own Vice-President now give up all of his power to the Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces?

There are many possible answers. Some of the military started joining the demonstrators on Tahrir Square, and perhaps frightened generals compelled the President to resign. His nerves and age — born in 1928 — certainly could not have helped him handle one of the worst crises in Egypt's recent history. Or, perhaps Mr Hosni Mubarak himself had decided to go if his television address on Thursday failed to achieve its desired effect.

Articles and books will be published on this subject over the next few years. Perhaps documentaries will be made. Thirty years in power is a serious argument for serious analysis.

Different people may also have very different opinions on the rule of Egypt's third President.

Some people may say that this was the fall of a corrupt dictator who clung to power to the last, who failed to realise that his country could not be ruled liked it had been ruled since 1981 — in a perpetual state of emergency, with referendums on the extension of power and elections held under a corrupt Constitution. Perhaps, they will say that his fate was inevitable.

To say so is easy — it seems appropriate, and more importantly, it's harmless. It is even possible to take some specific action. The Swiss Government, for one, has already decided to freeze all of Mr Hosni Mubarak's assets that it can identify. This is a quintessentially European response. And it is timely.

Other people may say that a genuine military man has left power. He did not quit his post during the crisis but did all he could to ensure a smooth transition to people who know how to rule the country. Or, at any rate, he tried.

This sort of argument is completely useless, but it may be possible for the sake of justice.

After all, there are not just several hundred thousand Egyptians who staged the revolution for a variety of reasons, many of which are fully justified. There are also a little less than 80 million of their compatriots who did not take to the streets and squares. Instead, they established units to defend themselves from marauders. It is quite possible that all of them or some of them agree that Mr Hosni Mubarak should have left power long ago, but they were not asked.

There will be many ways to assess Mr Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule once passions subside.

Some may recall that owing to his foreign policy — neutrality with Israel and occasional tacit support of the US — Egypt recovered the oil-rich Sinai. Others may curse Mr Hosni Mubarak for a conciliatory pro-Israeli and pro-American line. Still others may admit the obvious — that Egypt has been and is a poor country with 10 per cent unemployment, especially among young people, which led to the current upheavals. Tourists, especially in Russia, will note that Egypt became a tourist paradise not after Agatha Christie wrote her Death on the Nile but under Mr Hosni Mubarak.

Still others may recall that Egypt's GDP increased five-fold from 1980 to 2006, and now stands at $4,800 per capita. It may not be much, but few countries can boast such achievements.

There is another neighbouring Arab country, Tunisia, which is considered even more economically successful, although it has the same unemployment rate. Its current GDP is $9,500 per capita, nearly double that of Egypt.

Yet this did not save Tunisia from the same social upheaval. The only difference is that Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, also a military man, stepped down immediately after the start of demonstrations.

There are many options for Egypt's future. Although Mubarak has left his post, those who are left on Tahrir Square are unlikely to rule the country, much less rule it well. In the past 15 years, there were several cases in which angry nations delegated their representatives to power, but not one of them proved a success.

--The writer is a Moscow-based senior political affairs analyst.








People of Egypt have achieved what violent Islamist revolutionaries could not. There were no mass uprisings in support of the Islamists. Arabs aren't naive that they would believe ignorant rabble of Islamist radicals. Osama must take note of it

They wouldn't do it for Al Qaeda, but they finally did it for themselves. The young Egyptian protesters who overthrew the Hosni Mubarak regime last 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 9/11, 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 behaviour, 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.

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, may be the masses could be radicalised by tricking the Americans into invading Muslim countries. That was the strategy behind the 9/11 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 Osama 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.

--The writer is a Moscow-based senior political affairs analyst.








The 2G spectrum controversy continues to make news, with the latest headline concerning a possible breakthrough in the government-opposition logjam on the issue of forming a joint parliamentary committee. Given allegations of irregularities in spectrum allocation on a first-come, first-served basis during former telecom minister A Raja's stint, this is understandable. Investigations must take their course and anyone found guilty of wrongdoing must be booked. Whether the CBI, judiciary or a parliamentary panel contributes to this effort, corruption needs to be exposed and nailed. There's no arguing there.


Where there's room for dispute is the direction telecom should take. A scandal hit the UPA. From that we can't simplistically conclude that the consumer-friendly principles on which allocation policy has been based since 1999 need junking lock, stock and barrel. Indignation about graft shouldn't breed irrationality. Nor should the government allow itself to get spooked by the BJP's somewhat disingenuous aggression. Spanning NDA and UPA rule, decisions geared to keeping services cheap and competitive fuelled our telecom boom, massively increasing teledensity. Mobile telephony having reached millions, India has now overtaken China as the fastest growing mobile phone market. It has around 730 million subscribers, the ranks swelling monthly. Surely that's something to celebrate.

What we've done right is orient policy more to maximising public good than just government revenue. Telecom minister Kapil Sibal said as much recently. Yet his ministry seems to have been bamboozled into shifting gear. Under the proposed national telecom policy 2011, spectrum pricing will be "market-driven", another term for auctions. Such a shift can boomerang, going by the past experience of 3G spectrum-bled European firms. Make revenue maximisation the mantra, and bidding for the resource will mean financial strain for companies and, eventually, higher prices for consumers. That in turn will impede development of data-centric communications in a spectrum-hungry sector.

Growth of high-speed broadband must be incentivised. So, why raise service providers' input costs instead of seeking to gain from boosted output? We need allocation models prioritising easy availability and revenue sharing. That'll help firms build infrastructure, instead of getting flattened by the costs of acquiring spectrum. It's obvious why the US - which experimented with auctions in the past - has given a certain amount of unlicensed spectrum to private players and is set to free up more. If network-builders and operators can easily access this vital resource, everyone can benefit from quality broadband connectivity. In the information age, no fast-growing country putting a premium on productivity and innovation can pass up efficient data networks. Our economy's competitiveness and inclusiveness depend on taking India's telecom revolution to the next level. Let's not drive in reverse gear.







Given the government's uninspiring track record in tackling the menace of food adulteration, the health ministry's proposal to enact a whistleblower scheme is welcome. The policy seeks to reward those who provide information about deliberate contamination of food products and non-compliance with regulatory standards. The move is even more pertinent in the backdrop of high food inflation. Woefully inadequate checks and balances have made the consumer a silent victim. Compounding the problem is a nexus between law enforcers and unscrupulous traders. Consumers are routinely subjected to everything from calcium carbide - used to ripen fruits - to lead chromate, metanil yellow dye and a plethora of non-permissible colouring and preservative agents used in processed and street foods. Consumed in large amounts, the toxins can cause brain damage in children, liver and kidney diseases, paralysis and even cancer.

Despite cases of food adulteration claiming several lives - such as during the dropsy epidemic of 1998 - the inadequacy of government infrastructure is yet to be rectified. It is telling that in January the Gujarat government told the state high court that 80% of those charged with food adulteration were let off due to weak prosecuting standards. Though a comprehensive food safety management system has been envisaged in the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, the spadework for its implementation is still to be completed. There is an acute shortage of modern testing labs that are crucial to enforcing food safety norms. Vacancies in enforcement agencies can derail any regulatory policy and need to be filled. Required too is a culture of vigilance on the part of the public, fostered through regular awareness campaigns, rewards for whistleblowers and deterrent punishments for adulterators.









Militarily stretched and economically strained. That's America, superpower with its hard power dented. But there's yet-unmatched American soft power, right? Democracy and Disneyland, Madonna and McDonald's, American ideals and American idols. The 'Land of God's Plenty' - from the moral virtue it makes of pursued happiness to the amoral hyperreality of its sin cities - is more than territory geographically delimited. America is an Idea, grand and luminous as human aspiration itself. The dollar sign or New York's skyline, America bends all to its will because it beckons Siren-like, the torch of liberty in its raised hand.

So, it seems, the world says: lead, kindly light. Else, why would the US presidential election in a sense be a global election? Recall Joseph Nye's famous definition of soft power as exercise of clout "through attraction rather than coercion or payment": the lure of "culture, political ideals, and policies". With Obama softening the hard power of the Bush years with a message of reconciliation, even the White House exudes it.

US cultural hegemony in terms of ideas or lifestyles, embraced willingly or grudgingly, can't be disputed. But can it be taken for granted? Copies aren't as good as the original, we say. What if the copy sells such that the original risks fading from view? When the world increasingly becomes an extended American village through self-serving appropriation rather than imitation as obeisance, how will soft power remain America's USP?

America has striven to mould the world in its image, torpedoing democracy to
Iraq or via business expansion. Countries have traditionally resisted by holding up native value systems and life choices as alternative models. But there's another, subtler, means of resistance and competition: the 'American Dream' itself in its myriad forms manipulated to counter its pre-eminence. For instance, embrace of democracy shows attendant risks, as in Egypt minus Hosni Mubarak. The US has faced a tough choice in the region: should it dump Mideast allies who're autocrats but back its policies, or rejoice at an Arab spring on principle even if it hits US interests?

Are there cultural parallels here? Take 'casino capitalism' grafted in alien soil. In 2004, China's special region of Macau saw its first Las Vegas-style casino, Sands-Macao. A new
Singapore venture also turned out a money-churner for its US owner-entrepreneur. Today, the fast-developing Cotai Strip in the Chinese enclave rivals the original Strip in Vegas. With proliferating casino-resorts, Macau raised a record $23.5 billion last year. Outstripping Las Vegas as the world's biggest gaming hub, it draws deep-pocketed Asian gamblers earlier thronging America's neon-lit Sin City. Tourists still want to go down gambling in Vegas. But will it remain the global entertainment capital when its experience can be had cheaper and in more familiar settings elsewhere?

Just think: Nevada's casino runners make bigger bucks from China than America, where unabashed pursuit of riches and pleasure is a reigning credo! With global financial muscle seeming to shift to Asia, will we see a future scenario where 'casino capitalism' gets re-exported to America and - to grab market share - offers services at cut-throat prices to undercut US business, recalling if not mirroring the way US investment eyeing both low- and high-end consumers broke an old native gambling monopoly in Macau?

Or take cinema. Hollywood-inspired Indian or Chinese filmmakers are raising production quality and/or experimenting more, which ironically aids domestic industry in facing Hollywood's challenge. The multiplex boom helps, along with embrace of hi-tech. James Cameron's Avatar made a splash here and in China where alone it grossed nearly 10% of worldwide earnings. The Asians are now adopting 3D: Bollywood will see its debut in horror and romance genres; China's gearing it to folk epic, martial arts and animation films. Once 3D conversion adapts to popular themes and uses, will it be a cakewalk for Hollywood's Avatars?

Bollywood-style production values now have overseas takers not limited to NRIs. That explains the success of, say, Slumdog Millionaire, made by a British filmmaker but with an Indian story, cast and music composer. Only, Indians aren't just acting in foreign films. Who would have thought digital image processing for the technically superb Avatar would be done by an Indian firm?

Last year, Hollywood and Bollywood representatives agreed to promote co-productions, commercial cooperation and technical collaboration. India having the world's biggest film viewership, global players want to cash in. But funds can also flow in reverse, as the Reliance Entertainment-DreamWorks deal showed. Nor has the prospect of an Indian takeover been unthinkable for Hollywood's iconic MGM. Then, Indian art films were once subtitled to reach festival circuits. Today, English movies are being subtitled and even dubbed to acquire the mass reach of commercial host country productions!

Name it, TV shows, music videos or food, all imports of popular culture face indigenisation, with copies rivalling originals. So, American Idol gets upstaged by Indian Idol and US soaps by desi varieties. The novelty of their gigantism and uniformity dimming, even US fast food giants cater to local palates to take on local competition.

Is US cultural heft, long exercised on its own terms, being interrogated by grassroots adaptation, innovation and (re)export? Is globalisation at an inflection point where cultural change becomes a bottoms-up, not top-down, process? Is global now becoming glocal? It appears so. The future seems to be about partnerships, not one-way tickets; cross-currents, not hegemonies. In the information age, cultural influence is a diffused radiance. Not an American soft power that tells the world what its tastes should be. But one that adapts to the very world it shapes, by itself becoming made-to-order.






Abha Dawesar is the author of four critically acclaimed novels and recipient of several awards including the American Library Association's Stonewall Award for 2006. She attended the recently-concluded Jaipur Literature Festival and talked to Ajay Vaishnav:

Your novels focus on homosexuality. What changes do you see in India in this regard?
The biggest change in India has to do with something far broader. Things really changed in the 1990s with the opening up of the economy and the media. In terms of the culture of the country and the exposure we have to the rest of the world, that was the turning point. So, i think the attitudes that we have, not just towards matters of same sex love or anything that narrow, but towards ourselves as individuals have changed. I think the way an individual defines himself is not the same. Though we continue to have our sense of family and community, our individual desires have come to the forefront. Increasingly, more and more individuals define themselves in terms of their own visions. And this individuality, the boundary between where you end and where society begins changed at that time. That also means any kind of romantic relationship is a terrific space for a fiction writer to explore.

Babyji still remains your most talked about novel. Why so?

It has its own life and anything i say about it now would be very different from something I would have said when it was released. For me, it's something that I produced, created and let go of. Now it has its own life. When it had just come out, I would have said that it is a novel about India at a certain time and about a certain character. Young people continue to relate to it and find it seems to capture that particular part of life when things change, when you have extreme emotions. That seems to be something that this book has conveyed across national boundaries and cultures.

Why have you chosen different settings for all your books?

Each book has different motivations. In Miniplanner, the main character is an American with his escapades and adventures. The book has its own pace and rhythm, like taking a taxi ride through New York. Babyji is very different because it also has a political canvas running in it. There are lots of things going on in Babyji with many issues at many different levels. It's set in the early 1990s in the backdrop of the Mandal commission issue, which colours everything. And I wanted to write about it because I lived through it. I wanted to capture the political atmosphere of that period in fiction and don't know of any other book that has done it. But, of course, you have characters in the book that have their own stories.

The third novel, That Summer in Paris, is about writing. Its characters are writers. I think that book came out partly because I asked this question to myself, what it really meant to be a writer in the long term because by now I had already published two books. My fourth novel, Family Values, looks at the smallest and the largest unit - the family and the nation - and connects the two.

What is your view of the world as an artist?

It changes all the time. I feel that I personally grow more when I attempt something new. I tend not to do the same book again and again. So, it is hard to classify them.








Make India the hub of the world's undeclared wealth.


Just how much money has been stashed away abroad by Indians? According to reports there is anything between US$450 billion to $1.7 trillion of Indian money secreted away in undeclared bank accounts spread halfway across the world, from Liechtenstein and Switzerland to Mauritius and the Cayman Islands. If all this moolah was to be brought back to India under an amnesty scheme it would totally transform the country's economy. At one stroke, the entire internal and external debt of the government would be wiped out. Even if only 25% of the money held abroad by Indians were to flow back, it would be sufficient to meet all of India's basic infrastructural needs - power, roads, primary healthcare and primary education - for the foreseeable future.


Sounds too good to be true? It is. Because, despite several recommendations made by tax lawyers and former income tax chiefs, the government is fighting shy of announcing an amnesty scheme along the lines of the Voluntary Disclosure Scheme of the late 1990s which netted some Rs 10,500 crore for the exchequer. In the present case the sum would be far larger, given that India has the distinction of being the world's leading country in terms of undeclared offshore wealth.


Why is the government unwilling to even try and bring this loot back to India, from where it was taken and where it rightly should be returned? The argument given is that of 'moral hazard'. Granting immunity from legal action to the people involved would be morally wrong in that it would be seen as condoning dishonesty at the expense of honesty.


While valid enough in itself, the moral hazard argument sounds more than a little naive in the context of India's increasingly scam-ridden polity. When members of all sectors of society - the politicians, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the police, the defence forces - seem to be involved in some sort of swindle or the other, our morals could hardly be exposed to any more hazard than they already are. It's time to drop the hypocritical pretence of moral hazard, and make the most of what seems to be the uniquely Indian talent for generating what is popularly known as black money.


India is estimated by various international agencies to have the world's biggest hoard of black money, much of it kept abroad. Instead of being in a state of denial about this reality, the government should see how best to exploit the situation for the benefit of the nation as a whole. Declaring an amnesty for Indian black money in offshore accounts should be the first step. This should be followed by turning the tables on countries like Liechtenstein and the Bahamas which, using the euphemism of 'tax havens', have become repositories of the world's ill-gotten booty, much of which has come from India.


If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. From Adarsh to the ongoing saga of the spectrum scam, there is nothing to suggest that anytime soon India is miraculously going to turn from being one of the most corruption-riddled countries in the world to becoming a model of financial probity. Instead of bemoaning this innate genius that many, if not most, of us seem to have for what might be called highly creative financial management, why not turn this national trait into an asset rather than a liability?


Why should a tiny country like Switzerland be one of the world's most sought-after destinations for undeclared cash? Why shouldn't India, with its huge size and its even bigger reputation for highly sophisticated financial jugglery, take its place? In tandem with Incredible India for tourism, we should promote India as the most desirable and safest address for clandestine assets and watch the world's hidden wealth pour into our coffers. Black is the colour of ill-gotten gains. But it's also the colour found on the profit side of the ledger. The ledger of Indelible India?







Perhaps the best indicator of how India looks in its new power jacket and with its unsubtle 'We are a global power' mascara can be gauged by Britain's decision to continue its aid programme to India. Remember that this is the same Britain that we use as a bouncing ball each time we splash headlines such as 'The empire strikes back' and start playing 'Jana Gana Mana' in our collective heads whenever we hear about an Indian taking over a Brit company. But despite British Prime Minister David Cameron's entourage of industrialists and entrepreneurs descending on our shores a few months ago looking for business opportunities and the island nation's dipping fortunes on the economic side of things, London has decided to continue its Department for International Development (DfID) aid programme of £280 million (approximately R20.4 billion) a year till 2015.

India remains the biggest recipient of British development aid, having received more than £800 million (approximately R58.2 billion) over the last three years. So with our happy economic machine chugging like a Jaguar engine, do we still need the largesse? Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had told Parliament not too long ago that India would prefer to 'voluntarily surrender money' if Britain decided to cut aid. There was also some rumble in the government in Delhi about national pride and all those furry feelings when it came to accepting British aid money. It's one thing that Britain stopped aid to China, now officially the world's second-largest economy, and to Russia last year. But some chaddis are in a twist in India when folks tom-tomming our growing 'prowess' realise that Britain has stopped aid to countries that include Moldova, Cambodia, Serbia and Vietnam. This can hardly look good for India in Davos et al.

The reason why we continue to get 'poverty benefits' from the Queendom of Britain isn't because we're not big players in global economics already. It is because we still contain giant pools of poverty, with healthcare and education still in an abject state of chaos across the country. So until we clear our own mess, India would be playing dog in the manger if we tell a fellow who's come to help us out a bit to take a Cumbrian hike. But if there's one roundabout way to spur our government into action about removing poverty in a shiny house, it's to tell cash-strapped benefactors like Britain soon enough: thanks, but no thanks. And if a little bit of 'Jai Hind' follows, so be it.






India is a haven for those making a pass and getting one too. Something as innocuous as a concert by a past-his-expiry-date pop star brings the freeloaders out of the woodwork. So, on Monday, citing their inability to control "security and traffic concerns", the Delhi Police revoked the no-objection certificate earlier issued to organisers for a Bryan Adams concert scheduled for Tuesday night at the National Small Industries Corporation Grounds in Delhi's Okhla Industrial Area.

(It's now apparently been shifted to Gurgaon, Haryana, on Sunday.) Why? Because the organisers reportedly exceeded the limit of 6,000 tickets by about 4,000. We can bet our rickety rendition of 'Summer of 69' that the culprit for this over-capacity is the unofficially mandatory doling out of passes to those who see a 'free entry' not as an invitation to below the poverty line Bryan Adams fans but as a status symbol that fat cats and self-styled VIPs can flaunt.

But it's not Delhi alone. In Mumbai, mayor Shraddha Jadhav wants free tickets for "all [227] corporators, chairmen of various committees of the [Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation], some senior officials and a few mediapersons". On top of that, she has 'asked' for a separate gallery that can accommodate the 300-350 people with 'free tickets'. Even Bangalore has caught on to this racket with corporators demanding 'free' entry to the World Cup matches that will be hosted at the Chinnaswamy Stadium — as the Bangalore stadium is a BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) property, it is a 'natural sponsor' of the matches there.

With such a feudal and fashionable demand, it makes little sense for organisers to not cut corners — and get venues shifted last minute by officials fearing chaos. Or perhaps upset that they, the officials, have not got enough 'free' passes to make them look the other way.









'We love our country… But we venerate our spiritual gurus… Stop making wild allegations against our guru — the Karmapa Lama.' It is the expression of pain of hundreds of Buddhists who had gathered last week in Delhi to stage a three-day prayer-dharna for the welfare of the 26-year-old Ogyen Trinley Dorje. They were protesting against the 'excesses' against the third highest-ranking lama by the Himachal Pradesh police and district authorities.

Among the crowd were over 100 monks and men and women of ages between 10 and 80, mostly from the Himalayan regions. The monks played huge trumpets and prayed to 'invoke' the gods to help save their 'living Buddha'. Among the laity there were shocked devotees, some sobbing and crying for 'justice' because their guru was 'in pain'. They had only one point to make: "Our spiritual guru is not a Chinese spy and the money seized from his monastery was donations from millions of his followers. Let him be in peace."

It was not possible for one to visit the dharna site and not get emotional. The recent raids on the Karmapa's temporary residence at the Gyatso monastery at Sidhbari, Dharamshala, and the controversy that have ensued were avoidable. The Himachal police reportedly seized R7 crore in various currencies, including the Chinese yuan. And that led to the allegation levelled against the Karmapa that he is a Chinese operative.

But who gains from such an unsubstantiated allegation? Without doubt, China. Which is the last thing that India wants — the Government of India, at any rate.

As regards the seizure of the money, the Karmapa, as a leading Buddhist spiritual leader, has a large number of followers in the world. He gets donations in various currencies, including the yuan from his Chinese followers who flock in thousands to his monastery every year for his 'darshan'. The managers of the Karmapa's trusts have said that the Government of India didn't allow them to open a foreign currency bank account despite repeated attempts over several years. This important point should be underlined in the ongoing investigations.

There is a question being raised from some quarters: if the Karmapa is not a Chinese spy then why has he been so quiet for so long about China, the country he fled in January 2000? I had the opportunity of meeting the Karmapa sometime ago at the majestic Gyatso monastery, and raised this point.

The Karmapa, by tradition, is an apolitical lama and other than his religion, 'nothing else' interests him. He had told me that his only aim in life was to preach the Buddha dharma in the land of the Buddha and Gandhi, which he could not have done if he had not left China.

Incidentally, the Karmapa is recognised by both the Dalai Lama and China. China has no interest in the Karmapa and, thus, the Karmapa is as good as an ordinary Tibetan refugee, as long as he stays in India. No wonder China has been quiet for all these years on him — except when recently Beijing refuted the allegation from Indian quarters of the Karmapa being a Chinese spy. The terse few words that Beijing issued were: "Karmapa is not our spy."

China knows that the Karmapa's role is only religious and it is better he remains outside Tibet. It means one less trouble for China.





There is no issue that is more significant in its moral implications and in the magnitude of its political impact than the issue of food security. And yet the present course of the national Food Security Bill is headed in a direction that does not bode well for the poor in India.

The National Advisory Council (NAC) would like near-universal coverage but insists that it be delivered through the public distribution system (PDS). The Rangarajan Committee, set up to review the NAC recommendations, would like to scale it down on the grounds that it's not viable. It says the government would be unable to procure so much grain and the subsidy required would be unaffordable too. All of this is under the assumption that the subsidy continues to be delivered through the PDS.

What is proposed is the worst of all possible worlds — a continuation of limited coverage under a wasteful system. Once again we are on the brink of creating another expensive token that will leave a vast number of the poor without the cover of food security. The act will be passed. But the poor won't notice much change in their lives.

It is important to know two things about the PDS. First, targeting has failed. More than half of poor households (defined so by the official poverty line) do not have the below poverty line (BPL) cards that entitle them to maximal food subsidies. Most importantly, given that the poverty line measures bare subsistence, how can we tell apart households that are just above the poverty line from those just below it?

The second thing to know about the PDS is that most of the food subsidy expenditures by the government never reach households, much less the poor among them. About 70% of the food subsidy cost is dissipated as rents to black marketers or as payments towards excess costs of state agencies. Massive exclusion errors question the continuance of targeted programmes.

Near-universal coverage is necessary to avoid these errors. The staggering inefficiency of the PDS means that alternatives to it must be tried. Food subsidies can be directly transferred to consumers through food coupons or smart cards. This would get rid of illegal diversions and reduce excess costs. It would, therefore, be both foolish and tragic to legislate the PDS as the only instrument for food subsidies.

Perhaps, the two decades of fast growth have been responsible for creating aspirations for a better quality of life that never existed before. A party that seizes this opportunity and finds practical solutions to key problems like food security will be the party of the future.

In our minds, protecting the interests of the poor is the raison d'être for the Left. By default, the role has been taken up by dedicated members of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) community some of whom are members of the NAC. Indeed, NAC has performed a valuable advocacy role in proposing some of the most progressive legislation in recent times. But if those who consider themselves on the Left defined themselves in terms of the ends rather than the means, there would be much faster progress on the issues they care about.

What we need is a new leadership — one that is sincere about the promises it makes to the poor and is not ideological about the means of delivering them. We need a new leadership that asks whether it is necessarily a sacrilege to talk about the poor and a market-based delivery system in the same breath especially if the alternative is the travesty that the food security bill is in danger of becoming. We need a leadership that recognises that the cost of food security would be high but is able to defend it as a matter of high priority; a leadership that appreciates that it is impossible to sort out the poor from the rest without excluding millions from the coverage; a leadership that can actively look for a way to do right by the poor without breaking the treasury. 

Why should we not have some pilot projects or experiments with alternative systems like smart cards that, at least in principle, indicate that they would be flexible and advantageous to the poor? After all, is this not how innovation occurs — through little experiments that throw up new ideas, and those that succeed replacing the old ideas that have failed?

We ardently hope that such a leadership emerges, and if it does, it will leave a stamp on the future of India. It will be remembered not for its rhetoric but for its achievements.

Ashok Kotwal is a professor at the University of British Columbia, Canada; Milind Murugkar is a policy analyst at Pragati Abhiyan, Nasik; and Bharat Ramaswami is a professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi The views expressed by the authors are personal








This budget season, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is stuck juggling multiple imperatives. Big social-sector schemes are soaking up money; yes, the economy is rebounding, but growth needs careful watching; the fiscal deficit is widening, feeding inflationary fears; and, as usual, every ministry wants more money. It doesn't surprise much, therefore, that the finance ministry is looking for ways in which government expenditure can be managed better. One giant hole has always been spending on agricultural and energy subsidies — for the current financial year, the government's best estimate is that they will cost the exchequer Rs 53,000 crore.

Thus, presumably, is explained the task force that the finance ministry has set up to streamline the subsidy system — and to work out methods to get the money straight to those we are trying to subsidise. The task force will be chaired by Nandan Nilekani, the head of the Unique Identification Authority of India, which implies that there will likely be some convergence with the UID project. A hoped-for byproduct of that project was, after all, the ability to better target government programmes. And if any of those programmes desperately need targeting so they reach the intended beneficiaries, it is the subsidies that are doled out for kerosene, for cooking gas and for fertiliser. The kerosene subsidies, for example, are massively diverted to adulterate diesel. Naturally: kerosene is available at Rs 12 a litre. The government subsidy per litre is

Rs 20. Diesel, meanwhile, is priced near Rs 40 at the pump. The illicit adulteration industry is estimated to run into tens of thousands of crores — and, as the recent murder of Yeshwant Sonawane in Maharashtra showed, it has spawned

a culture of intimidation and violence. Similar problems exist with cooking gas and fertiliser subsidies — of targeting, and of leakage from the supply chain.

Nilekani's task is hopefully an indication that the government takes the problem seriously. The subsidy burden, as it stands today, is unsustainable. Nor is the structure even halfway rational. Conditional cash transfers have long been recommended as an alternative, including in last year's Economic Survey. While the technical hurdles may be overcome, administrative coordination too would be crucial. It is welcome, therefore, that the taskforce is broad-based in terms of ministries. The intention is, reportedly, to roll out a pilot project before the end of this calendar year. Much rides on its results.







Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was detained at Delhi airport after his 15-member troupe was found to have over $100,000 in their possession, undeclared to customs authorities. He was grilled for over 20 hours by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, his manager's and relatives' homes were raided, and his passport has been impounded until the issue is resolved. He was initially even denied consular service. He has now got a conditional release, but the incident has shown up the inherent overkill in these cases. Carrying undeclared cash of this kind is a garden-variety civil law infringement, and one that comes — and should come — with strong financial penalties.

And while the law does give the authorities the option to detain the offender, must it be used as a matter of course, even when there is little chance of the offender fleeing the law?

But it is not as though Khan, as a foreign citizen, is being singled out for flouting excise law. This is a longstanding pattern at our airports — in mid-2009, businesswoman Sheetal Mafatlal was arrested for carrying more jewellery than is allowed, and the incident was turned into a tidy parable about the moral bankruptcy of wealth. Before her, it was Pune builder Avinash Bhosale and former managing director of Escorts, Anil Nanda, who were hauled up for carrying undeclared high-value items including a diamond-studded watch. Evading customs is an infraction, it costs the state, and it must come with hefty penalties. But it doesn't need to be turned into theatre, an opportunity for a little official swagger and lessons in civic responsibility.

We need to examine whether acts like this need to be answered with such brutal shaming. All crimes are not created equal — and while Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's detention was backed up by provisions in the Customs Act and the Foreign Exchange Management Act, perhaps application of the rule-book itself needs a rethink. Too often, incidents of this kind are accompanied by the harsh possibility of humiliation (compounded when the individual is famous or visible in some way, so that the customs authorities have a chance to grab the headlines) when simply allowing the law to take its course should suffice.







As a society, we can be accused of rank hypocrisy when it comes to our collective sense of outrage over black money generation in the economy. While we all naturally feel outraged about the magnitude of the black economy around us, it might be useful to examine how we contribute to it. By definition, black money comes into existence the moment any individual evades paying tax on income earned. Now have you ever seen a neighbourhood grocer handing you a pucca bill for food and other daily items of consumption? So the income earned by the grocers through retail margins potentially turns into black money because hardly any tax is paid on it. Most small retailers don't file returns.

Similarly, most real estate transactions in small-town India, where the real volumes are generated, happen largely in cash. A migrant worker in Delhi told me he is building a small three-room pucca house near a town in eastern UP and everything is paid for in cash to the local contractor. Have you ever seen a contractor giving anyone a pucca receipt? The contractor's earnings also turn black as he evades paying income tax. The thumb rule now is, around big cities like Delhi and Mumbai, a middle-class home buyer pays 80 per cent by cheque and 20 per cent in cash. For smaller cities and towns, the ratio almost gets reversed.

This is how black money is generated in India on a large scale. No wonder economists have varying estimates of 25 per cent to 45 per cent of GDP as the potential black economy. There is no way of ascertaining the real extent of the cash economy that operates in India. Some proxy methods can be applied to understand this phenomenon. For instance, the extent of tax evasion can be gauged from the fact that the income tax department had only about 4,50,000 individuals who showed a taxable income of Rs 10 lakh and above annually in its records until 2007. By any stretch of the imagination, it is difficult to believe that only 4.5 lakh persons in this nation of 1.2 billion show a taxable monthly income of

Rs 85,000-plus! It is clear that a large number of self-employed professionals remain outside the tax net.

In fact, the cash economy in India has got a major boost in the past decade of easy global and domestic liquidity, which has driven land prices up substantially across small-town India. The real estate sector remains the biggest generator of black money today. Real estate dollar millionaires — connected in some way to the real estate business — are proliferating. There is so much anecdotal evidence of this around you that it is hard not to see it.

The Centre told the Supreme Court last week that it would do a fresh and comprehensive study of black money generated by Indians here and abroad. There must be a special focus on the real estate sector in any such study.

Gold remains a big vehicle for hoarding unaccounted income. The World Gold Council estimates that Indian households have up to 15,000 tonnes of gold in their possession. At current gold prices, this amounts to $650 billion — more than 50 per cent of India's GDP. It is reasonable to assume that a large part of this gold was purchased over the years with incomes on which no tax was paid historically. The government could devise ways of bringing this into the mainstream saving stream.

The stock market, during its boom period of the last decade, has also played a big role in the burgeoning deposits of rich Indians in tax havens abroad. It was only a few years ago that the stock market regulator discovered that Indian businessmen were illegally taking money out of the country and then bringing it back in the guise of foreign institutional investment in the stock markets, sometimes investing in their own companies' shares. As the Indian stock market consistently rose, the same investment would get liquidated at higher values and the money would again be taken out with capital gains. Such funds would come into the stock market and move out seamlessly. The market regulator tried to impose a ban on such activity, but cross-border capital has 100 ways of sneaking in.

Typically, businessmen would use methods like under-invoicing of exports or over-invoicing of imports to illegitimately take money out of the country, and then use the funds to play the Indian stock markets which gave them the highest of returns over the past decade and more. If the Sensex has risen over three times in the past decade, it can safely be assumed that the wealth of rich Indians kept abroad may also have gone up that many times.

For money doesn't have the habit of lying idle and it chases the highest returns — which is what the Indian markets have offered over the last 10 years. It is common knowledge that the diamond trade is the largest source of money-laundering, which brings massive funds into the stock market from abroad. Many diamond merchants in Belgium, Zurich, etc offer ready-made shell accounts for laundering money back and forth.

The larger point is some of our well-meaning politicians are being naïve when they say over $500 billion stashed away by rich Indians abroad must be brought back to India. Actually, this money must already visit India once or twice every year, like many rich NRIs. Such funds may temporarily be lent to hedge funds on Wall Street who in turn would invest them in the Indian stock market for short periods.

In 2010, a total of $85 billion of foreign portfolio funds were committed to emerging markets with high returns. Of this, $28 billion came into India. A good 33 per cent of this came as hot money from hedge funds, in which the identities of the real investor would not be known to anyone.

We are living in a world of seamless cross-border capital flows, where money has really no name and face. So the notion that rich Indians can be asked to bring back their funds stashed abroad needs a reality check. It is government policy, indeed double taxation treaties, that allows such money to move seamlessly across borders. Names are also not easily revealed under various treaties signed by nations. There is enough hypocrisy at the level of global governance —just as there is at the local level, where you and I buy our small groceries or go to the dentist without taking a proper receipt.

The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'










The Bengali cuisine is extremely nuanced, and misplacing or mistiming a tiny ingredient can spoil it all. But the ferocious desperation with which my neighbour in Delhi clings to every detail in instructing his cook — as if the quintessence of being Bengali depended on it — is replicated in his family's daily pilgrimage to relatives and friends in Chittaranjan Park. It might seem perfectly innocuous. However, what this family whines about all the time is the lack of Bengali company — notwithstanding their kitty parties or evening soirees, and the instant invitation they extend to any Bengali they come across.This isn't about perpetuating the delights of tedious culinary routines slipping away from us, or even the Bengali adda. This is about a phenomenon called "resistance to change". Although it manifests itself acutely among Bengalis living away from Bengal (nothing exclusively Bengali), it derives from a more sinister resistance to change that characterises a state abhorring every step towards the world as it exists.

No community's middle-class goes to a glitzy mall or eats out with as much guilt dogging them, or sneers at women in Western wear, or insists as much on the mother staying at home so that the kid doesn't grow messed up. That is, admittedly, not in the criminal category of the conservatism witnessed still so often in the north Indian heartland. But it's criminal enough, given the liberal veneer that the idea of being Bengali still retains.

Is this the same people who modernised India by breaking all the rules so that others could learn to break the rules?

2011 may be a year of many turning points. And although the unthinking reference to Egypt is ludicrous, there's a perceptible difference between Mulayam Singh talking about doing an Egypt to Mayawati's UP and Mamata Banerjee evoking the same parallel in Bengal. To set apart obvious differences between Cairo and Calcutta, Bengal's had no change of executive since 1977 — an executive four years and four months senior to Hosni Mubarak's regime — and the inevitability of change this May is surely the biggest political certainty in India. How does the inexorable approach of a storm likely to unseat 34-year-old government square with such passion for the old and unchanging?

To fathom the irony, one might say this Change is the sharpest marker of the Bengali resistance to change. After all, the commonplace of opinion is how seamlessly the Trinamool adopted the Left's decades-old obstructionist politics and torpedoed a reformist chief minister's — never mind his salad days in the abyss of Pramode

Dasgupta's Stalinism-lite — latter-day attempt at salvaging industrial Bengal from the sins of his political fathers (among whom he too should, incidentally, be counted). This argument runs: Buddha made a U-turn. He realised the necessity of change, his adversaries kept Bengal at square one. In switching to Mamata post-Singur, the people of Bengal exhibited their fear of the new. When the Left tried to air and light up the hell of its own making, they clamoured for preserving that hell, albeit by commissioning new gatekeepers.My generation was born after the Left came to power in Bengal. Without basking in the halo of East Europe 1989, or Egypt 2011, this generation has known no other dispensation in Calcutta, nothing apart from an entrenched system of privileges, large and small, doled out to the card-holders or sympathisers of the Party, be they bureaucrats, businessmen, academics, students, clerks, electricians or domestic helps. If you didn't sell your soul, you got little or nothing. If you did, even the quintessential CITU-affiliated clerk might smile at you through his dentures on a good day. Some of the CPM's time-servers have already changed camps, fearing a purge, or looking to retain their goodies. Some are bemoaning the apocalypse. The rest of Bengal embody the logic of history's inexorability.

When your time's finally up, it's up; be it 30 years or three.

What's coming may not be better or even new — but it will be here soon. That negates the contradiction of a change-hating people decidedly tipping the scale. Whether or not Buddha, through the half-decade of hope he steered till Nandigram 2007, remained a dyed-in-the-wool Stalinist, the CPM's rally at the Brigade Parade Ground on Sunday showed one thing unmistakably: the party has no vision for re-inventing itself. The CM's fantastic relapse into the rhetoric of the foreign hand gave it away as did the talk of returning to roots and taking to the streets.

Mamata had followed the Left there; of late, she has slyly shelved agitations and bandhs, perhaps heeding somebody's sane advice. So while the CPM, like my neighbour, waters the eternal roots, will there be a mere change of guard at Writers' Building or a reformation of the body politic?

It may sound imprudent 1,500 km away, but somehow one knows, 30 years hence, the memory of this May will not be of Mamata. That's not just doubting her ability as big boss. Thirty years hence, we may say she was history's instrument, nothing in herself, except her unmitigated will to unseat the Left. And because Bengal has been so change-resistant, the watchword "poriborton" has such an epic ring, even if it ushers in more of the same.







Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently flagged the need for rapid agricultural growth — a subject that tends to surface in the news when there are strong inflationary trends in food prices. Unfortunately, inflationary trends in agricultural commodities are here to stay. As spendable incomes expand, either through welfare programmes or through real jobs, the first priority of people is expenditure on food. In the case of the urban middle class, there is an increase in demand for diversity in food — more fruit and vegetables, more milk and meat. Meanwhile, the Indian population continues to grow and will stabilise at around 1.6 billion. Thus more food will have to be produced in a scenario in which land resources for agriculture are shrinking, water resources are under stress, soil health is deteriorating due to erosion or continuous cereal-based cropping systems, and yields of most crops have been stagnating since the mid-1990s.

All the current debates on food availability and prices revolve around quick fixes. The element which is missing in the current debate is India's poor performance in agricultural research and development. Regrettably, we are not a very R&D-oriented country. The best brains want to be managers who would run others' lives rather than sweat it out as R&D experts. The worst performance in R&D happens to be in agriculture.

The first damage to agricultural research was done when stand-alone agricultural universities were created after Independence, inspired by the US's land-grant universities. Nobody cared to note that though these US schools were world leaders in agricultural research at that time, they were not stand-alone agricultural schools. In the early years, our stand-alone agricultural universities played a vibrant role in expanding the green revolution, but since the mid-1980s, shorn of interdisciplinarity and expertise in new tools of biology, they have lapsed badly. Whatever potential there is gets snuffed out through political interference. In the late '70s our Central planners began getting disillusioned with agricultural universities and created institute after institute under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to achieve more focused planning in agriculture. ICAR documents list 49 institutes, 17 national research centres, 25 project directorates and altogether a total of 175 organisations and programmes along with 589 Krishi Vigyan Kendras under their control, besides 46 agricultural universities under control of states. Huge investments are required merely to keep these institutes going.

One can almost sense a conspiracy of silence on R&D in agriculture. The mainstream science community believes that agricultural R&D is a weak and primitive science. The fact that agricultural R&D has fallen off the radar in developed countries reinforces this belief. What is not realised is that developed nations are either exporters of food or importers by choice. Their populations have stabilised and these countries do not have to contend with millions who are hungry and millions who want access to better food.

Most of our science bureaucrats in agriculture were exposed to breeding research at international institutions like CIMMYT in Mexico and IRRI in the Philippines, but we never followed those successful models. Instead of opting for a critical mass of competent scientists, we went for numbers, fragmented sub-critical programmes and appointment of research leaders by seniority rather than merit. Most of the major breakthroughs in Indian agriculture, including the green revolution, came from CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) institutions like the IRRI and the CIMMYT and from the global open source that existed about 20 years back, but has been dying out after the Bayh-Dole Act in the United States that seeks protection of intellectual property produced by publicly funded systems.

Globally, most of the R&D on crops is with the transnationals. The big three, Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, control around 50 per cent of the global seed market. Most of the small breeding companies have been bought out. For India, one way to go is to make the investment environment more attractive for big companies so as to bring their expertise to breed specifically for India's requirements. However, under the current laws, farmers are allowed to keep their own seed. It will be difficult to excite these companies to invest in pulse crops, soybean, groundnut, wheat and rice and other self-pollinated or true breeding crops. Most of the commercial activity in India by the private sector is centred on hybrids since, by the very nature of hybrid seed, farmers have to procure fresh seed for every new sowing.

The other option is to bring about a major transformation of the public-funded agricultural R&D, like in China. Both China and India benefited from the green revolution of the '60s. China surged ahead in the '80s with a second green revolution through hybrids and better varieties, after initiating its hybrid rice programme in 1965. In 2008, the yield of rice in China was 6.8 tonnes/hectare compared to India's average yield of 3.4 tonnes/hectare with similar acreage under assured irrigation. Due to the enhanced productivity of cereal crops in China, millions of hectares of land have been released from cereal production and brought under fruit and vegetable cultivation. China is now planning a third green revolution through investments of around $3.5 billion in GM technologies to enhance both yield and environmental sustainability.

This drift and complacency can only be plugged by the political establishment. The last time this was done was in the '60s when C. Subramanian took the decisive step to import dwarf wheat to India, a technology that brought about the green revolution and saved millions from starvation — in spite of the scientific establishment in agriculture dragging its feet.

What we require today is not apologies but ambition, an ambition to double our agricultural production by 2025, as well as our production of milk and meat. For vegetables and fruit, the increase has to be four times the present production. This can be achieved only through an overhaul of publicly-driven agricultural R&D and participation of the private sector in both breeding and seed production. We need to create a cadre of agricultural scientists who have a background in genetics, genomics, molecular biology and biotechnology. Available technologies, new S&T requirements and human resource requirement for each crop and livestock species will have to be mapped. Existing talent will have to be used more imaginatively. In the new scheme, scientists rather than science bureaucrats will be the focus.

The most uplifting aspect of technology is that it empowers people and provides opportunities that welfare measures can never match. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has exhorted the scientific establishment to work for a second green revolution on many occasions, but I doubt if any creative plan has surfaced. We need to act immediately. The food deficit cannot be met without tackling the R&D deficit.

The writer is professor of genetics and former vice-chancellor of Delhi University







Tahrir and Tiananmen

China's censoring of reports on the protests in Egypt and blocking of micro-blogging on the political turmoil in the Middle East does not suggest a fear that the events in Cairo's Tahrir Square will be repeated at Beijing's Tiananmen Square anytime soon.

Unlike the authoritarian regimes in the Arab world and elsewhere, the Chinese Communist Party has delivered miraculous economic growth for three decades that has resulted in the biggest improvement in the lives of the largest number of people in the shortest period of time in history. The economic advancement of China, its emergence as a powerful state and the consequent proud nationalism lend a legitimacy to the CCP rule that can't be compared to the vulnerabilities of the rulers in the Middle East.

Most authoritarian regimes also tend to become personal dictatorships that smother not just dissent but all forms of political life. These dictators, like Hosni Mubarak, become the lightning rod for the eventual revolt of a frustrated population.

The contrast with the situation in China could not be starker. The CCP is a mass party with millions of members — more than 75 million at the end of 2009. It provides the vehicle for individual career enhancement and a constant replacement of government officials and party leaders thanks to Deng Xiaoping's institution of a two-term rule. Above all, the CCP provides space for political contestation and mutual accommodation among various factions and viewpoints within a specific bandwidth.

Nevertheless, the CCP is conscious of the many sources of instability in China that constitute the flip side of rapid economic growth during the last three decades. The CCP counts every single disturbance across the nation, analyses the sources and seeks to address them through policy action.

Ever since the tumultuous period of 1989-91 — which saw prolonged demonstrations in favour of democracy in the Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the East European socialist states, and the disappearance of the Soviet Union — the CCP has taken a sustained interest in the general process of "regime change", either through internal popular revolt or through external sponsorship. Controlling media coverage is only one element of the CCP's strategy of forestalling regime change.

Regime stability

At the international level, Beijing continues to put special emphasis on the principle of non-intervention. It has opposed Washington's support to various "colour revolutions" on the Asian periphery and beyond. While it has actively blocked the internal coverage of popular protests in other countries, the CCP has also stepped up the ideological offensive against the export of the Western democratic model.

In the only formal statement made by China on the Cairo protests, the emphasis was on "stability". When China Daily commented editorially on Mubarak's fall last week, it used the word "stability" at least seven times.

This week, the Global Times underlined Beijing's scepticism about the success of democracy in Egypt. "Egypt's middle class is weak, bureaucracy and corruption are prevalent and the income gap between rich and poor is huge", the Times said. "These problems cannot be solved by democracy itself. They require a hard process of economic and cultural development throughout Egyptian society... Revolution broke out and changed the country, but there is no force to sustain that change," the Times added.

Beyond the propaganda on stability, Beijing is expected to take a wide range of political and economic measures to deal with the potential turbulence at home. The CCP has already launched a "close-to-the-masses" campaign.

Both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao reached out to people during the lunar New Year celebrations and promised the government would pay more attention to issues affecting ordinary Chinese citizens at a time of rising inflation, shortage of cheap housing, and growing corruption.

Making new friends

While China is suspicious of America's support to popular revolutions, it is also conscious that the changes unfolding in the Middle East could weaken the US position in the region. Chinese analysts have pointed to the fact that most regime changes in the region have produced leaders who are opposed to the West and Israel.

As the fastest-growing economic partner of Middle Eastern nations, China is confident that it is well placed to contribute to the development of Egypt after the revolution. China has surpassed US oil purchases in the Middle East — importing 1.94 million barrels per day or 14 per cent more than the US.

China's two-way trade with the region has tripled in the last five years, reaching nearly $115 billion in 2009. Beijing already enjoys strong political and economic ties with the major powers in the Middle East — Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Don't be surprised if China emerges a stronger player in the Middle East after the current turmoil.







Egyptian solidarity

In the latest issue of its journal People's Democracy, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat says the mass upsurge in Egypt is a reaction to the "neo-liberal policies" adopted by the Mubarak regime for the past three decades. It is estimated, it says, that 44 per cent of the population lives on less than $2 a day. Unemployment, especially among the youth, has reached high levels. The agrarian crisis has impoverished the peasantry. The working class movement has always been severely repressed. No trade unions outside the officially sponsored federation were allowed to exist. In the 1980s and '90s, this severe repression led to a weakening of the workers' movement, but it has resumed force in the last decade.

The global economic crisis hit the Egyptian working class badly and the April 6, 2008, strike in Mahallah Al Kubra town marked a watershed, according to Karat. About 28,000 workers participated in the strike, which was brutally repressed. The Mahallah struggle sparked similar struggles in industrial areas of the delta region, says Karat.

"The Mubarak regime blames Islamic radicals for the unrest. For the Western media, Tahrir Square symbolises the spontaneous movement for democracy. Neither are correct. There are many streams which have converged to make this a genuine mass uprising," says Karat. The April 6 committee, which sprung up in 2008 in solidarity with the struggle of the Mahallah workers, has played a leading role in mobilising people for this movement, says Karat. The link between the working class struggle and the general democratic movement is exemplified by this committee, according to him.

"Unlike in Tunisia, the stakes in Egypt are high for the United States and Israel. They will do everything to see that Egypt remains on the strategic course set out for it by US imperialism. The United States will bank upon the Egyptian ruling classes and the army to ensure this," says Karat.

Prime culprit

In a sharp attack on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the CPI says that Congressmen may harp on him being the most honest prime minister India has ever had, one whose personal integrity cannot be questioned, "but the mega scams and scandals that are tumbling out make it abundantly clear that he presides over the most corrupt government since Independence". An editorial in the party's journal, New Age, says: "But it seems that this loot will appear to be meagre, if all the details of S-Band spectrum are really out... Without going into technical details of the deal, it can be said safely that ISRO under the prime minister's ministry had caused heavy loss to the public exchequer."

"The PMO is trying to shield itself by claiming that ISRO did it without getting clearance from the prime minister... If that is true, then the logical question that arises is: is the prime minister a silent spectator of all what is happening under him? Is somebody else running the government from behind the scene? He was not able to control A. Raja... On the PMO's advice, the attorney general has misled the apex court of the country on the appointment of P.J. Thomas as CVC... Similarly, the prime minister is under a cloud for his handling of other scams and scandals. The economist PM has been found erring on the question of inflation control too," says the editorial.

The surging Nile

Referring to the popular upsurge in Tunisia and Egypt in its weekly ML Update, the CPI(ML) says that these movements have shown us what people's upsurges will look like in the 21st century. The electronic speed with which the protests spread and how the people assembled using every new technological medium — from television and mobile phones to the Internet — gave us a glimpse of how revolutionary advances in information and communication technology can be made to serve the cause of a fighting people, it says. "In many ways, Egypt's evolution in the latter half of twentieth century has been similar to that of India. A close ally of India during the heady days of the non-aligned movement, and a big votary of state-led industrialisation and public welfare in the early Nasser years.... Egypt has fallen headlong into the trap of neoliberal economics and pro-American geopolitics, much the same way as India has. Will the rising tides of the Nile today be followed by a similar upsurge in the land of Ganga and Kaveri, Brahmaputra and Narmada?" asks ML Update.






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 a tremendous increase in education levels. There were technological revolutions occasioned by the spread of electricity, plastics and the car.

But that low-hanging fruit is exhausted, Cowen says, and since 1974, the US 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 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 realise 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 he 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 organises 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 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 monetised 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, 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.

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 also worries that the Chinese 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 to the sheer production of wealth.

During these years, commencement speakers have urged students to seek meaning, not money. Many people, it turns out, were listening. david brooks







The report that the government plans to provide kerosene, cooking gas and fertiliser subsidy to the poor, through direct cash transfers on a pilot basis using the expertise of the Unique Identification Authority, before the end of the current year is good news. Not only does the move signal the acceptance of the fact that the existing subsidy regime has failed but it also opens the doors to extending the cash transfer scheme to other anti-poverty programmes, including food subsidies. Success of the pilot programme will substantially increase the size of direct cash transfers to around Rs 90,000 crore, as the fertiliser subsidy in the last Budget alone was around Rs 50,000 crore while the kerosene and LPG subsides will add up another Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 crore. And the potential is much larger, as experts Devesh Kapur, Partha Mukhopadhyay and Arvind Subramanian have estimated that the direct transfer of total food, fertiliser and fuel subsidies, and central sector schemes—amounting to Rs 1,80,000 crore in 2007-08—to the 310 million BPL population spread across 70 million households will ensure that each family gets a monthly transfer of Rs 2,140, which is more than the poverty line income for rural households in that year. In fact, the study even noted that direct cash transfer of the food subsidies incurred on the PDS alone will ensure a monthly income of more than Rs 500 per poor household and will allow them to buy 35 kg of rice or wheat even at the then prevailing high market prices. So, a direct cash transfer scheme will finally put an end to the tragedy of the current anti-poverty schemes, where the expenditure incurred in the name of the poor alone is enough to remove income poverty.

While direct cash transfers are certainly superior to the current subsidy regime, which has far outlived its usefulness by many decades, it should be remembered that such cash transfers are no silver bullets for eradicating poverty. Experts have time and again pointed out that the success of direct cash transfers will primarily depend on the ability to push through transparent targeting criteria, building a robust delivery mechanism, and ensuring transparency about people's entitlements. Hopefully, the UID expertise will take care of such issues. Given how the anti-poverty expenditure is far greater than what India needs to eliminate poverty, a well-designed UID-driven cash transfer scheme can be a real game-changer. Since it will affect voting patterns in a big way, it is obvious the government will put its best into it.





After having been at the wrong end of things for several months now, largely due to its wanting to obfuscate even the most blatant of scams, the UPA appears to have finally learnt the right lessons. With some prodding from the Supreme Court, it finally arrested A Raja and several of those believed to be in cahoots with him. And now it appears almost certain it will give in to the Opposition's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe. Meanwhile, the plans being made to ensure the possibility of future scams is minimised are being finalised by a Group of Ministers. This includes abolishing the discretionary quota for ministers/chief ministers, fast-tracking of prosecution of corrupt officers within 90 days, dismissal if criminal charges are framed, and such other moves. More transparency will mean ministers will have to explain why they are overruling bureaucrats. At one point, the auctioning of natural resources like land and spectrum was to be made the rule, though there's no talk of it now. That's disturbing since auctions are likely to reduce corruption, so hopefully that'll get back on the agenda.

None of this will ensure scams don't happen again, but it's a start and shows that if various watchdogs are alert, the government does act. In many instances mentioned in the Shivraj Patil report, bureaucrats/regulators simply recommended what the political class wanted. There aren't too many cases of ministers like A Raja overruling bureaucrats—in the case of DS Mathur, the telecom secretary, the clearances got done when he was on tour. The law says bureaucrats can have files recirculated in case they don't agree with ministers, and the Cabinet Secretary is supposed to protect them—there are no cases of babus asking for files to be recirculated and Mathur says neither the Cabinet Secretary nor the Principal Secretary whom he kept abreast stepped in to help. There are also instances of Raja victimising babus and no one stepping in.

The UPA, while trying to fix things, is also trying to keep it political, hoping to hurl enough muck at the BJP to keep it quiet. This is unfortunate, and it's important the BJP doesn't retaliate and use the opportunity provided by daily hearings of the JPC to come out to brief the press to score points every day. We've lost one session of Parliament, let's now get on with the legislative agenda of the government. India's growth has slowed, and we need to see decision-making pick up if the economy is going to grow apace.





Tribal communities are vulnerable not only because they are poor, assetless and illiterate compared to the general population, their distinct vulnerability arises from their inability to negotiate and cope with the consequences of their forced integration with the mainstream economy, society, and cultural and political system. The repercussions for the already fragile socio-economic livelihood base of the tribals have been devastating—ranging from loss of livelihoods, land alienation on a vast scale, to hereditary bondage.

Persistent problems faced by tribals—land alienation, indebtedness, government monopoly over minor forest produce and the non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, among others—have by and large remained unattended to. These issues are under the jurisdiction of ministries of environment & forests, rural development, panchayati raj, etc, where they do not get adequate attention. The current approach of the ministry of tribal affairs (MoTA) is to confine its attention to its own budget and the schemes that are under its control, such as grants to NGOs, scholarships, etc. MoTA does not put any pressure on other ministries that have been vested with the responsibility to ensure that basic justice and development reaches them. MoTA does not even monitor whether the basic services in education, health or nutrition are reaching the tribal hamlets.

MoTA is not able to spend even the limited budget allotted to it (see table) and has surrendered large funds every year in the last 5 years, especially in 2009-10. Because of the poor expenditure by MoTA in 2009-10, there has been little increase in the allocation in 2010-11. Non-receipt of adequate number of complete proposals in accordance with the scheme guidelines from the state governments, non-receipt of utilisation certificates, non-filling of vacant posts, etc, have been cited as the reasons for the surrender of funds.

Apart from poor utilisation of funds, tribals have also suffered because of the poor quality of governance. Programme delivery has deteriorated everywhere in India, but more so in tribal areas, where government servants are reluctant to work and are mostly absent from their official duties. Government seems to have surrendered to political pressures from the staff, as many of their posts have now been officially transferred from tribal regions to non-tribal regions, where they can draw their salaries without doing any work! A study by Unicef on Jharkhand found that one of the main constraints that the National Rural Health Mission in the state faces is the lack of skilled manpower. In the two districts visited, Sahibganj has less than 50% positions in place, while in East Singhbhum, with its better infrastructure, it is just around 54%.

MoTA was asked to oversee the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), but a recent study (available on shows that the ministry has failed to get FRA implemented faithfully. Despite the fact that the main intention of FRA was to promote community participation and management, the study shows that community rights over minor forest produce (MFP), etc, have been recognised in negligible cases.

MoTA's record on other tribal issues is equally dismal. MoTA has still not been able to finalise the National Tribal Policy, the draft of which was announced some six years ago with a great deal of fanfare. The law pertaining to involuntary displacement has been discussed since 1998, but it has still not seen the light of the day, though it is well established that tribals suffer most when new projects lead to involuntary displacement. MoTA takes no interest in pushing the states to change their state laws in conformity with Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA). There is no white paper from the ministry relating to pathetic condition of governance in forest-dependent villages, including huge vacancies and absenteeism of staff. The ministry has no meaningful partnerships with advocacy organisations that could produce credible and evidence-based reports with a view to putting pressure on other ministries that ignore tribal interests.

It is unfortunate that MoTA does not give sufficient attention to the important problems of the tribals on the plea that many of these subjects such as land alienation, displacement and PESA have not been allotted to it. Even then the ministry should play a more activist role in addressing these issues by pursuing with the concerned ministries.

When a new ministry is set up to help the marginalised people, it is expected that it would take a holistic view of their problems and coordinate the activities of all other ministries that deal with the subjects impinging on the work of the newly created ministry. The new ministry, however, takes a minimalist view of its responsibility and reduces itself to dealing with only such schemes (such as distribution of scholarships and grants to NGOs) that are totally outside the purview of the existing ministries. Such an ostrich-like attitude defeats the purpose for which the ministry is created.

This attitude results in continuing neglect of tribal issues. It also under-plays the role of non-monetary policies (such as displacement) and the impact they have on the lives of the people. For instance, MFP policies in the states are often dictated by the desire to maximise state revenues and not maximise welfare of gatherers, who are often women. During 1989-2001, Orissa earned Rs 7.52 billion from kendu leaves while the total wages earned by kendu leaf pluckers was only Rs 3.87 billion. Contrast this with the royalties collected on a major mineral, where the labour is organised—royalties on bauxite are Rs 30 per tonne but a whopping Rs 12,000 per tonne on kendu leaves!

Even the Planning Commission does not regularly monitor the impact of existing policies on the tribal population. One lesser known reason for this is that development and planning in India are associated with spending of money. That planning means expenditure and this will lead to development is the mindset behind such beliefs. The Indian planner has still to understand the difference between planning and budgeting. In addition to spending budgets, we need to give equal importance to non-monetary issues such as institutions, laws and policies.

The author is a member of the National Advisory Council





Every time the government slips on any major policy issue, the result is a 'scam'; the general response is that it happened because either the relevant sector's regulator's views on the issue were not solicited or if solicited, were not acted upon. If the sector happens to be one where there's no regulator then the solution offered is having one as soon as possible. Implicit in these supposed responses is the assumption that a regulator is independent and often gives the right kind of advice to the government. It is the government that does not act upon the advice in proper letter and spirit and therefore trips. In short: have a regulator, stick to its advice and follow it in letter and spirit, and there won't be any governance deficit.

Sounds fine in theory, but in practice this happy regulatory story is found wanting. There may be areas and times when it is relevant, but if one goes by the example of the telecom sector, which currently is at the centre of one of the biggest scams of our times, and where there's a vibrant regulator, the above theory fails badly. Let's examine a few cases.

Let's take the first case that involves former telecom minister A Raja and his decision to grant the controversial licences in 2008 by breaking possibly every rule in the rulebook. Raja may have deviated from every established procedure and even tweaked and cherry-picked the Trai recommendations of August 2007 by Nripendra Misra. But the one recommendation he stuck to was not to auction spectrum. While it may be true that Misra subsequently wrote letters regarding the cherry-picking and how the recommendations were to be considered in entirety, the fact is that Misra should have known better because he had also served as DoT secretary.

While recommending that 2G spectrum should not be auctioned, Trai under Misra completely forgot that in 2003 itself the government had decided that all future mobile licences would only be given through a multi-stage bidding. How could a former telecom secretary like Misra have forgotten something so basic?

Talking about the 2003 Trai decision brings us to Pradip Baijal, who was its chairman then and was the architect of the recommendation relating to multi-stage bidding. It was Baijal who, despite giving the recommendations that were subsequently accepted by the Cabinet, deviated from these within weeks when he advised the DoT through a separate letter that a slew of licences be given without conducting auctions.

Coming to more recent times, the decision taken by the current Trai chairman JS Sarma—when he was a member of TDSAT—has also come under adverse comment by the one-man committee headed by Justice Shivraj Patil. It is well known that the controversial licences given by Raja in January 2008 were preceded by granting dual technology licences to Reliance Communications, Tata Teleservices, HFCL and Shyam Tele-Link. These companies were also given the licences and spectrum at 2001 rates without any auction, thus causing losses to the exchequer. In fact, one company was also given in-principle approval for dual technology a day before the policy was announced. However, when the GSM operators challenged the decision in the TDSAT, it upheld the decision. Sarma was one of the members of the TDSAT then who wrote the judgement legalising dual technology.

However, the Patil committee report has found faults with the way dual technology licences were awarded. It used the same 2003 decision of the government to say dual-technology licences were bad in law since they had not been awarded through auctions. Prior to it, even the CAG found the process as arbitrary and non-transparent. A final verdict on the matter is awaited since the CBI is investigating the entire matter under the directions of the Supreme Court but the fact of the matter is that the TDSAT's decision has not been considered above board. In fact, the decision is also being challenged by the GSM operators in the Supreme Court.

The instances cited above prove that just having a regulator does not solve the problem. Regulators, as a rule, do function more transparently than any administrative ministry concerned. However, there should be proper accountability for their actions, which is missing at present. It is mostly seen that the regulatory body cosies up so much to the minister in office at a particular time that the recommendations are politically tailor-made. This picture-perfect scenario gets disturbed when the minister changes.






At an immediate level, the Karnataka High Court's decision to uphold the disqualification of five independents may have enhanced the stability of the Yeddyurappa government. But the real significance of the judgment, which goes well beyond its short-lived political impact, lies in its broad interpretation of what constitutes defection. This has major implications for the process of government formation. The broad thrust of the judgment — which relates to the five MLAs who supported the BJP government and were given ministerial posts — is that legislators lose their independent character and become liable for disqualification when they become part of the Council of Ministers. Rejecting a strict interpretation of the word 'joins' in paragraph 2 (2) of the Tenth Schedule, which states that an independent legislator "shall be disqualified for being a member of the House if he joins any political party after…election", the Court held it was irrelevant whether the five MLAs had formally joined the party. Holding that the act of joining must be gleaned from their conduct, it maintained that the five had invited disqualification by becoming part of the Council of Ministers, attending BJP legislature party meetings, and receiving whips from its Chief Whip.

What about coalition governments, whose very formation and survival depend on legislators, both independent and allied, joining the Council of Ministers? Here, the Court makes an intricate and not entirely convincing distinction between the heterogeneity of coalitions and governments formed by a single party. It goes on to imply, though not unequivocally, that independents who join coalition ministries may not attract the provisions of the anti-defection law. This qualification apart, the Court's judgment reflects the spirit behind the Tenth Schedule — which was to put a firm end to political defections and "sustain the purity of the electoral process right from the date of commencement…till the completion of the term of the House." This is reflected in the Court upholding five complaints filed by voters against each of the MLAs as maintainable. Its firm rejection of the contention that voters have no locus standi to file complaints seeking disqualification under the Tenth Schedule is in keeping with its overall approach, based firmly on the supremacy of the electoral mandate. "The election promises and pledges held out to the electorate at the time of the election have to be maintained. Any deviation of the same would amount to betrayal of the electorate…" In an electoral climate where fractured mandates are the norm and simple majorities are sometimes cobbled together by luring independents with ministerial sops, the impact of the judgment and the fate of the appeal against it in the Supreme Court deserve to be closely watched.





The world's second largest national headcount operation, the Census of India, is significant for several reasons. The largest peace-time administrative activity of the Indian state is also the third since economic liberalisation was initiated. Three decades is enough time for a nation to assess the economic impact and implications of a change in macroeconomic policies, and hence Census 2011 should provide statistical insights into what the move away from state-led development has meant for the people. In a rapidly growing India pulled back by glaring inequalities, data gathered by the censuses — particularly the village and town registers that give primary data on important indicators such as access to education, healthcare, communication, and financial services — will be invaluable for re-orienting public policy. This will also help align policies with the global approach to poverty reduction. In a specific instance, 262 districts and cities have been identified as "Gender Critical" — based on the 2001 Census data related to sex ratio, female literacy rate, and female work participation — and special training has been given to enumerators to collect accurate information on gender issues.

The 2011 Census has also done well to add questions that are in tune with a rapidly evolving economy. The inclusion of questions on whether a household possesses computers, laptops, and mobile phones will help determine India's standing in a fast-digitising global economy and provide a picture of the digital divide. The information gathered on modes of transport from commuters and the distance travelled to work — to be collected in the current phase of Population Enumeration — has the potential to be a valuable building block for an efficient public transport network. Economic activity has always engaged the attention of census-takers. Its contemporary salience is evident from the distinction being made in the Census between 'marginal workers' who have worked for zero-to-three months and those who have worked for three-to-six months; this information will help policymakers assess the impact of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The larger economic purpose of Census 2011, however, should be to provide a reality check on where India stands on key indicators of development and also in relation to the government's professed committment to the creation of an inclusive society.








The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the 2G spectrum deals, submitted in November 2010, revealed a presumptive loss caused to the Central government of about Rs.1.76 lakh crore. This is the largest single instance of corruption in monetary terms in India's political history. Furious indignation among the media and the public, and the demands of the Opposition parties, led to the resignation of Telecom Minister A. Raja. Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal now holds additional charge of the Telecom Ministry.

On December 31, 2010, the Telecom Minister appointed a one-man committee comprising Justice (retd) Shivraj V. Patil "to examine the appropriations of procedures followed by the Department of Telecommunications in [the] issuance and allocation of spectrum during the period 2001-09."

Justice Patil submitted his report on January 31, 2011. It was put on the website of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on February 10. In the report, material covering the eight terms of reference is examined separately in each chapter.

As the committee was appointed mainly to study the appropriations followed by the DoT and to give suggestions to streamline policy regarding the future sale of spectrum, it did not go into past losses incurred by the government in the sale of spectrum. However, the terms of reference required the committee to "identify the public officials responsible in the cases of 'deficiencies' and 'shortcomings and lapses." Accordingly, the report provides particulars of names and designations of the officials involved in taking decisions, responsible "for deviations in formulation of procedures" in 17 paragraphs of Chapter 6, and of the officials "responsible for lapses," in 20 paragraphs of Chapter 7.

In 36 of the 37 paragraphs, the report lists the names and designations of officials, from the Secretary downwards. Invariably every paragraph concludes with the remark: "The officers named above appear to be responsible for the deviation," or "for the lapses," as the case may be.

In these paragraphs dealing with officers taking decisions, the Telecom Minister is associated with the officials in the following paragraphs (given here without the names and designations of the officers):

Para 6.1(ii): "The decision was taken on the basis of note put up (by 10 officials) and approved by the then Minister."

Para 6.1(iii) is about the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India that were not placed before the Telecom Commission. It states further: "This was endorsed by 2 officials and approved by the Minister."

Para 6.1(iv) refers to the DoT seeking the legal opinion of the Attorney-General/Solicitor-General through the Ministry of Law and Justice on the procedure to be followed for the grant of new Unified Access Service Licences (UASLs). The Law Minister gave the opinion that in view of the importance of the case, it was necessary that the whole issue be first considered by an Empowered Group of Ministers. However, based on a note by two officers of the DoT, "the Minister took the view that the opinion of the Minister of Law and Justice was out of context and decided [that] the procedure for grant of new UASLs formulated earlier be continued."

Para 6.1(vi): "Said decision was based on the contents of the letter of the Minister dated 26-12-2007 addressed to the Prime Minister. On the basis of [a] note by 3 officers and [as] approved by the Minister, [a] decision was taken to treat the contents of the said letter of the Minister as the policy of DoT." Peculiarly, about the decision to issue a Letter of Intent (LoI) to amend the UASL on payment of additional fee, Para7.1(xiii) states: "This is in deviation from the practice followed which accords priority on the basis of date of application and not on the date of compliance of LoI. This decision was taken by the Minister on 17-10-2007." In this case, no officer is noted as having been involved in making the decision. In all fairness and according to the principles of natural justice, it should have been noted that the Minister alone was responsible for this deviation. But no such comment has been made about his act of deviation.

It is difficult to accept the conclusion that the officers who prepared the drafts were responsible for the 'deviations' or 'lapses'; some of them were approved by the Minister himself. In particular, as per Para 6.1(vi), the decision was taken in the presence of the Minister to treat the contents of his letter to the Prime Minister as the policy of the DoT, which is stated in the paragraph to have been approved by the Minister himself. In this case also, the paragraph ends with the remark: "The officers referred herein above appear to be responsible for this deviation."

It appears that there is a conspiracy to make the officials of the Ministry responsible and punishable for the actions of the Minister.

We should take note of the basic concept of ministerial responsibility, which is the prime tenet of a Cabinet system of government as developed in Westminster and adopted by the Constitution of India.

There are four principal features of the Cabinet system of government. One is that the Cabinet is a single unit accountable to the elected legislature. On every important piece of policy and performance, all members of the Cabinet stand and fall together. The second feature is that, in the presidential system the head of the executive, the President — apart from impeachment procedures — is answerable normally to the electorate, either directly or through a system of electoral college. But in the parliamentary system, the Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister, is immediately answerable to the elected House. The third feature is that, while all members of the Cabinet are collectively responsible to the legislature, there is also individual responsibility for each Minister with respect to the performance of the Department or Departments under his charge. The fourth feature is that, although all members are equal and responsible for every decision taken collectively in the Cabinet, the Prime Minister represents the 'keystone of the Cabinet arch' and occupies a position of exceptional accountability on the performance of the Cabinet on the whole.

About the dual responsibilities of a Minister, Ivor Jennings stated: "The Cabinet is a general controlling body. It neither desires nor is able to deal with all the numerous details of the government. It expects a minister to take all decisions which are not of real political importance. Every minister must therefore exercise his own discretion as to what matters arising in his department ought to receive Cabinet sanction. The minister who refers too much is weak; he who refers too little is dangerous." (Page 233-234, Cabinet Government, Third Edition, 1980)

Jennings also stated that the minister is fully responsible for the decisions of his civil servants. He wrote: "All decisions of any consequence are taken by ministers, either as such or as members of the cabinet. All decisions taken by civil servants are taken on behalf of ministers and under their control. If the minister chooses, as in the large Departments inevitably he must, to leave decisions to civil servants, then he must take [the] political consequences of any defect of administration, any injustice to an individual, or any policy disapproved by the House of Commons. He cannot defend himself by blaming the civil servant. If the minister could blame the civil servant, then the civil servant would require power to blame the minister. In other words, then the civil servant would become a politician. The fundamental principle of our system of administration is however that the civil service should be impartial and, as far as possible, anonymous." (Page 149, The British Constitution, Fifth Edition, 1971)

If a civil servant is found by an impartial enquiry to have exceeded or misused his authority or power to secure personal gain or advantage to other individuals or organisations, he should be duly punished under the law.

If, in the case of the 2G spectrum deals, the Minister had acted on his own to issue licences, he comes under his individual ministerial responsibility to be accountable for the huge loss and the consequences of the unprecedented scale of corruption.

Mr. Raja had claimed that the procedures he adopted in the allocation of spectrum licences had received the stamp of approval of the Prime Minister, as his letter of December 26, 2007 had been acknowledged by the Prime Minister in a reply thus: "I have received your letter of December 26, 2007 regarding developments in the telecom sector." If this assumption by Mr. Raja is acceptable, then the entire policy and procedures adopted in the grant of 2G licences will become a matter to be considered under the collective responsibility of all members of the Cabinet.





The police officers, 20 of them, raised their weapons and fired rubber bullets and canisters of tear gas directly into a small group of protesters chanting slogans and holding signs on February 14. One man fell instantly and was shot at as he squirmed on the ground. Another was trapped against a wall and writhed as an officer shot rubber bullets at him, again.

That scene, on Avenue 28 around 5:30 p.m., was played out all over this island nation of Bahrain on February 14 as the police attacked peaceful protesters — men, women and children — chasing them down, firing at them with rubber bullets and overwhelming them with tear gas. At times the tear gas was so heavy, and fired with such abandon, that the police also succumbed, dropping to the ground to vomit.

This small nation in the Persian Gulf, with only about one million residents, half of them foreign workers, has long been among the most politically volatile in the region. The principal tension is between the royal family under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and the ruling elites, who are mostly Sunnis, on one side, and the approximately 70 per cent of the local population that is Shiite on the other. Occupying mostly run-down villages with cinder block buildings and little else, many Shiites say they face systemic discrimination in employment, housing, education and government.

It appeared that all of the protests on February 14 were in Shiite communities, with demands that were both economic and political. Young people said they mostly wanted jobs and a chance at a better life. But protesters young and old called for a new constitution and democratic changes to allow for a more effective representative Parliament and government. The king has been promising to open up the political system for a decade, but progress has been slow.

'Day of Rage'

"We want real reforms, a real parliament elected by the people with real legislative power," said Maryam al-Khawaja, 23, with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. "We want a constitution written by the people."

King Hamad and government officials had said that peaceful protests would be tolerated in what organisers had called Bahrain's "Day of Rage," modelled on the protests in Egypt last month. But they were not. From early in the morning until well past sundown, the police attacked without warning any group that dared to gather in the street.

Organisers had hoped to join in one large demonstration at a central traffic circle beneath a mammoth statue of a pearl.

But they never had the chance.

"They're shooting at us like we were some sort of terrorists," said Sharifeh al-Gharbil, 30, one of about 20 Shiite women and a scattering of men who gathered at the Duraz traffic circle. "But we're Bahrainis. We're not Sunni, we're not Westerners, we're not Jordanian, so we're nothing. I have no job, I have no hope and my family is hungry."

Ms Gharbil and the other women wrapped themselves in their black chadors. One woman draped the red and white Bahraini flag over her shoulders and stepped into traffic. They all chanted in support of Bahrain and in opposition to their government, not their king.

The police poured into the circle in their Land Cruisers, rushing the women, encircling them and firing tear gas canisters, the crack of their weapons echoing in the narrow streets behind them. The women sat down, refusing to move even as the painfully acrid gas enveloped them, until it was so thick that the police ran, and the women, too.

"They shot me," said Muhammad Shabar, 55, as he limped away from the Duraz circle, his right calf swollen and turning deep red and blue after being struck by a rubber bullet. His offence was chanting slogans.

The protests were organised in the wake of the momentous events in Tunisia and Egypt, where young people using tools like Twitter and Facebook managed to set off a general public uprising that forced out two of the region's most entrenched and autocratic leaders. Organisers here also created a Facebook page that drew thousands of followers. They created telephone chains to post updates on Twitter and to e-mail pictures and post them on the Internet.

Divided population

But unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Bahrain has a divided population. Part of that is religious, but it is also geographically divided. With communities separated by roads, bridges and massive malls, there are few public spaces where like-minded people can gather.

The authorities used that to their strategic advantage on February 14, blocking roads and sealing people behind walls of tear gas whenever they tried to move. Instead of one large protest, demonstrators were restricted to villages around this capital city, with a few scattered protests in the city centre. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights reported protests in at least 16 villages.

In a statement, the government said that on the night of February 14 that it had a long history of allowing peaceful protests, and that any improper police activity would be investigated.

"Bahrain has long recognised peaceful and legal protest as a democratic right underpinning freedom of expression," said a statement by Shaikh Fawaz al-Khalifa, president of the Information Affairs Authority. "However, in some incidents there has been a flagrant disregard for a well-established process to allow demonstrators to voice any grievances. The authorities are actively managing the situation in a manner that allows others to continue their daily lives while respecting the legal right and approach to peaceful protest."

In the village of Beni Jamar, a few hundred demonstrators gathered behind a large sign displaying portraits of Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi[ji]. They marched toward the road chanting slogans when the police charged in without warning, firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets into the crowd. The protesters scattered. Abbas Mehdi, 25, and Sayed Ali, 11, were themselves overwhelmed with tear gas as they collapsed in an empty field not far from the police. The child was crying and gagging as Mr. Mehdi tried to help, rubbing a small onion across his face and nose.

The police attacked again as six tear gas canisters slammed down beside them. Furious, a young man beside Mr. Mehdi hurled rocks at the police.

Mr. Mehdi started screaming: "Don't throw rocks at them! We're peaceful. Stop! We have to remain peaceful. We're just here to explain how we feel. We want to make our voices are heard. In any case, we don't have a single weapon. The other side has them all."— © New York Times News Service






A dozen young men left Sedouikech, a village of olive groves and whitewashed houses near the Mediterranean coast last week, bound for the Italian island of Lampedusa aboard an overcrowded fishing boat. They were part of a flotilla of would-be migrants that has created a humanitarian crisis and stirred a political furore in Italy.

But unlike the more than 5,000 Tunisians who have successfully reached Italy's shores, this group's trip ended in failure and death. On February 14, villagers buried one of the men, Walid Bayahia, who was killed when the fishing boat collided in the frigid waters with a Tunisian National Guard patrol vessel and sank, according to four of the villagers who survived.

"Four buried and two missing — it's a disaster," said Tarak Bahyoun, a house painter who attended the funeral. "Nothing like this has ever happened here."

The fall of Tunisia's autocratic President, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, on January 14 brought euphoria and hope to this country of 10 million people. But the revolution, as Tunisians call it, also created a power vacuum. After battling protesters for weeks, the police, fearing retribution, fled their barracks.

It suddenly dawned on the young and underemployed that there was no one standing in their way if they wanted to leave for Italy — and the prospect of a good-paying job in a European Union country.

"No fear anymore," reads graffiti along the main road in Zarzis, a port city near the border with Libya that is the departure point for many of the migrants.

"Before the 14th the police and the National Guard were everywhere," said Salem Ben Abdallah, whose son Moncef Ben Salem died in an attempt to get to Lampedusa a week earlier. "Then the police disappeared."

Tunisia's caretaker government said on February 14 that it had set up military checkpoints at several ports to try to halt the flow of migrants amid growing tensions with Italy. Franco Frattini, the Italian Foreign Minister, was expected to meet with Tunisia's interim Prime Minister on the evening of February 14 after the Tunisian authorities turned down an Italian request to send its own police officers to help patrol the coast.

'Unprecedented exodus'

More than 3,000 Tunisians have landed in Lampedusa, which is just off Sicily, in recent days, leading the Italian government to declare a state of humanitarian emergency. One Italian official called it an "unprecedented biblical exodus."

Italy has also called on the European Union for help in dealing with the migrants.

In Zarzis, a small group of soldiers patrolled the port on February 14. "We are being very, very strict now," said a security official who stood guard at the entrance and declined to give his name. "We want to be sure that this phenomenon stops."

For now, the soldiers seem to have stemmed the tide of migrants, and fishermen report seeing fewer departures. But the army's presence is thin and the coastline is long.

Fishermen say they are sleeping in their boats because they are worried that they may be stolen by people who want to leave the country. "We saw them day and night," Mohamed Hnid, a security guard at the port, said as he sat on a pile of fishing nets. "Only God knows why they went," he said. "They are insane."

The young men of Sedouikech who survived the fishing boat's sinking gave various reasons for their decision to try to reach Europe. Several have family in France. Others sought better-paying jobs. One of the victims, Lassaad Ragdal, had a French fiancée, villagers said. He was buried here on February 13.

Finding steady work at home is difficult, said Zyed Ben Salem, one of the survivors. "We can only rely on tourism three or four months a year," he said. Income from fishing is limited, and the olive groves have suffered low yields in recent years because of drought.

"I have been trying to convince our young people not to go there," said Gacem Ben Yahiaten, an English teacher who drove the bodies of the dead men back to the village. "But they have this idea — they want to make money quickly, and they think it's easy in Europe."

The trip was Mr. Ben Salem's first attempt to reach Europe. "I won't try it again," said Mr. Ben Salem, who added that he paid about $1,400 to a smuggler to make the journey.

He and three other survivors recounted seeing the lights of Lampedusa — which is closer to Tunisia than to the Italian mainland — when their boat was intercepted by the Tunisian National Guard.

The National Guard boat, which survivors said was named Horriya, or Freedom, rammed them, the survivors said. The National Guard could not be reached for comment.

"We heard a very loud noise," said one of the survivors, Wissem Ben Yahyaten, who described the sound of the hull splintering. "I can still hear it. It was like we were watching an action film." ( Rachel Donadio contributed reporting from Rome.)— © New York Times News Service




California legislators have introduced a bill to ban the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins used in a Chinese traditional soup. If successful, the proposed ban would follow a similar measure enacted in Hawaii last year.

Oregon and Washington are also considering similar legislation. Shark fins are used to create a soup that can sell for as much as $40 a bowl. Supporters of the ban say shark finning is a cruel practice in which fishermen slice the shark's fin off while the animal is still alive and then throw the shark back in the sea to die.— AP








Subra Suresh , who was awarded the Padma Shri last month in recognition of his contribution to science and engineering, was appointed, in 2010, as the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) by United States President Barack Obama. The NSF, which has historically played a key role in the strategic development of scientific projects, has been thrust into even more prominence under the Obama administration as the President has increasingly sought to emphasise the role of innovation and research in ensuring that the U.S. remains a global technology leader.

A graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, Dr. Suresh earlier served as Dean and Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and as the head of MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Winning wide recognition for ground-breaking research, Dr. Suresh was the recipient of the 2007 European Materials Medal, "the highest honour conferred by the Federation of European Materials Societies." Technology Review magazine selected Dr. Suresh's work on nano-biotechnology as "one of the top ten emerging technologies that will have a significant impact on business, medicine or culture."

He spoke to Narayan Lakshman at his office near Washington, about priorities for the NSF and the role of scientific education in the 21st-century technology landscape.

Some have argued that the locus of production in science and technology has shifted to other countries of late, in some sectors. On the other hand, you have, especially under the Obama administration, a sense that the U.S. is seeking to boost its technology exports. How do you see the tension between these two things impacting the U.S.' future as a global technology leader?

The NSF plays a key role as a major contribution to the innovation ecosystem of the country. Scientific discoveries begin with the kind of efforts that the NSF sponsors. But even efforts that are usually the single kernel of an idea that may start with an individual investigator can translate into an innovation that impacts multiple industries and it may impact society globally. These innovations can come from many different arenas. The NSF has for the last 60 years played a significant role in nurturing and fostering this innovation through a variety of modes. It could be a single-investigator project, where one innovator sits in isolation and comes up with a brilliant idea that changes society. It could be in a group or collaborative project that involves multiple people in the same institution or in multiple institutions. It may involve a project that requires large facilities. The NSF partnered in all of these models for the advancement of science. Even though manufacturing, at some level, may have shifted to other parts of the world, in an innovation economy one can continue to move to higher levels of understanding and analysis and innovate, and this contributes to the economy, to jobs and is vital to national security. In all those aspects the NSF continues to play a very critical role.

Regarding what you said about the NSF's approach to encouraging innovation, is there an inherent uncertainty about the fruits of such an innovative process, at least in the early phases? In that sense, how does the NSF view the financing for these projects and decide which of these are likely to yield the longest-term results that you need?

The NSF is very unique in its mission. It is the only federal agency in the U.S., and perhaps globally, that funds research in all branches of science and engineering. Secondly, it is an agency that does not fund projects solely on the basis of a mission. For example, take the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA). NASA's mission is aeronautics and space research and exploration. The NSF's mission is to foster science and engineering, to create discoveries in the country and thereby benefit to society and contribute to STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] education and the research workforce in the country.

Research is an inherently long-term process. We cannot be short-sighted and go after the latest fashion. Just because we have a high unemployment rate we cannot fund all of our research into a direction that will lead to employment in the next two years because that is really not long-term research, even though we want to contribute to the economy. That does not necessarily mean that the near-term or mid-term are not important — we do have three year goals and annual reports.

We cannot lose sight of the long-term benefits. We cannot fund everything that is purely hypothetical and some day may lead to some result. But on the other hand we have to balance intellectual curiosity with relevance and you have to walk a very fine line. Keeping a long-term perspective in mind is what the NSF does.

Statistics show that since 1980, science and technology jobs in the U.S. have grown "at almost five times the rate of the U.S. civilian workforce as a whole; yet the number of science and technology degrees earned by U.S. citizens is growing at a much smaller rate." Do you think America of the 21st century will increasingly come to rely on tech specialists from beyond its borders?

In the U.S. the scientific workforce and pipeline have multiple components to it. If you look at the number of PhDs granted in the last 10 years to American citizens and permanent residents, that number has increased for science and engineering. It may not keep up with demand but there is still a sufficient supply [even if] it is less than what it was 30 years ago. In fact the increase in doctorates in the last 10 years is primarily due to a significant increase in the number of women getting PhDs in science and engineering in the U.S.

Added to that, I think one of the remarkable attributes of this country is that it has been the destination for people all over the world. I am a good example of that. I hope that this continues. There are not many countries in the world where somebody who comes to get an education as a student has an opportunity to lead an agency like the NSF. I think this has been one of the remarkable things about the U.S. and as long as that possibility exists in the country one would hope that people would come here from all over the world. In science and engineering across the country, this has been a preferred destination.

There are areas in which we need to do better. I mentioned the increase in the number of women in the U.S. who get PhDs in science and engineering. That is very good news. The bad news is that the proportion of women in the workforce is still relatively low.

Another area where we have not done very well is increasing the number of under-represented groups and under-represented minorities in the science and engineering workforce. There is a lot of room for further improvement in those arenas.

The third area is for the science and engineering enterprise of this country to be a sought-after a destination that attracts top talent from all over the world, especially in areas that lead to innovation.

All three are very important pipelines. These are very important to me.






The Securities and Exchange Board of India is said to be probing the alleged "foul play" that led the markets to crash by 16 per cent since the high of November 5, 2010. As usual, Sebi wakes up to bolt the stables after the horses have fled. According to reports, it is probing around 25 entities which are supposed to have acted as cartels to bring down prices of about 100 stocks. These include some of the Sensex 30 blue chips and mostly medium- and small-cap stocks. It has been calculated that around `1,50,000 crore in investor wealth has been lost cumulatively since November. If this is true, then Sebi's inaction all these months can hardly be forgiven. If there was a deliberate hammering down of the markets by a large number of cartels, what was Sebi doing? A probe now is of hardly any consequence because it will take months, if not years, to come to any conclusion, if there is one at all. And then, too, it will be some innocuous unheard-of brokers who will be penalised a petty amount, or suspended for a few days or months. This is nothing new. Sebi on a regular basis suspends brokers for market manipulation of stocks for a few months; these brokers then return and start their manipulations again. There should be a total ban on brokers suspended more than thrice for manipulating stocks.
Of course, it must be said that nobody complained when the markets were going up at a scorching pace in 2009-10. Now, when they are correcting themselves, there is a hue and cry. It was the foreign institutional investors who took the markets to giddy heights. As the US and European markets recovered, FIIs withdrew their funds from emerging markets to invest there. Everyone knows FII funds are short-term and that they leave at the first sign of trouble, or if they see better markets elsewhere. Since the markets went up highest in India, the fall has been the hardest here. The government and the RBI, which should have acted to curb these short-term flows, didn't, and so the Indian markets are bearing the brunt.

Whilst Sebi, under the chairmanship of Mr C. Bhave, has done a lot to get a fair deal for the small investor against market manipulations, there are a lot of more important things it must do. Most important is the long-standing demand of physical settlement in the futures and options segment, where most of the foul play goes on. Sebi has been aware of this but for some inexplicable reason it has refused to act. In most parts of the world settlement in the F&O segment is in physical delivery, but Sebi continues the practice of settlement in cash, ostensibly to please a few well-connected corporates. Also, Sebi has mandated that transactions of promoters and management who trade in the cash market have to be disclosed daily. But it does not mandate the same if these entities play in the F&O segment. So the investor is misled by the buying/selling of the promoters and big players in the cash segment and is unaware that these same entities may be selling/buying double the amount in the F&O segment. This way investors are taken for a ride. A lot of manipulation also takes place in thinly traded stocks. Sebi should get such stocks delisted from the main exchanges and get them listed on other smaller exchanges.

What comes out of Sebi's proposed probe, and how it will prove "foul play", remain to be seen. It would be better, meanwhile, if it takes steps to curb the mischief in the F&O sector.






The National Advisory Council (NAC) has the advantage of having Congress president Sonia Gandhi as its chairperson, and its members include eminent social workers like Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy, and one of the top agricultural experts in India, M.S. Swaminathan. Yet, of late, the NAC seems to be losing its clout in influencing major decisions of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's poverty alleviation and rural development programmes.

The government's recent responses to a good number of important proposals made by the NAC have started fueling the fear that the NAC is turning into just another one of the several councils and committees created by the government whose working the public remains oblivious to. If the NAC continues to be ignored, it will cease to be an important advisory body for the government on several issues, particularly those mentioned in Part IV of the Constitution (Article 36-51). For instance, NAC-I had suggested 15 amendments to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, but the ministry of home affairs rejected all. Similarly, the rural development ministry rejected the proposal of the NAC to guarantee minimum wage under the Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. As a result, in many parts of the country the wages paid are more than `100 under the Employment Guarantee Act.

The NAC would also not have been pleased with the government's decision that all NAC recommendations related to the implementation of the Forest Rights Act should first be submitted to the ministries of tribal affairs and environment for review by an inter-ministerial group. Thus, matters affecting the tribals which should have receive immediate attention will now be very much delayed because of the new protocol. Equally disappointing is the decision of the government to reject the recommendations of the NAC to offer subsidised food grains to at least 72 per cent of the population entitled to the benefits of the Right to Food Act. This decision of the government was guided by the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) under the chairmanship of C. Rangarajan. The EAC, another council appointed by the Prime Minister, felt that the NAC's advice was not practical because of limited grain availability and the huge expenditure of `92,000 crores required for implementing the proposal. The government, hence, decided that subsidised food grains will be available only to those falling below poverty line — i.e. 46 per cent of the population in rural areas and 28 per cent in urban areas.
Judging by the reaction of the government to NAC's proposals, one wonders how serious the UPA is about alleviating the rigors of poverty and if it is still wedded to the theory that poverty can only be reduced by first increasing the size of the "cake".

While availability of funds is always an important consideration, it cannot be the sole or even the main consideration in implementing social programmes designed to fight India's dehumanising poverty.
For six decades we have been pursuing the route of increasing the size of the "cake" first. The size of the "cake" has no doubt increased substantially — in a decade, the wealth per person in India had gone up from $2,000 to $5,000. But what about equity and justice in distribution? Today, about 36 billionaires of India own wealth that amounts to 25 per cent of the country's gross domestic product. Increase in the income of the poorer sections of the population has been nowhere near the increase of income of the affluent sections. That 77 per cent in the unorganised sector subsist on daily wages of `20 tells its own story of the error in waiting for the "cake" to grow in size.

Most of our political leaders seem to believe that their main job is to win elections. And after they are elected to state legislatures and Parliament, their main concern is to bag ministerial berths. No one seem interested even in making suggestions about how we can solve some of the problems that are threatening the nation's integrity — Maoists' insurrections in certain states, the cruelties still being perpetrated on dalits and the denial of basic civic rights to certain classes and communities in several parts of the country.

Political parties at the local level are often scared of losing the support of certain ultra conservative sections of society, some of which still insist on enforcing the decisions of caste panchayats to the point of murdering young people after shameful mock trials. No political leader dares to oppose them.

In all genuine democracies, political leaders at all levels are engaged in constant studies of social problems, particularly in the health and educational fields, and they apply moral force on their government to adopt the right programmes. It is only through the direct involvement and interest of political leaders at all levels that the government of the day will give the desired priority to basic problems like hunger, healthcare and education. In fact, several senior leaders prefer to remain outside the government, in the role of critics, and do what they can in at least creating the required public opinion in favour of more helpful measures.
But in India, no political party seems to have appointed think tanks to consider solutions to the difficult problems of delivery of public health and elementary education in remote villages.

We do not consider it a matter of shame to have in our midst huge numbers of people who cannot have a proper meal before going to sleep and who do not hesitate to commit suicide because of debt or dearth of food. India still ranks 66 on the Global Hunger Index of 88 countries released by the Washington-based International Food Policy and Research Institute. No doubt, India's hunger rate has fallen by nine points since 1990, but the institute's report categorically states that "the major threat of hunger is in 33 countries, including India".

P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra







It was unfortunate that a controversy arose over hoisting the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day this year. Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. There should be no restrictions on hoisting the tricolour anywhere in the state. However, in view of the prevailing situation, the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) decision to undertake a yatra to hoist the tricolour at Lal Chowk was not very prudent. Its opponents dubbed this as provocative and derailing peace. It stood isolated on this issue from all political parties, including its alliance partner in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

If the yatra had been undertaken in another manner, things may have been different. It was started from Kolkata on the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, who had undertaken a journey to different parts of India to emphasise national unity. In keeping with that noble precedent, and also the name of the yatra (Ekta Yatra), it would have been better if several yatras had been flagged off to different parts of India — Srinagar and Itanagar in the north, Imphal in the east, Kanyakumari in the south and Bhuj in the west. Separatists in Kashmir and their sympathisers would have raised objections, and this would have only exposed them. They, rather than the BJP, may have found themselves isolated.

Delhi has been bending backwards to appease the separatists in Kashmir. Millions of non-Muslim refugees from West Pakistan came to India in the wake of Partition. They were immediately given all the privileges of an Indian citizen. Two of them became Prime Minister and one a deputy prime minister. Thirty thousand of these hapless refugees arrived in Jammu. Their further arrival was stopped.

Today, they number over one lakh and continue to be denied full citizenship rights. They cannot vote in state elections, or acquire immovable property, or get government jobs, or get their children admitted to technical education institutions in J&K. On the other hand, in 1950, in the wake of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, a few hundred Tibetan Muslims sought refuge in Kashmir. They were given full citizenship rights. Today, 570 of them are in the voters' lists of Zadribal and 160 in Idgah Assembly constituencies of Srinagar. Jammu region, with a 56-lakh population, has two members of Parliament (MP) and 37 members of the legislative Assembly (MLA), but Kashmir Valley, with a 50-lakh population, has three MPs and 46 MLAs. This blatantly unfair arrangement has continued for long. Delimitation of constituencies has been stalled indefinitely. Kashmiri Pandits were subjected to ethnic cleansing from the Valley and about 100 temples were destroyed or vandalised. They live in atrocious conditions in refugee camps outside the Valley. Beyond paying lip service to them, nothing concrete has been done for their return to the Valley or their rehabilitation. Three private universities have come up in Kashmir — the Islamic University at Anantnag, El Hadis University in Badgam and Sheikhul Alam Institute, a deemed University, in Srinagar. A proposal to set up Shardapeeth University, reviving the ancient university of Kashmir, as has been done in the case of Nalanda in Bihar, was scuttled. No assistance from the government was sought. Funds and land had been arranged. It was to be a technical university with 40 per cent seats reserved for Kashmiri Pandits, 10 per cent for Kashmiri Muslims, and the remaining 50 per cent open to all, on the basis of merit. It was a first step towards the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits. On September 10, 2010, the day of Id, the Pakistan flag was put up at Lal Chowk in Srinagar and remained there for several hours. The state government did not take any action.

Much earlier, on August 14, Pakistan's independence day, the Pakistani flag was hoisted over the house of a former People's Democratic Party (PDP) minister at Gandarbal. Separatist leaders from Kashmir, in tow with some misguided so-called intellectuals, have been openly preaching sedition in Delhi, Kolkata and Chandigarh. No action was taken against them on the plea of freedom of speech. Our democracy is based on the British pattern. John Amery, the son of Leo Amery, Churchill's wartime secretary of state for India and Burma, broadcast Nazi propaganda on Berlin radio during the Second World War. He was tried for treason and hanged.
The government cannot be faulted for stopping the yatra, or arresting individuals, if it apprehended breach of peace. However, over-reacting and using excessive force cannot be justified. Hijacking a train carrying yatris and diverting it surreptitiously was illegal and immoral. Even the British government did not resort to such mean measures to foil Gandhiji's Dandi March. Keeping two leaders of the Opposition in Parliament waiting for hours on the airport tarmac, denying them entry into the terminal, and then dumping them in the middle of the night across the state border was an abominable act. In 1940, when the Congress launched individual Satyagraha during the Second World War, a printed ordnance was issued overnight for arresting Congress leaders. My father, then Senior Superintendent of Police, Patna, went to the house of Dr Rajendra Prasad early in the morning to arrest him. Rajendra Babu enquired if he could have his bath before being taken to jail. "Most certainly, Sir. I will wait and read the newspapers. You can also have breakfast and I would like to have the honour of joining you at breakfast", was my father's reply. They ate breakfast together and then my father drove him in his car to jail. Many years later, when Dr Prasad was the president of the Constituent Assembly, he recounted this incident to me.

Three or four yatris managed to get close to Lal Chowk in Srinagar to hoist the national flag. They were immediately arrested by the police and beaten up, with one of them suffering a fracture. Yasin Malik, approaching Lal Chowk with his green flag, was also apprehended but served hot tea, in line with the chicken biryani served to terrorists holed up in Hazratbal a few years earlier.

After his flip-flop over the "Shopian rape story" in 2009 and total mishandling of the stone-pelting agitation for three months in 2010, Omar Abdullah became the most unpopular figure in the Valley. He appears to have gone into overdrive to regain lost ground. He declared in the Assembly that Kashmir had acceded and not merged with India, like Junagadh and Hyderabad. Mention of the latter two states had an obvious malicious intent. He also expressed resentment at Kashmir being called an integral part of India. He took the oath of office to uphold the Constitution. Article 3 of the Kashmir Constitution categorically states that Kashmir is, and shall remain, an integral part of India. And now, with support from mentors in Delhi, he resorted to uncalled for measures against the Ekta Yatra.

The yatra controversy was, no doubt, avoidable. The yatris failed to hoist the tricolour at Lal Chowk. Yet, if public opinion can force the government of India to shed its Munich-type approach of mollycoddling separatists, much will have been achieved for the nation.

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir







The following story from a particular edition of the Ramayana sets the tone of this article. In the aftermath of the destruction of Ravan, Ram returned to Ayodhya to set up his rule. Ram Rajya, as his rule was called, became synonymous with good and just rule. Anyone demanding justice had full access to the king. So one day a dog with a ferocious appearance entered Ram's court asking for justice. Ram asked him to state the details of his complaint. "Sire", said the dog, "I was following a sanyasi as he went around begging for alms and with no provocation on my part, he kicked me. He is standing outside and I demand that he be suitably punished". Ram called the sanyasi who readily admitted to the act. But he gave a reason. He said: "Sire, I was begging for food to eat and wherever I went, the housewife who opened the door immediately shut it on seeing this ferocious dog. As a result I went hungry. Since it was all because of this dog, I took my anger out on him by kicking him. I agree that it was an unjust act on my part and the dog cannot be held responsible for how he looks. So I am willing to accept any just punishment". Then Ram turned to the dog and asked him what he thought would be a just punishment. The dog thought for a while and then said: "Sire, I suggest that you create a vidyapeeth, and make him its kulapati". "But that is an honour, not a punishment!" said Ram. "I beg to differ, Sire!" said the dog. "The responsibility of running a vidyapeeth will cause him enough mental anguish which would be a good punishment for what he did to me."

The situation prevailing today in the Indian universities is no different. The atmosphere in which a vice-chancellor (VC) has to function is volatile with pressures coming from students, faculty, the non-teaching staff, outside threats to him and to the security of the university et cetera. Although the university is autonomous, there is enough political interference from outside and the last word often rests not with the VC but with the babus in the secretariat. The days when VCs, like Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan or Acharya Narendra Dev, were towering personalities commanding respect are long past. The post itself has been seriously devalued by the procedure of selection. Would you have expected the personalities just named applying for the post, being short-listed and interviewed?

It could be argued that this procedure followed in Maharashtra, a supposedly progressive state, is a necessity today because no other action involving selection for such an important post is credible enough. The procedure whereby the chancellor (or the appointing authority), after receiving expert advice, invites a distinguished academician to accept the post, would be viewed with suspicion. The fact that the system worked well in the old days of pre-Independence (and even for a few years post-Independence), speaks for the steep decline in moral values in our public life. For example, I was shocked to read about a VC of a very old university publicly thanking the state education minister for keeping his word by making him the VC.

The situation at the other end of the spectrum — in school education — is equally dismal. Government-aided schools are asked to admit more than 80 children per class because there is a shortage of schools. What can a teacher do with such a large number of pupils? Naturally, because of bad or no teaching in the school, students seek the help of coaching classes outside. In addition, there are government missives: fail no student until Class 8. If student is really weak in a particular subject, it is the responsibility of the teacher to stay after school hours and teach the student to the required level. Which teacher — who is already overworked and underpaid — is going to accept this extra responsibility? So all students are declared passed. The parents are blissful and satisfied that their wards are doing well, until they reach Class 8 when they discover with a shock that the kids cannot even add, subtract or read and write.

In 1980, when I was on a sabbatical visit to the University College, Cardiff, the headmaster of the primary school in our neighbourhood sent circulars to all the houses in the neighbourhood urging parents to send their children to his school stating that in order to increase the number of students the entry age had been reduced by six months to five years. He had done so because reduced birth rate had decreased the school student population and the government was threatening to close down schools with a low number of students. This example illustrates the economics of supply and demand for available schools versus students seeking admission.
Logic dictates that in India, where there is a grave shortage of schools, we reduce the number of students per class to half, and double the number of schools. The number of teachers needs to be increased even more since the present numbers are already inadequate and teachers are being hired on a contract basis at shamefully low "daily wages", barely above the legal lower limits. This will require huge increases in the budgetary provisions of the ministry of human resource and development. But whichever political party is in power, this department is always kept on the backburner. There may be innumerable discussions and reports on education but when it comes to the implementation of any recommendation the result can be summarised by the four letter word, "zero".
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, himself a distinguished academic, and our Nobel laureate Amartya Sen have stressed the need to empower our youth through education. If India aspires to be a developed nation by 2020, it needs to develop huge human resources and education is the most crucial qualification that adds value to the human being. Despite many declarations from the pulpit, politicians of all parties do not seem to appreciate the truth behind this dictum. Or, perhaps, they do, and see in the educated electorate a threat to their continuation in power!

Jayant V. Narlikar is a professor emiritus at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus, and a renowned astrophysicist









P Chidambaram, Pranab Mukherjee and Digvijay Singh are at least three prime ministerial frontrunners should Manmohan Singh decide to go, unable to face the heat from the 2G and other scams and if Rahul Gandhi declines the hot job.


But it is not clear how any of them can save the situation for the UPA government and the Congress party in the immediate- and medium-term even if they improve upon Manmohan Singh's lacklustre performance.


The immediate crisis for the government and Congress party is the threat of a lost second successive parliament session should they not concede the BJP/Left-driven opposition demand for a JPC on the 2G scam.


A constituted JPC would put the government and Congress on daily trial by the media accompanied by damaging leaks and allegations right up to the 2014 general elections, by which time the ruling apparatus would conceivably be too blown and fatigued to recoup.


The equal or bigger worry is the upcoming state elections. Brutal inside Congress thinking/estimates mark a maximum fifty-fifty chance in Assam, routs in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, defeat of the DMK-Congress alliance in Tamil Nadu, and a victorious Mamata Bannerji in West Bengal pushing the Congress to extinction in the east and north-east.


Chidambaram has the PM's "blessings" should Manmohan Singh go. He has the support of the West and the Washington Consensus, or whatever's left of it.


Chidambaram's recent interview to The Wall Street Journal, which sees him as PM candidate, has raised eyebrows in Congress circles because he appeared (softly) condemnatory of rising inflation and the deficit in ethical governance.


But Chidambaram brings the same strengths to his hoped-for prime-ministership that Manmohan Singh does in office, which are barely awesome.


Congress leaders are leery/sceptical of Chidambaram's capacity to pull the party and government out of their mid-life crises. He is a technocrat before a politician. And the country has had enough of Manmohan Singh's technocracy.


Digvijay Singh is in open rivalry with Chidambaram for the top job and both are in the same age-bracket and a half-generation younger than Manmohan Singh.


In their own ways, both are playing to Rahul Gandhi's gallery since only his declination to succeed Manmohan Singh (if circumstances permit) would keep them in the race.


But while Digvijay Singh is the hard-core so-called "cow-belt" politician proximate to Rahul Gandhi who he tutors on politics, Chidambaram outshines him in central government experience with an outstanding counter-terrorism record.


However, Chidambaram has failed on handling Maoism and Digvijay's statement-a-day against the Sangh Parivar cannot cover his inability to regenerate the Congress in north India.


That leaves Pranab Mukherjee among the prime-ministerial contenders. But the best he can do is to contain immediate- and mid-term damage to the Congress/UPA government although the situation may be irremediable even for his political skills and cross-party friendships.


Mukherjee's handicap is that he has no backers like Chidambaram or Digvijay may (or claim to) have. Neither is he particularly close to Sonia Gandhi.


He is seen as the wisest in the Congress and reflexively/routinely consulted. But he is not trusted for proclaiming himself successor to Indira Gandhi on her assassination. In the subsequent Rajiv Gandhi term, he left the Congress to form a party, returning later as a failed dissenter.


The nub is that the Congress leadership of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi has lost its winning streak. Victory is all that counts in politics.


Then too, the Bofors syndrome has come to afflict the leadership as the UPA government coasts down the road to ignominy, much in the manner that the Rajiv Gandhi administration of a generation ago with a huge mandate went bust.


There is no existential threat to the UPA government. But it has lost the will to power ahead for 2014.


If Manmohan Singh goes now, he may salvage some of his previous clean image. But it will damage the Congress party and government beyond repair.


The Congress leadership will have to invent a grand lie to let him go. But it will have nowhere to hide thereafter.







It might be too early to conclude that the India-Pakistan peace process is back on the rails, though with the two foreign secrecies meeting in Thimphu, after an unfriendly encounter during SM Krishna's visit to Islamabad last July, a degree of civility seems to have been restored.


Instead of talking to each other, the estranged neighbours may now be talking with each other.


Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao has infused a degree of confidence with heart-warming statements such as, "Instead of living in divergence, living with the threat of conflict, it is sensible, intelligent to transact dialogue with Pakistan and Pakistan to transact dialogue with India."


Making peace is always more sensible than thinking of war. When concerned citizens used to emphasise the need of peace, they were dubbed as 'peaceniks' having little appreciation of the complexities involved in Indo-Pak relationships by the ever sceptical mandarins.


Now with hardboiled bureaucrats describing an Indo-Pak dialogue as intelligent and sensible, it bodes well for peace in the region.


And in case India and Pakistan's leaders have finally realised that "keeping in abeyance the peace process for too long did not help either", it can be safely assumed that the dialogue will not be derailed and that a sustained effort will be made to find solutions to the problems threatening peace in the sub-continent.


However, the peace-loving general public and experts of Indo-Pak affairs are not overenthusiastic, unlike in the past when even a hint of a peace process was enough for them to paint a rosy picture of imminent friendship.


They are doubtful that the sprouts of peace will bloom into fruit-yielding trees. And there are reasons for this pessimism.


Irrespective of the many past failures and an unknown factor engrained in the two countries' relationship, which have destroyed every peace process thus far, what dampens hopes is the fact that both India and Pakistan have failed to invest in peace.


The mere realisation that a war between two nuclear-armed neighbours is unimaginable will not make peace prevail.


Peace will prevail the day both the countries invest in it, not only psychologically but economically also, and the process will become irreversible when both start decreasing their ever-rising defence budgets.


It is an irony that the day the foreign secretaries announced that "for the next few months, things are not going to remain dormant; there will be a lot of activity... the intention is to resume the process", Pakistan tested its nuclear capable cruise missile Hatf-VII (Babur), which has a range of 600 km.


Defence minister AK Antony announced that due to "violent disturbances" in the neighbourhood posing a security challenge, Indian defence will grow increase manifold.


Pakistan has enlarged its nuclear arsenal at a brisk speed and is widely believed to have 'deployed weapons from the mid-90s to more than 110'; two-years ago, Pakistan nuclear weapons deployed were in 'the mid-to-high 70s' range.


Rationality is the first casualty when countries decide to engage in an arms race; unwittingly, they become prisoners of the arms industry.


Devoid of reason, it becomes difficult to decide what is sufficient to maintain the basic level of deterrence. This is irrespective of the fact that Pakistan's economy is on the verge of collapse and its population so overburdened with foreign debt that it cannot sustain the arms race.


Or that in India, with 70% of its population still forced to live on less than two dollars a day and with the world's maximum number of underweight children, it needs to use its economic resources better.


A question that needs to be asked to the strategic community, even at the risk of sounding silly, is: What is the basic level of preparedness that is sufficient for the country's defence?


There is no limit to the arms build- up. During the Cold War, both the US and the Soviet Union had more than 10,000 nuclear weapons each while only a few thousands were sufficient to destroy the entire world several times over.


We may abhor war and love peace, but investments in war machines will eventually [only] lead to unforeseen destruction.


Every penny saved in defence budget is an investment in peace and the accelerated pace of development will be an added bonus. Thus, it is imperative that we build our stakes in peace rather than rely on war machines for preserving peace.







It's almost impossible to make sense of the plans concocted by Mumbai's administrators. And, by extension, the damage that has been done to this incredible city.


Everyday, we hear about development plans that counter and contradict each other. A few chief ministers ago - so many have come and gone in recent times and for such truly enchantingly ignominious reasons that it's hard to keep track - it was decided to strip the municipal authorities of its powers and divide the city into various agencies.


The result of course is the complete chaos that we see now and the haphazard - and dare one say hazardous - way in which the city grows.


Forget cliches about the proverbial ignorance between the left and right hands. Mumbai is now an all-out bazaar where the buyers and sellers have more fun than the kulaks at the onion mandi.


You have one agency building skywalks, another one in charge of flyovers, someone else planning an underground railway that is actually over-ground and someone else altogether building an elevated railway which is also over-ground but not in the same way. All these facilities look skyward and heaven help us when they all meet at some point. A skywalk over a metro rail over a skybus over a flyover? Why not, eh?


Some of these agencies have been building roads from the west to the east of the city for so long that entirely new slum colonies (yummy, yummy, more money to be made from relocation) have come up in the meantime.


The glimmer of hope has come from citizens' efforts and particularly from the ALMs (advanced locality management) and residents' associations that have worked very hard to fight for the rights of those who pay taxes. Not surprisingly, they are under constant attack from the authorities who balk at having their authority questioned.


Look at the odd little battle going on in Juhu between the associations and the municipal corporation. The associations in Juhu - who even got an independent candidate elected - have been fighting for open spaces, against encroachment and for improvement of facilities in the area. They have had some measure of success, which has made them powerful.


Now suddenly - is it a coincidence that this official rage just follows residents' objections to the underground metro becoming overground? - the municipal corporation is locked in battle with Juhu over open spaces. The pathetic plight of open spaces in Mumbai is hardly unknown and the collusion of the authorities with encroachers is no secret either. But what is intriguing is the depths to which the battle for Juhu is plunging. The corporation now wants residents to pay for the pumping station it put up in Irla after the terrible floods of 2005.


So what exactly are the authorities in Mumbai here for? (Don't tell me to make money, we already know that!)










The 'dragon' is eying the resource-rich, politically sensitive and geo-strategically located Gilgit- Baltistan. Beijing's influence over Islamabad has been growing, and China has become increasingly involved in Gilgit-Baltistan both strategically and through economic investment. Chinese-funded infrastructural projects like construction of dams, mineral exploratory activities, and strategic infrastructure development worth billions of dollars in the region is intensifying. It's a cause of concern for the people of the region and the international community." This was the broad conclusion arrived at by a body of outstanding experts that met and discussed the region recently in a seminar titled 'Regional Implications of China's Growing Presence in Gilgit Baltistan' at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.

Bordering Afghanistan, Tajikistan, China, India, and Pakistan, and as part of the original State of Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan is one of the most politically sensitive and geo-strategically located regions in the world. A resource-rich region with vast but untapped mineral wealth and energy-sources, it serves a lynchpin for China's access to Afghanistan, Iran, the Indian Ocean region, and North Africa. Over the past decade, China has become increasingly involved in Gilgit-Baltistan both strategically and through economic investment. With Chinese involvement in the region there arise vital political, security, and economic sensitivities essentially for India owing to known animosity that Pakistan bears towards her. Additionally, a slew of environmental concerns have also surfaced as Chinese-funded infrastructural projects like dams, exploration and exploitation of mineral wealth and strategic infrastructure development worth billions of dollars are underway with outright acquiescence and agreement of Pakistan.

China's role on Kashmir has been inconsistent as it vacillated with time from being neutral to pro-Kashmir, pro-Pakistan and back to neutrality; even during the Kargil war, by and large, China remained neutral. But since 2008, China has changed its earlier stance and become more assertive and proactive in matters related to Jammu and Kashmir and on borders of India with China. Sino Indian war of 1962 resulted in Chinese occupation of Indian territory of Aksai Chin that had been part of Maharaja's kingdom. This war brought Pakistan and China closer to each other; and for strengthening that friendship, Pakistan gave away around 2200 sq miles of Jammu and Kashmir territory from Gilgit-Baltistan to China. At that point of time China did not make any show of her intention of strategic interest in the move. Nor did she want to play an active and assertive role in this region as is evident from the agreement between her and Pakistan on the matter of ceding Indian territory to China. In article 6 of this agreement China acknowledged that the sovereignty of Gilgit-Baltistan did not rest with Pakistan. The agreement reads: 'The two parties have agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the Government of the People's Republic of China on the boundary as described in Article Two of the present agreement, so as to sign a formal boundary treaty to replace the present agreement, provided that in the event of the sovereign authority being Pakistan, the provisions of the present agreement and of the aforesaid protocol shall be maintained in the formal boundary treaty to be signed between the People's Republic of China and Pakistan.'
But now China has shifted from that stand and has come out openly challenging India's sovereignty over the part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir under her control. Chinese embassy in New Delhi is issuing visa to the citizens of the Indian part of J&K on a separate sheet while its counterpart in Islamabad is not following this kind of practice for the citizens of Pakistan occupied part. Having emerged as a strong economic and military power, China is now seeking new markets, new sources of energy and hence new assertive role. In that context China wants to ensure that it has a bigger role in the region that touches upon the sensitive border with India. They want to ensure that they not only have access to but also control of the route to Gawadar where China has invested billions of dollars in developing a commercial as well as a strategic naval port. Of late, China has made strong physical presence in the region to which it has access through the Karakoram Highway. Red Army soldiers obstruct us in carrying out developmental work along our border with China in Ladakh. Though Beijing says that only her technicians are involved in construction of many mega projects in the region yet the presence of thousands of Chinese troops has been reported by knowledgeable sources. This is a matter of grave concern to our country. They are not only opening Chinese banks there and building infrastructure with enormous investments, but are also gradually taking control of the region. China's main aim is not only to expand closer to India but also to ensure the logistics of accessibility to the strategic port of Gawadar on the Makran coast. This indicates a major strategic move in a sensitive region with international implications especially when the contiguous Af-Pak region is so much volatile. Some analysts believe that since Pakistan is becoming increasingly ungovernable and is losing fast its writ over the adjoining NWFP and Baluchistan, it has let China fill the vacuum. Time has come when New Delhi will have to respond to this critical situation.







The presumption is that the UPA Government may relent in the matter of JPC. If it does, the question that will be asked is what then was the logic behind spoiling the entire winter session of the Parliament and imposing heavy loss on public exchequer besides trivialising national sensitivity? The parliamentarians have to be the torch bearers to show path to the nation. But if they are lost in a wilderness of uncertainty and indecision, the fate of the nation is at risk. Democracy and the right of expression of opinion are all right, but our nation cannot afford child-like display of rivalry and one-upmanship. The simple inference that one can draw from a month-long logjam of the winter session of the Parliament is that the elected members have woefully lost self - confidence and are oblivious of the source of their strength. The strength of the elected member rests not with the centripetal force in the organization but with the centripetal ideology of service to the nation to which the organization is wedded. If there is nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear. By embracing obstinacy, the UPA Government made itself more suspicious and an object of ridicule. If it is now inclined to let JPC juggernaut unfold, all that one can say is that better late than never. An unwise person does the same that a wise man does; the difference is that he does it after spoliation.







It might, appear amazing, that what the entire world, including the man in the streets in India, knows, about black money, the Government says that it does not know.

Swiss Banking Association report, 2006 details top bank deposits in the territory of Switzerland by nationals of following countries:

India $ 1,456 Billion
Russia $ 470 Billion
UK $ 390 Billion
Ukraine $ 100 Billion
China $ 96 Billion

The Government says that it has no idea about the extent of the money, which has been secreted abroad. It might be right, to a limited extent, as the legal banking channels are never used for sending and secreting, illegal and tax evaded money.

The Union Finance Minister says that the legalities prevent the Government from disclosing the details of black money held abroad by the Indians.

The interim recommendations of BJP Task Force 2009 have estimated the amount of black money to be between $500 billion to $1,400 billion, according to the Finance Minister. But a recent study by Global Financial Integrity has estimated the present value of illicit money outflow to be $462 billion.
Union Finance Minister says "All these estimates are based on various unverifiable assumptions and approximations. Government has been seized of the matter and has constituted, a multidisciplinary committee, to get studies conducted, to estimate the quantum of illicit fund generated by Indian citizens. Legalities come in the way of detecting and recovering black money.

India is a sovereign Republic and its Parliament is supreme. Legalities coming in the way of getting black are framed into the laws by the Government.

It is upto it, to excise such laws, which hinder the objective of unearthing and getting black money back. In the first place, it should ask itself, as to why a legal frame work be provided to the crooks and thieves to get away.
It is no secret that no deal worth its name, whether of the land or other property, is complete without a substantial component of the black money. Being the current President, of a Cooperative Housing Society, principally meant for the Members of the Parliament, Ministers and Governors, including a Former Prime Minister, the selling price, for a four bed room flat is over 2.20 Crores, as any property dealer in Dwarka will tell you. But the sale deeds are registered, not even at 25% of the value, as per the Registered Deeds submitted to the Society office.

In my rough estimation, on the conservative side, at least Rs. 10000 crores is generated daily, as black money, all over the country.

The Revenue Department has the power to acquire such undervalued property. But the procedure being so cumbersome and laborious, it has been used in rare cases. So not only this State of Affairs leads to the generation of the black money, but also deprives the Government of the revenue.
Obviously , one factor is the lack of coordination between the Sale Deed or Power Of Attorney holders registering authority along with the other wings of the Government. Probably, there is more black money in our country, than in all tax heavens put together.

More than that, though all political parties urge that the black money be brought back, from Tax Heavens, nobody has demanded that Government should take steps to end its further generation. Nearly 80,000 to 90,000 people travel to Switzerland every year. 25,000 of them very frequently. Clearly they would not be travelling for bona fide tourist purpose, but for some other 'substantial' reasons.

The Finance Minister admitted that the Government has detected undisclosed income of about Rs 15,000 crore in last 18 month During the same period, Directorate of International Taxation has collected taxes of Rs 34,601 crore.

"The Directorate of Transfer Pricing has detected mispricing of Rs 33,784 crore, which has prevented shifting of an equivalent amount of money outside India" .

The Supreme Court has said more than once in unequivocal terms that more be done to repatriate funds illegally parked overseas, that is a national plunder.

Money stashed abroad is not always the tax evaded money. Drug lords, gun runners, terrorists groups, gangsters all over the world, along with International Syndicates also keep their money in safe heavens, where they can lay their hands on it, in times of need for their operational purposes.
There is no mechanism with the Government to determine and say with cent percent surety, that the money hoarded abroad is only tax evaded money and not the other crime linked cash.

The Revenue Department and other agencies of the Government like the RAW, and State Trading Organisations have their offices abroad. There is no common mandate to them to report any suspicious transactions by the Indians either visiting or staying abroad.

The stark truth is that the black money is the result of high level corruption prevailing in our country. The schemes meant for the poor, even as per the Government reports, are not implemented and the money siphoned off.
Even Apex court says that nothing moves without bribery in India.

The Finance Minister has said that ". The department had the names of account holders in Liechtenstein's LGT Bank as well as information given by German banks.

Incidentally, there are only 15 banks in Liechtenstein, of which seven are Swiss. The principality, with an area of about 160 sq km, is surrounded by Switzerland and Austria and has a total population of 67,000 people. A good sleuth even on a tourist visa can spot Indians roaming about and visiting 15 Banks.

The rest of the job of tracing the flight of black money from India, can be done locally, provided the Government has the will. So far the Government has been made excuses, some tenable and some untenable.
Unfortunately, no Government irrespective of the party in power has made even a pretence of stopping the generation and flight of black money from India, forget about getting the black money back. Thanks to the prodding of the Supreme Court, the Government has starting or at least shown motions of acting in retrieving the Indian money stashed abroad

However it must remember that pretension almost always overdoes the original, and hence exposes itself. (PTI)









Our image of a forest either as lush green environ with tall trees, continuous canopy and rich undergrowth interspersed by climbers or pure strands of sky high woods, has been manufactured by the media. Not all forests resemble such a photo finish image. Forests are as diverse as terrain and climate across the earth. But one thing common among them is their mauling by the successive civilizations.

Forests all over the world have been badly hit. India is no exception. So is Jammu and Kashmir. The state has a total of 20230 Km forest area, 40% of which has degraded into the category of open forests. The State Forest Policy 2010 is an admission of such plunder and a commitment to rectify the wrong.

The Report that in many aspects is a rehash of Forest Policy of India 1988, rightly observes that exploitation of forests beyond their sustainable capacity has resulted in severe impairment of their ability to provide environmental benefits. To halt the further loss, the policy pronounces basic objectives such as conservation of biodiversity, rehabilitation of degraded forests, extending forests and tree cover on non-forest land, meeting livelihood needs of forest dependent communities, integrated watershed management, reducing pressure on forests, promoting ecotourism and people's movements.

Yet significantly, the strategy it outlines for achieving these objectives is ambiguous and imaginary. For example, protection of forest land. The policy statement says "encroachment of forest land is a serious issue which is becoming more serious with every passing day", and proposes reconciliation of land records of Revenue Department with demarcation records of Forests Department and the use of GPS and Remote Sensing for monitoring encroachment. In a press conference, the Forest Minister had admitted of 14,366 hectare of forest land encroached upon by the "land mafia and other influential people". This despite the fact that section 6 of the J&K Forest Act 1997, prohibits encroachment in demarcated forests, whereas section 48-A empowers summary eviction of a person who unauthorizedly takes possession of land constituted as demarcated or un demarcated forest. Is Roshini Act the culprit?

The market value of such land runs into thousands of cores of rupees. How does forest department proposes to reclaim it? The policy document is silent on the issue, which makes it all the more difficult to raise forest cover in Jammu and Kashmir regions from the present 47% to 66% of their geographical area as the Forest Policy of India 1988 has desired. One wished the policy framers had proposed Green Courts to tackle the menace of forest land grab.

Similarly, the use of GPS and Remote Sensing for monitoring forest cover would be meaningless without a strong political will to implement the enacted laws. Unable to reclaim the encroached land, the policy propagates planting of new saplings on non-forest land for raising forest cover. Strange! Saving a mature, even though degraded, forest from encroachment is decidedly the most effective way of furthering forest cover. But the policy makers seem to think otherwise.

Relocation of villages from amidst the forests to the peripheries similarly is impractical. Forest communities have organic relationship with forest they live in, and are least likely to be lured to relocation.
Conservation of forests through strengthening of infrastructure, manpower and organization likewise does not seen to be workable keeping in view the fact that the current budget allocation to the Forest Department was just 0.06%. This share moreover is unlikely to increase in the near future as forests are not a priority sector for the State Government. Imagine it took 23 long years for the policy documents to go public, which itself is a telling commentary on the magnitude of apathy of the successive governments towards plant cover on which ultimately all organisms including human beings depend for survival. A proposal for Green Tax from those visiting the state and from developmental activities in the forest areas would surely have helped augment forest department's meager resources. Alas! Lack of foresight is what plagues the leadership more than the lack of money.

Biggest threat to forests undoubtedly comes from their diversion for non- forestry purposes. But, the principles propounded for their diversion for developmental activities are ambiguous. In principle, the policy admits that diversion is possible, and hence would continue to threaten the green cover.

This appears all the more real under the State Industrial Policy 2004 which provides attractive financial package for industrialization of backward blocks. The Capital Investment Subsidy (CIS) for industries in these areas is as high Rs. 75 lakh. Significantly barring Ladakh, almost all backward blocks of the state are forested, which make these forests now more vulnerable than ever before. In the district of Kathua for instance, 6500 kanals of land in the shivalik hills of Kandi have been acquired by the DIC for industrial estates. Most of the acquired land supports scrub forests.

The National Highway -1B under construction between Lakhanpur and Bhadarwah as also the wayside facilities for tourists on this more than 200 kilometers long tourist circuit would necessarily mean large scale removal of tree cover and fragmentation of habitat. So will "tourist resorts in totally virgin areas with private partnership" as outlined in the Kashmir Vision-2020 document. The argument that such conflicts with other departments will be "resolved appropriately" is plain absurd. The current development paradigm has an inbuilt mechanism of subjugating nature by capital before which alternative paradigms have little institutional support.

"Stall feeding" of live stock for reducing grazing pressure on forests is yet another ludicrous idea. How does one implement such a proposal for transhumance Gujjars, Bakerwals and Gaddis whose life and economy revolve around seasonal movement? Ever heard of stall feeding goats and sheep? These animals are the only assets of these communities which are totally dependent upon forest for their survival.

Equally absurd is the proposal to popularize LPG and kerosene stove among rural population for reducing consumption of firewood. What is damaging to the forests?: removal of dead wood on which poor people depend for their fuel requirements, or mushrooming charcoal bhattis and clear felling by the mafia? Strangely, the policy document is totally silent on the latter. This proposal moreover is contradictory. For, if page 7 of the report pushes for fossil fuels in rural areas, page 9 says, "unutilized areas… will be forested … to meet energy requirements of local population in order to offset use of fossil fuels." Absurdities galore!
Habitat destruction undoubtedly is the principal cause of man - animal conflict. But to be successful, wild life conservation needs to incorporate local perspectives, safeguarding free access of the locals to the resources of the forests. Killing a carnivore which poses a threat to human beings and domestic animals or a wild boar which destroys standing crops, should not brand locals the enemies of wild life, nor should taking away a log of wood or two for fixing one's cowshed the destroyer of forest cover.

Threat to forests and biodiversity they contain comes not from forest communities or rural population living on their fringes, but from neo liberal growth model of global capitalism which commoditizes nature on the one hand, and advocates its conservation on the other. While the former pushes further the market horizons across regions and realms, the latter denies free access to forests of marginalized locals. The State Forest Policy 2010 is a veiled endorsement of that agenda, its flaws and lofty objectives notwithstanding.

(The writer teaches Geography at the GDC, Kathua)








A new man to head the Sports Ministry does not necessarily mean a rethink of the old issues. Ajay Maken, who took over from M.S.Gill, is a younger man but still with the responsibilities of having to fulfil the pledge taken by the erstwhile Minister to bring the national sports federations to some sort of uniformity and accountability.
One of the contentious issues that Gill had insisted was the cap on the number of terms of office bearers and also an age bar of 70. On its own it was not a new step but merely a revival of a policy enumerated years ago by Mrs. Indira Gandhi's Government in 1975. The reason for formulating a restrictive policy on the big shots in the National Federations then had some political background. Its revival by Gill was purely related to sports though not everyone in power agreed to it.

Gill's revival plan had met with fierce opposition particularly from those who had been clinging to office for decades. Some of them were politicians who had strayed into sports. Limiting the number of terms with an outside age limit of 70 is not such a bad policy since it prevents monopolistic rituals.

Unfortunately some of the sports personalities perceived devils where there were none. And some went a step further and invoked the International Olympic Charter which has quite a lot to say about governmental interference. There was, in fact, no need to bring in the IOC or any other international federations.
The Government at no stage threatened to interfere with the working of the federations. If anything the Government in India is always helping out with money and allied structures. No Indian federation can afford to hold any international tournament without the government's helping hand.

Ajay Maken's is duty bound to carry on the reforms started by M.S.Gill. But he will have to hold out a friendly hand and carry the federation bosses with him. He should not take a confrontational attitude like Mr. Gill. The country needs the national sports federations as much as the federations need the Government. And both are responsible to the people.

At the same time the Government should try and understand that not all federation chiefs are hungry for positions. A number of senior politicians have contributed tremendously in the uplift of the disciplines they have headed.

Mr. Vijay Kumar Malhotra, who has headed the Archery Federation, is a case in example. He has worked very hard in keeping that sport going. There are others like him who need to be singled out for praise. At the same time there has to be an age limit.

The Government should ensure that no sport suffers because of revival of the old policy. It must remember to make use of the experience of these tested hands while implementing the policy. (Syndicate Features)



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China's latest stand on the expansion of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is worrying, but should not be treated as an insurmountable hurdle. In its recent statement, China has clearly expressed its reservations about the expansion of the UNSC's permanent membership. This is contrary to what the G4 group of countries — India, Brazil, Germany and Japan — has been pressing for in view of the changing global reality.


The G4 argument is that there is need for initiating a UN reforms process, including the grant of permanent membership of the UNSC to the G4 countries, so that the UN's institutions become truly representative of today's world. India's case for the UNSC's permanent membership has the backing of four members of the P5 club. China is the only country that has been maintaining an ambivalent stand.


However, the latest statement from Beijing, which appears to be aimed at blocking the case of all the four claimants to the Security Council's permanent membership, need not be taken as being directed against New Delhi. "China does not oppose India's membership to the UNSC" as the Director of South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, Mr Zhao Ghancheng, has pointed out. But China will do all it can to prevent Japan from entering the P5 club because of historical reasons. All its arguments like "parties still have sharp differences over some major issues about the reforms and consensus is yet to be reached" need to be seen against this backdrop.


Of course, China was "not expressing itself openly on India's candidacy", as Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao stated in the course of her speech in New York the other day. But Beijing can be convinced that India's entry into the UNSC will be in the overall interest of Asia and in no way will harm the interests of China. It suits Beijing's scheme of things, too, as it does not want India to allow itself to be used by the US in the latter's game-plan against the communist giant. In any case, India and China together have to lead the coming Asian century. 








Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is admired as much in India as in Pakistan for his hypnotic voice. His millions of fans are bound to feel bad that an artiste of his calibre should be breaking the law of the land where he is a guest. He was detained at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi, on Sunday while carrying an undeclared $1,42,600 (approximately Rs 64 lakh) to his country.


Intense diplomatic pressure mounted by Pakistan and the recent peace parleys between the two countries ensured that the singing icon and his nephew Maroof Ali were freed after 24 hours of questioning by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, but he will have to remain in the country until investigations are complete. His plea that he was not aware of the Indian law does not really wash, considering that he has been singing in Hindi films since 2004 and has visited India several times. The rules about how much money a person can take out of the country without declaration are specific and well-known.


The spotlight on the celebrated artiste — who is a nephew of the legendary singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan — may bring to surface many unsavoury truths about the way Pakistani artistes performing in India are paid. His performances in Delhi, Ahmadabad, Jaipur and Rajkot during the past fortnight are particularly under the scanner. His hosts and event managers have a lot to answer for.


This is not the first time that a Pakistani artiste has been found on the wrong side of the law. Only last month, the Enforcement Directorate had ordered the confiscation of singer Adnan Sani's properties in Mumbai on the ground that a Pakistani national cannot purchase or transfer properties in India under foreign exchange regulations without permission of the Reserve Bank of India. Ironically, while the Indian artistes find it difficult to even visit Pakistan, the Indian government welcomes Pakistanis with open arms. That is all the more reason that the guests obey the rules of the country which showers so much of love and adulation on them. 













Protect privacy
Dangers of phone tapping 

It indeed is a cause of concern that too many telephone calls are being intercepted by various intelligence and security agencies. Conversations between individuals, who had every reason to believe that what they were saying to each other was private, have been leaked to the media and have been the source of many a scandal in recent times.

The Radia tapes have occupied much news space these days, and people have forgotten the earlier instance linked to former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh whose taped conversations appeared in the media in 2005, causing much embarrassment.

Now his service provider, Reliance Infocomm, which had been accused of tapping the phone on the basis of a forged letter, said in an affidavit that it was legally bound to instantly comply with interception orders as part of the measures to prevent terror attacks and other serious developments. It also said it "facilitated the tapping of as many as 1.51 lakh telephones during 2006-10". While the court will decide this particular case after all the facts are known, it must be noted that the number of telephone intercepted calls by only one service provider is staggering, and begs for a logical explanation.

No one would argue with the security agencies in case they were to focus their activities on known terrorist or other national security threats. However, the tapping of lakhs of phones smacks of a heavy-handed approach, in which the interception is not only confined to potential threats to the nation, but also includes people of interest for the powers that be.

This is a dangerous trend and citizens have every reason to demand a more transparent and less intrusive system so that the legitimate concerns of national security can be addressed, even as individual and corporate privacy is not impinged upon. 










There is no better place than Wagah to look for evidence of how badly India-Pakistan relations have eroded. Wagah is the only legally permissible place where, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., border crossings on foot can be made with the proper visas. On one Sunday morning, I was the only border crosser from Pakistan when the gates opened.


Customs officials told me that perhaps 50 people make the crossing daily, except for the occasional tour bus. Prior efforts by Pakistani and Indian governments to simplify tourism, family reunions, and trade have come to this sorry state. Punjab remains an excellent barometer of the state of Indo-Pak relations. After Partition, it was a killing field. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee traversed this blood-stained soil by bus in February 1999 attempting to normalise relations with Pakistan in the wake of the 1998 nuclear tests. In another highly symbolic gesture, Mr Vajpayee then went to the Minar-i-Pakistan, the monument erected in Lahore to commemorate Muhammad Ali Jinnah's famous declaration in 1940 of the need to establish a homeland for the subcontinent's Muslims. There, Mr Vajpayee penned these words in the distinguished visitors' book:


"From this historic 'Minar-i-Pakistan', I wish to assure the people of Pakistan of my country's deep desire for lasting peace and friendship. I have said this before, and I say it again: A stable, secure and prosperous Pakistan is in India's interest. Let no one in Pakistan be in doubt about this. India sincerely whishes the people of Pakistan well."


Pakistan's military chiefs were not on hand to greet Mr Vajpayee at the border. The then Army Chief, Gen Pervez Musharraf, and a very select group around him were already deep into the Kargil misadventure. Afterward, when General Musharraf had a change of heart and was ready to take big risks to normalise ties with India, New Delhi was still feeling battered and bruised. Good timing is not one of the prominent features of Indo-Pak dialogue. Nor is sustained progress: when there is the possibility that modest gains might yield more meaningful results, big explosions happen.


A cross-Kashmir bus service was launched between Srinigar and Muzaffarabad in April 2005. Few use it. Pledges were also made to simplify trade across the Kashmir divide. This is not happening. A train service began running between Delhi and Lahore. The "Samjhauta Express" was attacked near Panipat in February 2007, killing 68 travellers. The Government of India has yet to identify the perpetrators, who are believed to be Hindu extremists. Forty-two Pakistani travellers were killed on the train, along with 26 Indians. In November 2008, Muslim extremists linked to the Lashkar-i-Toiba, a group that retains links to Pakistani intelligence services, attacked iconic targets in Mumbai, killing 164. The attackers were trained and equipped on Pakistani soil.


India and Pakistan have again agreed to resume what they used to call a composite dialogue at the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit in Thimphu. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government is beset by scandals and has had a very long, tiring run. Popular views in Pakistan concerning the government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani are perhaps best summed up by an editorial cartoon in one local paper showing him admiring himself in a hand-held mirror, but his reflection in the mirror was blank. Even though both governments are wounded, modest confidence-building and nuclear-risk reduction measures could be agreed to, as was the case after earlier crises sparked off by mass casualty acts of terrorism. Pledges against attacking nuclear facilities might be expanded to other types of installations, such as dams and historic sites. The pre-notification agreement for ballistic missile flight tests could be expanded to include cruise missiles, as Pakistan has previously proposed. The joint counter-terrorism mechanism, which was doomed to failure by appointing Foreign Ministry officials as co-chairs, can do no worse and might do better by being led by intelligence officials. An incidents-at-sea agreement could be finalised, as could long-delayed deals on the Siachen and Sir Creek issues. A SAARC-wide agreement on information exchanges related to monsoon rains, glacial melt and early warnings of extreme weather — perhaps with the assistance of outsiders with greater access to satellite data — could help with land use and water management as well as disaster relief. Many analysts and NGOs have joined the Stimson Center in proposing these and other incremental steps. Identifying useful measures is relatively easy; the hard part is encouraging diplomats to act positively rather than to explain in minute detail why the prospects for success are remote. Change on the subcontinent comes from the top down, not from the ranks of civil servants.


If past is the prelude, incremental successes may again be possible — along with big explosions. Small gains will not lead to breakthroughs unless there is a shift in the strategic culture of Pakistan's military leaders. Distrust of Indian intentions is embedded in their DNA, and as the conventional military imbalance shifts increasingly in India's favour, Pakistan's military establishment grows more concerned about dictation from across the border. This need not preclude modest nuclear risk-reduction measures, as long as these arrangements do not impinge on Rawalpindi's perceived insurance policies. But if Pakistani military leaders remain convinced that India constitutes a mortal threat, the normalisation process will not proceed very fast or very far.


How, then, to proceed in such inauspicious circumstances? A breakthrough, if one is remotely possible, is likely to come from Punjab, as Prime Minister Vajpayee intuited. India's economy, shackled by Nehruvian dogma, was on the ropes until then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Narasimha Rao opened the door to market principles in 1991. National entrepreneurship flourished, and the world is now beating a path to India's door. Pakistan is currently facing dire economic straits, which are greatly compounded by the lack of trade with India, its most natural and largest market. Pakistan's military has a very large stake in the national economy. If trade could be greatly expanded across the Punjab divide, substantial benefits could accrue.


Prior efforts to expand Indo-Pak trade have failed. There is need for learning the lessons why it is crucial to not repeating failures. Perhaps prospects for success might improve if the initiative came from the two Chief Ministers, rather than from New Delhi and Islamabad. (The same notion applies to increasing trade between Sindh and Gujarat.) The appointment of highly successful and respected entrepreneurs by the Chief Ministers to map out a plan for vastly increased trade that can generate economic gains and job growth on both sides of the border is likely to have a far greater chance of success than if such matters were left in the hands of civil servants.


Incremental successes by means of nuclear risk-reduction measures remain valuable in their own right and symbolic of responsible nuclear stewardship. While important, these measures are not game-changers. Vastly improved trade between India and Pakistan, beginning across the Punjab divide, can be a game-changer.


The writer is the co-founder of the Stimson Center, Washington, DC.








A day after erroneously reading out the Portuguese Foreign Minister's speech at the UN Security Council, Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna described the incident as unfortunate, adding: "There were many papers spread in front of me. So by mistake the wrong speech was taken out.


Such faux pas do happen on occasions with the V.I.Ps. In 1972, at a Rotary conference in Delhi, the then Information & Broadcasting Minister Satyanarayan Sinha as chief guest brought with him a copy of the speech he was to deliver at a conference of TV manufacturers the same afternoon and delivered the full speech before he realised or was made to realise that this was a Rotary conference. Thereafter, he made some impromptu comments lauding Rotary's role in serving society.


Mr Bhichai Rattakal, a former Speaker of the Thai Parliament and a former Deputy Prime Minister of his country, visited Delhi in early 1985 as a guest speaker at a Rotary conference. I accompanied him for a call on the President of India Giani Zail Singh. In his words of welcome, Gianiji said in Hindi: "Aap Ek Mittar Desh New Zealand se Ayen Hai, Hamen Khushi Hai" (we are happy that you have arrived here from New Zealand, a friendly country). The visiting dignitary had a bewildered expression when he heard the word New Zealand. However, in the long conversation, Gianiji corrected himself by lauding the role of his "country as a member of the Security Council" (at that time, Thailand was a non-permanent member of the Security Council).


The late Radha Raman was the Chief Executive Councillor of Delhi in the early seventies. He was the chief guest at a function organised by the Indo-German Friendship Association to facilitate Mr Willy Brandt, who became Chancellor of Germany for the third successive term.


Mr Radha Raman reached Hotel Imperial much after the function had started. Looking at German Ambassador Gunther Deil sitting at the head table, he thought that the Ambassador was Willy Brandt and said: "Excellency, we are proud of your election as Chancellor of your country for the third successive term." He kept on addressing him as Chancellor even though some slips were passed on to him saying that the gentleman sitting at the head table was the German Ambassador. When he finished speaking and sat down, he was made to realise his mistake. He felt embarrassed and quickly departed from the function saying he was already late for the next programme.


A few days later, Mr Radha Raman was the chief guest at the convocation of a women's arts college. In his speech, he stated that 'some of you will become doctors, some others will become engineers', little realising he was speaking at an arts college convocation.


The Statesman carried the news with the caption 'Radha Raman does it again'.


Giani Zail Singh as Home Minister was piloting a Bill in the Rajya Sabha. Pilloo Mody, as a member, had participated in the debate.


While replying to the debate, Gianiji said: "Pilloo Mody is a seasonal member". The whole House started laughing. A minister sitting next to Gianiji told him that the word to be used is 'seasoned' and not 'seasonal'. Gianiji said: "English is not my mother tongue. Pilloo Mody had been taught English by his wife". Pilloo Mody looked furious, thumped his table and said: "Point of order - Mr Deputy Chairman!"


The Deputy Chairman asked Mr Mody what was his point of order.


Mr Mody said: "Mr Deputy Chairman, Gianiji is totally wrong. My wife did not teach me English. I taught her English. (Mrs Mody was Swiss by birth.)n


The writer is a former Governor of Uttarakhand and Sikkim and former Secretary-General, Rajya Sabha









It is a telling commentary on the state of governance in India that the crime rate is much higher in cities with a high concentration of police, and in those villages that are close to police stations and government offices. By contrast, remote villages which rarely see the sight of a policeman are relatively crime free. Most atrocities in villages take place at the hands of castes and communities that can count on police support.


A Bengali saying sums up the perception of the ordinary citizens aptly: Baghe kater 16 ghav, police kater 32 ghav. (If a leopard attacks you are likely to end with 16 wounds, but one who is targeted by the police will end up with at least 32 wounds). The entry of police in villages and neighbourhoods evokes fear rather than a sense of security. In tribal villages I have seen men flee to the jungles at the sight of a police jeep anticipating trouble.


The widespread proliferation of private security agencies and gated communities with the well-off citizens organising personal arrangements for their safety amounts to an open declaration of "no confidence" in the police. Those of us who can't afford personal security guards live Allah bharose! One of the most under-reported and under-investigated crimes in India is the disappearance of little children from villages, urban slums and poor neighbourhoods. In last three years alone, 6,687 children in Delhi have been declared untraceable by the Crime Branch's Missing Persons Squad. This does not include those children whose parents failed to get the police to file a case. Their number is likely to be much higher than those few who managed to get an FIR registered. The manner in which the police terrorised families of children who disappeared from Nithari village in Noida instead of registering complaints and tracing the missing children is fairly typical of police behaviour in India.


For example, Sonia, who lost her 11-year-old son says, "On December 29, 2006 when he disappeared, I immediately went to the local police. They told me to go and search for him in orphanages. When I went again they said the child is not in our pocket. He will come back on his own. When I asked them to register a report they abused me in the worst possible language. They said you people produce so many children and cannot take care of them; some of them are bound to disappear. Having got sick of abuses I stopped going to the police station. I could not take the insults of policemen in addition to the pain of losing my child."


Dolly, the mother of 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar who disappeared in January 2005 said: "The police man asked us accusingly why we come to big cities with grown up daughters who get influenced by the 'fast' life of big city and elope with their lovers? Many of the people whose children went missing left the village due to the police harassment." The tragic and gruesome fate of those 40 children and young women from one small neighbourhood became known only when their skeletal remains were found in the drain outside businessman Pandher's house.


I witnessed closely how the police terrorised the family of a carpenter whose teenage son was abducted while going to school. Let us call the man Aamir and his son Naseem. Aamir moved heaven and earth to get the police to register a case of abduction but without success. They laughed it off saying the boy is likely to have run away on his own and joined some terrorist gang! Aamir pleaded with the police that his son was well-adjusted and serious minded and had never socialised with lumpen elements but to no avail. I sent Aamir to an NGO working on child traffic but even they could not help him get an FIR registered. I talked to several senior officers of the Delhi police. All promised help but nothing really came of the assurances. Aamir travelled the length and breadth of the country going to even distant relatives in far away Assam to track down his son but got no clue. Nearly six months after his disappearance, Naseem returned home looking like a ghost. He had clear evidence of injuries all over his body and narrated a horrific tale about how he was rendered unconscious with a chemical laced handkerchief and abducted in a Maruti Omni right near the police post. Thereafter, he was taken to some unknown place and kept locked up in a basement with more than 60 other children in a building constructed away from habitations and surrounded by agriculture fields. They were not allowed to step out of the basement at all and made to work in a factory that manufactured and assembled mechanical parts that appeared as if they were meant for making illicit guns. He and some others tried escaping twice but were caught and severely beaten up. But he was lucky in his third escape when he managed to hide in the surrounding fields and crawled all night to reach the nearby railway station at Roorki. When Aamir took his son to the thana to report the return of Naseem, he was accused of cooking up a story, and asked jeeringly: "Why is it that only your son was abducted, when there are so many other children living in the area?" In addition, the police started harassing the family alleging that they needed to investigate Aamir's terrorist links! The situation got so menacing that Aamir had to send his son into hiding. Finally, the family moved to some other locality. I tried to persuade him to come with me to the Police Commissioner so that his son could help the police rescue other trapped children and bust this racket. But nothing on earth could persuade him to have any further dealing with the police because by now he was convinced that the police was hand in glove with the gang and that the police represented a greater danger to his son's life than his abductors because they seemed rather annoyed at his return.


Most citizens in India, especially the poor dread entering a police station more than entering the gates of hell; they are far more terrorised of our own police than they are of ISI terrorists. The reason is simple: Terrorists strike once in a while, often at random whereas the police strike terror every day in order to extort bribes. Most of their time is spent collecting hafta and sniffing new opportunities for making an extra buck, often in collusion with criminals. They openly talk of "sookhi / geeli/ maalidar postings." The geeli postings are those that provide opportunities for regular bribes and payoffs while sookhi postings are devoid of such privilege. The biggest bribes predictably come from patronising those engaged in unlawful activities — peddlers of drugs and pornography, flesh traders, local thugs, land grabbers and corrupt builders.


The Congress had promised in its 2009 election Manifesto that it will "guarantee the maximum possible security to each and every citizen… the police force will be made more effective and trained professionally to confront new and emerging threats. Accountability of the police force will be institutionalised." There is no evidence of the Congress remembering this promise. No political party is serious about police reforms because an accountable, efficient police force is not easy to manipulate for partisan purposes.


It is imperative that citizens demand the right to police the police and press for far reaching institutional reforms

since the large-scale criminalisation of our police force poses the biggest security threat to India as a nation and

its citizens-rich and poor alike. We cannot let our children grow up in such an unsafe environment.


The writer is Founder, Manushi Journal and Manushi-Citizens First Forum and Professor, Centre for the Study

of Developing Societies


Unsafe world


India's track record on treating its most vulnerable section of population, that is women and children, continues to be dismal. Crimes against children show no sign of abating.


 According to National Crime Records Bureau, around 22,500 crime cases were recorded during 2008.The figure increased to 24,201 in 2009. Thus if a 7.6 percentage increase was reported in the incidence of crime against children in 2007 over 2006, the same figure was true for 2009 as compared to 2008.


 Cases of rape of children registered a marginal decline of 1.4 per cent in the year 2009 as against the same

period of last year.


 A total of 6,377 cases of kidnapping and abduction of children were reported during the year 2007 as compared to 5,102 cases previous year 2006. Snatchings and kidnappings witnessed an increase of 16.9 per cent in 2009.


 The state of Madhya Pradesh with 4,646 cases, Uttar Pradesh with 3,085 cases, Maharashtra with 2,894 and Delhi with 2,839 cases accounted for 19.2 per cent, 12.7 per cent, 12 per cent and 11.7 per cent of the cases respectively in 2009.


 Delhi recorded an increase in all cases (from 8.2 per cent in 2008 to 11.7 per cent in 2009) and so did Madhya Pradesh (19.2 per cent as against 18.9 per cent the previous year). Uttar Pradesh witnessed a fall while in Maharashtra the percentage of crimes remained the same.


 While cases of foeticide increased, the silver lining was a perceptible drop in cases of infanticide. 



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The left hand of the Union government does not seem to know what the right hand does! The responses of the department of space, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Antrix and the Prime Minister's Office to the observations made by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on the merits of the Antrix-Devas transponder deal have left everyone confused. While different arms of the government have been saying different things, the firm concerned, Devas, has been blowing hot and cold, first saying that the deal had been signed and sealed and averring, though not promising, that it could take legal recourse in case of cancellation and then declaring that it was open to renegotiation. The first point that emerges from this chain of events is that if there is anything worse than doing something wrong, then it is fumbling in response to allegation of wrongdoing. That can create the impression of culpability even when there may have been none. In this age of instant communication and in India's current supercharged atmosphere, crises have to be responded to and effectively handled on the run. To fall down on that score can become an issue of survival.

The second point is that though the Space Commission appears to have second thoughts on the deal, ISRO has not acted on it. The innocent can be forgiven for thinking that the two entities do not communicate well with each other. As it happens, both are headed by the same person! Though the Space Commission includes some of the senior-most functionaries of the Union government, it can become difficult for the same person to wear one hat to approve a deal and another to annul it. It is high time the three positions held concurrently by the secretary, Department of Space, are now manned separately in the interest of transparency, arms length functioning and embedding a system of checks and balances. Now that India's space programme is maturing, an analogy can be used from the world of business to argue that the positions of chairman of the board (policymaking) should be separated from that of CEO (execution).


 Two specific points need making. One is the CAG's grouse that a lot of ISRO's procurement is done without going through the process of open tendering with wide participation. Commercialisation of space technology is still very much work in progress. In the present case, two other firms had signed MoUs with ISRO for the same kind of business but had not followed through. Devas did, having mastered the technology. There should ideally be tendering and auctioning of scarce resources but that can happen only when multiple firms show interest. The principle of lowest bidder cannot work in new technology development. Second, Devas is right to make the distinction between spectrum and transponders. These are not just apples and oranges, but apples and fish, as Kiran Karnik has said. Third, Devas is, in fact, paying more than other users of transponders like DTH carriers. The government has not till now been technology agnostic in the pricing of a scarce resource like spectrum. In wireless telephony, it has treated GSM and CDMA differently, though both use the same spectrum, the latter more efficiently. Commercially pricingg a scarce resource irrespective of end use and technology at play is a bridge the country is yet to cross.








What's in a name? A lot. A market of Rs 15,000 crore at home, and $7 billion globally, to be precise. The world's fastest-growing plant, bamboo, is being increasingly hailed as "green gold", not just by tribals and craftsmen, but by a new range of businesses, including high-tech ones. The Indian government has got itself into a lexicographic spin on whether bamboo should be classified as tree, grass or weed, because that would determine which ministry will reap the policy harvest of managing this green gold. The dispute over its classification is not new and dates back to British India. The Indian Forest Act, 1927, which forest officials still adhere to, classified palms and bamboo as trees. This has enabled Union and state forest departments to oversee the bamboo trade, with the attendant rental possibilities for the overseers! Plant scientists, on the other hand, view bamboo as "grass". The World Bamboo Organisation, a Boston (USA)-based non-governmental body, has referred to the historic and universally accepted classification of plants by Carl von Linné, the father of modern taxonomy, which described bamboo as a giant graminoid (grass) belonging to the plants family called Poaceae. Taking a similar view, the Forest Rights Act, 2006, listed bamboo among the non-timber forest produce that could be accessed by the forest-dependent communities. As a grass "bamboo" would be out of the forest ministry's purview and into the agriculture ministry's.

The Union environment and forests ministry continues to regard bamboo as a tree. The need for a holistic view on bamboo is occasioned by many factors. The new assertion of forest dwellers on right to forest produce being an important one. It is perhaps this factor that has spurred the home, rural development and panchayati raj ministries to seek freer access for forest communities to bamboo resources. Forest communities have traditionally been using bamboo as building material and for making farm tools, fishing rods and numerous other household items. Tender raw bamboo is also consumed as food. Rural crafts persons also use bamboo as raw material for making utility and decorative items that find growing demand at home and in export markets. Bamboo has also found new industrial uses, with new technologies making bamboo an ideal substitute for timber in furniture, plywood, particle boards and related industries. The pulp and paper making industry also consumes bamboo.


Unfortunately, the lack of sustainable management of bamboo resources pending clarity over its classification is resulting in the steady degradation of wild bamboo stocks in several areas. The north-eastern region is the only region where bamboo is still found in abundance. Here the work of the Bamboo Technology Mission is being impaired by the classification problem. Given the growing demand for bamboo both from forest-dependent communities and modern industries, a well-crafted policy for sustainable management of bamboo resources is needed. Getting one ministry to adopt a holistic view on bamboo has become necessary.







India and Pakistan agreed to resume comprehensive bilateral dialogue at their foreign secretaries' meeting in Thimphu recently on February 6, 2011. This event has proved that we continue to be locked into a predictable pattern of "dialogue- disruption- dialogue", which has characterised India-Pakistan relations for the past two decades and more. Every time the threads of engagement are picked up and advanced, there is a major terrorist attack on Indian targets traced back to Pakistan or a Kargil-type provocation. India responds by suspending bilateral dialogue. After a certain time interval and with Pakistan making familiar declarations of good intentions, dialogue is resumed until the next round in the same chain. Will this time be different? It may be worthwhile to examine the above pattern and relate it to other significant factors influencing India-Pakistan relations.

One, the overt declaration by India and Pakistan of their nuclear weapon status in 1998 was a key development whose significance for India-Pakistan relations has not been fully analysed and understood. An important determinant of Pakistani behaviour post-1998 was the test case of Kargil in 1999. In similar Pakistan incursions in 1965 and 1971 in Kashmir, India responded by enlarging military operations to other sectors of the India-Pakistan frontier. The prevailing doctrine was that if Pakistan meddled in Kashmir, India reserved the right to retaliate at any theatre of its choosing. This is what happened in 1965 and 1971. However, in response to Kargil, India limited its retaliatory operations to the Kashmir theatre, its political leadership even declaring publicly that we would not expand the area of conflict.


 This display of restraint may have won kudos from the international community, but the conclusion Pakistan drew was that nuclear deterrence had worked to its advantage in preventing India from escalating armed conflict with Pakistan beyond the threshold set by Pakistan. Pakistan also believes, with good reason, that the US and China would act to reinforce Indian restraint.

Two, with this perception taking shape, Pakistan began to escalate the frequency and scale of cross-border terrorist attacks against Indian targets. In 2001, there was the horrific attack against Parliament which led to the "Parakrama" mobilisation of the Indian Army along the India-Pakistan border. This could have been the occasion to dispel the notion that India would not launch a ground attack across the border in response to a patent act of aggression against it. However, Parakrama never went beyond "coercive diplomacy" and it served to strengthen Pakistani belief that its nuclear assets had been successful in deterring India from any significant retaliation against Pakistani provocation.

Three, the next major escalation in Pakistan's cross-border terrorism against India came with the 26/11 attack on Mumbai in 2008. Despite the scale and brazenness of the attack, India did not retaliate with military measures against Pakistan. In fact, even the gesture of "coercive diplomacy" resorted to earlier when the Indian Parliament was attacked, was missing from India's quiver.

The uncomfortable truth is that nuclear deterrence, which is, at the end of the day, a state of mind rather than an operational reality, has been worked to its full advantage by Pakistan, while reducing our own space for manoeuvre against it. Pakistan has displayed strategic boldness in doing so. We have, by contrast, been on the defensive.

It is this perception that is also leading Pakistan's strategic planners to work feverishly to augment and upgrade the country's nuclear arsenal and its delivery capability. The objective appears to be to achieve a significant nuclear edge over India rather than maintain a rough parity. Pakistan may well believe that such numerical and qualitative edge over India will further reduce India's willingness to risk a potentially escalatory encounter with Pakistan. Recent reports indicate that Pakistan has now more nuclear weapons than the UK and its new Khushab reactors will provide even more significant quantities of fissile material for a significantly expanded and growing nuclear arsenal. It is now clear why Pakistan has single-handedly held up multilateral negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT ), which India supports, at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, citing reasons of vital national interests.

It is a matter of argument whether India should have behaved differently than it did in the instances referred to. Every political leader has to weigh the pros and cons before taking decisions on war and peace and such decisions ought not be taken in haste or in a fit of impulsive anger. What is clear, however, is that we have not fully understood why we have been led into a defensive posture even though the distance between India and Pakistan, in terms of overall power, has been increasing. The answer lies in the fact that we have allowed a situation to develop where the choice to our political leadership is either to risk a war escalating to the nuclear threshold or to continue with the "dialogue-disruption-dialogue" approach with virtually nothing in-between. This inhibits us from addressing the strategic reality we are confronted with. We must have a more varied tool-kit to manage India-Pakistan relations than be left with only a binary choice.

India must take this post-nuclear reality into account and devise an effective counter-strategy, otherwise we risk the "dialogue-disruption-dialogue" pattern becoming further established but at progressively higher levels of escalation in cross-border terrorism or in conventional-type military provocations, but below the threshold of all-out armed attack across the border. An entire array of positive and negative levers, which have been talked about often but never seriously pursued, need to be put in place to influence and shape Pakistan behaviour, if we wish to see a departure from the current, uncomfortable reality. If the current dialogue is used as a platform to initiate this more nuanced approach to our relations, then things may be different this time round.

The author is a former foreign secretary and currently senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research







The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is reportedly engaged in active discussion with commercial banks to try and bring within reasonable limits, if not stop entirely, the practice of banks charging a hefty penalty, often going up to as high as 2 per cent or more of outstandings, from borrowers seeking to take their housing loans elsewhere. While this is clearly the right thing to do, it is about time RBI got moving a little faster.


 It is now clear that in at least one other instance, microfinance, many of the sector's present troubles would have been avoided had RBI discharged its regulatory role with greater speed. It is also a bit disingenuous in letting it be known that we do not approve these things and players are advised to change their ways, but leaving matters there indefinitely. The attempt to use moral suasion can be produced as evidence to counter the charge of inaction but if no firm action is eventually taken, then the brazen can get away with continuing to do what they want even though everybody agrees that this is not the right thing to do.

Commercial banking is already a restricted market in the sense that you need a licence to run a bank and accept deposits, something that you do not need if you were to, say, manufacture a motor car. If on top of that the incumbent players engage in something which is clearly anti-competitive, then it is the customer who gets the short end of the stick and the overall efficiency of the sector suffers. The fact that the Competition Commission does not think the practice is anti-competitive says more about the Commission than the wisdom of its reasoning.

At a time when there is mobile number portability and health insurance portability is round the corner, it is absurd that in a sphere which attracts the most amount of the lifelong savings of a middle class family, housing, restrictive market practices are allowed to continue. Like mobile telecom service providers and health insurance firms, banks have to live by the quality of their service and not anti-competitive practices. If State Bank of India offering teaser rates has not caused HDFC to go out of business, there must be a reason why people are willing to pay more to still develop a long-term relationship with HDFC.

Two reasons are cited by banks for charging penal rates for pre-payment of a housing loan by a borrower seeking to change bankers. One is the original lender loses on the processing expenses that it had incurred on sanctioning the loan. This is fair and refund of the processing cost should certainly be in order in case a loan is prepaid soon after its disbursal. But this is a finite cost — how many man hours do you really need to process a loan, what with technology reducing costs? — which is independently computable and can be levied according to norms laid down by the regulator. But it is likely to be far lower than the Rs 40,000 that a borrower will have to pay if she pre-pays an outstanding of Rs 20 lakh which can be taken to be a rough median figure.

The second argument holds even less water. Banks claim that they will land in asset-liability mismatch if a long-term borrower, say someone who has taken a 20-year housing loan, walks away as the bank will lose the asset against which it will have created a liability of similar tenure. The fact is, long-term lending by commercial banks which live mostly by taking short-term deposits, invariably leads to asset-liability mismatch. Banks are living with this and the regulator is allowing them to do so. It is for this reason that earlier there were term lending agencies in the shape of development financial institutions which lent long term and banks lent at most medium term. The situation will change when there is an active long-term debt market where pension funds can park their corpuses and banks float paper to access those resources.

There is one other reason why levying of exorbitant pre-payment penalties should be outlawed. This practice makes for a lethal combination with another unhealthy practice — teaser rates. The current position is that a bank can induce a borrower to take a long-term housing loan by offering a teaser rate and then slap a sharp pre-payment penalty on anyone seeking to go elsewhere later when interest rates start going up. Both of these practices should be disallowed. Instead, RBI is allowing both to prevail even while making noises that it does not approve of them.

In fact, the banking regulator can go a step further and take some innovative measures that will give retail customers of real estate a better deal and, what is systemically more important, spread a superior culture among real estate companies that makes for better health in the sector. Realty firms that give their ordinary customers a transparent and fair deal are likely to have greater integrity, be sounder and make for a more stable industry.

RBI can well say that its primary job is to worry about the banking sector and not the real estate sector, but it does have a developmental role and can take a legitimate interest in the health of an asset class with a long life. It can, for example, tell banks that they should encourage realty firms that borrow from them to ensure two sound practices. One, mention the carpet area along with whatever else they want to like super built-up area while selling an apartment. Two, offer a warranty for a reasonable period, indemnifying the buyer against manufacturing defects. This will be as revolutionary as feasible.






It may be safely assumed that lobbyists of all hues are hyperactive in this Budget season, though one may not have intercepted phone recordings to prove it. The legal system stands isolated since it has no intercessors, and judges cannot use the press or similar platforms. It is the law minister who can be heard time and again. However, his promises and performance in the last two years have underwhelmed the legal community.

The judiciary does send subtle messages about its plight to the budget-makers through asides in judgments and oral observations during court proceedings. In one such digression last week, it remarked that even the special courts took decades to reach their decisions. After 80 pages of discussion of the case, V S Achuthanandan vs R Balakrishna Pillai, it said: "Before winding up, it is our duty to point out that in all cases in which charges of corruption of public servants are involved, normally it takes longer time to reach its finality. Though this case was handled by a special court for the sole purpose of finding out the truth or otherwise of the prosecution case, the fact remains it had taken nearly two decades to reach its finality."


 If this is the state of high-profile cases, litigation involving the little man takes much longer. Some judges express their concern during court proceedings. Last week, one bench attributed the delay in the disposal of 30 million-plus pending cases to lack of infrastructure, non-appointment of judges and poor allocation of funds in Budgets. They pointed out that the budgetary allocation for judiciary is less than 1 per cent. "This shows the government's commitment to the judiciary," the judges remarked and added, "where is the infrastructure? They are already under heavy burden. There are only lectures, committees and commissions but no solutions."

The initiative for tackling the immense problems the legal system faces has come from the Supreme Court, though it has its its own limitations. One public interest writ petition had been going on since 1989 to improve the infrastructure of the subordinate courts and enhance the service conditions of judges (All India Judges Association vs Union of India). For years the Supreme Court has been prodding governments to allot more funds to the legal system and grant higher salaries and allowances to judges and court staff. Though it has partly succeeded, the reluctance of state governments is evident from the orders. The state governments fail to file their responses for years, provoking the court to take coercive measures. Recently, several chief secretaries were summoned to explain in person why the authorities were not implementing the orders. The case continues to be heard in the court of the Chief Justice every Monday.

Reports of two judicial commissions on the ills afflicting the judiciary have portrayed a pathetic picture of the courts in the country. The Jagannatha Shetty Commission and the E Padmanabhan Commission, on the basis of which the Supreme Court has been passing orders, have stated that courts do not have adequate buildings, staff or even stationery to fulfil their obligations.

Another petition presses for the appointment of an adequate number of judges in the subordinate courts and tribunals. The common man meets the legal system for the first time at these courts and arrears pending there are astounding. The case, Malik Sultan vs UP Public Service Commission, has been going on since 2006 and the orders passed by the Supreme Court have nudged the state governments to appoint more judges, though they are far from adequate.

Despite these efforts, the latest figures released officially present a grim picture. While the sanctioned strength of judges for 21 high courts is 895, there are 285 vacancies. The Allahabad High Court has the maximum number of vacancies, 87 out of 160, followed by Punjab and Haryana (22), and Gujarat and Calcutta High Courts, 19 each. The subordinate judiciary is no better. There are 2,980 vacancies, though the total number should be 16,990. The ideal norm of the judge-population ratio recommended by the Law Commission, 50 per million, remains a distant dream.

As many as 4,108,555 cases are pending in the high courts, with the Allahabad High Court again leading with 952,862. The figure for the subordinate courts is 27,374,908. The Supreme Court has 55,717 matters pending. If connected matters are excluded, the pendency is 33,362. Out of the total, 19,680 matters are less than a year old. Therefore, strictly speaking, the "arrears" are 36,037 cases.

The Supreme Court has not released statistics since September. Earlier, it used to publish quarterly figures for the whole country. Therefore, it is not possible to verify whether the reforms attempted by the present Chief Justice since last July and the vision statements of the law minister have made any difference to the dismal setting.




As a welfare fund for the working population, it should not be invested in the market at all; if the government insists on this, then it needs to provide subscribers some security.

A D Nagpal

Member, Central Board of Trustees, Employees Provident Fund


EPF managers should be free to invest in stock markets provided they get a sovereign guarantee. The government is afraid of taking even that much responsibility

Whether the government should invest Employees Provident Fund (EPF) money in the stock market is a question that is answered even before it is asked. It is amply clear to anyone who applies his mind to the matter that it is just not possible to expose the funds of the public to such risks in the hope of getting better returns. That is why I rule it out — unless the government can assure subscribers a sovereign guarantee.

There are three or four reasons investment in the stock market should be ruled out for EPF. Every year we have to declare interest rates to subscribers. If EPF money is invested in the market, and stock prices fall, what interest rates do you offer subscribers?

The government gives the example of the National Pension Scheme (NPS) to persuade people in favour of investing EPF money in the market. This is a bit like comparing apples with oranges. The two are totally different. NPS is a long-term investment and it stays there till one retires. Is that the case with EPF?

Again, those who want EPF money to be invested in the markets do not realise that the fund does not have the infrastructure for investment. Life Insurance Corporation, for instance, does have that infrastructure and it has been investing in the markets for years. We don't have that. We started investments minimally in 2008 through fund managers. That is all we have. Talk of putting a huge part of the funds in markets has to be preceded by setting up the required infrastructure.

Given the volatility in the Indian market, we are afraid of being unable to fulfill our responsibilities to subscribers, many of of whom are poor and for whom these funds are their sole investments.

Economic Affairs Secretary R Gopalan in his letter to the Labour Secretary says NPS fund managers managed to get returns of 14.82 per cent for subscribers while the EPF paid an interest of only 8.5 per cent to subscribers in 2008-09.

This comparison is baseless. The pension fund belongs to the government and it is a partner in it. So if there are losses the government has to bear them. But in the case of EPF, the government has refused to take any risks.

It has clearly said the Board of Trustees would be responsible if there is any problem as a result of stock market investment. So, we are not asking for any big guarantees. All we are saying is that EPF managers should be free to invest any amount in stock markets provided they get a sovereign guarantee of 8.5 per cent annual interest. That is not much. The government is afraid of taking even that much responsibility even as it pushes the EPF to invest in the market.

The government and the finance ministry are blind to the purpose of the EPF and this is reflected in their position on investments and guarantees. The finance ministry says the EPF should not be disrupted by periodic and intermittent withdrawals for loans, medical loans and so on. They say subscribers should take loans from banks instead. Poor people don't have anything to mortgage when they approach banks. That is why they approach the EPF. The government overlooks these issues when it discusses the use and investments of the fund.

I don't know if there are any precedents elsewhere in the world of welfare funds being invested in stock markets or even of guarantees being given. But we have only one position on this — that if there is any investment in a volatile entity like the stock market, then there must be sovereign guarantee. Public property cannot be subjected to risk without anyone guaranteeing a certain level of returns.

The writer is also National Secretary, Hind Mazdoor Sangh
(As told to Sreelatha Menon)

Siddharth Shankar
Chief Economist, Kasa Financial Group

The government cannot guarantee stock market returns for the Employees Provident Fund because it would face the problem of deficit financing

We need to look at the logic of having a provident fund (PF) system and that is designed to provide a comfortable retirement to working-class citizens. A PF is actually a social security savings plan in which the overall scope and benefits revolve around retirement, healthcare, home ownership, family protection and asset enhancement. Employees and their employers make monthly contributions to the Employees Provident Fund (EPF). EPF savings help subscribers in many ways even before they retire. Monthly contributions to one's PF account help build up savings for healthcare needs. PF savings can be used to buy a home. Dependents are insured against the member's permanent incapacity or death. Besides, PF investments help enhance one's retirement savings.

Overall, a provident fund ensures that the citizen has a roof over his head when he retires and it's fully paid for. It also helps meet medical needs when one grows old.

So it is clear that a citizen invests in PF for security, and that is the fundamental premise. Investing PF in the stock market defies the fundamentals of security since such market investments are speculative in nature. One may argue that investments would be made in the top companies but we must keep in mind that giants like GM can also go bankrupt. Ideally, the PF money must be invested in gold or commodities that are rare and will remain rare in the next 20 to 40 years. The question that arises is the rate of return. Though gold gives a very low annual return, its price grows by the rate of inflation. It would be wise for the government to pay the difference between the rate of gold appreciation and the inflation rather than speculate with the money and finally top up the losses when they occur in the long run. The case of UTI is well known and we would surely not want the EPF to be a UTI in the making.

I'm sure the government cannot guarantee stock market returns because it would face the problem of deficit financing. The government cannot speculate in all the world markets and cover its deficit. We must also keep in mind that the stock and currency markets are so unpredictable that the Reserve Bank of India faces a huge challenge in managing forex reserves.

The EPF should be run as a welfare system and not a profit system. If the government thinks of it as a welfare scheme, the rate of interest will not pinch it. It may be wise for the government to use this money for public welfare like building dams and roads and spending on environment and agriculture. All these investments will surely yield results that will be more than the 9.5 per cent the government is paying to EPF contributors. If the government were to invest in such development projects, it needn't bother searching for investment avenues. EPF money should not be invested in the stock market, nor should the government guarantee any stock market investments.

EPF is a kind of fund that combines the features of a defined benefit scheme with those of a defined contribution scheme. Since both contributions and returns are well defined, it is much easier to manage such schemes. How will the government ensure that the fund managers do not make any investment where they have vested interests? We cannot leave the security of millions to the mercy of a few. While the government may try to appoint managers with an excellent track record, past records are no guarantee for the future. In the recent financial turmoil, we have seen some of the biggest names of the financial world going bankrupt. These funds belong to citizens and should be used to improve the country so that people can draw long-term benefits from them.








Talking to a friend the other night, I discovered something immeasurably tragic. While it is easy to dismiss most of the films we critics watch as we hold out for the (three or four, sometimes five) genuinely good movies the Hindi film industry grants us every year, there's always been something to look forward to. There are always filmmakers one is genuinely thrilled about, actors to look forward to, and projects that just grab you by the collar right from the trailer.

Except, no. The sad fact I faced up to last night, then, was that there was no single 2011 release lined up that I was unreservedly kicked about, not even one prospective release I was dying to watch.


 Sure, there are top filmmakers — Vishal Bhardwaj, Sriram Raghavan, Anurag Kashyap and Imtiaz Ali — but there's something that seems awry about each of their projects. All the top actors will show up on screen — Aamir, Ranbir, Shah Rukh, Salman, Saif, Akshay — but potential films seem grand only in scale. Also, with each actor oscillating wildly between mediocrity and magnificence, it makes sense to wait and watch.


Every upcoming film, it seems, needs a disclaimer. Bhardwaj's ambitious dark romance 7 Khoon Maaf is a perfectly brilliant idea, based on Ruskin Bond's Susannah's Seven Husbands, but everyone I know is tentative after having watched the trailers. The music is killer, (of course, Darrling) and trust Bhardwaj to spring a surprise. But most loyalists (self-included) are a bit scared of this one — and it's not in the least because Priyanka Chopra wants to drrrrink our bloooood.


Getting Raghavan to direct a spy movie is a choice more automatic than a Beretta, yet the wonderfully titled Agent Vinod is plagued by persistent rumours that actor-producer Saif is forcing the film to be edited his way.


So clean-cut has the wonderful Ranbir Kapoor been so far that getting him in a film called Rockstar should provide a high-wattage blast, especially with Imtiaz Ali at the helm, but news keeps trickling in about that film constantly going overbudget and much damage control (read: producer interference) on the cards. Vidya Balan, increasingly impressive in every film, is an interesting choice to play Southern siren Silk Smitha, but the jury's out on the inconsistent director Milan Luthria.


Anurag Kashyap's breakneck speed production That Girl In Yellow Boots is a sensational looking film for its measly budget, but has little to offer besides a stunner of a performance from leading lady Kalki Koechlin. Kashyap's next, Gangs Of Vasseypur, a sprawling epic that sounds utterly fascinating, doesn't seem likely to hit theatres this year.


One 2011 film, however, stands out, simply by dint of its cast. With the amazingly intriguing ensemble of Hrithik, Farhan, Kalki and Katrina, Zoya Akhtar's Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is definitely a film to look forward to — if only to see actors both mainstream and multiplex get it on and play off each other. Then again, it's too soon to start speculating.


 Dibakar Banerjee's new Shanghai, with the unlikely pair of Emraan Hashmi and Abhay Deol, might just make it into '11, as may Reema Kagti's thriller with a bearded Aamir — but it's too soon for a glimpse of either.
And maybe that, more than anything, is the lesson.
hat we need to walk into a movie theatre unprepared.


 That months and months of mediahype — song-promos and leaked news snippets and events where actresses hand out Viagra and talkshows where they awkwardly suck each other's thumbs and reality shows where they offer inexpert counsel to lovelorn couples and interchangeable turns as judges on innumerable contests — are killing the appetite for the films itself. There just isn't any room left to be ravenous if this banal ballyhoo-ing is force-fed to us this consistently.


It's easy to get excited about Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara because the hype hasn't hit yet









The government has taken the first baby steps towards a subsidy regime that targets the poor better and avoids leakages. A committee, headed by UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani will look at what it will take to get subsidies directly to those who need them. It has four months to prepare a report and two months after that, a pilot scheme will be rolled out. This column has long argued in favour of a system of direct cash transfers to the poor, instead of subsidising products like cooking gas, kerosene, fertilisers and so on. Direct transfers should reach the intended beneficiaries, who can then use the funds to buy what they need, at prices determined by a competitive market. If successful, such a system could finish the vicious kerosene-mobster cartels prevalent in many parts, cut inefficiencies in the public distribution system and make farmers, instead of fertiliser companies, the real beneficiaries of the government's handouts. The real challenge lies in execution.
The first hurdle is to identify the poor. In some states, the number of below-poverty-line cards issued exceeds their total population. The unique identity number project, implemented well, could cut through the clutter and identify a person well enough for his income status to be verified. The second challenge is to work out a mechanism to transfer subsidies from the Centre to the hands of the people who need it. An inclusive banking system, supported by a countrywide broadband network, connected to teller machines at post offices and point-ofsales terminals even in villages across the country would be needed. The third, and possibly biggest hurdle is institutional. A direct transfer mechanism for subsidies will upset many entrenched lobbies across the country. To minimise this resistance, the entire administrative mechanism, including the Centre, state governments, district and panchayat administrations needs to be taken into confidence, and mobilised to implement the transfer scheme. An overhaul of India's vast and complex subsidy regime cannot just be a technocratic quick-fix; to succeed, it'll need strong administrative and institutional legs and political will.







The reported move to corporatise Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, at long last, makes perfect sense. Bringing JNPT, India's premier container port, under the purview of the Companies Act should provide ample scope for business-like operations and allow greater leeway for raising resources and funds. In tandem, what is essential is that the new port regulatory body, the Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP) be suitably empowered, for proper oversight. All twelve of our major ports need to be brought under the Companies Act, without further delay. A revamped organisational framework is likely to boost efficiency and investments, such as for new terminals. In any case, having a trust to deliver complex, management-intensive operations at a modern sea port — or other capital-intensive infrastructure operations for that matter — is, indeed, an anchronism in this age of globalised trade. A board-driven corporate entity would be more suited to manage the logistics and capital raising requirements of a large port. Note that some of the new smaller private ports have already made an impact as body corporates.


The major ports continue to handle about 74% of India's total cargo traffic, but they need to gear up and become much more proactive for sustained growth levels. It is true that the major ports have reported average traffic growth rates of 10% of late, which is why volumes have grown from about 580 million tonnes in 2005-06 to 850 MT in 2009-10, thanks to surging trade. But it is also true that cargo handling capacities at our ports fall far short of international norms, because of the sheer lack of infrastructure. Which is why the turnaround time for carriers is more than two days at Indian ports, as compared to not more than 10-12 hours at other Asian ports such as Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. The attendant dwell time at out major cargo terminals, both for imports and exports, is also correspondingly longer. And these hold-ups add to costs and affect competitive advantage economy-wide. Hence the pressing need to corporatise operations at all ports, set benchmarks, and have in place effective regulation.






 Since September 11, 2001, it's become clear that we live in dangerous times, with terror lurking around every corner. CCTVs and scanners have proliferated, the eyes of the state are everywhere, yet the perception of threats to societies everywhere has only increased. We need to be watchful for threats to life, limb and liberty and keep a wary eye open for armed roosters. Yes, roosters, armed with sharp weapons are a new menace, especially after one killed Jose Luis Ochoa in central California. Ochoa's profession was to organise rooster fights, banned in California, but common enough in many parts of India. During one such fight, Ochoa was attacked and sliced in his right calf by a rooster and apparently bled to death on the way to hospital. Several dead roosters were recovered from the scene of the crime. The identity of the killer has not been established yet, and there's the frightening possibility that it is still at large, and probably on the run.


This should ring alarm bells across India, where rooster fights are commonplace and a perfectly legal source of entertainment and gambling, though the gambling part is kept under wraps. Given the possibility that Ochoa's killer is still at large, India would be an attractive destination for it to flee to. Once here, in the apparent anonymity that roosterhood gives, it can go undetected and strike at will. Airport security needs to be beefed up. Ports need to be on high alert for inbound rooster consignments. Any good citizen who spots a lone rooster, especially one carrying sharp weapons, should immediately call the security agencies. Though the government has not announced a financial bounty yet, the continued security of the nation should be reward enough, if not the promise of tandoori chicken!






Excitement over the revolution in Egypt is tempered with worries that old autocrats will be replaced by new ones. The Middle East has no tradition of democratic institutions.


Why so? There are many reasons, but we will focus on the shallowness of the Middle East's colonisation. Britain and France directly ruled colonies in Asia and Africa, creating institutions that sometimes (though by no means always) helped usher in democracy. But the colonial powers merely controlled the Middle East through subservient monarchs, and did not rule these directly. So, these never developed liberal institutions, and made the Middle East relatively infertile ground for democracy.

Several countries of the region have attained upper middle income status: per capita income exceeding $3,850. Political theorists argue that this will lead to ultimately irresistible demands for democracy from a rising middle class (as happened in Korea and Taiwan). But this has not quite happened in the Middle East. Euphoria over the overthrow of the Shah of Iran faded when he was succeeded by tyrannical mullahs. Nobody expects an exact replay of that in Egypt, yet military or theocratic rule loom as possibilities. True democracy looks a fragile hope rather than confident expectation. The Middle East is much richer than Asia. India, Pakistan Bangladesh and Sri Lanka all developed democratic roots of varying strength while they were poor. Within Africa, Botswana and Mauritius became and stayed democratic when they were very poor. Why is the Middle East an exception?
You might think that European colonial influence, which brought in notions of democracy, liberty, equality and fraternity, would have impacted the Middle East as much as Asia. The Middle East was run by the Ottoman Empire until World War I. After that, Britain and France took over the these parts of the Ottoman Empire, creating new countries ranging from French-controlled Syria and Lebanon to British-controlled Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The British also controlled Egypt from the late 19th century to 1952.
Such imperial control without direct rule made a big difference. In India, the British Raj brought in institutions such as accountability of rulers (Clive and Warren Hastings were impeached), an independent judiciary, a free press (subject to some censorship), and substantial civil liberties (though tainted by racism). During the Quit India movement, some Indian student agitators avoided arrest by taking refuge in university campuses, where, by tradition, the police did not or were reluctant to enter. This would be unthinkable in an autocracy.
The British looted, plundered and raped like all earlier conquerors. But they also brought some institutions of the European Enlightenment. In a few cases, like India, these institutions had strong roots by Independence. In other places, especially Africa, the roots were very shallow.

But in the Middle East there were no roots at all. In a democracy, dissent is not only permissible but honourable, and the Leader of the Opposition is an important institutional figure. However, in traditional monarchies, any dissent was treason, justifiably punishable by death. Subjects were supposed to be loyal to the king, not to abstract institutional principles.

Direct British rule helped establish the right to dissent and dilute the notion of treason. Congress leaders were often jailed but never in danger of decapitation, and had enough status to be called for negotiations to London. Alas, this did not happen in the Middle East, where the British put despotic monarchs in power, seeking to profit (mostly through control of oil) without checking that despotism. They wanted control without responsibility.

So, the Middle East never developed the idea or institutions of honourable dissent, which is critical for a functioning democracy. Rulers believed that if they lost power, they would lose their lives and riches—this had been true throughout history.

As such, it would be rash to assume that the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt will have happy endings. Yet it would be wrong to despair. Modern technology has created new avenues of dissent. In the Middle East, the media was long controlled by rulers to prevent dissent. But the fax machine provided an early way to spread dissent at home and abroad. This expanded hugely with the arrival of the internet, which made information available to all, and could be controlled only partially by censors.

Even more important, in my view, was the emergence of Al Jazeera, the independent radio and TV stations based in Qatar. For the first time, an Arab TV station adopted international standards of reportage, analysis and satire. Al Jazeera brought dissent and satire into every Arab living room, to an audience infinitely larger than that connected to the internet. For the first time dissent and scorn became an everyday Arab staple, not something that might land you in jail. The internet transformed information but Al Jazeera transformed the concept of treason. Thus, institutions that were never brought in by colonial rulers are now entering the Middle East through modern communication technologies.

So, a transition to democratic values is indeed possible. The Middle East revolutions could have a happy ending. But the path will be strewn with obstacles and occasional bloody suppressions. Democracy still looks altogether better established in colonies that were ruled directly.












The central sales tax (CST) is the root of many distortions and inefficiencies in the current tax system. It is a tiny tax, but inflicts pain like a chronic migraine. It is unjust, difficult to enforce and prone to evasion.
The states pour vast sums of money in setting up inter-state checkposts to enforce the tax, which are a useless fixture, and serve little purpose other than to supplement the incomes of those manning them. The barriers they create are a blot on the common market of India. Being an origin-based tax, CST violates the principle of interjurisdictional equity. It is an extra-territorial tax by the producing states on the residents of the consuming states. It is also a major contributor to tax cascading as no credit is allowed by any government for the tax paid on inter-state purchase of inputs. The enhanced costs create a competitive disadvantage for the Indian suppliers. To avoid the tax, manufacturers first stock transfer the goods to their own depots in other states and then make a local sale. But that makes the supply chain complex and expensive. In one recent study, an electrical manufacturer had set up 26 distribution centres, which could be reduced to five if CST is abolished.
Despite this, the states want to hang on to the CST only for the revenue consideration. However, the loss in CST revenues can be more than offset by a suitable adjustment in VAT rates, broadening the tax base and enhanced compliance. To illustrate, when CST was reduced from 4% to 2%, the reported inter-state sales in some states (e.g., Delhi) shot up by more than 100%!

Some states have argued that reduced CST creates much larger arbitrage opportunities for the dealers to show intra-state sales (taxable at 4% to 15%) as inter-state sales (taxable at 2%). Such activities can be controlled through ITenabled mechanisms like TINXYS (Trade Information Exchange System) that allow proper reporting and monitoring of inter-state transactions and for collection of tax on them. TINXYS has already been developed, but it's accumulating dust on the shelf for want of attention from state bureaucracies. GST can provide an impetus, but is not essential, for the adoption of such technologies.




CST is levied on interstate transactions on the basis of 'origin'. Presently, it is levied at the rate of 2%. Such a levy conflicts with the principle of inter-jurisdictional equity. Since the commodity in interstate trade bears the burden of CST as well as local sales tax (or VAT) of the importing state, the total burden on interstate commerce becomes excessive.

The incidence of this tax is borne by the consumers of the state wherever the goods are consumed. That is, the tax is levied by the exporting state and paid by the consumers of the importing states. Thus, it discriminates against the consuming states through tax exporting by the producing state. Even the revenue from the tax is unequally distributed among states. The information on distribution of revenue from CST collected by states indicate that six high-income states account for 45% of the total revenue of CST, while the low-income states get a meagre proportion of the revenue.

Taxation of interstate sale combined with tax on inputs encumbers exports since under such a system, the incidence of tax on exports cannot be refunded. In fact, it can not even be reliably quantified. Although the CST Act provides for exemption of tax on exports, the exemption is available on fulfilling certain conditions which cannot be generally complied with by the dealer exporting the commodity. The exports, therefore, bear the brunt of this tax and become less competitive in the international market.

Thus, the existing CST works as a severe obstacle to the formation of a unified market and makes the Indian industry and trade non-competitive in the domestic as well as in the international market. Taxation of interstate transactions is, therefore, harmonised in all the federations.

The chances of introducing GST are becoming bright with the recent meeting of the empowered committee proceeding towards breaking the deadlock. Under the GST regime, the harmonisation would be attempted through the introduction of a destination based tax. However, it should be crystal clear that an origin based CST has no place in an open economy. It must be abolished.







One decade of the new millennium is over and companies, especially in consumer electronics, are wooing customers with new models. Mobile handset vendors are releasing, on an average, about 35 new models in the domestic market every month, indicating a drastic reduction in product lifetime. However, new technology is also at the risk of becoming obsolete very fast.

What do rapid evolution of technology and the resultant obsolescence mean for the stakeholders? Should a customer change her mobile, desktop or laptop every year? How do companies generate economic value out of obsolescence? Should the government step up investment in public IT infrastructure?

First, let us take the effect of technological obsolescence on companies. Technology obsolescence impacts the future economic value of a product or a component, which increases the risk involved in financing its development. Companies may resort to different strategies to tackle the problem. These include differentiated pricing for an upgraded product, forward or backward integration to gain control of the market for the product, greater R&D intensity to introduce differentiated products or diversification to derisk. In telecom, the move away from proprietary to opensource software adoption, especially in mobile handsets — such as Android — reduces technology obsolescence cost, both for handset-makers and consumers. Another trend is the emergence of managed services wherein mobile service providers such as Airtel have outsourced network deployment and management to network equipment makers such as Ericsson and Nokia-Siemens. Airtel transfers the obsolescence risk to the network equipment makers. BSNL has gone a step further, adopting a franchisee model in broadband wireless access. Here, the obsolescence risk is transferred to the franchisee. Also, in technology, obsolescence may not be related to the whole product, but might occur for components that make up the product. Sometimes, obsolescence rate is faster than the component's lifetime. Technology refresh is required either because the component ages or has reached end-of-life. It is also possible that the technology refresh makes the system much more efficient that the extra features make it worth the refresh, or the maintenance costs go down substantially justifying the refresh cycle. Besides industry, technology obsolescence also impacts the consumer. The customer upgrades the hardware or software to stay on top of the technology trend. Pricebased competition is likely to provide similar alternative products to the subscriber and enable her to reduce the technology obsolescence cost. The success of featurerich mobiles from domestic handset companies such as Micromax, Lava and Karbonn as reasonable cost-effective alternatives to handsets from multinational companies illustrates this customer rationality. A customer can also trade her old incompatible version to reduce costs.

Technology refresh at low prices, or made available for free, encourages the consumer to stay with the same brand. For example, when Apple introduced the iPhone 4 with a more powerful operating system, it allowed owners of the previous model, iPhone 3GS, to download the new software. Thus, consumers of the older version were able to do a refresh and get access to the new experience without having to spend anything extra. Adobe does not let us forget that its Flash needs refreshing. So, technology refresh promotes customer lock-ins to products and brands.

Against this backdrop is our wishlist for Budget 2011. Domestic R&D will help tide over technological obsolescence since cost-effective indigenous technology, rather than imported one, is more suited to Indian consumer's needs. The government should encourage R&D for fostering home-grown products and process innovation, using directly-targeted R&D subsidies than tax incentives for imported packaged software. It is unfortunate that domestic companies spend a relatively smaller proportion of their revenues on R&D.
Further, the mere existence of an R&D lab as a counterpart to a foreign R&D lab will not result in technology absorption. Indeed, such domestic R&D labs require producers to convert their ideas into usable innovations. Hence, there is a need for strong industry-lab partnerships. The government should foster better linkages of the industry with publicly-funded research laboratories and IITs as well as universities.

Given that there will be a huge offtake in consumer electronics, hardware and software in future, we should encourage home-grown R&D and innovation to tide over technology obsolescence. Domestic manufacture of hardware and associated software for our consumption — much like what China is attempting to do — will help us reduce the obsolescence risk.

(V Sridhar and G Venkatesh are with Sasken Communication

Technologies, and K S Sridhar is with Public Affairs Centre.

Views are personal)









On a full moon of Vesak, after spending several days and nights in contemplation under the canopy of a peepul tree, Siddhartha Gautama became an enlightened Buddha. Then the Master continued to meditate. He spent the first week under the tree. In the second, he remained standing and stared uninterruptedly at the Bodhi Tree. Today, the spot is marked by the Unblinking Gaze Stupa located to the north-east of the Mahabodi Temple. Thereafter, the Buddha walked back and forth when, according to legend, 19 lotuses sprang in his foot-prints. The Ratnachakramana path bears gigantic carved stone lotuses today. But as the Master said in his famous last words, no need to seek inspiration outside: "Be a lamp unto yourself; All composite things pass away. Perfect your practice with diligence." Every word of his is radiant with transformative power. Start by making peace with death and dissolution with mindfulness. The key to this is enlightened or diligent practice, what Yoga calls abhyasa. It does not matter whether you sit, stand or walk. As the Buddha showed by his shining example, any act can achieve sudden enlightenment. Science has recently begun to understand how this may happen at the gross physical level. They have found that the brain area responsible for formation of memories is palpably rejuvenated and memory improves by nothing more than regular ('diligent') walking. Brain scans showed 2% brain gain after a year. The same effect came from mindful meditation in a sitting posture. So, forget the gym; get mindful.







Mr Nilekani has to take a nuanced view of the various issues involved while designing a direct transfer method for subsidies.


In terms of pure economic theory, all subsidies are bad; but in terms of political practice, they are manna from heaven. As long as politicians and bureaucrats make the rules, there are certain types of outcomes based on simple premises. The politicians want political credit and the bureaucrats want policies simple to implement. But sometimes economists jump into the fray, and in the name of elegant and efficient solutions, they end up creating problems for the bureaucrats who have to implement these solutions. The politicians, of course, continue to hog the credit. The proposal to replace price subsidies on kerosene, fertiliser and cooking gas with income subsidies is a long awaited one, the design of the whole movement from one to the other being entrusted to a technocrat, namely, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairman, Mr Nandan Nilekani. The Finance Ministry statement says that the task force has been set up "in order to evolve a suitable mechanism for direct subsidies to individuals/families who are entitled to kerosene, LPG and fertiliser and to evolve a model of direct transfer of subsidies on these items by re-engineering existing systems, processes and procedures in the implementation process…" Nice, but will the exercise once again trip on the practicalities? The answer depends on the product and Mr Nilekani has to take a nuanced view of the various issues involved.


Where kerosene is concerned, giving money to the consumer after narrowing or eliminating the gap between the PDS and market price of kerosene is sensible because the gap — which is almost Rs 18 per litre now — encourages diversion and adulteration. So the taxpayer ends up subsidising lorry-owners who don't mind adulterating diesel for their older trucks and the poor get much less kerosene than they are entitled to. Targeting is not difficult since State Governments know all the ration cardholders eligible for kerosene; beneficiaries only need to be persuaded to open bank accounts if they do not have one already. But where fertiliser is concerned, the subsidy is better delivered through the nine crore or so Kisan Credit Cards already issued. Indeed, some years ago the Finance Minister had announced that this would be done. This has the advantage of farmers not having to open new bank accounts and banks not having to service negative return accounts. The problems arising out of verification of land titles can also be avoided. As for cooking gas, there is no case for any subsidy at all and it should be abolished totally. It is morally and economically indefensible.


Finally, there remains the larger issue of the mode of income transfer: if it is to be through a bank account, what will be the load on the banks in operating so many millions of accounts. The banking system needs to be readied to cope with this crush.







MFI operations, which involve under-writing by client groups and dealing in large amounts of cash outside branch locations, create specific risk management needs. MFI boards, lenders and investors should be cognisant of these.

Microfinance institutions (MFIs) essentially act as financial intermediaries, bridging the gap between mainstream financial institutions and low-income households for a specific type of credit need that is short-term and unsecured. The concept of risk lies at the heart of any such financial intermediation.

Systematic Risks

Systematic risks that face the entire sector, such as rainfall failure, impact the livelihoods of a large numbers of clients simultaneously and cannot be eliminated, but can be mitigated by purchasing insurance at a portfolio level, or diversifying across regions. However, a significant systematic risk that has emerged in recent times and which has impacted MFIs severely is political risk.

As MFIs deal with low-income households, their operations are subject to scrutiny by State governments and local powers, in addition to formal regulators. Recent experiences of political interference bring out the vulnerability of MFIs to these risks: In 2006, 50 branches of two major MFIs were closed by authorities in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh; in 2009, repayments almost came to a grinding halt in Karnataka's Kolar district; and in 2010, the Andhra Pradesh Government introduced a law that reduced MFI repayments dramatically.

Clarity on regulatory framework, and jurisdiction of State governments vis-à-vis non-bank financial institutions is critical in mitigating political risk. At the institutional level, this can be managed by building a closer connect between the institution and customer groups so that there is resistance to local political interference that constrains the business activities of MFIs.

Idiosyncratic Risks

Idiosyncratic risks are internal to an entity and comprise primarily operations and credit risk. In microfinance, these two are deeply intertwined and are potentially among the primary reasons why MFIs fail.

In the Joint Liability Group (JLG) model, typically followed by MFIs to disburse credit, as "credit decisions" are taken by the group on the basis of its access to private information about each member, the quality and robustness of the group formation process becomes crucial in credit risk management. The mechanism of group cross-guarantee, if implemented as per the rules that govern group formation, will result in positive selection of members. It is important, however, that the under-writing process be undertaken by the group and not by the MFI.

Dilution of group formation and meeting norms are early warning signs of process deterioration that should trigger concerns about credit quality. Outstanding MFIs pay a great deal of attention to factors such as length of the group formation process, regularity of group meetings and attendance rates.

Operational Risks

Microfinance is an operations-intensive model and weak processes affect internal control and manifest as fraud and other operational failures. Detailed mapping of the processes and sub-processes will help MFIs identify risks, as also the weak links that pose a greater threat of fraud. To detect fraud early and take action, MFIs should have a risk-scoring model, giving each branch a risk score. Taking a holistic view, the model should be based on diverse parameters. Branches with history of fraud should be penalised in the risk-scoring model and the frequency of audit linked to the risk score. This helps understand two key questions: Which branch has poor portfolio quality? Is the branch witnessing fraud?

Cash movement

As all MFI disbursements and collections are cash-based, the institutions face high risk due to movement of cash. This is exacerbated for institutions operating in remote geographies. If movement of cash is not tracked and checked against demand and collections, it can result in fraud.

Such fraud can be mitigated by MFIs setting cash retention limits for branches, with deviations approved and recorded. Reconciliation of cash through MIS in the branches' bank accounts is important in scrutinising float and idle cash at each level. Risks such as burglary during cash movement can be mitigated through insurance for cash-in-transit; cash-in-safe and branch; and fidelity insurance.

Interest rate volatility

Interest rate volatility is among the key risks MFIs face today. Changes in interest rates at which they borrow impact spreads, especially in the short term. Most MFIs do not explicitly manage interest rate risk. Increase in cost of funds severely squeezes margins, impacting profitability and operational self-sufficiency.

With increased competition and pressure to cut interest rates, MFIs are also not in a position to pass on interest rate increases to clients. With proposed regulations on capping margins, interest rate risk will continue to be one of the key threats for MFIs.

Long-term borrowing, with hedging and diversification of funding sources, will enable MFIs to mitigate interest rate risk. Given that MFIs typically have positive duration of equity (liabilities are longer dated than assets), their asset-liability management strategies have also to take into account scenarios arising from interest rate movements that impact profitability.

As with any other financial institution, risk management is critical to the success of MFIs. The unique context of MFI operations that involve under-writing by client groups and dealing in large amounts of cash outside branch locations create specific risk management needs. MFI boards, lenders and investors should be cognisant of these features.

(The author is with IFMR Capital.









The latest policy paper provides few insights into how the role of the private sector in Defence production can be enhanced and the functioning of ordnance factories improved.

In a recent op-ed article, in another daily, Mr M. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President, Centre for Policy Research, had characterised the functioning of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as one where the dictum, "No decision, No corruption", prevails.

Even if MoD is not taking major decisions for fear of corruption, it is busy setting up several decision-making boards with alliterative acronyms, and churning out policy after policy. In addition to the annual ritual of Defence Procurement Policy, this year there is a bonus issue of Defence Production Policy ( released by the Defence Minister in January 2011.


It is a fine display of drafting skills. But no sincere executive can expect to learn very much about various hard choices and questions such as self reliance vs dependence; indigenous vs import; private sector vs public sector. The policy document leaves it all vague.

One recalls, in this context, the earlier vision statement of Mr A. P. J Abdul Kalam in resolving to achieve a Self Reliance Index of 0.7 by 2005 from 0.3 in 1995. Even in the Aero 2009, the Defence Minister expressed his disappointment over Defence imports hovering above 70 per cent.

If one were to read the policy statement in right earnest, one realises the policy has been always with us: "to achieve substantive self-reliance in the design, development and production of systems required for defence forces"; " to create conditions conducive for the private industry to play an active role in defence production"; "give importance to harnessing the untapped potential of the small and medium enterprises in the indigenisation process"; "to encourage involvement of academia, research and development institutions, technical and scientific organisations and formation of consortia, joint ventures and public-private partnerships to synergise and enhance national competence in Defence production".

R&D fund

The only departure is the statement of intent to "set up a separate fund to provide necessary resources to production stakeholders like the public and private industry, SMEs and academic/scientific institutions for research and development efforts". Here, however, how the fund will be created and grants disbursed are not spelt out.

The larger objective as stated in the policy is to create a capability which puts India ahead of its potential adversaries. That is where the concerns are growing as the MoD seems to be a ministry of caution, rather than precaution.

A recent New York Times report says that Pakistan has built a substantially high number of nuclear bombs than is necessary for being a deterrent against India. In conventional weapons, too, delays in decision making have whittled India's advantage vis-à-vis Pakistan (see Table).

Attempts in India to create a larger and more versatile base of capability comprising renowned foreign companies, private and public sector, DRDO, academic institutions and SMEs have not succeeded in any tangible measure. Opening the door to foreign direct investment to the extent of a meagre content of 26 per cent has not helped at all.

The Indian private sector, as well as notable international defence manufacturers, are afraid not only of flip-flops in policy, but also of the clout of trade unions of ordnance factories and nine PSUs, and, more importantly, weak decision-making by the political establishment.

Several years of prodding and pushing the private sector have not enthused it to venture into development and production of big ticket defence equipment.


The report on defence production by Mr Vijay Kelkar, on providing level playing field to select private sector units on par with ordnance factories and PSUs has also been scrapped.

Strangely, the Government has refused to table the report in Parliament, although it addresses critical issues of defence production. SMEs, on their part, have suffered all along, as they were treated by the Department Of Defence Supplies and Technical Committees more like street-corner garages than technology partners.

Yet, this new policy avows to enhance the participation of private sector even as it aims to protect and strengthen the public sector.

Backdoor imports

When public sector units were nominated in the past for specific products, the move ended up as a method for backdoor imports. It was easier for the PSUs to import knocked down kits, do some integration, mostly cosmetic, and supply to the armed forces.

The problem was and still is the inability of these units to get high skilled personnel, for instance Ph.Ds in materials or engineering with solid background in design, prototype making and testing.

Today, the more nimble and agile L&T and Mahindra are pitted against the hapless Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) which is constrained by the tardy ways of the UPSC to recruit its engineers, for submitting detailed designs for future infantry combat vehicles.

High attrition

Similarly, despite several attempts to create synergy between DRDO and the production units or between DRDO, academia and private sector, the success is at best patchy. DRDO is reporting large-scale attrition, as young engineers are migrating to the ICT sector.

If the MoD is serious about creating a modern conventional weapons-based fighting force, incorporating the latest electronic hardware and software in the weapon systems, it needs to take very bold steps.

The mechanics of operating a technology fund to assist production stakeholders should be spelt out soon, adopting the infrastructure bond route for garnering funds.

The cap on FDI should be raised and renowned firms invited to partner Indian ventures. Offset policies should be more pragmatic than calibrated. OFB should be restructured on the lines of BAE of the UK, a public limited company, to concentrate on weapons, ammunition and armoured vehicles.

The rest should be hived off without the fetters of a government department in accessing resources internationally, be it technology, rare material or specialists. HR policies for hiring in PSUs, DRDO and OFB should match the best practices in private sector.

The Rama Rao Committee's recommendations on Defence Research and Development should be implemented with observable speed.

If this policy has to be more than a mere paper for academic discussion in the National Defence College, then MoD has to work harder to produce an actionable document.

(The author is a former Member, Ordnance Factories Board.)







Recently I was going through a CBSE textbook belonging to a friend's son. Right up front was Article 51A of the Indian Constitution laying out the fundamental duties of every citizen. They were ten in number. Reading them so many years after school, I couldn't help reflecting on the decades since.

I started from the neglected margins. The seventh and ninth duties on protecting the environment and safeguarding public property seemed forgotten. The easiest things to rubbish without anyone questioning are nature and taxpayers' money. Cutting forests, burning public vehicles and smashing public institutions — all have happened in India. A close second at this end of neglect would be the sixth duty pertaining to preserving our heritage. What constitutes heritage, and why should we protect it? I don't think we fully understand the question or know the answer.

Unity in diversity

Duties five and eight were similar in tenor. The first sought unity in diversity. It also wanted us to renounce practices derogatory to women. The second cited scientific temper, humanism, spirit-of-inquiry and reform, to suggest education.

After riots and bloodshed in the name of everything, from religion to caste and language, worshipping Pokhran as God and sharpening mercantilism to the point of losing the soul — these duties reminded of opportunity for awareness and inclusiveness, squandered.

The tenth duty wishing us to strive individually and collectively for excellence has now been degraded to fad. It is now the stuff of first rank in exams, millionaires at the bank, overseas addresses, pictures of success, big fat weddings — all achievements that could be bundled as 'getting ahead' or showcasing the trend. After six free decades spent attempting excellence, India and Indians aren't yet known for anything particularly excellent. Some of us have a lot of money; many of us travel abroad — that's all.

Sovereignty, integrity

Duty number two — cherishing and following the ideals that inspired our freedom movement. I just don't know how to reconcile that with either contemporary news on India or the new work culture measuring people by the money they make. It appeared to me that for us, Constitution and country had reduced to symbolic interpretations of the first and fourth duties dealing with national flag, national anthem and nation's defence. These are also the most popular themes for politics and political controversy.

If you noticed, I didn't mention the third duty. That pertained to upholding the country's sovereignty, unity and integrity. It is a very important duty. But if my friend's son inherits a nation that has trivialised most duties, why should he feel inspired to acknowledge the third? What beautiful common space should he strive to protect?

The silver lining is: failure makes good teachers. Do we see it that way or is it that we never tried in the first place and so can't recognise even failure?

(The author is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)







                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The National Advisory Council (NAC) has the advantage of having Congress president Sonia Gandhi as its chairperson, and its members include eminent social workers like Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy, and one of the top agricultural experts in India, M.S. Swaminathan. Yet, of late, the NAC seems to be losing its clout in influencing major decisions of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's poverty alleviation and rural development programmes.

The government's recent responses to a good number of important proposals made by the NAC have started fueling the fear that the NAC is turning into just another one of the several councils and committees created by the government whose working the public remains oblivious to. If the NAC continues to be ignored, it will cease to be an important advisory body for the government on several issues, particularly those mentioned in Part IV of the Constitution (Article 36-51). For instance, NAC-I had suggested 15 amendments to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, but the ministry of home affairs rejected all. Similarly, the rural development ministry rejected the proposal of the NAC to guarantee minimum wage under the Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. As a result, in many parts of the country the wages paid are more than `100 under the Employment Guarantee Act.

The NAC would also not have been pleased with the government's decision that all NAC recommendations related to the implementation of the Forest Rights Act should first be submitted to the ministries of tribal affairs and environment for review by an inter-ministerial group. Thus, matters affecting the tribals which should have receive immediate attention will now be very much delayed because of the new protocol. Equally disappointing is the decision of the government to reject the recommendations of the NAC to offer subsidised food grains to at least 72 per cent of the population entitled to the benefits of the Right to Food Act. This decision of the government was guided by the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) under the chairmanship of C. Rangarajan. The EAC, another council appointed by the Prime Minister, felt that the NAC's advice was not practical because of limited grain availability and the huge expenditure of `92,000 crores required for implementing the proposal. The government, hence, decided that subsidised food grains will be available only to those falling below poverty line — i.e. 46 per cent of the population in rural areas and 28 per cent in urban areas.

Judging by the reaction of the government to NAC's proposals, one wonders how serious the UPA is about alleviating the rigors of poverty and if it is still wedded to the theory that poverty can only be reduced by first increasing the size of the "cake".

While availability of funds is always an important consideration, it cannot be the sole or even the main consideration in implementing social programmes designed to fight India's dehumanising poverty.

For six decades we have been pursuing the route of increasing the size of the "cake" first. The size of the "cake" has no doubt increased substantially — in a decade, the wealth per person in India had gone up from $2,000 to $5,000. But what about equity and justice in distribution? Today, about 36 billionaires of India own wealth that amounts to 25 per cent of the country's gross domestic product. Increase in the income of the poorer sections of the population has been nowhere near the increase of income of the affluent sections. That 77 per cent in the unorganised sector subsist on daily wages of `20 tells its own story of the error in waiting for the "cake" to grow in size.

Most of our political leaders seem to believe that their main job is to win elections. And after they are elected to state legislatures and Parliament, their main concern is to bag ministerial berths. No one seem interested even in making suggestions about how we can solve some of the problems that are threatening the nation's integrity — Maoists' insurrections in certain states, the cruelties still being perpetrated on dalits and the denial of basic civic rights to certain classes and communities in several parts of the country.

Political parties at the local level are often scared of losing the support of certain ultra conservative sections of society, some of which still insist on enforcing the decisions of caste panchayats to the point of murdering young people after shameful mock trials. No political leader dares to oppose them.

In all genuine democracies, political leaders at all levels are engaged in constant studies of social problems, particularly in the health and educational fields, and they apply moral force on their government to adopt the right programmes. It is only through the direct involvement and interest of political leaders at all levels that the government of the day will give the desired priority to basic problems like hunger, healthcare and education. In fact, several senior leaders prefer to remain outside the government, in the role of critics, and do what they can in at least creating the required public opinion in favour of more helpful measures.

But in India, no political party seems to have appointed think tanks to consider solutions to the difficult problems of delivery of public health and elementary education in remote villages.

We do not consider it a matter of shame to have in our midst huge numbers of people who cannot have a proper meal before going to sleep and who do not hesitate to commit suicide because of debt or dearth of food. India still ranks 66 on the Global Hunger Index of 88 countries released by the Washington-based International Food Policy and Research Institute. No doubt, India's hunger rate has fallen by nine points since 1990, but the institute's report categorically states that "the major threat of hunger is in 33 countries, including India".

- P.C. Alexander is a former governor of
Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra





The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) is said to be probing the alleged "foul play" that led the markets to crash by 16 per cent since the high of November 5, 2010. As usual, Sebi wakes up to bolt the stables after the horses have fled. According to reports, it is probing around 25 entities which are supposed to have acted as cartels to bring down prices of about 100 stocks. These include some of the Sensex 30 blue chips and mostly medium- and small-cap stocks. It has been calculated that around `1,50,000 crore in investor wealth has been lost cumulatively since November. If this is true, then Sebi's inaction all these months can hardly be forgiven. If there was a deliberate hammering down of the markets by a large number of cartels, what was Sebi doing? A probe now is of hardly any consequence because it will take months, if not years, to come to any conclusion, if there is one at all. And then, too, it will be some innocuous unheard-of brokers who will be penalised a petty amount, or suspended for a few days or months. This is nothing new. Sebi on a regular basis suspends brokers for market manipulation of stocks for a few months; these brokers then return and start their manipulations again. There should be a total ban on brokers suspended more than thrice for manipulating stocks. Of course, it must be said that nobody complained when the markets were going up at a scorching pace in 2009-10. Now, when they are correcting themselves, there is a hue and cry. It was the foreign institutional investors who took the markets to giddy heights. As the US and European markets recovered, FIIs withdrew their funds from emerging markets to invest there. Everyone knows FII funds are short-term and that they leave at the first sign of trouble, or if they see better markets elsewhere. Since the markets went up highest in India, the fall has been the hardest here. The government and the RBI, which should have acted to curb these short-term flows, didn't, and so the Indian markets are bearing the brunt. Whilst Sebi, under the chairmanship of Mr C. Bhave, has done a lot to get a fair deal for the small investor against market manipulations, there are a lot of more important things it must do. Most important is the long-standing demand of physical settlement in the futures and options segment, where most of the foul play goes on. Sebi was aware of this but for some inexplicable reason it has not acted. What comes out of Sebi's proposed probe, and how it will prove "foul play", remain to be seen. It would be better, meanwhile, if it takes steps to curb the mischief in the F&O sector. In most parts of the world settlement in the F&O segment is in physical delivery, but Sebi continues the practice of settlement in cash.






The following story from a particular edition of the Ramayana sets the tone of this article. In the aftermath of the destruction of Ravan, Ram returned to Ayodhya to set up his rule. Ram Rajya, as his rule was called, became synonymous with good and just rule. Anyone demanding justice had full access to the king. So one day a dog with a ferocious appearance entered Ram's court asking for justice. Ram asked him to state the details of his complaint. "Sire," said the dog, "I was following a sanyasi as he went around begging for alms and with no provocation on my part, he kicked me. He is standing outside and I demand that he be suitably punished." Ram called the sanyasi who readily admitted to the act. But he gave a reason. He said: "Sire, I was begging for food to eat and wherever I went, the housewife who opened the door immediately shut it on seeing this ferocious dog. As a result I went hungry. Since it was all because of this dog, I took my anger out on him by kicking him. I agree that it was an unjust act on my part and the dog cannot be held responsible for how he looks. So I am willing to accept any just punishment." Then Ram turned to the dog and asked him what he thought would be a just punishment. The dog thought for a while and then said: "Sire, I suggest that you create a vidyapeeth, and make him its kulapati". "But that is an honour, not a punishment!" said Ram. "I beg to differ, Sire!" said the dog. "The responsibility of running a vidyapeeth will cause him enough mental anguish which would be a good punishment for what he did to me."

The situation prevailing today in the Indian universities is no different. The atmosphere in which a vice-chancellor (VC) has to function is volatile with pressures coming from students, faculty, the non-teaching staff, outside threats to him and to the security of the university et cetera. Although the university is autonomous, there is enough political interference from outside and the last word often rests not with the VC but with the babus in the secretariat. The days when VCs, like Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan or Acharya Narendra Dev, were towering personalities commanding respect are long past. The post itself has been seriously devalued by the procedure of selection. Would you have expected the personalities just named applying for the post, being short-listed and interviewed?

It could be argued that this procedure followed in Maharashtra, a supposedly progressive state, is a necessity today because no other action involving selection for such an important post is credible enough. The procedure whereby the chancellor (or the appointing authority), after receiving expert advice, invites a distinguished academician to accept the post, would be viewed with suspicion. The fact that the system worked well in the old days of pre-Independence (and even for a few years post-Independence), speaks for the steep decline in moral values in our public life. For example, I was shocked to read about a VC of a very old university publicly thanking the state education minister for keeping his word by making him the VC.

The situation at the other end of the spectrum — in school education — is equally dismal. Government-aided schools are asked to admit more than 80 children per class because there is a shortage of schools. What can a teacher do with such a large number of pupils? Naturally, because of bad or no teaching in the school, students seek the help of coaching classes outside. In addition, there are government missives: fail no student until Class 8. If student is really weak in a particular subject, it is the responsibility of the teacher to stay after school hours and teach the student to the required level. Which teacher — who is already overworked and underpaid — is going to accept this extra responsibility? So all students are declared passed. The parents are blissful and satisfied that their wards are doing well, until they reach Class 8 when they discover with a shock that the kids cannot even add, subtract or read and write.

In 1980, when I was on a sabbatical visit to the University College, Cardiff, the headmaster of the primary school in our neighbourhood sent circulars to all the houses in the neighbourhood urging parents to send their children to his school stating that in order to increase the number of students the entry age had been reduced by six months to five years. He had done so because reduced birth rate had decreased the school student population and the government was threatening to close down schools with a low number of students. This example illustrates the economics of supply and demand for available schools versus students seeking admission.

Logic dictates that in India, where there is a grave shortage of schools, we reduce the number of students per class to half, and double the number of schools. The number of teachers needs to be increased even more since the present numbers are already inadequate and teachers are being hired on a contract basis at shamefully low "daily wages", barely above the legal lower limits. This will require huge increases in the budgetary provisions of the ministry of human resource and development. But whichever political party is in power, this department is always kept on the backburner. There may be innumerable discussions and reports on education but when it comes to the implementation of any recommendation the result can be summarised by the four letter word, "zero".

The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, himself a distinguished academic, and our Nobel laureate, Mr Amartya Sen, have stressed the need to empower our youth through education. If India aspires to be a developed nation by 2020, it needs to develop huge human resources and education is the most crucial qualification that adds value to the human being. Despite many declarations from the pulpit, politicians of all parties do not seem to appreciate the truth behind this dictum. Or, perhaps, they do, and see in the educated electorate a threat to their continuation in power!

_ Jayant V. Narlikar is a professor emiritus at
Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus, and a renowned astrophysicist






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' labour 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 US' Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing today "targeting websites 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 travelled 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.








Egypt is under military control, a depleted legacy bequeathed by Hosni Mubarak. It has promised a peaceful transition to democracy in September though historically the world over, armies have been the antithesis of democracy. For all the euphoria and gloating celebrations at Tahrir Square, the ultimate contours must remain ever so fogbound under a military regime and the likes of Omar Suleiman, a Mubarak protege known for his severity. Another critical factor is that Mubarak remains in Egypt unlike his ousted counterpart in Tunisia who took the first flight out to Saudi Arabia. After 30 years, he has moved away from his rusted throne; but there is little doubt that he has left on his terms placing the country's destiny in the hands of the Military Council, at any rate for the next eight months ~ a long enough span in the life of any nation. Egypt's steps towards democracy are almost certain to be faltering; an election in any country under military tutelage has scarcely been acclaimed as famously democratic. The first steps of the Military Council have been as firm as they were essential. Chiefly, Tahrir Square has been cleared of demonstrators to ensure that Cairo is back on the rails. The protesting mob has achieved its objective; yet it can't be a permanent feature of any city. The dissolution of the Constitution and the dubiously elected parliament were only to be expected. Strikes have been banned, another action that confirms that the army is firmly in the saddle and will call the shots in September.
The Muslim Brotherhood is quite the most critical factor that the army will have to deal with in the months before the election. It is the most potent opposition to the Mubarak regime and the present authorities would appear to have given themselves a long rope. Given the organisational strength of the Brotherhood, an early election is bound to benefit the Islamist segment and not the secular and libertarian groups. The head of the Military Council, Field Marshal Tantawi, personifies the old guard; misgivings that he may lend a new face to the Mubarak regime are not wholly unfounded. An eight-month military interregnum is time enough for the Field Marshal's men to craft their strategies. Wikileaks's description of the FM as "aged and change-resistant" may yet be an indication of the shape of things to come. A born-again Egypt must remain in suspended animation. The revolution must not, in the end, disappoint the people.




THE de facto immunity from imprisonment ministers enjoyed since independence has finally ended with 75-year-old K Balakrishna Pillai, chairman of the Kerala Congress(B), an important constituent of the Congress-led United Democratic Front in Kerala, beginning his one-year jail term on Monday. A Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices P Sathasivam and BS Chauhan last Thursday found Balakrishna Pillai, former electricity minister, guilty and reversed the Kerala High Court's order of 2003 acquitting him in the Idamalayar hydro-electric power project contract case for causing a loss of Rs 2 crore to the State in 1982, and sentenced him to undergo one year's rigorous imprisonment. Though the wheels of justice moved slowly, nemesis did catch up with the former minister who, like his growing tribe, came to believe that he was above the law. The judgment is a clear warning to those who steal public money. The days of immunity are over. The behaviour of the Congress is all the more intriguing. It organised a rally in Kottarakara, Pillai's home town, on the eve of his surrender, at which K Sudhakaran, Congress MP from Kannur, cast serious aspersions on the integrity of the Supreme Court. The convicted minister was given a hero's welcome and the Marxist Chief Minister, VS Achuthanandan, was accused of political vendetta for challenging the High Court's acquittal order in the Supreme Court. It was the Assembly committee led by the Indian Union Muslim League leader Seethi Haji that recommended inquiry into the case.

The Kerala High Court is facing a serious credibility crisis. The IUML, senior partner in the Congress-led alliance in Kerala, caused a flutter when KA Rauf, brother-in-law of PK Kunhalikutty, a top League leader, disclosed at a press conference that two judges of the High Court were bribed heavily to get a favourable verdict in the infamous "ice-cream parlour" case, a euphemism for a matter involving the flesh trade. He even named the two judges and the persons through whom the bribe money was paid. Though the High Court has enough powers to take action against Rauf if there was no truth in the allegation, it chose to remain silent. No wonder people believe that Kunhalikutty paid a price for the favourable judgment. Close on the heels of this episode comes the Supreme Court verdict reversing the Kerala High Court's order acquitting Balakrishna Pillai in the Idamalayar case. Yet another case in which the Kerala High Court in 2008 exonerated the then irrigation minister, TM Jacob, of the Kerala Congress(Jacob) faction, also a constituent of the UD, resurfaced in the Supreme Court last week. The revival of past scandals has infused new hope in the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF.




NOBODY would be more relieved and happy than the 10,000 paramilitary personnel who the home secretary has trumpeted will be withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir. Nobody would be more dejected and demoralised than the 60,000 jawans who will continue to be deployed on counter-insurgency duties in the troubled state. Not because they are not among the lucky ones being taken off a job they wished they had never been given, but because the armchair experts in New Delhi have fallen into the trap set by separatists and rabble-rousing politicians into "accepting" that the central forces (Army and paramilitary) are now part of the problem rather than one element of the solution that eludes those experts. While conceding that heavy deployment of forces ~ away from the Line of Control it makes little difference if they are military or paramilitary ~ does point to the absence of normality, the projection of reducing force levels as a confidence-building measure only endorses the charge of the people of J&K being oppressed by an alien military. It gives trouble-makers much incentive to further raise the "oppression bogey", thus create conditions in which it would be easier for them to work their mischief. Even if the top commanders feel that downsizing forces would be in order ~ and neither the Army nor paramilitary leadership has spoken on those lines ~ the pull-out ought to have been done without the fanfare from North Block. Not that any withdrawal is underway, just that bombastic blather seems to be getting more priority than effective action in the home ministry's scheme of things. Just as it would be premature to opine on how thrilled the militants and their sponsors would be with the home secretary's announcement, it is too early to assess if there has been a genuine drop in violence, or if the J&K police is rising to the occasion, making it possible to reduce central deployment.

It would be silly not to accept that the massive stone-pelting was a strategic move to keep the Valley aflame without using militant-violence: and violence always drops as the winter sets in. Maybe the home secretary is right, the requirement for central forces has declined: that does not warrant making a virtue of downsizing. On the contrary, it amounts to ingratitude for the toil and sacrifice of the lowly jawan tasked with sorting out the mess created by the netas and their babus.







Pakistan has shed its inconvenient foreign minister who refused to budge under US pressure to drop murder charges against an American diplomat. The country's ruling establishment seems to be torn between its loyalties to the Americans and the Chinese, writes rajinder puri

Pakistan appears to be the victim of silent infighting within its ruling establishment that is now beginning to surface. The curious case of American operative Raymond Davis is bringing things out in the open. The Davis affair is riddled with conflicting versions. It has evoked an unusually tough response from the USA. It has led to the ouster of Pakistan's foreign minister on the eve of the Indo-Pak foreign ministers' meeting to be held in Delhi next month. To understand what is happening, it is necessary first to recall the facts of the Raymond Davis episode.

Security agent Raymond Davis attached to the US Embassy while  driving a car in Lahore shot dead two Pakistanis on motorbikes that were allegedly chasing him. The popular version supplied by the Pakistani media was that the victims had been murdered, that they had been shot in the back, that they had been carrying licensed weapons and that they had not been threatening Davis. The opposite version, also reported by sections of the Pakistan media claimed that the victims held up Davis' car, he shot them expertly through the windscreen, and the autopsy reports confirmed that they were shot in the front. It has also been alleged that the victims had earlier robbed two passersby of their cell phones and money. There was also a fierce controversy about whether Davis had a diplomatic visa and therefore enjoyed diplomatic immunity or not.

The Americans have demanded the release of Davis. Then foreign minister Mr SM Qureshi refused to interfere with the murder charge against Davis which is pending in court. The Foreign Office refused to grant Davis diplomatic immunity. As a result, America threatened to suspend the upcoming US visit of President Zardari as well as to cancel the trilateral US-Pakistan-Afghanistan conference slated to be held shortly. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mr Gilani sacked his unrelenting foreign minister Mr Qureshi after the latter refused to accept an alternate portfolio. A junior politician has replaced Qureshi as foreign minister. Mr Qureshi stated that he would accept only the post of foreign minister or Prime Minister, nothing less!

So what is going on? This is my take.

What could be the motive behind the encounter between Davis and his eventual victims? The strong backing to the armed victims by sections of the Pakistani establishment suggests they could be terrorists given sanctuary. From the tough stand that this section of the Pakistani establishment led by its erstwhile foreign minister took against the US it seems clear that there was equally powerful international backing to oppose the Americans. China's support to terrorists in Pakistan is confirmed. Recall how Beijing had blocked UN sanctions against Hafiz Saeed. The fact that the Gilani government took the extreme measure of sacking its senior foreign minister suggests that it was under unrelenting US pressure to comply. Could Davis represent an American team assigned to eliminate terrorists inside Pakistan? Is the USA fed up with Pakistan refusing to eliminate terrorists and therefore taking matters in its own hands? For the moment, one may only speculate.
The political orientation of Mr Qureshi is not difficult to fathom. While in Beijing during a recent visit, he taunted India by stating that China was welcome to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, but sarcastically wondered how India would react to the suggestion! He is reputed to be close to the hard line section of the Pakistan army. So while Mr Qureshi on available evidence draws strength from hard line, pro-China elements in the Pakistani establishment, Mr Gilani and company are under pressure to support the USA. This confrontation has all the characteristics of a silent struggle within Pakistan by the proxies respectively of America and China.

It is in this overall context that the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan are expected to shortly resume a composite dialogue. Can talks in such conditions bring worthwhile results? That would depend on the outcome of the proxy inner struggle within the Pakistan establishment. When the situation has come to such a boil it might well deliver a make or break result. A divided Pakistan could derail the peace process. A successful dialogue could demolish opponents of the peace process. The outcome of the inner tussle in Pakistan depends on what stand is taken by Army Chief General Kayani. Undoubtedly there exist hard line pro-Jihad elements within the Pakistan army. Does General Kayani endorse them? If not, does he have the clout to neutralise them? On these questions will rest the future of the Indo-Pakistan dialogue and the outcome of the silent proxy struggle within the Pakistan establishment. The outcome remains uncertain.     

The writer is a veteran journalist

and cartoonist      





Pakistan has shed its inconvenient foreign minister who refused to budge under US pressure to drop murder charges against an American diplomat. The country's ruling establishment seems to be torn between its loyalties to the Americans and the Chinese, writes rajinder puri

Pakistan appears to be the victim of silent infighting within its ruling establishment that is now beginning to surface. The curious case of American operative Raymond Davis is bringing things out in the open. The Davis affair is riddled with conflicting versions. It has evoked an unusually tough response from the USA. It has led to the ouster of Pakistan's foreign minister on the eve of the Indo-Pak foreign ministers' meeting to be held in Delhi next month. To understand what is happening, it is necessary first to recall the facts of the Raymond Davis episode.

Security agent Raymond Davis attached to the US Embassy while  driving a car in Lahore shot dead two Pakistanis on motorbikes that were allegedly chasing him. The popular version supplied by the Pakistani media was that the victims had been murdered, that they had been shot in the back, that they had been carrying licensed weapons and that they had not been threatening Davis. The opposite version, also reported by sections of the Pakistan media claimed that the victims held up Davis' car, he shot them expertly through the windscreen, and the autopsy reports confirmed that they were shot in the front. It has also been alleged that the victims had earlier robbed two passersby of their cell phones and money. There was also a fierce controversy about whether Davis had a diplomatic visa and therefore enjoyed diplomatic immunity or not.
The Americans have demanded the release of Davis. Then foreign minister Mr SM Qureshi refused to interfere with the murder charge against Davis which is pending in court. The Foreign Office refused to grant Davis diplomatic immunity. As a result, America threatened to suspend the upcoming US visit of President Zardari as well as to cancel the trilateral US-Pakistan-Afghanistan conference slated to be held shortly. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mr Gilani sacked his unrelenting foreign minister Mr Qureshi after the latter refused to accept an alternate portfolio. A junior politician has replaced Qureshi as foreign minister. Mr Qureshi stated that he would accept only the post of foreign minister or Prime Minister, nothing less!
So what is going on? This is my take.

What could be the motive behind the encounter between Davis and his eventual victims? The strong backing to the armed victims by sections of the Pakistani establishment suggests they could be terrorists given sanctuary. From the tough stand that this section of the Pakistani establishment led by its erstwhile foreign minister took against the US it seems clear that there was equally powerful international backing to oppose the Americans. China's support to terrorists in Pakistan is confirmed. Recall how Beijing had blocked UN sanctions against Hafiz Saeed. The fact that the Gilani government took the extreme measure of sacking its senior foreign minister suggests that it was under unrelenting US pressure to comply. Could Davis represent an American team assigned to eliminate terrorists inside Pakistan? Is the USA fed up with Pakistan refusing to eliminate terrorists and therefore taking matters in its own hands? For the moment, one may only speculate.
The political orientation of Mr Qureshi is not difficult to fathom. While in Beijing during a recent visit, he taunted India by stating that China was welcome to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, but sarcastically wondered how India would react to the suggestion! He is reputed to be close to the hard line section of the Pakistan army. So while Mr Qureshi on available evidence draws strength from hard line, pro-China elements in the Pakistani establishment, Mr Gilani and company are under pressure to support the USA. This confrontation has all the characteristics of a silent struggle within Pakistan by the proxies respectively of America and China.

It is in this overall context that the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan are expected to shortly resume a composite dialogue. Can talks in such conditions bring worthwhile results? That would depend on the outcome of the proxy inner struggle within the Pakistan establishment. When the situation has come to such a boil it might well deliver a make or break result. A divided Pakistan could derail the peace process. A successful dialogue could demolish opponents of the peace process. The outcome of the inner tussle in Pakistan depends on what stand is taken by Army Chief General Kayani. Undoubtedly there exist hard line pro-Jihad elements within the Pakistan army. Does General Kayani endorse them? If not, does he have the clout to neutralise them? On these questions will rest the future of the Indo-Pakistan dialogue and the outcome of the silent proxy struggle within the Pakistan establishment. The outcome remains uncertain.     

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist      







An article recounting the first gherao at Presidency College that appeared in these columns on 7 January, 2011 triggered in me memories of the turbulent 60s when I was the deputy commissioner, central division of Calcutta Police, as it was known as then. Law and order at the college was my responsibility during the Naxalite movement and on two occasions, I rescued the principal, Dr Sanat Basu from a gherao.
As an alumnus, I was particularly mindful of the fact that police would be entering the premises of the prestigious institution for the first time in its 200-year history when the state government called on them to do so in the 60s. So was the government.

On both occasions, my brief was to rescue the principal without arresting or injuring any student and I am deeply grateful to my colleagues in Calcutta Police for helping me carry out this nearly-impossible task. The second time police entered the college to free Dr Basu from demonstrators, some outsiders, including Mr Biman Basu ~  then a leader of the Students Federation of India (SFI) and now the Left Front chairman ~ had to be pushed aside for us to get in. At that time, Mr Basu and his colleagues were helping the Naxalites to stage a gherao.

According to information available with Kolkata Police on the occasion of the first gherao, Naxalite leader Ashim Chatterjee, after graduating from Presidency College, sought readmission so that he could continue to board at Eden Hindu Hostel. The gherao came about when the principal turned him down. For Chatterjee, it was important to secure a seat at Eden Hindu Hostel so that he could propagate Naxalism at will. Though he was wise enough not to show himself in the vicinity of the college on the two occasions it was gheraoed, it was clear that Chatterjee's hand was in it.

On the first occasion, when I came to know that Dr Basu had been gheraoed, I reached the College Street-MG Road crossing to confer with the assistant commissioner of police and the officer-in-charge (O-C) of the Jorasanko police station. I learnt that though the gherao seemed to have been organised by the SFI, Ashim Chatterjee's friends played a part in it. And also, that some professors and students were urging them to withdraw it. After I had apprised the O-C, Control Room, of the situation, I received instructions to talk to the commissioner of police over the telephone, preferably from some government office. I walked all the way to the offices of Gourinath Shastri, principal, Sanskrit College and contacted PK Sen who was the city's police commissioner then. It turned out that Shastri and Sen had been classmates at Presidency College. Shastri warmed me that unless effective steps were taken, student agitation in Kolkata would soon paralyse the education system of the entire state. Sen acknowledged that a forced entry by uniformed men could trigger an adverse reaction in students who would think nothing of running amok, setting buses and trams on fire to register their protest. He said he was arranging so that no public transportation vehicles were in the vicinity of the college when police entered it. Sen asked me to go in upon receiving reinforcements which he was sending and instructed me to escort the principal out and then send him home. I took my leave of Shastri, rejoined my men to whom I conveyed the police commissioner's instructions and waited till 10 p.m when additional forces arrived. Upon entering the principal's room, I saw Dr Basu sitting on a chair hemmed in by students from three sides. Among the senior academics present at the room, I recognised Prof Bhabotosh Dutta of the Bangla department ~ who had been my colleague at Krishnagar Government College. I saw a number of platters heaped with sweets sitting on the Principal's desk. Without wasting any time, I walked up to Dr Basu and said: "Sir, would you like to come with us?" He rose from his seat wearily and said "Yes." Three or four officers and myself threw a protective ring around Dr Basu and led him out. The students were careful of maintaining a distance but converged en masse near the college gate. As we were helping Dr Basu get into a car, they started hurling choicest abuses at the principal. The elderly man was devastated as he heard his students question his provenance in the filthiest possible language. After Dr Basu left, the students made police the target of their verbal onslaught before leaving the campus. We briefed the Control Room accordingly and received stand down orders.

Later in the year, right after Puja vacations got over, the Naxalite students once again gheraoed the principal, insisting that Ashim Chatterjee and two other students be admitted. Once alerted, I hurried to the college again and the darwan at the gate pointed out a group of students surrounding Dr Basu who was sitting on a chair. I requested the students to let me talk to the principal. The sight of me angered them initially and I was regaled with conjectures about how an academic was compelled to turn a policeman when his meagre teaching salary could no longer support his drinking habit. But they relented eventually, and I was allowed to talk to Dr Basu from a distance. The principal told me that he had been coming on foot from Calcutta University to Presidency College when three or four students accosted him and declared they had a point to discuss with him. They started walking abreast Dr Basu and upon entering the college campus, shoved him to a corner where he was made to sit down on a chair which was produced hurriedly. The students then iterated their demand for admitting Chatterjee and two more students. When Dr Basu said no, they refused to let him budge from the place. I requested the students a number of times to allow the principal to go to his chamber but they refused. Ultimately, they lost their patience and one one of thundered at me "Berie jan ekhuni (Leave the campus at once)."

I waited with my force near the college gate and noticed many outsiders ~ clearly not students ~ entering the college and processions from neighbouring colleges converging at Presidency College. Around 10 p.m, when buses had been diverted and trams withdrawn from the roads, I received reinforcements and police entered the college. At that time, Mr Biman Basu tried to stop us from getting in and had to be pushed aside. There was no further resistance but we found some students damaging college property. While some officers dealt with them, others went upstairs, led the principal out and sent him home. No student was injured and none arrested. This time as well,  the verbal barrage of the students were unrelenting and spared neither the principal nor police. Soon after, on receipt of stand down orders, we went home.

The next morning, Control Room alerted me that some students had entered Presidency College's chemistry laboratory and severely damaged it. I rushed to college to find the laboratory ~ which used to be the working station of Prafulla Chandra Roy ~ vandalised beyond recognition. Soon, a large contingent arrived from the Lal Bazar headquarters of Calcutta Police and took charge of the college building, including Baker Laboratory. The Naxalites left alone the college building thereafter.

The current chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, told me much later that the SFI had nothing to do with the violence and gherao. Mr Bhattacharjee, a senior SFI leader at that time, had been, on the occasion police entered the college for the second time, standing across the road along with other key SFI leaders.

Many academics contacted me to learn about the episode and couldn't be more critical of it. Dr Bhabotosh Dutta, who used to be a teacher at the college's economics department when I was a student there, was the education secretary when the gheraos happened. He would be in touch with me almost every day and was deeply pained to learn of the content and language of the insults that the students had heaped on their principal. It was from him I learnt that among the slogan shouters was Amal Sanyal ~ who had stood second in matriculation examination in the year he took it.

The gheraos certainly triggered the exodus of the city's best and brightest. And, Dr Sanat Basu eventually had to breath his last in a foreign land "where he was forced to relocate at an advanced age and largely against his wishes". I came to know from his colleagues later that he was forced to seek a faculty position in the USA when the Left-dominated coalition, that came to power in the state shortly afterwards, made its intolerance of him rather clear.

The writer is former director-general of police, West Bengal, and commissioner, Kolkata Police









There is a clear distinction between making a mistake and doing something utterly ridiculous. India's minister for external affairs, S.M. Krishna, announced to the world that he is unaware of this distinction. Last week, while addressing the United Nations security council, he read out the wrong speech. What he read out was the text of the Portuguese foreign minister, who had spoken before him. Mr Krishna did not even realize that he was reading the wrong speech till the staff of the Indian mission to the UN stepped in to give him his own speech. If the goof-up was shameful, the occasion was important. Mr Krishna was the first Indian minister to address the security council in nearly two decades. There are a couple of points that are evident from this inexcusable gaffe from a minister holding a crucial portfolio. Mr Krishna is neither the first nor the only minister who does not write his own speech. This is understandable, and people more eminent than Mr Krishna have used speech writers. But all public figures who have other people to write their speeches read the speeches before they deliver them before an audience. This is the basic homework expected from a responsible minister. There are reasons to suspect that India's foreign minister, even when he was addressing the security council, did not go through this elementary preparation. He thus held himself up as an object of ridicule.

The matter is, however, a little more important than the taint it has brought upon Mr Krishna. He is, after all, a Union cabinet minister and, therefore, represents India and its people. When he makes himself the object of ridicule, he makes India look ridiculous. His attempts to brush aside his gaffe only display his refusal to admit the shame he brought upon India. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, should not treat this incident in as cavalier a manner as his foreign minister has done. The incident should make him ponder the processes of cabinet formation and the abilities of those who are being appointed ministers and are being chosen to represent the country in international fora. The incident should encourage the prime minister to consider a more radical reshuffle of his cabinet than what he attempted a few weeks ago. Mr Krishna's tenure as foreign minister has so far been singularly undistinguished. His reading of a wrong speech before the security council perhaps suggests that he is well past the age of holding responsible positions.






The way a peace process begins may not always determine how it will end. But a good beginning can go a long way in creating the right and necessary conditions for the success of the initiative. The short meeting between the prime minister and the leadership of the United Liberation Front of Asom seems to have done just that. Obviously, much preparatory work had preceded the meeting. But the Ulfa leaders' first response to it points to a genuine political agreement on both sides to try and bring the secessionist movement to a peaceful end. Manmohan Singh himself had set the tone for the peace talks when he said that the Indian Constitution had enough "flexibility" to accommodate the divergent aspirations of the people. The underlying message was that it was futile and unnecessary to take up arms against the Indian State in order to realize democratic goals. The Ulfa began its armed insurgency in 1979, allegedly to fight "Indian expansionism" and to reclaim Assam's "independent" political identity. The rebellion cost several thousand lives and caused incalculable damage to Assam's social and economic progress. The peace talks should be seen not in terms of a victory or a defeat for any of the sides, but as the first step towards rebuilding Assam's future.

The burden on the Ulfa leaders to play their role successfully has never been greater. Arabinda Rajkhowa, the Ulfa chairman, and his colleagues at the peace talks have successfully crossed the first hurdle. They have been bold enough to dismiss the threats from the anti-talks faction within the outfit's ranks. It is possible that leaders such as Paresh Barua, who want to continue the armed rebellion, will use violence and other means in order to oppose Mr Rajkhowa and the peace process. The peacemakers in the Ulfa leadership, however, face a greater challenge than the one posed by Mr Barua and his comrades. They have a bigger responsibility of living up to the Assamese people's hopes for lasting peace in the state. Their rebellion has failed to produce any substantive results. But they cannot afford to fail the peace test. Whether Assam needs a special status like the one Jammu and Kashmir has and what kind of autonomy Assam can get are sensitive issues that will require careful scrutiny. But such issues may not mean much if the historic moment for peace in Assam is lost yet again






For the second time in less than a month, India's minister for external affairs, S.M. Krishna, stands vindicated. Nobody in Pakistan will admit it because doing so will mean a loss of face, but Shah Mehmood Qureshi lost his job as foreign minister in the new slim-line cabinet of Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani partly because of the perception that he insulted Krishna at their now infamous joint press conference in Islamabad after the last round of talks between the two foreign ministers.

Qureshi's acerbic and rude comments about Krishna at the press conference set back the dialogue process between India and Pakistan. After that incident, it was clearly not possible for the two men to ever have the kind of personal rapport which their foreign secretaries, Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir, enjoy from the time the two diplomats served concurrently in Beijing as ambassadors. Without at least a working rapport, it is unrealistic that their bilateral dialogue could flourish and one of the two ministers had to go. That it was Qureshi who went is a belated vindication of Krishna, who was criticized after his July 2010 visit to Islamabad.

Right from their very first standalone meeting in New York on September 28, 2009, Qureshi boorishly tried to upstage Krishna in private and in public, and acrimoniously let everyone know that he was doing so. That is not a behaviour which sits well with the Pakistanis. Notwithstanding the differences between New Delhi and Islamabad, Pakistanis are gracious hosts. A 54-year-old relative upstart in politics insulting a venerable 78-year-old state guest from abroad with a long and distinguished political record is not something which the class that owns and rules Pakistan could have overlooked or forgiven.

They bided their time and Qureshi continued to behave like the immature but ambitious rising star that he once was. In the end, Qureshi reached the end of a long rope that his detractors left for him much faster than most people had anticipated.

I only wish I had taken bets on Qureshi's exit. It was inevitable because Qureshi is not the first foreign minister in Pakistan in recent memory to lose his job for badly handling relations with India. There was Ayub Khan's son, Gohar Ayub, who could not stomach the idea that Nawaz Sharif wanted to make peace with India, a country with which his father had fought a war when he was the Pakistan army's de facto chief. It was particularly galling for Gohar Ayub that his prime minister wanted to make peace with a government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

So Gohar Ayub unceremoniously tried to inject himself into a meeting between Sharif and Vajpayee in Colombo at the end of July 1998, on the margins of a South Asian summit until he was told where to get off by Sharif. I recall watching Gohar Ayub impatiently pacing up and down for 45 minutes outside the room where the two prime ministers were meeting for the first time after India and Pakistan both became declared nuclear weapon-states. He was openly nasty to members of Vajpayee's delegation.

There is something strange about Gohar Ayub's fate after Sharif decided to get rid of him shortly after the Pakistani delegation returned to Islamabad. From the high-profile foreign affairs portfolio, he was unceremoniously shifted to the ministry of water and power. That is strange because last week Gilani offered to retain Qureshi in the government if he too went to the ministry of water and power. Qureshi refused and was left out in the cold in last week's cabinet reshuffle.

Gohar Ayub was succeeded by the mild-mannered Sartaj Aziz. Sharif, who was committed to Vajpayee's vision of peace in the subcontinent, expected that Aziz would have the temperament and personality to get along with Indians. But what Sharif did not know was that his chief of army staff, General Pervez Musharraf, was plotting the invasion of Kargil behind the back of elected officials in Islamabad.

Indian intelligence intercepted a conversation between Musharraf and his chief of staff, Lieutenant General Mohammed Aziz, in which the latter was heard telling Musharraf, who was on a visit to Beijing, that the army's Kargil conspiracy was proceeding as planned and that Sharif and his cabinet must not be allowed to scuttle those plans. India sent R.K. Mishra, a journalist and confidante of Brajesh Mishra, Vajpayee's principal secretary, to Islamabad, accompanied by Vivek Katju, joint secretary for Pakistan in South Block, for the tapes to be played to Sharif.

Soon afterwards, Sharif sent his foreign minister to New Delhi, not for any genuine dialogue but for propaganda that despite an ongoing conflict, Islamabad was ready for a dialogue with its adversary. Sartaj Aziz was an ideal choice for this tricky enterprise. If only Qureshi had read the archival files in his ministry about that visit, he may have remained foreign minister.

India was as correct in handling the Sartaj Aziz visit as Qureshi was incorrect in dealing with Krishna's trip to Islamabad last year. Sharif's foreign minister arrived in New Delhi on June 12, 1999 and was received with utmost courtesy in public by the minister for external affairs, Jaswant Singh, who even hosted a customary lunch at Hyderabad House for the visitor from Islamabad. But when Singh took Aziz to see Vajpayee behind closed doors, it was a completely different story.

During that 30-minute meeting with Vajpayee, Aziz hardly got a word in. Three times, Aziz tried to interrupt the prime minister, according to those present, but each time, Vajpayee silenced him with a wave of his hand. It was vintage Vajpayee and, as on many occasions in his long political life, words were his tool to dominate the proceedings. Not once did Vajpayee ask Pakistan to vacate the land it had illegally occupied in Kargil. Instead, he told Aziz that "we will get back the land which has been occupied. But you will never get back the trust we had reposed in you when we came to Lahore extending the hand of friendship," — a reference to Vajpayee's historic bus trip across the border. It was an angry Vajpayee, but his gestures showed a decisiveness that the prime minister rarely acted out in front of others.

A day after dismissing Aziz's trip in this fashion, Vajpayee travelled to Kashmir to make a point. There, Sharif took the trouble of locating him for a phone conversation in a fresh attempt to end the fighting. If Qureshi had the stuff in him to be foreign minister, he too would have tried to be tough with Krishna in private, but courteous and respectful in public. And perhaps saved his job in the process.

For his detractors, the arrest of an American who shot two Pakistanis and is claiming diplomatic immunity, plunging US-Pakistan relations to a low point, came in handy to get rid of Qureshi without having to account in public for what he did to Krishna.

Abdul Sattar, considered to be one of the ablest among Pakistani diplomats, was foreign minister during the ill-fated peace talks between Vajpayee and Musharraf in Agra in the summer of 2001. But Sattar did not last very long after that failed summit and had to make way for Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri. Handling relations with India largely determines the shelf lives of Pakistan's foreign ministers.

In retrospect, the criticism of Krishna was unjustified: if he had stooped to Qureshi's level, it is possible that the latter could have salvaged his job and even gone on to be prime minister some day. But now there is a big question mark over Qureshi's future while Krishna has been vindicated.

Krishna was vindicated the second time when he was left untouched in the January cabinet reshuffle despite speculation to the contrary. But it says a lot about the ship that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh captains that he cannot stop his cabinet colleagues from undermining the minister for external affairs with disinformation about the latter's role and capabilities.






It's near the end of the monsoon in 1857. Young Arthur Battye and his fellow officers of the East India Company's forces besieging Delhi have been having a rough time, physically and militarily. What they will come to know as "the sepoy mutiny" is proving a hard and bloody nut to crack. His mother writes from distant London, full of worry for him.

About what? The risk of wounds or death, maybe? Typhoid or cholera? — born in India, Mrs Battye knew its dangers: she had given birth to 10 children there. But no, none of these. After a word or two of sympathy for his "very terrible" life outside Delhi, she gets to the real issue.

"When you speak or write, be careful not to put will for shall. For instance, in your last letter 'promotions are stopped for the present, so I will not get mine yet' — you ought to say shall." It's a weird and wondrous incident, borrowed from a family memoir. Britain's Indian empire is being rocked to its foundations, a well-loved son is in danger of his life, and here is mama anxious about his grammar. But now have a look at my grammar. I've told most of that 150-year-old story in the present tense. That's called using the 'historic present'. It's an ancient trick employed at times by historians to make the telling of some vivid episodes even more vivid.

But only within limits, and those limits are constantly transgressed today by historians in one particular circumstance: talking on television. I find this pretentious, and maddening. No ordinary person in day-to-day life speaks like that. Not even historians do it in writing some continuous narrative. But shove them in front of a camera and they'll cock their heads at 30 degrees to the vertical, and spout out the most tedious, unvivid facts about the past, all in the present tense.

Not just pretentious, a kind of caste-mark of superiority, this can also be confusing. I'll invent a bit for the memoirist. "Battye and his men charge for the Kashmir gate. This time they must get inside. They do. To most Britons, their Indian empire is a source of pride..." OK, OK, maybe, but which Britons? Can you tell? Those of 1857 or those of 2011 (many of whom, in fact, have never heard of it, and couldn't care less if you told them)?

That confusion between past facts and present is not rare. Here's another (and, to my memory, true) example. The historian was talking about the Spanish capture of the Aztec capital in Mexico. "Cortez pushes his troops forward along the causeway. The city is the most populous in the world..." Five centuries ago, or Mexico City today? The historian presumably knows, but do you?

That's not the end of the confusion. You'll notice that in telling the tale of young Battye and his mother, I reverted at one moment to the ordinary past tense, in Mrs Battye knew. I could defend that instance, but I won't. Historians being just like you and me in the rest of their lives, when put in their professional guise before the camera, they are apt to chop and change repeatedly between their historians' present tense and the real world's past one. Which makes it all the harder to be sure what era they are on about when suddenly they remember to put their professional cap back on again, and revert to talking in the historic present.

There's no huge crime against the language in all this. But it's a misuse of it nonetheless. For brief use, telling some action story, the historic present is fine. Not so if you are simply recounting for the less learned the history of the silk trade. To me, at least, to do that is indeed to commit a considerable crime against the viewers or listeners. My reaction is: "Pompous ass" — which may be quite unfair to the scholar concerned, but then it was he, uninvited, who chose to sound both pompous and ambiguous rather than plain.

For the record, history does not tell us how Ensign Battye responded to his mother's grammatical concerns. If at all




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




Electoral reforms have engaged the country's attention ever since the first election was held, and some changes have been made in the laws and the way elections are held. The intention has been to make the elections most free and fair but unfortunately the results have not been satisfactory. India is not alone among democracies that are trying to improve the electoral system and not all of them have succeeded too. But the world's biggest parliamentary democracy has a bigger challenge than many others, partly because the electoral system has been steadily deteriorating. Though we claim that our democracy has matured and stabilised, the methods to misrepresent or even subvert the people's will are being increasingly refined.

Most of the electoral reform proposals rightly aim to free the elections of the influence of money and muscle power. Some recent suggestions also point in that direction. Union law minister Veerappa Moily has said that the spending limits of candidates will soon be increased. These limits are unrealistically low now. But rules on spending limits do not make much sense when they are applicable only to candidates. Parties are exempt from any regulation about expenditure. They spend huge money on elections and the sources of these funds are not always clean. This is a major source of black money and corruption in the country and creates a nexus between politics and business. Proposals for state funding of elections have not moved forward. Now there is a view that even this may not help. Political donations are eligible for tax deduction since 2003 and there is a rule that donations above Rs 20,000 should be disclosed. But parties always understate their income and it is anybody's guess whether the Election Commission's directive to them to maintain audited accounts which should be produced within six months of the closing of the year will be followed.

A proposal which has been made to discourage candidates and their supporters from offering inducements to voters is to disallow personal canvassing on the last two days before voting. This can be tried but it is debatable whether inducements can be completely stopped. Elections are not more free in Mizoram where there is no campaigning in the last two days. There are other proposals too which deserve consideration. But many well-intentioned suggestions made by the election commission have  been rejected by the government and political parties.






Adoption of children, which hitherto has been a tedious and opaque process in India, is poised to become easier. The government has launched the Central Adoption Resource and Guidance System (CARINGS) to facilitate the adoption process. It has set up an online database of children available for adoption and of prospective parents. Parents who have registered for adoption can view progress of their application online. They can alert authorities if their papers are not moving as fast as they should. Once matched with a child, they can keep track of her health status and other details too. Importantly, the government will also closely monitor the work of adoption agencies. Adoption agencies will have to register with the government and failure to do so will result in cancellation of their license. In the name of tough procedure, the existing system imposed obstacles in the way of couples keen to adopt. In the process, thousands of children living in orphanages were denied a loving home. Parents who have gone through the adoption process often complain of the agonising wait they had to endure and the bribes they had to pay before they got their child. That could now change with CARINGS in place.

Adoptions in the country are growing. There were 6,286 adoptions in 2010 compared with 2,518 the previous year. Yet this is a shockingly low figure, especially when one considers the large numbers of orphaned children in the country. There are millions of children on the streets too. While not all of them are orphans, a sizeable number are separated from their parents and lack the comforting environment that a family provides.

Indians are shaking off many of their inhibitions on adoption. In the past, they adopted only when they did not have a biological child. The adopted child was usually from the family, ie the child of a cousin or a brother. Besides, only couples adopted. Nowadays, couples with children are adopting as are single men and women. However, prejudices persist. Healthy, fair, male children continue to be preferred. Girls are often ignored. Unlike in the west, where couples are open to adopting children with special needs, here in India such children almost always are never adopted. There are obstacles to adoption that exist in our minds, which must be removed. The government must facilitate the elimination of outdated social attitudes on adoption as well.








The proposed credit to farmers at 1 per cent interest should also be extended to SHGs linked to microfinance institutes.

Karnataka has announced a separate budget for agriculture. Considering that agriculture continues to be the largest employer, and with a terrible agrarian crisis sweeping the state, agriculture does merit special focus.

Agriculture growth in Karnataka has remained at a dismal 0.5 per cent in the past decade. The neglect of agriculture is evident from the abysmally low expenditure on agriculture. Despite popular perceptions of a highly pampered farming sector, the fact remains that expenditure on agriculture has marginally risen from a low of Rs 228 per acre in 1985-86 to Rs 928 in 2005-06.

The neglect and apathy is all apparent. Although bulk of the population remains engaged in farming, the share of agriculture in GDP is steadily coming down. This gives an impression as if agriculture is no longer important. The huge population in farming is seen as a national burden. Nothing could be further from truth.

The Tennessee University had sometimes back challenged this notion. The share of agriculture in America's GDP was barely 4 per cent and with less than 1 per cent population remaining in farming, agriculture should have been abandoned. What is not so well known is that agriculture's share in the US economy was as high as 65 per cent. It is primarily for this reason that US refuses to compromise its agriculture in the ongoing negotiations at the World Trade Organisation.

Prof T N Prakash of the GKVK, University for Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, has come out with a similar analysis that tells us how cleverly the contribution of farming in the economy is underplayed. In case of sugarcane, for instance, one tonne of cane produces about 100 kg of sugar, 150 units of electricity and about 35 litres of alcohol.

Market value of all these manufactured products exceeds Rs 20,500. What is not known is that Karnataka's tax revenue from the various value additions comes to Rs 2,040 crore every year. And what do the farmers get? On an average, cane growers get a price of Rs 2,000 per tonne, of which 85 per cent is already incurred as the cost of production.

The nation therefore must acknowledge that farmers produce economic wealth for the country. But unfortunately, as the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) 2003-04 showed, the average income of a farm family in India is Rs 2,115. The minimum monthly salary of a chaprasi is Rs 15,000 and what the farmer gets is only a fraction. Isn't this a national shame?

The proposed agriculture budget provides an opportunity for chief minister B S Yeddyurappa to make a historic correction. I suggest setting up a State Farm Income Guarantee Commission. Based on the agro-climatic conditions, the commission should work out a viable and assured monthly income for the farmers depending upon the topography and crop production. Let us not forget, the National Farmers Commission too has called for an assured monthly income for farmers.

Pension scheme

As an immediate succour to farmers, Karnataka should by way of gratitude to its 'annadata,' who have also served the country by producing food, provide a monthly pension to all farmers who attain the age of 60. The monthly pension should not be less than Rs 5,000 per farmer. It should rename millets as Nutri Cereals, and Rs 1,000/quintal should be the bonus for those farmers who cultivate millets.

Yeddyurappa has already announced Karnataka's intent of providing cooperative credit to farmers at 1 per cent interest. This facility also needs to be extended to self-help groups (SHGs) linked to microfinance institutes. As is well known, MFIs are charging an exorbitant interest of 24 to 36 per cent which is leading to multiple borrowings and also has pushed a large number of small borrowers to commit suicide. MFIs have in reality become loan sharks.

Economically also it appears that the government is unfair to the poor and marginalised. On the one hand it is willing to provide cooperative loans for farmers at 1 per cent and on the other hand farmers' wives (who may be part of the village SHGs) are made to pay 24 per cent interest, which effectively comes to 36 per cent on weekly recovery. Cooperative credit therefore needs to be extended to SHGs.

In addition to declining farm income, the other major problem Karnataka confronts is the destruction of the natural resource base — poisoned soils, drying aquifers, and pesticides contamination. It is because of the destruction of the farm lands that agriculture is increasingly becoming un-remunerative thereby forcing farmers to quit agriculture.

Instead of promoting GM crops, and precision farming technologies, which actually bring profits to the manufacturers, Karnataka needs to follow the Community-based Sustainable Agricultural system of Andhra Pradesh.

In 28 lakh acres spread over 21 AP districts, farmers have stopped the use of chemical pesticides, and are now phasing out the application of chemical fertilisers. The yields have not declined, and because no pesticides are used, health expenses of the rural population have drastically fallen by a minimum of 40 per cent. Karnataka should adopt this sustainable farming model. It does not lead to farmer suicides, and nor does it cultivate naxalism.




                                                                                                               IN PERSPECTIVE



India has nearly doubled the number of scholarships for African students to more than 500.
India's pledge to help set up a string of higher education and vocational training institutions in Africa — a main part of an initiative to bolster the country's role there — is finally taking shape, with the first site expected to open its doors in less than a year.

The African Union, which is carrying out the programme with India, has chosen Burundi as the host university to train professionals to plan and manage the growth of higher education. "We plan to start the first batch in the first quarter of 2012," said R Govinda, vice chancellor of India's National University of Education Planning and Administration (NUEPA).

Govinda visited Burundi last month, almost at the same time that a delegation from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade was in Uganda to meet potential partners for a business school in the capital, Kampala.

"I was surprised to see the interest on the other side," said L D Mago, the institute's registrar. The India-Africa Institute of Foreign Trade, which Mago says will be set up over the next five years, will offer full-time and part-time master's of business administration programmes.

Computer software

Also in the planning stages is an organisation that will offer courses in computer software. Housed in Ghana, the India Africa Institute of Information Technology will be developed with the help of Educational Consultants India, a state-run consulting firm.

The move to provide business, technical and scientific training, along with measures like a high-speed communication network for distance learning and telemedicine programmes, is the result of the first India-Africa Forum Summit in April 2008, which was held by the prime minister, Manmohan Singh.

"We are trying to share the Indian experience for the betterment of Africa," said Gurjit Singh, joint secretary for eastern and southern Africa at the ministry of external affairs. He said India was working with the African Union to set up vocational and educational institutions and to run them for the first three years.

If Africa is looking outward to develop its higher education system, "India is perhaps in the best position to help," said Pankaj Jalote, director, Indian Institute of Information Technology, Delhi. Jalote said institutions in the United States, Australia and Britain were "extremely expensive and work with extremely elaborate infrastructure," whereas their Indian counterparts "can do a fairly decent job with far fewer resources." Also, what is taught at Indian institutions "may be more transportable to Africa" than what students learn in industrialised countries, he added.

As part of the education initiative, India has nearly doubled the number of scholarships for African students to more than 500.

Students participating in the education initiative will not only gain knowledge, but they also will develop good will for India,  Mago said. "Those students who will be taught by Indian professors, they will look for and identify opportunities for companies in India," he said, adding that "once they are taught by Indian professors, naturally they depend on that country."

More than just educating people, Indian institutions in Africa will be "doing research that is appropriate instead of just replicating existing programmes, said Govinda.

The NUEPA will help to bolster formal degree-granting institutions. But India's educational initiative in Africa also emphasises other skills. Among at least 10 vocational training centres that are being planned over the next two years is the India-Africa Diamond Institute, which is expected to be set up in Botswana and will train people to polish diamonds.

While degrees are important, students ultimately want to be employable, said Prateek Chatterjee, NIIT.

India's higher education institutions appear to command much respect in Africa. But can the country afford to export a scarce commodity? Government officials freely admit that India's higher education system is inadequate. According to the education minister, Kapil Sibal, India needs to more than double the number of its colleges and universities by 2020 in order to maintain rapid economic growth.

"The Indian higher education system needs to be ramped up by a factor of 10," Jalote said. "Already the academic institutions are stretched so thin." But while sending professionals overseas may look like something India can ill afford, the government may be 'balancing priorities', he added.

"The issue here seems to be of a geopolitical nature," Jalote said. "China is moving in, so I can imagine the government of India wanting to do something not to vacate that space.


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This lady has a unique capacity to appreciate even the mundane of things.

"That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet", wrote Shakespeare. True. But if a rose were to be described by Gita, it would not only look more gorgeous, but one would even appear to smell sweeter than the other. Gita is one of my satsang friends. I use the word satsang, not in the popular sense of a spiritual get together but in its literal meaning of 'good company'. Gita is one of those friends whose company has a positive, uplifting influence.

For this lady has a unique capacity to open her heart to, and appreciate even the most mundane of things; and you can tell from her face that she is not faking it and that the words come from the heart. A well informed person, she is also never lazy or niggardly with her words. Her praises are so liberally embroidered with the pretty adjectives and appropriate metaphors that the listener always parts with a smile, convinced that he or she has something or is in some wayspecial. Like I did.

I had given the new saree to the tailor for sealing the edges and fixing the falls. A whole lot of sarees were stacked up on the shelf and with no slip or sample cloth to identify mine, I scanned the pile for mine. "Don't worry," he said, "tell me what colour it was and I will find it."

That was the difficult part because my saree wasn't of any common shade. "Yellow, brown, green,… it is a mix" I said. He got the 'aha' look on his face "I know. It is sort of fresh cow-dung colour, right?" he said. I nodded my head in embarrassment. The chiffon saree weighed heavily in my bag. Huge regret welled up over the choice of colour. "I should have taken the pink one," I told myself, "that would have been a safe bet."

I met Gita on the way and on an impulse, sought a second opinion. One look at the saree and she went into raptures. "Wow! Such a rare shade," she said. I mumbled something about the colour being not very bright. "It is olive drab!" she said, "And olive drab is not expected to be bright. It is such a refined and dignified colour!" I smiled lamely even as I made a mental note of the colour's name. "Wear some gold and drape the saree and you would look stunning like a panchaloha sculpture from a temple."

A weak voice from within raised doubts about the curves but I brutally suppressed it. The saree would take care of all that and work its magic, I told myself. Gita would know. She had such good taste! And how foolish of me to have got upset over the tailor's remarks! He was after all too coarse to appreciate such sophisticated stuff. I dropped the saree gently back into the bag and pulled myself up majestically and trotted my way home.









Is your telephone tapped? It could well be. According to a startling revelation made by Reliance Communications to the Supreme Court, it intercepted close to 1.51 lakh phone numbers from 2006 to 2010 following requests from various government authorities. It says that on average, it received instructions to tap 100 telephones a day throughout this period. Reliance is just one of over a dozen major mobile phone companies in the country. Not just Amar Singh, many more of us could well have been victims of phone tapping.

Reliance tapped an estimated 3,588 phones in 2005 in Delhi alone - including Amar Singh's numbers. The former Samajwadi Party strongman has filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court, which has unearthed this enormous can of worms. Merely extrapolating from the figures available, if all the service providers are put together, it seems very possible that the central government alone is tapping thousands of telephones a year. That does not include the 28 states. Law and order is a state subject, and each state government too has the authority to tap telephones, ostensibly for security purposes. Totally, the number of telephones being tapped in India could run into lakhs each year.

As Justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly of the Supreme Court remarked, if proper procedures were not followed it could result in a gross violation of citizen's privacy. The matter gains importance because it has come to light that the letter authorising the tapping of Amar Singh's phone was obviously forged.
The issue is of vital interest for Goa and Goans because, as 'Herald' recently brought out, the Goa government has been tapping telephones in the state in gross violation of Supreme Court directions and the Indian Telegraph Rules, until very, very recently. RTI activist Savio Correia, who brought this entire sordid affair to light, says that the 'Review Committee' for telephone tapping, required according to Supreme Court guidelines, was constituted only in September last year, after he filed a second appeal before the State Information Commission (SIC). This was after the authorities stubbornly refused to disclose any information about interception of telephone conversations.


Correia says that the little information he has got on this subject from the state government shows that all telephones tapped in the last 14 years were in violation of directions of the Supreme Court and of Rule 419-A of the Indian Telegraph Rules. His request for copies of tapping orders from 1997 to 2010 was denied by the Home Department, invoking the exemption clause in the RTI Act. This refusal was upheld by the appellate authority, the Joint Secretary (General Administration). Undeterred, Correia separately asked for just the number of telephone tapping orders passed during the same period. This was denied by the Home Dept, but granted by the Joint Secretary in appeal. But in a surprise move, the state government has challenged its own Joint Secretary's order before the State Information Commission!
Obviously, the Goa government has a great deal to hide.

The State Information Commissioner will hear arguments in all these cases on Friday 18 February. There is every possibility that telephones of opposition politicians, civil society activists, journalists and even the judiciary may have been intercepted. But this is one area where the opposition is unlikely to raise hell. That is because from 24 October 2000 to 29 January 2005, the Leader of the Opposition was the Chief Minister of the state, and a number of telephones could well have been tapped at the time…

On issues like this, the people, civil society and the NGOs are entirely and completely on their own. But that is no reason for us not to assert our rights.







Just as surely as dawn follows night, an election comes after five lean years. Politicians suddenly start remembering the people, thinking of their interest, and acting as if they're really concerned about what matters to the wider populace. As Goa gears up for 2012, we're seeing our politician go into overdrive. Familiar political faces surface on our already politics-dominated front-pages more than ever before. Like frogs in a wet monsoon, our 'netas' adopt bizarre positions and make adept jumps...if only to land with both feet on a comfortable spot, which takes care of their own interests.

Dayanand Narvekar is repositioning himself as part of the Opposition. So is Dr Wilfred de Souza. They're once again finding their voice, exercising their vocal chords, and running with long neglected issues. They're not the only ones; every politician, ruling or Opposition, who feels he deserves better, is at the game. Smart men that they are, they know well how to cover up for their silence, how to rake up issues that sound almost credible. Public memory being short, we are quick to forgive, faster to believe.

But rackets over privatisation of state and common resources in Goa, is not restricted to Mapusa's Asilo hospital alone. This is one of the most serious concerns that have hit us since the ancient regime was edged out and new elite took power here in the 1960s. Surely our politicians should know that; they have themselves been indulging in that too, regardless of party and ideology.

So many of our politicians are suddenly finding their voices, and fitting into Opposition space. Or, are they really doing that? This seems more like an attempt to take over dissent space, and even cash-in on it, for personal needs. Privatisation of a worst kind indeed!

But there is an even more serious issue than that at play here. That is, the failure of the Opposition to play its role, to systematically challenge the logic, the status quo, and to offer the people, a real alternative. This turns acute in Goa, because of certain factors at play here. For one, despite the different "parties" presented to the electorate at election time, there is very little of a difference in ideology, especially among the dominant players.
Parties themselves are run undemocratically, and without accountability of any sort, other than keeping top leaders in good humour. Politicians hop from one party to another with alacrity. For example, the "BJP" ruled Goa for nearly six years, only after depending on a whole team of "Congressmen", who have subsequently "returned" to the Congress! Is changing ideology in Goa then, just like changing shirts, and is it being done whenever we feel like it?

Secondly, minor variations apart, the politicians who have ruled our state for much of the past five decades, come from very similar social roots. They may want to favour one section, instead of another; they may have somewhat differing levels of efficiency (or is it inefficiency?); and they may opt for a differing corruption-communalism mix, to stay in power. But their vision for Goa is very much the same, one that supports the interests of lobbies and businesses, rather than people and social capital.

More importantly, things have changed in the past decade and half. Some friends make it out as if there is a vast difference between Congress and BJP, a perspective I don't share. But since 1994, when the logic of Goan politics shifted — to being a two-party race among Delhi-dominated brands — we have had to compete with a new reality.

The BJP plays the role of an effective Opposition only as much as it helps to discredit the Congress, and help it (the BJP) to slide back into the seat of power. Even while in the Opposition, it makes the most of its links to power. The Congress is worse; its leaders are into the business of politics in a way that ensures they gain maximum returns. Little attention is paid to raising issues that matter to the people that make a difference to the Goa of tomorrow. No wonder that the Congress is even willing to buy into communalism and the BJP is not aloof from corruption.

For their part, the small local parties have also failed the citizen. They would like to believe that they can compete in the race to power — which is simply geared against them, right from funding politics downwards. Goa's small parties are deluding themselves by imagining the role in ruling the state, instead of seeing themselves more realistically as an efficient Oppositional force.

Take a look at the issues raised, and one will quickly realise the manner in which the Opposition has failed the people. Emotive issues are given importance. Confusion is spread over concerns like mining. Communally tinged issues are blown out of proportion, with help from a section of the media. Issues involving the Muslim minority – whether it is vegetable vendors, scrap yards or 'illegal shrines' – are promptly played up.
With the Panjim civic elections coming up soon, the Hobson's choice that faces the citizen is all the more clear. If one examines the record of the politicians contesting for power, and the godfathers behind them, their duplicity becomes all the more clear. It's time the citizen realised that the problem is not with individuals per se, but with a system that is not meant to protect the common man's interests. Unfortunately, even the media has not been able to campaign consistently over issues. Such work needs sustained attention, resources for a deeper study and the skills to properly understand the same.

All this would have not been so bad, if the common man was allowed to play an oppositional role of his (or her) own. But today, even that is prone to being manipulated. Ever since politicians spoke of setting up hundreds of NGOs, Goa has seen the mushrooming of all kinds of organisations. Some, of course, are genuine and reflect the concern of the citizen. But quite a few are turning out to be fronts, to push for certain political interests. This is to discredit rival politicians and thus promote reputations of others. Or, more seriously, even to push for certain vested goals, to promote the needs of dubious lobbies.

Despite all this, people's power has a way of surfacing. Citizens need to be vigilant of the need to avoid a hijacking of their interests though, at all times. Or else, we could end up with a case like Egypt's, where the US suddenly talks about the need for democracy, in a nation, whose corrupt military and discredited rulers, they have themselves bankrolled, for decades together.

The growing use of the Right to Information, to dig out crucial information, in Goa too, is a matter of hope. Yet, as Magsaysay award-winner Arvind Kejriwal has pointed out, we have a rotten system for battling corruption. Just digging out information is not good enough if action is not taken to ensure justice. Meanwhile, as scams get unearthed in New Delhi and elsewhere, the Goa links of these scamsters — and their projects here — also need to be unearthed.

Lawyers like Aires Rodrigues have shown a determined persistence to dig out information via the RTI Act. What we are left guessing about, is the basis on which the targets for such queries are chosen. Goa does need a class of campaigners who would look beyond individuals, and work for a wider, systemic change.







Much water has been flushed down the new air-conditioned toilet at Goa's commercial capital, since it was inaugurated by the most powerful politician in the state. A lot of criticism has been passed by many since the inauguration of this state-of-the art toilet. There have been criticisms from left, right, and centre. Surprisingly, the opposition party did not castigate the government for building such an expensive toilet (The toilet is understood to have cost all of rupees twenty lakhs) during the winter session of the assembly. Probably, the opposition party was on the same wavelength as the government, as far as the most talked about toilet is concerned. The toilet has not just become the talk-of-the-town, but talk-of-the-state. Well, we need not look at the toilet with jaundiced eyes. I, for one, feel that there are many plus points to the project. We as citizens, should not raise objections to each and every developmental work of the government, even if it means building one solitary toilet. But then, it is not just another toilet. It's a luxurious way to answer nature's call. I heard someone say that the a/c loo is one of the best in the world.

We never had a construction in the state, which could be considered as world class. Now we have one. So what if it is only a toilet? Probably, the best part of the toilet is that it is situated in a garden, amidst all the greenery and the flowery surroundings. People have complained that there is either no toilet, wherever necessary, or the toilets in other parts of the state are in bad shape. There is no reason to complain. We now have a toilet for that experience of a life-time. The best part is that it need not be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. One can come over and over again. As for me, I have not visited the toilet thus far. Well, going from Vasco to Margao just to answer nature's call, is not my way of starting a new day.

It is understood that the toilet has a music system which probably plays music 24x7. I wonder what music they play there. I am not too sure if music does stimulate bowel movement or the urinary bladder. If it does, it definitely cannot be heavy-metal. This kind of music gives me constipations. Be that as it may, if the commercial city lacked in one thing, it was a site of tourist attraction. Now with the inauguration of the new toilet, this need has been fulfilled. I wonder if this toilet advocates the use of toilet-paper, instead of water. It is understood that all the facilities and amenities at the toilet come with a price-tag. But then, at two rupees for the use of the urinal, and five rupees for the use of the toilet, the price is peanuts. It could be said that our politicians may not show much concern over how the common man fills his stomach, given the rising price of food commodities. But the government definitely has shown concern, as to how the citizens empty their bowels - in royal style. But the big question is, given the fact that we are so used to dirty stinking toilets all over the state, whether easing in such luxurious surroundings, will be any easy task after all.








Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family who the party would project as its prime ministerial candidate, was at North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) in Shillong on Monday, and from what has happened it is clear that he has sought to use his so-called interaction with students to further the objectives of the National Students' Union of India (NSUI), the Congress' youth wing. In other words, and given his statement that ''I encourage all of you to join the Congress'', Rahul has sought to use his meeting with students as a platform for enrolment of students into the NSUI. In still other words, the Congress MP has sought to make a political investment at NEHU, the endeavour being smartly dressed up as an apolitical venture to reach out to the youth, read their minds, and inspire them towards social work. This newspaper condemns the episode. No university campus can be allowed to be used so blatantly for political activities. What is also surprising is the ignorance feigned by the NEHU Vice Chancellor's office as to the content of Rahul's programme. And what is equally condemnable is the attitude of the Special Protection Group (SPG) in charge of Rahul's security; the media did the right thing by boycotting his programme after the SPG personnel snubbed the press.

The contract of sorts apparently awarded to Rahul by the Congress to reach out to the youth and persuade them to join politics, as if they would do so merely because of his charisma that the party banks on so heavily despite the recent Bihar poll debacle in spite of his spirited campaign, does not and cannot augur well for the student community. It is none of Rahul's — or for that matter anybody else's — business to tour university campuses and exhort students to join a particular political party. Rahul has all the right to interact with the youth at college and university campuses across the country and evolve better ideas to take the nation forward, but such freedom cannot be allowed to be used to appeal to them to join his party. If Rahul has such sanction, youth leaders from other political outfits too must enjoy the same privilege so that campuses are made hubs of political activities! Is this the vision of a university that the likes of Rahul Gandhi have? Do they want universities to be reduced to centres that they will have the liberty to use to promote their political interests at the cost of education?

The larger question is why the NEHU authority should allow a politician to indulge in political activities at the campus in the first place. Excuses will not do. One might argue that none knew what the Congress MP would say and that the programme was meant only for an interaction between him and NEHU students to dwell on issues concerning the youth of the region and the rest of the country. If this was the case, was there any restriction on him — that he ought not to give his programme any political hue or promote his party's interests? If there was no restriction on Rahul, what had prevented the NEHU authority from making it clear to him that he would not be allowed to indulge in any kind of political oratory and that the whole programme must strictly be apolitical? Secondly, why was the NSUI allowed to plant its flags at the NEHU campus on that unfortunate day? Was it not a sheer political show?

One hopes that universities in the country would take a cue from the condemnable NEHU incident of Monday and not allow any politician to visit their campuses to further the political aims and objectives of their respective parties. Let the message be loud and clear.





Both Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram have in recent times harped on the ''flexibility'' of the Indian Constitution while pointing to its ability to respond to the aspirations of a diverse people as us. The flexibility discourse is in the wake of talks with militant groups like the Arabinda Rajkhowa faction of the ULFA and the hope that peace would be a reality very soon. While there is no gainsaying that our Constitution is flexible and capable of addressing the concerns of all sections of the people of the country, what seems to have been conveniently glossed over is why so many people's grievances should remain unaddressed for over six decades since Independence despite the flexibility of the document in question. Let our political executives explain as to why such rebellion as in the Northeast and in the Red Corridor should rag this land in spite of the ability of our Constitution in checking the genesis of such uprising. They would do well to admit that it is they who have failed their electorate while the blame has gone to the system as if the system, including the Constitution, and the mix of elected representatives and bureaucrats are two different things. They are not. The point is that by failing the people most of our elected representatives have only failed the Constitution.






In a barren relationship, even a small shower makes the difference. The ground is broken. India and Pakistan have been distant neighbours for more than six decades. That Foreign Secretaries of the two countries met and did not disperse in disgust is itself news. But when both are satisfied after the talks, they make a big splash.

India's Nirupama Rao said that they discussed all pending problems before the two countries. Pakistan's Salman Bashir admitted that there was a meeting of minds. This is a positive development. Both have affirmed in a joint statement "the need to carry forward the dialogue process". This means that the foreign ministers of the two countries will be meeting soon at Delhi.

I was confident that the dialogue would move further. Both countries had assailed each other for public consumption. The road was clear to go ahead. On the eve of the meeting, Pakistan said that India was not doing enough to pursue the Hindu terrorists in the bomb blast on the Samjhauta Express. This was in response to New Delhi's regret that enough progress has not been made on the 26/11 Mumbai attack. And Laskhar-e-Toiba chief Hafeez Saeed threatened that India should either quit Kashmir or be ready to face a war.

Against this backdrop my fears on the deadlock were not unfounded. Salman Bashir changed a bit. He said that the terrorists did not belong to "a particular denomination". This too was New Delhi's belated realization when it discovered that "saffron terrorists" were part of terrorism in the country. Earlier, the argument would be that all Muslims were not terrorists, but all terrorists were Muslims.

However, Saeed's cry of a war remains unchallenged. Islamabad sticks to its line that no legal evidence has been found against his involvement in the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. But it does not justify Islamabad's silence for his sabre-rattling against India in which he indulges every now and then. I concede that if the two sides had confidence in each other, they would take rhetoric in their stride. Yet the fact remains that New Delhi considers action against Saeed as a litmus test to lessen deficit in trust.

When Pakistan Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Choudhary says at a conference in Hyderabad (India) that the democratic government, which replaced the military rule, did not undo or nullify the acts and actions of the military rule, he puts the Asif Zardari government in the dock. What Choudhary tries to convey is that the government lacked courage to fight against such forces that defy the law. Probably, the case of Saeed fits into this category.

Ultimately, the inclination by the Pakistan army chief would prevail. There are conflicting messages about General Parvez Kayani. Wikileaks say that the agreement between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the then President General Pervez Musharraf was ready for signature. But General Kayani did not give his assent. On the other hand, former Foreign Minister Khurshid Qureshi, who was in Delhi recently, said the agreement could not be signed because of the lawyers' strike in Pakistan.

Qureshi categorically stated that the army was on board. That does not say much because President Musharraf held sway on the army at that time. The reason why I am emphasizing the consent of the army is the position it enjoys in the affairs of Pakistan. There is nothing categorical to suggest whether General Kayani is for a settlement on the lines the two countries have sought to sort out the Kashmir problem. However, at Thimpu, Pakistan's foreign secretary reportedly said that the army fully backed the dialogue which he had started with Nirupama Rao.

However, what General Kayani has reportedly said earlier indicates a tough stand on Kashmir. He is said to have reiterated that the relations with India depended on the settlement on Kashmir. In an effort to know his mind, India's Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon wanted to meet him during the Security Conference which he and General Kayani were attending at Munich. I wish I knew whether they met or just avoided each other.

In the meanwhile, people on both sides would like to know about the agreement reached on Kashmir through back channel. When both the governments say that 80 per cent of settlement has been reached, it suggested that certain proposals had been accepted by both the parties. What are they? There should be transparency in such things. People on both sides should know the contents of the settlement reached so far. Ultimately, they are the ones who count. Behind-the-scene talks are okay up to a point. But in a democratic structure, people are the rulers and they must know what the conditions of the agreement are.

The problem that clouds better relations between the two countries is because Islamabad has put all its eggs in the Kashmir basket. Unless that is settled to its satisfaction, no progress can be made on trade and the relaxation of visa to facilitate people-to-people relations. I believe that the implementation of these two points can bring the people of the two nations closer and remove the cobwebs of mistrust against each other.

I believe Nirupama Rao proposed the resumption of trade. This will create vested interests in the prosperity of each other's country. I wish she had offered the signing of the two agreements on Sir Creek and Siachin Glacier, already initialled. Islamabad would have felt assured that New Delhi was giving up its frozen posture.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto favoured, at one time, a step-by-step approach, which India has come to adopt. But it is three decades late. He then wanted an overall settlement which Pakistan favours now. Only a dialogue can sort out the differences. Nirupama Rao has warned that for the next few months, things are not going to remain dormant. There will be a lot of activity. This confirms the report that the two home secretaries will meet before the foreign ministers do.

Nirupama Rao has said: "The intention is to resume the process." Both sides have agreed to work on the principle of "law of comity". Comity refers to legal reciprocity. It means that courts should not act in a way that demeans the jurisdiction, laws or judicial decisions of another country.

More and more talks, not just at the governments' level, but at the level of academicians, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, journalists and other members of the civil society too, are essential. Both sides should be prepared for a long haul, ready to face the ups and downs. There will be attempts to sabotage by those who do not want friendly relations and threats by fundamentalists to communalize the efforts. To counter these, the two countries are required to show commitment and determination to normalize relations.

Kuldip Nayar 








The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the demonstrations in Iran and Bahrain and the general feeling of an earthquake rumbling across the Middle East have thus far conferred a sense of deliverance on Israel, as it has managed to escape the spotlight. After all, who wants to deal with the peace process, dismantling settlements, marking the border between Israel and Palestine or defining security arrangements when the entire world is holding its head, uncertain how to act in the face of these budding democracies?

The government's characteristic policy of "We lived through Pharaoh, we'll live through this too" has once again been pulled out of the drawer. Yet the shock waves in the Middle East actually obligate us to quickly rev up our strategic thinking. For those same Arab publics that succeeded in ousting two dictators, and have not yet uttered their last word, will eventually demand that their new governments pursue a vigorous foreign policy - or in other words, reexamine their relationship with Israel.

Israel lost an ally when Hosni Mubarak was pushed out of office, but it hasn't lost Egypt - yet. Nor is Israel the only one who lost a partner: The Palestinian Authority also finds itself in a new situation, one in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been pushed to the back burner.

More importantly, however, the American administration will need to pay its promissory note of support for an Arab public that is striving to advance democracy. President Barack Obama will now seek to reestablish America's position as a country responsive to people's yearnings, by evincing willingness to work to oust not only tyrants, but also occupation regimes.

Israel should not wait until this new Arab and American policy develops into a steam-roller. It would do better, in contrast to its usual policy, to view the changes in the Middle East as an opportunity and to preemptively propose a diplomatic initiative - one that will make it clear to the Arab states, and to the entire world, that it is ready to be part of the new reality.

The prime minister cannot make do with "carefully monitoring" developments. He must present a realistic plan, complete with a timetable, that will enable PA President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table in order to complete the diplomatic process








Security at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem has been tightened up, with visitors being asked to remove their shoes, as if they were entering a mosque or an American airport. The stricter examinations suit the zeitgeist: Benjamin Netanyahu holed up inside his office, on the defensive against the outside world, as his hold on the government steadily slackens. It must be how Hosni Mubarak felt during the two weeks between the start of the demonstrations in Cairo and his resignation. The symbols of government remain in place - the expansive palace, the limousine motorcade, the battalions of bodyguards and the telephone calls from world leaders - but the power of influence is gone.

Netanyahu, unlike Mubarak, does not face hundreds of thousands of demonstrators demanding his departure, but his situation is, nevertheless, beginning to resemble that of his deposed friend. Instead of leading, he allows decisions to be imposed on him. The appointments of Benny Gantz and Ron Prosor, as chief of staff and UN ambassador, respectively, as well as the rollback of the gasoline excise tax, were carried out despite his initial opposition. He was dragged into them.

The political atmosphere is oppressive. The disintegration of the Labor Party did not "contribute to governability and stability," as Netanyahu promised; it impeded them. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman continues to bully him publicly, making him look like a doormat who cannot even deliver an ambassadorial posting for a close adviser. Likud MKs, led by Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, warned Netanyahu that the rising prices of basic goods and utilities would cost their party the next election. Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni's popularity is climbing, and Lieberman is consolidating his position as the leader of the right, while Likud is ruptured from within by disagreements over the oppression of left-wing organizations and the Arab community. In today's Israel, it is difficult to live up to the Likud campaign slogan, "both nationalist and liberal." You have to choose one.

World leaders are turning their backs on the prime minister. German Chancellor Angela Merkel came to Israel in order to scold Netanyahu over the stasis in the peace process. No invitations from his counterparts abroad are forthcoming. Netanyahu managed to drive his great rival, U.S. President Barack Obama, out of the region by refusing to extend the construction moratorium in the settlements. Obama folded, backing down from his own peace initiative, only to return in force as the great prophet of change and democracy. His early zigzagging over the Egyptian crisis has been forgotten: His heart was always on the popular, victorious side, with the protesters. A similar thing happened with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who sent President George H.W. Bush packing when he rejected an international peace summit only to face him later, riding high after the 1991 Gulf War and the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Egyptian revolution provided Netanyahu with a Churchillian moment. It's the reason he was elected. The voters trusted in his ability to make the right decision, in contrast to Livni the tyro. And he failed. His expectation that Mubarak would defeat the demonstrators went unmet. His support for the Egyptian president demonstrated that he looks after his friends - all well and good, but in politics there are no rewards for fans of the losing team. Mubarak went, leaving Netanyahu with his fears of a "second Iran" in Egypt and with calls to expand Israel's military budget, to build "Fortress Negev" and to create alternatives to the Suez Canal. Even if his predictions turn out to have been correct, they are not shared by the public; the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange did not fall and the depreciation of the shekel was minuscule. The "world" views Netanyahu as a fossil of an era that is disappearing before our very eyes.

Before the election Netanya promised that he could rule the country. The state is in pretty good shape: There are no wars or terror attacks and the economy is growing nicely. But the public feels that things are working out on their own, that there is no chief executive up above who can take the reins and make decisions. In Netanyahu's eyes, that's his tragedy: Even when everything seems fine, he doesn't get the credit and no one praises him.

Alone in his discordant office, without a clear message or direction, Netanyahu is hoping for a miracle to save him from Lieberman's political liquidation campaign against him. The head of Yisrael Beiteinu put Netanyahu into power and is now threatening to remove him from it. A criminal indictment against Lieberman won't help: Aryeh Deri controlled a political machine and led Shas to election victory even after he was prosecuted. There's no reason for Lieberman to do any differently, if Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decides to prosecute. Netanyahu will need a much bigger miracle in order to be seen as politically relevant and to regain his influence. For now he is marking time with meaningless decisions, such as appointing the "governance committee" to renovate the regime. There could be no clearer sign of the prime minister's political wane.









On February 6, Israel's High Court of Justice officially suspended the right to free education for Jerusalem's Arab children for a period of nine years - from 2007-2008 (5768 ) through 2016-2017 (5687 ). How could three liberal justices rule unanimously to suspend this right guaranteed in Israel's Compulsory Education Law?

There are thousands of Arab children in Jerusalem who have the legal right to free education, but because of an extreme shortage of classrooms, their requests to study in the free public school system are rejected. Hence, they are forced to choose between studying in private (unofficial ) schools that charge tuition or not studying at all.

This is exactly what happened to Deea'. In 2007, his parents wanted to enroll him in second grade in an official public school. When their request was denied, they had no alternative but to send him to a private (recognized, yet unofficial ) school where tuition costs NIS 3,800 annually. Deea' petitioned the High Court of Justice to have the state reimburse his tuition. The court was faced with the challenge of defending Deea's right to free education, and at the same time, guarding the state coffers against thousands of potential requests for tuition refunds that might ensure. The Education Ministry, in fact, pleaded with the court in its response, not to bend: "Requiring the Education Ministry to pay 100% of the educational expenses of the pupils studying in [Arab unofficial] schools . . . would place an extremely heavy burden on the ministry's limited budget . . . When we speak of a limited budgetary pie, imposing on the Education Ministry the requirement to budget the entire expenses of some 40,000 East Jerusalem students who do not study in the public schools might damage the ministry's ability [to build additional classrooms]." All three justices were extremely critical of the Jerusalem municipality and the Education Ministry for allowing the situation to persist and fester, reiterating that Palestinian children have the statutory right to free education and that inequality in education may even violate the constitutional Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. They gave the authorities five years to provide every single child with a place in the public school system. Should this objective not be met, then at the end of the five-year period, the state (and not the parents ) would have to pay the tuition in unofficial, yet recognized (private ) schools for each child rejected by the public school system.

Justice Danziger warned that "not all the parents in East Jerusalem have the means to finance their children's studies in private schools. Regarding these children, there is a real danger that they will drop out of the educational system." Yet, he supported maintaining the status quo for another five years.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch noted that the considerable physical and human resources required to ensure a place for every child "may justify giving the state [five years] in which to carry out the decision, but they do not release the respondents from the obligation to provide free education." Still, she, too, supported delaying public funding to students rejected by the public school system for another five years.

And what about Deea' and his parents? They received nothing. His parents will have to continue paying tuition until 2016 - a total of NIS 34,000 (roughly $10,000, for just one child ), instead of receiving free education. The court decision saved the treasury NIS 34,000, at the expense of an Arab family that is already used to discrimination.

Although it may be reasonable to give the authorities another five years to find a way (including temporary housing and multiple school shifts, as well as building new schools ) of accepting all applicants, it is completely unreasonable to rule that during this nine-year period (retroactive and prospective ), no rejected children will have their tuition paid for by the state. What it means is that their parents will continue to bear a large part of the expense of education.

For Deaa's family, the disappointment of witnessing the highest court in the land reject their claim for reimbursement, in accordance with Israeli law, must be very great. For this writer, it is easier to look at the upside. Attorney Tali Nir of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel achieved a breakthrough ruling - the first time in 11 years of adjudication that a court accepted the responsibility of the state to pay the tuition (in practice, as well as in principle ) of children rejected by the public school system. The court unanimously and outspokenly supported the overriding importance of free education for all Arab children in Jerusalem. It is unfortunate that the court saw fit to deny thousands of families the actual fruits of their abstract "right" at this time. Whether the authorities in fact pay the tuition after the five years are up remains to be seen. After all, this a country where high court rulings are frequently ignored.








The hot question of the day: What will bring people here out into the streets? There has been a great deal of hand-wringing over Israelis' failure to take to the streets, lamentations of our non-revolution.

Some say: Why should people here take to the streets? We have democracy, don't we? Free press, free consumption, a flourishing free market. People aren't going hungry, Facebook and Twitter is open to everyone. Plus, the poor here are dressed better than the poor in Egypt. Anyway, the poor in Israel are ultra-Orthodox and Arab - and for them it's a traditional thing, so they don't count.

But the truth is that it is difficult to expect the Israeli public to take to the streets, because in fact it has too many things to protest. For 40 years now, Israeli governments have worsened our situation through the continued occupation, the recurrent wars, depriving workers' rights, diminishing health and welfare services, increasing and aggravating societal gaps of all kinds, and - in more recent years - eroding democratic rights and personal freedoms, and growing government corruption.

There are complaints that while throngs of French demonstrators took to the streets in France to protest raising the retirement age, Israelis let the same issue just pass by. But who in Israel, between another privatization and the citizenship law, can even pay attention to such an infringement?

And yet, people do take to the streets quite often. There are demonstrations against the occupation; marches to bring home Gilad Shalit; the blocking of parking lots on the Sabbath; huge events to protest the disengagement from Gaza and to advocate the rights of Holocaust survivors; demonstrations to mark Land Day, fight racism, that are pro-democracy and against deporting children; and protests against infiltrators, Arabs and foreigners. We even had our own square - the Bread Square. But all of it is in vain.

When Palestinians demonstrate, they send the troops to fight them, as if combating an enemy action. When Israeli Arabs demonstrate, they are suppressed as if they threaten to take down the government. Sephardic Jewish protesters are watched very closely by police forces, while the "regular" social activists are treated with words of support or disregard. One thing is for sure: Israeli governments never accept anything the demonstrators demand.

Citizens and numerous organizations try to arouse public opinion and influence policy makers through advertising and lobbying, and various events and provocations. These methods usually fail, too. They may stir public opinion and get some media attention, but they don't cause Israeli governments to change their policy.

Social organizations for change have a built-in limitation: They act from the outside, and as such cannot make the changes. In their very existence they function as valves to blow off steam and, most importantly, they also receive funding from the government and wealthy individuals - whose aims and activities contradict the political and social goals of the organizations. So indirectly, the organizations are actually part of the very system that strengthens the wealthy and powerful.

Israel's politics and politicians are disconnected more than ever before from the public, its needs and desires. Even the sectorial politicians hardly tend to the needs of their constituents. Giving stipends to yeshiva students who neither serve in the army nor work is not in the interest of either the yeshiva students or ultra-Orthodox society. Depriving leftists and Arabs of their rights does not improve the condition of immigrants from Russia. Expressions of nationalism do nothing to advance Arab society, and occupation and settlement are bad for the State of Israel and the public at large.

Israel's politicians fail to recognize the public's exhaustion and collective depression, its desire for peace, quiet and equality, and don't understand that this is the real danger to our existence, security and character. That is because this exhaustion and desire for quiet have led to the yearning for a "strong leader."

The truth is that we're all yearning for a revolution. We watch with frustration all of those other people who have succeeded in making a change - not just tried, but succeeded - and we want the same. We, too, want to shape our lives, we also want something exciting and positive to happen to us, something awesome and inspiring - and most of all something that gives hope. Boy, do we need hope.



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



Iran's autocrats have shown once again that they know absolutely no shame. Last week, they crowed about the ouster of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and rushed to claim solidarity with the protestors in Tahrir Square.

On Monday, when thousands of Iranian protestors courageously took to the streets of Tehran, the government sent out its riot police to threaten and beat anyone who dared to demand an end to the mullah's rule. The judiciary announced that 1,500 people were jailed, and a member of Parliament said two people were killed. Journalists were barred from covering the protests, so no one really knows how many more may have died.

The government has placed two of the main opposition leaders, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest. On Tuesday, 222 of 290 Iranian lawmakers called for their execution. Unfortunately, no one can dismiss that as empty rhetoric. A group of Iranian intellectuals living abroad recently charged that Tehran executed more than 500 dissidents in 2010 and another 83 just since the start of this year.

We don't know what will happen next. We are cheered by the news that the Iranian people are still willing to stand up and truly frightened by the government's capacity for brutality.

Iran's wasn't the only government choosing force over reason. Two people were killed this week during protests in Bahrain. The tiny country is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, and majority Shiites have long demanded a bigger role in Parliament and other democratic changes. The king is going to have to start delivering promised reforms. A further crackdown will only feed the fury.

The Obama administration took too long to find its voice on Egypt. Part of that was understandable given this country's strategic investment in Egypt. The cost to America's reputation may be high.

Denouncing repression in Iran is, of course, easier. On Tuesday, President Obama saluted Iranian demonstrators and criticized the government crackdown. The challenge for Washington is still considerable.

Mr. Obama was smart not to make the United States the issue during Iran's 2009 antigovernment protests. He and his aides must now find a way to help the Iranian people without feeding the mullahs' narrative about foreign manipulation. The State Department's initiative to expand and defend access to the Internet around the world (it just opened a Twitter site in Farsi) seems like a creative start.

Bahrain is the home of the United States Navy's Fifth Fleet, and the administration is once again struggling to find its voice. On Tuesday, the State Department expressed concern about the deaths in Bahrain and urged all sides to refrain from violence. We hope the administration is also pressing the government to begin making reforms and warning it against an even bloodier crackdown. If the repression continues, Washington will have to forcefully denounce it.

Egypt's revolution has inspired people across the region and deeply frightened autocrats. But the truth is no one knows even how Egypt will turn out. The army says it "hopes" to hand power to an elected civilian leadership by August. To make good on that pledge, it needs to lift the state of emergency now and begin working with opposition groups to plan for a credible vote.

The United States has deep ties with Egypt's military and more than $1 billion in annual aid as leverage. It needs to keep pushing Egypt forward.





Representative Denny Rehberg, a Republican and Montana's House member, boasts that he brings Made-in-Montana solutions to Washington. His latest, proposed last week in a speech advocating states' rights to the State Legislature, is to put a judge "on the Endangered Species List."

The congressman had in mind Judge Donald Molloy of the Federal District Court for Montana, though he didn't name him, because of a ruling the judge made reinstating protection of the Endangered Species Act for gray wolves. He did not mean that Judge Molloy should be protected and nurtured, which is the actual purpose of the species law.

Mr. Rehberg's spokesman said: "Denny did not threaten anyone, let alone a federal judge. Nor would he." But to the judge's children, writing in protest on Sunday in The Independent Record, a daily newspaper in Helena, Mont., the words made a threat, "either veiled or outright," and that was "not acceptable."

Taking Mr. Rehberg's spokesman at his word, the idea that a judge should be singled out in political retribution because a congressman doesn't like his rulings is outrageous. As the judge's children wrote, a judge has "a constitutional responsibility to interpret and apply the laws that Congress enacts, based on the facts and law presented in the courtroom, and not on public opinion."

Mr. Rehberg, who likes to quote Thomas Jefferson when it suits him, should re-read the Constitution. The judiciary is a separate, co-equal branch of government. Federal judges have life tenure in order to make impartial and independent judgments. Mr. Rehberg should protect the judge from political pressure, not subject him to a nasty kind that encourages others to do the same.

According to the U.S. Marshals Service, threats to federal judges and prosecutors reached 1,394 in the 12 months through last September. In December, the Internet radio host Harold Turner was sentenced to 33 months in prison for threatening three appeals court judges after they upheld a Chicago ban on handguns. On his Web site, Mr. Turner published the judges' names, photos and phone numbers, along with the address and map of the building where they worked. He declared, "These judges deserve to be killed."

It is a glory of American life that the law robustly protects the freedom to express political passions. When politics fans those passions rather than disciplining them, as happened last week in Montana where Representative Rehberg's threat drew an eager laugh, the system protecting that freedom is also threatened.





These days we tend to think of film noir — "The Big Sleep" and "Laura" top our list — as nothing less than masterpieces. But there was no such thing as film noir in the 1940s and early-1950s when the best of them first came out. Many of the classics of the category were, in fact, B films — lesser creations with a dark, brooding presence made at a time when movies were still filmed in black and white on actual 35 mm stock and not on the 1s and 0s of today's digitally recorded movies.

The passions are volatile, and so is the medium: 35 mm film is easily degraded by time, improper storage, and bad handling. That is why a number of film bloggers have devoted the week of Feb. 14 to writing about noir in support of the Film Noir Foundation, which helps preserve neglected or damaged films.

Readers who click on a Maltese Falcon icon can come to the financial aid of a world in which crime pays until the last reel when, like "Hamlet," everyone dies, though no one in "Hamlet" smoked or carried a .38 Special. Still, Shakespeare would have recognized the hothouse atmosphere of a true film noir, the sense of contagion and claustrophobia in "Double Indemnity."

Critics have wondered why we love to watch tragedy. It's easier to understand why we love film noir. In tragedy, none of the characters know they're going to be tragic until it's too late. The characters in film noir know what terrible cards they're holding. We're the bystanders witnessing a pitiless world where the game is rigged. Just watch "Out of the Past," starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, and you'll see. The only moments of true tenderness involve women lighting cigarettes for men and men lighting cigarettes for each other.









One thing I can tell you about Egypt: It is not Las Vegas. What happens in Egypt does not stay in Egypt.

For the last 30 years, that has been the bad news. Egypt was in a state of drift and decline and, as a result, so was the Arab world at large. Egypt has now been awakened by its youth in a unique way — not to fight Israel, or America, but in a quest for personal empowerment, dignity and freedom. In this part of the world, people have very sensitive antennae for legitimacy and authenticity because they have been fed so many lies by their leaders. Because Egypt's democracy revolution is so homegrown because the young people who led it suffered more dead to liberate Egypt than the entire Egyptian Army has suffered since the 1973 war to defend it, this movement here has enormous Arab street cred — and that is why, if it succeeds (and the odds are still long), other young Arabs and Muslims will emulate it.

Indeed, if it can move Egypt to democracy, this movement, combined with social media, will be more subversive to autocratic regimes than Nasserism, Islamism or Baathism combined. What emerged from below in Egypt is, for now, the first pan-Arab movement that is not focused on expelling someone, or excluding someone, but on universal values with the goal of overcoming the backwardness produced by all previous ideologies and leaders.

I understand why Israel is worried; a stable relationship with Hosni Mubarak has given way to a totally uncertain relationship with Egypt's people. But Egypt's stability under Mubarak was at the expense of those people, and they finally had had enough. There will be ugliness aplenty in the days ahead as Egyptians are free to vent. There is still a lot of pent-up fear and anger boiling here. But at least other authentic voices, with a different, more hopeful song, are also emerging.

Every Israeli and Saudi should watch this video made by the youth in Tahrir — — about their quest to bring their country "back from the dead."

The Arab tyrants, precisely because they were illegitimate, were the ones who fed their people hatred of Israel as a diversion. If Israel could finalize a deal with the Palestinians, it will find that a more democratic Arab world is a more stable partner. Not because everyone will suddenly love Israel (they won't). But because the voices that would continue calling for conflict would have legitimate competition, and democratically elected leaders will have to be much more responsive to their people's priorities, which are for more schools not wars.

That is why the most valuable thing America could do now is to help Egypt's democracy movement consolidate itself. And the best way to do that would be to speak its language. It would be to announce that the U.S. intends to divert $100 million of the $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt this year to build 10 world-class science and technology high schools — from Aswan to Alexandria — in honor of all Egyptians who brought about this democratic transformation.

"Nothing would have a bigger impact here," said Ahmed Zewail, the Egyptian-American Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry. Nothing would have a bigger impact on youth across the Middle East.

After all, the Egyptian Army has no external predators today. Egypt's only predators today are poverty and illiteracy. Forty percent of Egyptians live on $2 a day and some 30 percent are illiterate.

On my way back from Tahrir Square on Saturday, I ran into five young Egyptians who were trying to wipe off "Leave Now, Mubarak" graffiti spray-painted on a stone wall. You don't see students removing graffiti very often, so I asked them why. "Because he is not our president anymore," said a youth with the rubber gloves and solvent. They just didn't want to see his name anymore — even as the object of an insult.

As I kept walking to my hotel, I realized why. When I looked down at the Nile embankment — and this was central Cairo — all I saw was garbage strewn about, a crumbling sidewalk and weeds sprouting everywhere. I thought: If this were Sydney, Singapore or Istanbul, the government would have built a beautiful walkway along the banks of the Nile where Egyptians and visitors could stroll with families in the afternoon. Not here.

And that in my view was Mubarak's greatest crime against his people. He had no vision, no high aspiration, no will for great educational attainment. He just had this wildly exaggerated sense of Egypt's greatness based on the past. That is why I feel sorry for those Egyptians now clamoring to get back money they claim the Mubaraks stole. That is surely a crime, if true, but Mubarak is guilty of a much bigger, more profound, theft: all the wealth Egypt did not generate these past 30 years because of the poverty of his vision and the incompetence of his cronies.

"He is a pharaoh without a mummy," the Egyptian playwright Ali Salem said to me of Mubarak. He left little trace. "Every Egyptian citizen is carrying inside them 100 short stories of pain and novels of grievance. Everyone has to pay for their children to take private lessons after school because the schools are so bad. Can you imagine? You prevent yourself from eating to pay for private lessons?" At least these rebellious youth, he added, "don't know the rules, so they are not afraid of anything. They can do what our generation did not dare to think of."







Our 3,413th day at war in Afghanistan seemed like a good day to learn about Afghanistan.

The longest stretch of war in American history has merited the shortest attention span.

I didn't go to Kabul on the secretary of defense's Doomsday plane this time. I signed up with the Pentagon for time travel, flying through history watching a remarkable seven-hour marathon of a 12-play series called "The Great Game." The plays use real and fictional characters, actual transcripts and imagined scenes, to trace the trellis of foreign involvement in Afghanistan from 1842 to the present.

"Afghanistan," one character notes, "has a very complicated relationship with time."

The Shakespeare Theatre donated space, and the British Council and Bob Woodruff Foundation underwrote costs so that the plays could have two performances here last Thursday and Friday. The Pentagon wanted to give the military and their families, including some who had served in Afghanistan and some who may, a chance to learn how that benighted territory earned the nickname "graveyard of empires."

"The question is," says an American staff officer in the play, "are we on our ninth year in Afghanistan, or are we on our first year for the ninth time?"

And a Russian commander notes: "It seems however many battles we win on the ground, we just recruit more fighters for the other side." With the surge, are we now beating the Taliban, as a U.S. commander in the Helmand Province asserted this week, or will we bargain with the Taliban and then decamp like the bowed British and Russians, confused about how the Stone Age socked modernity?

"I've been asked 'Why are you doing this? Aren't these plays going to be anti-war?' " Doug Wilson, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told me at intermission on Thursday. "I don't see that at all. If most Americans had seen these, it would help them understand, warts and all, what a hugely complex place this is. It would also answer the question 'Why isn't it going to be finished next week?' "

Nicolas Kent of the Tricycle Theatre in London, co-director of "The Great Game," said the plays are not "agitprop." When he commissioned them, he felt that the allies "absolutely" should not be in Afghanistan. "But the more I've gone into the history and talked to Afghans," he said, "I personally think we should be there."

Derek Blumke, the co-founder of Student Veterans of America who served in Afghanistan, said the play taught him a lot about the thicket of tribes, feuds and foreign invasions.

"I was at the bazaar, haggling with a local about a British bayonet with an 1842 date stamped on it," the 30-year-old Air Force vet recalled. "I thought it was the coolest thing, but I couldn't understand why there was a British bayonet in Afghanistan."

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has issued a revised military strategy looking beyond Afghanistan and Iraq to more modern fighting fields — outer space, cyberspace and the Asia-Pacific region.

Whereas Dick Cheney and the neocons once thought we could become a hyperpower, disdaining anything multilateral and stifling emerging powers, Admiral Mullen sketches a fresh strategy he calls "multinodal" for an era of shifting alliances and emerging powers.

The series begins in 1842 at the grisly scene where 16,000 British and Indian Army soldiers, wives and servants get killed as they try to retreat through the snowy mountains of Jalalabad.

"Every conflict in the world today has its origin in the imagination of British map drawers," a character dryly notes.

The action goes from the abdication of the glamorous king and queen in 1929 through the Communist regime when Afghan women were wearing miniskirts in Kabul, through the C.I.A. financing of the mujahedeen to defeat the Soviets, through Taliban rule with the assistance of Pakistan's intelligence agency, through America's invasion and occupation.

James Lobb, a 36-year-old Marine captain based at Joint Forces Command in Suffolk, Va., who spent seven months in Afghanistan in 2004, read about the special performances and tracked down Nicolas Kent to score some tickets.

He called it a cautionary tale about taking care before jumping into foreign endeavors. He was struck by the comment of a C.I.A. officer to a mujahedeen in the play. "I understand the difference between you and me," the C.I.A. guy says. "I know if you lose, I still have a home to go back to."

Lobb said that "every day these Afghan soldiers and police are fighting for their lives. They know the Taliban knows where their families are and can kill them. I don't know how we bolster them if every day might not only be their last but the last day of their family."

Lobb sent Kent a bottle of whiskey to thank him for the tickets, and the history lesson.




30 Steps to Better Government



CALLS for greater government efficiency are nothing new in Washington. But with President Obama and Congress now debating budgets for both the rest of this year and the next, with the economy yet to fully recover from the recent recession and with our government's finances still on an unsustainable long-term path, the need to wring every dollar out of the federal budget and ensure that taxpayers are getting their money's worth has never been greater. How, though, do you find these savings?

Today, the Government Accountability Office is issuing its updated roadmap to confronting waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement. Since we started this list of programs at high risk of such problems two decades ago, our office has come to update it with each new Congress, and history shows that sustained, focused oversight from lawmakers and administration officials can save billions of dollars and improve services. But while over one-third of the programs we listed previously have come off the list over the years, dozens of others have moved onto it. The latest high-risk list presents 30 areas ripe for Congress and President Obama to take action.

One new area on the list is the Interior Department's management of oil and gas leases and royalties, which are among the largest sources of non-tax revenue to the federal government. One reason this area is at risk is that the department does not have reasonable assurance that all revenues are being collected. Indeed, in 2008, the G.A.O. reported that the Interior Department had not conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the federal oil and gas revenue system in more than 25 years, despite significant changes in the oil and gas industry.

We have also pointed out that royalty collection relied too heavily on company-reported oil and gas production figures. In fiscal years 2006 and 2007 we found that much of the data reported by oil and gas companies appeared erroneous, resulting in millions in uncollected fees. And the proportion of revenues that the government collected for oil and gas produced in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a major study, was lower than for 93 of 104 other owners of such resources.

In recent years, the G.A.O. has made more than 50 recommendations to the interior secretary to improve the department's revenue collection and hiring, training and retaining staff policies and modify its practices for managing oil and gas resources. The Interior Department has been acting on some of these recommendations — but there were many more that still need to be put into effect. As the G.A.O. and other institutions continue to examine these issues, additional problems and recommendations will likely be identified as well.

We are also dropping two issues from the high-risk list: the Department of Defense's personnel security clearance program, which processes hundreds of thousands of security clearances annually for service members and civilians, and the 2010 Census. Both dealt sufficiently with identified vulnerabilities to warrant their removal. Three factors contributed to this success: high-level support from agencies, clear measures with which to gauge progress and strong Congressional oversight. Credit goes to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for holding the agencies involved accountable.

Several other items remaining on the high-risk list illustrate the magnitude of the potential savings that are possible. For example, the Medicare and Medicaid programs need to add better detection and controls to curtail billions of dollars in improper payments.

In fiscal year 2010 alone, Medicare had estimated improper payments of almost $48 billion; this estimate did not include improper payments in its prescription drug benefit program, for which the agency has not yet determined a total amount. And because Medicare remains on a path that is fiscally unsustainable over the long term, there is heightened pressure to improve its payment methods, as well as its management and oversight of program operations and patient care.

As for Medicaid, it has taken steps to improve transparency and reduce improper payments in recent years, but more can be done. Improper payments to providers that submit inappropriate claims can result in substantial financial losses to states and the federal government. The Department of Health and Human Services has estimated a national improper payment rate for Medicaid of 9.4 percent (with the federal share estimated at $22.5 billion) for fiscal year 2010.

Certain services may be more susceptible than others to improper payments. For example, in 2009 the G.A.O. found that Medicaid beneficiaries and providers were involved in potentially wasteful or abusive purchases of controlled substances in five selected states. Specifically, we found that Medicaid paid over $2 million in controlled substance prescriptions during fiscal years 2006 and 2007 that were written or filled by 65 medical practitioners and pharmacies barred, excluded or both from federal health care programs, including Medicaid.

As a result, the G.A.O. recommended that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issue guidelines to states for processes that better prevent payment of improper claims for controlled substances in Medicaid. The agency generally agreed with our recommendations — yet such guidance had not been issued by the end of last year.

Billions more could flow to the Treasury through better enforcement of the tax laws and closing the gap between taxes owed and paid. Typically, about 84 percent of owed taxes are paid voluntarily and on time; in its most recent estimate, for 2001, the I.R.S. said the resulting net gap was $290 billion. Congress and the I.R.S. have taken innovative actions aimed at further improving tax compliance. The I.R.S. last year began putting in place regulations covering paid tax return preparers, an important step given the critical role they play in helping taxpayers meet their tax obligations. Congress also passed laws that require financial institutions to report information on foreign bank accounts, the cost basis of securities and merchants' credit card receipts.

Greater attention also needs to be paid to how the Pentagon acquires weapon systems. Each year, investments totaling hundreds of billions of dollars too often produce military equipment that is over budget, behind schedule or unable to meet the needs of our troops. The Government Accountability Office has previously reported that the growth in projected costs on the Defense Department's fiscal year 2008 portfolio of 96 defense acquisition programs was more than $303 billion (adjusted for inflation). In addition, the average delay in delivering initial capability was 22 months.

For 42 programs the G.A.O. assessed in depth in 2010, there was continued improvement in the amount of knowledge the department had on the technology, design and manufacturing of these weapons programs at key points in the acquisition process. Most programs, however, were still proceeding with less knowledge than best practices suggest, putting them at higher risk for cost growth and schedule delays.

Congress and top officials responsible for programs on the high-risk list have been willing to address these issues. For example, in 2009, Congress required that the Defense Department's weapons acquisition programs now reflect the basic elements of a knowledge-based acquisition approach and that programs with excessive cost growth be terminated. In addition, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has proposed canceling major defense acquisition programs that have been plagued with cost and schedule problems.

OUR list also includes programs that are at risk not for financial reasons but because they need better management or broad transformation. Take information security, which the G.A.O. first identified as a government-wide problem in 1997. Our office in 2003 expanded this high-risk area to include critical elements — like power distribution, water supply, telecommunications and emergency services — that rely extensively on computerized information systems and electronic data to carry out their operations.

The security of these systems and data is essential to protecting national and economic security, and public health and safety; and at the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and numerous other federal agencies, progress is being made. But cyber threats are growing and evolving, reported security incidents are rising and significant security deficiencies pervade federal systems that jeopardize the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the federal government's security and the information they process.

In addition, the administration and executive branch agencies have not yet fully carried out key actions that are intended to improve the current United States approach to cybersecurity: developing a comprehensive national strategy for addressing global cybersecurity and governance; creating a national and federal research and development agenda for improving cybersecurity; carrying out the near- and mid-term actions recommended by the 2009 cybersecurity policy review directed by the president and updating the national strategy for securing the information and communications infrastructure.

Top agency officials and the Office of Management and Budget have been working with the Government Accountability Office to make greater progress on the high-risk list, and continued Congressional oversight has been essential to this progress. By focusing on oversight and acting to reform these programs on the high-risk list, Congress and the White House send an important message: the public must receive the best possible return on every tax dollar spent. Closing our nation's fiscal gap will require broader budgetary changes and shared contributions. Greater efficiency and effectiveness in government can help ease that burden on the American people while preserving vital programs of importance to us all.

Gene L. Dodaro is the comptroller general of the United States and the head of the Government Accountability Office.







President Barack Obama has proposed a $3.73 trillion budget which, even if its extremely unrealistic economic assumptions pan out, would add $7 trillion to our $14 trillion national debt over the next decade. And we already face a record $1.65 trillion deficit this fiscal year — the worst since we had to borrow to finance our victory in World War II!


We do not expect the president and Congress to balance the budget all of a sudden. But when we are in a financial hole, with the economic dirt caving in around us, shouldn't we at least avoid digging deeper still?


Do you want our debt to grow to $16.7 trillion by Sept. 30, 2012, as the Obama plan projects. Remember: We pay hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes annually just to cover interest on the debt. That's spending taken out of the job-creating private sector.


Obama proposes cutting deficits — over 10 years, long after he will be out of office — by only $1.1 trillion. And he mostly ignores massive spending on Social Security and Medicare. What's just as troubling is that his budget unrealistically assumes there will be far faster economic growth than either the Congressional Budget Office or private forecasters predict.


The president proposes spending more for education (which constitutionally is not a federal job), biomedical research, energy efficiency, high-speed rail and other "good" things. But it all would be irresponsibly financed by more red ink.


Obama, to his credit, would reduce or halt spending for more than 200 programs, saving $33 billion in 2012. He would reduce some spending on higher education grants and the military, and some projects for public health and water treatment. But an added $7 trillion in debt over the next 10 years proves that is not nearly enough economizing in this time of economic stagnation and unemployment.


A writer for the Internet magazine put it starkly: "[L]et's cut [the budget plan] down to a useful, human, household size. Next year, the government plans to take in $2.63 trillion — and to spend $3.73 trillion. For our purposes, let's use $60,000 as the government's income and $85,000 as its expenses."


That, of course, is a recipe for bankruptcy.


Not everything Obama wants will become law. Congress has the actual spending authority.


Will Congress assert the responsibility that Obama has abdicated? The American people should insist on it.







You may remember a few years back when Georgia legislators enacted a law to require photo identification of voters when they cast ballots. The sensible goal was to prevent illegal aliens or other ineligible people from voting.


But lawmakers were accused of trying to disenfranchise the poor and minorities, even though protections were in place to ensure that the ID rules would not be an undue burden.


Ultimately, the ID requirement prevailed in Georgia, and the alleged voter suppression didn't materialize.


Now, the Tennessee Senate has prudently passed a bill to require a driver's license or other government-issued photo ID when voters go to the polls in this state. The House should follow suit, and Gov. Bill Haslam should sign the bill into law.


At present, Tennesseans may vote with certain types of ID that do not include a photo.


But the need for photo ID in the state is obvious. Results of a 2006 state Senate election in Memphis were rejected because of fraudulent voting, such as voting by felons and dead people. And a state investigation found that hundreds of felons have voted despite being ineligible. That wrongly dilutes the ballots of people who are eligible to vote.


Like the Georgia law, the bill approved in Tennessee's Senate has safeguards so that the inability to afford a photo ID will not keep a person from voting.


Tennessee lawmakers who are pushing the voter ID legislation are bizarrely being accused of "voter intimidation." But they should ignore that irrational criticism and protect the integrity of the ballot box.








Infants, toddlers and young children often chew on toys. That makes it sensible to have rules in place ensuring that toys are not toxic.


But so far as we know, young people who have motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles aren't prone to chewing on those vehicles. They'd rather ride them or show them off to friends.


Nonetheless, in a symbol of Congress' failure to consider the effects of bills it passes, a 2008 law bans the sale of motorbikes and ATVs if they are intended for children 12 or younger. Why? Because the vehicles contain more lead than is permissible by law for items used by children.


The law was supposed to keep children from ingesting lead in toys or jewelry. But it didn't distinguish between items that a young child is apt to chew and big-ticket items such as motorcycles that surely no older child would think of chewing.


Sales of the vehicles have plunged — which is hardly desirable in a time of economic crisis.


Members of Congress don't "do very good research before they do these things," one dealer told McClatchy Newspapers. "It's silly. It's absolutely silly. A child is going to eat their motorcycle?"


Now, with a lot of economic damage done, some in Congress are trying to pass bills to exempt motorcycles and ATVs from the lead limits.


We wish them luck. But don't all these unintended consequences over a law that deals narrowly with the issue of children's toys make you wonder how many costly unintended consequences will show up in laws such as ObamaCare, which is far bigger and was hurriedly enacted?








In the days since popular uprisings began in Tunisia, spread to Egypt and now – with two dictators toppled – knock at the door of authoritarians throughout the Middle East, a curious thing has happened among Western pundits.

Policy experts in Brussels, think tankers in Washington and scribes throughout the world's media have all discovered the "Turkish model." Alas, goes the theme, if the Arabs can just learn to be like the Turks: Muslim, Western-oriented and fully embracing Western standards of democracy – or at least trying.

We hope this same class of self-styled promoters of Turkish pluralism and tolerance are watching the unfolding of the latest assault on freedom of the press in Turkey: A raid on a web portal by the prosecutor in the much-discussed Ergenekon case, a supposed investigation into an alleged conspiracy to topple the government.

Fair enough. Conspiracies to topple governments are nasty things and perpetrators should be tried and if convicted punished. At the end of the day, there may be fire beneath all the smoke that has drifted across the Turkish political and judicial landscape in the more than three years of this endless probe. But under the color of bold allegations, this tribunal has often appeared much more the vicious witch hunt, an expedition to silence critics of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. The midnight arrest of an octogenarian secularist columnist. The detention of a woman ravaged by cancer, whose crime was to found Turkey's largest charity for the education of women and to discourage use of the headscarf. Detentions with indictment or trial lasting in some cases more than a year. Travesties to justice have been many.

And then late Monday, a raid on a web portal known as "Oda TV," a news website ironically established after the Ergenekon investigation even began. Yes, the site is controversial. Yes, it has published damning documents detailing the government's dealings with the CIA. Yes, it has drawn links between the Ergenekon investigation and U.S. police training. Its governmental criticism has been fierce. This happens in a democracy. The United States' Obama would surely like the right-wing "Drudge Report" to disappear from the Internet. France's Sarkozy surely hates reading the investigative and satirical "le Canard enchaine." But neither would ponder dispatch of a raid and investigators pawing through the founders' homes. But here, such fear tactics are almost routine.

It will be tempting for the European Union, NATO allies and the Obama administration to wink at these blemishes. A bit of Chamberlain-style appeasement today promises dividends in the region down the road tomorrow. This will particularly be the case if promotion of the "Turkish model" takes on the policy imperative that so many are seeking. Some "model" indeed.

* The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.






Last July, President Barack Obama described Turkey as "a great Islamic democracy" in an interview with Corriere della Sera. And I wrote in this column that "… But apparently an Islamic democracy must be something other than a democracy because otherwise Mr. Obama would have chosen to merely say 'a democracy.'"

In the same interview, President Obama also said that "Turkey could have a positive influence on the Muslim world." Half a year later we see that the president may have been right.

These days, few analysts opt for caution while most tend to voice a careless over-optimism. For example, Robert Fisk, commenting on the "Arab spring" in The Independent on Feb. 10, looked truly inspired by the increasingly cliché Western definition of Turkey: …as near a perfect blend of Islam and democracy as you can find in the Middle East right now." Yes. And, so what?

Mr. Fisk cheerfully quotes French historian Daniel Lindenberg as saying that: "We must, alas, admit the reality. Many intellectuals believe, deep down, that the Arab people are congenitally backward." Change the word "Arab" with "Muslim," and there you have it: Sorry, Mssrs. Obama and Fisk; your words may ostensibly be sound, but you, too, privately and/or subconsciously believe what "many intellectuals" openly believe.

Take, for instance, what the president said half a year ago, and what Mr. Fisk said last week: 1) Turkey is a great Islamic democracy, and 2) It is as near a perfect blend of Islam and democracy as you can find in the Middle East right now.

The truth is that there was a "reason" why President Obama did not refer to Turkey as a "perfect democracy," or merely as a "democracy," but used, first, a positive adjective of general purpose, and second a "faith-based" prefix. It's precisely the same reason why Mr. Obama, when referring to Italy, for instance, does not mention "a great Catholic democracy;" or to Japan as a "great Shintoist democracy."

Similarly, there was a "reason" why Mr. Fisk, when describing Turkey, mentioned a blend of a form of political organization, a religion and a particular geography, instead of just mentioning a form of political organization without the religion and the geography. I have never read Mr. Fisk talking about "a perfect blend of Christianity and democracy, or about a heavenly harmony between atheism and democratic culture" when attempting euphemisms for any other country.

And we all know why…

Of course, Turkey has a democratic tradition, with its several failures before and after the arrival of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, regime (yes, it's a "regime," not merely a period of "governance"). Of course, it would have been lovely if the entire Middle East (save for Israel) could build "democracies" coming closer to the Turkish model.

But that would not have meant "democracy," either in Turkey or in any Arab country that followed the Turkish template. As President Obama put it – and Mr Fisk agreed – in this part of the world the best democracy one could see is the one that goes with a religious prefix. Sadly, there is a hidden bracket when very important Westerners talk about "our kind of democracy."

And in that hidden bracket you would read: "Sorry, gentlemen, you are not good enough for democracy as we understand the word. The best you can get is free elections, and, sorry again, that won't suffice for democracy as we understand it. So, the democracy that goes with the religious prefix is our euphemism to praise you."

I wonder if President Obama recalls his famous Cairo speech. I'll refresh memories and quote the President: "We will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people… There are those who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others… You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion… Elections alone do not make true democracy…"

Nice? Yes, that's the difference between an Islamic democracy and a democracy. And that's exactly why European liberals like Mr. Fisk falsely believe that Turkey's EU journey is a failure because of European racism. Turkey would no doubt join the club when/if/after it has transformed from "a great Islamic democracy" to just a "democracy."

The Guardian on Feb. 13 quoted Gareth Jenkins, a prominent Turkey specialist, as saying that Turkey provided no model for Egypt to emulate. "Turkey has been exchanging a military form of authoritarianism for civilian authoritarianism," Mr. Jenkins said. "What we have seen in the last couple of years is blatant political persecution, suppression of the free press and people being thrown in jail without knowing what they are charged with. The police have been used as an organ of internal repression. Far from being a model, Turkey has been becoming more like Egypt."






CÜNEYT ÖZDEMİR was raided the other day. I founded this website together with Soner Yalçın in 2007. We were old friends and business partners. I say "we were" because after we founded, we had differences of opinion. We split in business and shelved our friendship. We have not talked for years. Throughout the years, our political views have changed in almost opposite directions but this doesn't change the fact that: Yalçın, who is under arrest for the moment, is a journalist. His job is to read and write.

As one of the best intellectuals you can meet, Yalçın is always in second-hand book stores, a bookworm constantly reading, even more than one book at times; a real intellectual also interested in history. During the most problematic periods of Turkey, Yalçın prepared a book on Cem Ersever, the alleged founder of JİTEM, an alleged illegal intelligence unit who was found bound and shot in 1993. You may disagree with him today, you may be disturbed by his worldview; you may criticize his books and dislike what he writes. You might even not like the content of But you cannot criticize his journalism. That's where the real problem starts.

If you are raiding the houses and offices of individuals like Yalçın just because you are disturbed by their style of journalism, if you are arresting them, or if you cannot raise objections to similar raids today; in other words, if we are surrounded by mountains of fear, what a pity for all of us! In a democratic country, the strength and size of the opposition is the barometer of the regime.

If you do not like a journalist because of his/her stories, the action you can take in a democratic country is obvious: You go to court and file a suit. But if you'd rather raid his or her house and office, then don't think that person is the only one in trouble.

What is more dangerous is the emergence of such a fear or perception in a country because for the science of communication there is one reality, and it is the perception.

If there really is freedom of the press in this country, a journalist should be treated like a journalist. If you detain every dissident correspondent, the name of the regime is not democracy but something else. Even if you do not think alike or think in opposite directions or don't talk to each other for years, the freedom of journalists is the horizon of freedom in a society.

And seems it is sunset now.

* Cüneyt Özdemir is a columnist for daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared Tuesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.






Internet connection onboard, a service rapidly spreading among airliners, is increasingly preferred by passengers everyday. The service offered at prices starting from $4.95 is planned to be changed into a free-of-charge service in a few years as it becomes more widespread.  

When German Lufthansa Airlines started the Internet service called Connextion it cooperated with Boeing in design, it was considered as the opening of a new era in the skies. Passengers could go online on their laptops at 10,000 meters.

However, low connection speed and the high cost of the service came in between the product and the consumer demand and Boeing had to halt the service in 2006 since it did not receive the expected interest.

In the five years that has passed, as Internet addiction surged, high technologies, high speed and falling prices and costs have triggered renewed interest in this market on the part of airliners. Today, there is wireless Internet connection on 1,287 airplanes operated by 23 airliners. Laptops, tablets and android mobile phones can connect to the Internet onboard. Services like sending SMS to other mobile phones are also getting increasingly widespread.

The high demand for interest originates from the U.S and the Middle Eastern markets. European carriers are slowly taking their place in this sector. The fiercer the competition gets, the more the prices fall. The average prices in the U.S. for an hour's connection start from $5. Some carriers charge $49.95 for 30 days unlimited service use.

Lufthansa offers an hour's connection at 10.95 euros or in exchange for 3,500 frequent flier miles. A 24-hour package is 19.95 euros or 7,000 miles. The calculations of the previous year show that the Internet service contributed $90 million to U.S. airliners' turnover.

As the service spreads, it is expected that the carriers will start offering the Internet service free-of-charge to attract more passengers, as is the case with airport cafes and restaurants.

Turkish Airlines to launch the service in June

Turkish Airlines, or THY, preferred the KU-band satellite-based system developed by Panasonic on the Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A330-300 type long-distance aircrafts that recently began to be delivered to the company. The first deliveries fell short of the system's requirements for cabling service but the second order to be delivered in June will be properly equipped.

These aircrafts have a new seat design that facilitates sending emails or SMS messages on the personal screens at the back of each seat by use of a remote control for $1.60. As the system is put into service, laptops, mobile tablet computers and mobile phones switched to the airplane mode will be able to connect to the wireless Internet and to send SMS's.

Turkey's flag carrier also plans to offer the service at a price, however, the passengers will also be able to use the service in exchange for miles.

The first airliner offering the SMS and email service onboard was Oman Air. All long-distance aircraft owned by the airliner are equipped with wireless Internet connection service provided by OnAir.

By the end of last year, Lufthansa reinstated the service it brought to a halt in 2004. The fastest Internet connection is provided by Alaska Airlines. The Internet speed reaches up to 35 Mbps.






You may not know Soner Yalçın personally.

I do.

More than that, we had a close relationship based on mutual respect. Then our relationship soured. He made some broadcasts at Odatv that have broken my heart. However, despite me being offended and angry, my opinion about his journalism has not changed.

His journalistic style is exaggerated, colorful and full of conspiracy theories. He is a great researcher. He is a master at finding different perspectives and approaching matters from a different angle. But he never would do militancy. Just like every journalist, he would oppose if necessary or applaud whomever he likes. His articles and broadcasts are filled with such examples.

And when he comes across good news or an interesting point of view he can't help but use it. Sometimes he is wrong, sometimes he gets carried away. And at times when he gets upset he has no mercy. He can be very offending.

However, he is not a spokesman for ideologies. He has never carried that mission.

He is just a journalist.

A litmus test for prosecutors

If the prosecutor decided to arrest Yalçın due to footage on three videos, as reflected in the media, then the situation is very serious for all of us.

I compare this arrest to a litmus test. We'll all monitor this investigation and its aftermath.

In the end we will find out if the prosecutors arrested Yalçın for his opposition and news or whether they found any other reason.

I wonder if the prosecutors are aware that they are undergoing an important test. Or are they flying high due to their excitement about the Ergenekon case?

We need to be more understanding for northern Cyprus

Turkish Cypriots are not like us.

Just like the Greek Cypriots are not like the Greeks, Turkish Cypriots are very different from us.

The model applied in northern Cyprus is our model. From outdated bureaucracy and finances to an unproductive economic order and wages and thousands of Turkish-Turks, everything has been brought to them by Turkey.

For 37 years we have familiarized Turkish Cypriots with this order.

We have given them whatever they have asked for.

Now, it has become obvious that this course can't continue and it has been decided to make changes. Necessarily we have disturbed the society's comfort. We have hit them at their sore spot, their pockets.

But please mind my saying so, we have tried to make the change like bulls entering a china store. 

We have made no account of our Cypriots.

We have not cared to explain why it can't continue like this.

The older brother has given orders and wages have been cut!

Then some have reacted fiercely.

The government has briskly responded because it is not accustomed to such situations. They were called ungrateful and servants by the government.

It was unnecessary. They could have been more understanding and take on a more brotherly approach.

We are used to such rudeness. Even if we are scolded, we won't speak up.

And especially when Halil İbrahim Akça, who is the inventor of the economic plan, was appointed in the place of the ambassador, people have interpreted this as: "Ok if this is the way you behave you will pay for it. We'll just send you a shrew as governor general."

Again, this step could have been taken some time later.

It was wrong.

Christofias must be very pleased

This crisis must have pleased the Greek Cypriots very much.

From now on they don't have to spend much effort for a solution. Why would they make any concessions to Turkish Cypriots, who are beaten by Turkey? I'm sure that thousands of Turkish Cypriots will apply to the Republic of Cyprus (Greek Cyprus) for a passport. Greek Cypriots are probably sure they have won many allies in northern Cyprus.

I have been following the Cyprus dispute for 40 years.

I have arrived at the point where I can make recommendations to the ruling party:

Stop battering and bruising Turkish Cypriots and don't take on an attitude of forcing them into doing things you want them to. Don't teach them a lesson. Convince them by talking to them. Maybe the majority will still succumb in the end but if we win their hearts, we win. Or else Cyprus will turn into a swamp.








Were it not a saddening indicator of the state of the ruling party, recent conflicting statements by various members of the Pakistan People's Party would be funny. Political parties that are beginning to fray at the seams have a need to release their inner tensions, often by an unseemly display of internecine warfare. Pronouncements over the last few days by senior PPP figures have produced an image of a party that has one name but many voices, and not only are those voices not reading from the same page as one another, they seem to be reading from separate books as well. What is perhaps even more disturbing is those doing the reading do not appear to be speaking from actual text – they are making it up as they go along.

The latest discordant moment came courtesy of the ever-chatty Fauzia Wahab who was holding forth on a variety of matters at the Karachi press club on Monday. She managed to misquote various pieces of legislation relating to diplomatic immunity, and then went in for a little ad-hoc foreign policy making by declaring that Raymond Davis was indeed entitled to diplomatic immunity. She reminded the audience of just how much money America gave us and just how many Pakistanis were in America sending remittances back home. Capping off a bravura performance even by her own stellar standards, she called for disciplinary action in respect of our ex-foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Mr Qureshi had breached party discipline, she said, and must therefore be hauled over the nearest available coals ASAP. The presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar also sprang into action denying that any disciplinary action was to be taken against Mr Qureshi, and that the matter of Davis' immunity was purely a matter of Ms Wahab's own opinion – which she later agreed with herself. There have been other indiscretions and faux-pas in recent weeks all of which point to an urgent need for the PPP to get a grip on managing the information flow. The appointment of Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan as the new minister for information and broadcasting may or may not prove beneficial. She is a robust performer on the talk-show circuit, but information management requires a little more than the ability to deliver a colourful tongue-lashing. Discipline within the PPP is clearly not all it might be, but it at least provides a fun-starved population with a little light entertainment. Can the next act come on stage, please?







As we mark one of the most holy days on our religious calendar, it is ironic that the occasion of Eid Milad-un-Nabi has been preceded by urgent meetings, notably in Karachi, to review security arrangements and to tighten them up in a bid to prevent violence. Processions traditionally taken out on the occasion have been declared 'sensitive' and the police have been instructed to install gates to check those passing through in places. In other cities too, measures have been taken to ensure the occasion passes peacefully. The situation marks the extent of the law and order crisis we face. For centuries, across the Muslim world, the birth anniversary of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) has been marked with displays of devotion and the distribution of gifts and sweets to children. The fact that this day today now comes laden with the fear of terrorist attacks is disturbing. It is also hard to believe that in our country, there exist forces that are apparently willing to stage an attack on innocent worshippers, to meet motives that are in many ways still poorly understood. The existence of so large a number of extremist groups, based in various parts of the country adds to the sense of confusion. These groups have multiplied with alarming speed and today it is often hard to even keep track of the outfits that claim responsibility for the periodic attacks we see. Thousands have been slain over the past few years in such bombings.

The deteriorating state of law and order, in effect, makes it impossible for people to continue with the day to day routine of life. The rhythm of special events too has been disturbed, with many unwilling to leave home. We have lived with such crippling fear for years now. It has come to sweep over our cities and everyone who lives in them. So far, there is no indication at all that this reign of terror will come to an end any time soon. In fact, things seem to be worsening; for all the rhetoric we have heard from the interior minister and others, no end to the nightmare seems to be in sight. As a result, Eid Milad-un-Nabi brings with it apprehension, rather than joy. This is not the way things should be. We must hope and pray there is no bloodshed, but we must plan too on how this can be achieved and put an end to the terrorism that has already torn our country apart.







The Rahat Fateh Ali affair has emerged as the latest scandal to shake our country. The singer – a hero both in his own country and in India where he was detained for bringing in a large amount of foreign currency without declaring it – has been freed after over 24 hours in 'protective custody'. But his passport has been retained and he will face charges. There are reports that this is not the first currency violation the Bollywood playback singer has been accused of. For reasons that are easy to understand, the response has been emotional. In Pakistan, fans have demanded that Rahat be released; there have been the not unusual allegations of an Indian 'conspiracy' and the refusal to allow Rahat to meet Pakistani officials has been met with outrage. The Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi has been personally involved in talking to Indian officials while in Islamabad the Indian High Commissioner was contacted by the Pakistan Foreign Office. The level of official involvement indicates just how seriously the matter is being taken and how closely each development is being followed.

Certainly, Rahat Fateh Ali must get justice. His side of the story must be heard. We have not yet listened to his account of what happened. But it is also a fact that celebrities who in any way represent their country need to take special care to ensure they do not tarnish its image. This applies to our cricketers. In the not very distant past, Shoaib Akhtar had run into controversy in India. The same rules should hold true for our singers. There can be no excuse for violating the law of another land – and anyone who is proven to having done so should not expect special treatment of any kind.









The announcement that Pakistan and India have agreed to "resume dialogue on all issues" signifies that Delhi has now formally and finally given up its earlier demand that Pakistan must first bring the perpetrators and planners of the Mumbai attacks to justice and take steps to "dismantle the infra-structure of terrorism" on its soil. This is to be welcomed but there is little ground for jubilation. Structured dialogue between the two countries has a long history but it has not done little to bring lasting peace between the two neighbours. Given the fact that Indian leaders have been on a high since the country' s great power aspirations received a further boost from Washington, to expect different results from talks this time would be the triumph of hope over experience, to borrow Samuel Johnson's words.

India realised some time back that linking the resumption of talks to action by Pakistan on terror, though a popular policy, was not sustainable. Delhi had therefore been progressively softening its position and had in fact been looking for a face-saving way to climb down from this position. Its first attempt to do so was at the Sharm el-Shaikh summit between Gilani and Manmohan Singh in July 2009 but it backfired because of the sharp negative reaction at home, led by the BJP. The second attempt, following the meeting of the two prime ministers in Thimphu in April 2010, stalled because of the Indian attempt to side-line Kashmir, which Pakistan rejected. The meeting of the two foreign ministers in Islamabad last July ended on such an acrimonious note that it took six months for the two sides to meet again to discuss the issue. The foreign secretaries' meeting in Thimphu on 6 February, which produced last week's announcement, was India's third attempt to resume talks with Pakistan while trying to keep the limelight on the terrorism issue.

There are several reasons why India has been keen to resume dialogue with Pakistan. First, India realised that the diplomatic dividends of blaming Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism were diminishing. The Indian allegations against Pakistan also lost some of their bite with the coming to light of fresh evidence that the Samjhauta Express blasts had been carried out by Hindu terrorists whom India has failed to punish despite the lapse of nearly four years. Second, there was pressure from the US to ease tensions with Pakistan so that Islamabad could devote more of its military resources to fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda elements on its soil. The third factor, which India is loath to admit - and for which credit must go to the foreign ministry - is that Islamabad made it clear that it was not dying for a resumption of talks at all costs and could wait. Shah Mahmood's statement that Pakistan wanted result-oriented talks, not a photo op, took some time to sink in. When it did, it had a salutary effect.

India is now trying to make a virtue of necessity, claiming that its willingness to restart the dialogue with Pakistan is really an attempt to realise Manmohan Singh's grand vision of peaceful and friendly relations with its smaller neighbour, despite Pakistan's many misdemeanours, big and small. While conceding ground, Delhi has tried to camouflage this fact. It has therefore insisted on "sequencing" the resumed dialogue in such a way that the question of terrorism will be the first issue to be taken up. Delhi also maintains that the new process is not a resumption of the composite dialogue that it called off after Mumbai but a new one.

Although the word "composite dialogue" has not been used for the resumed engagement process, both the format and the subjects to be discussed are practically the same. Counter-terrorism is listed as the first of the nine items on the agenda. The other eight subjects are: humanitarian issues; peace and security, including CBMs; Jammu and Kashmir; promotion of friendly exchanges; Siachen; economic issues; Wullar barrage/Tulbul navigation project; and Sir Creek.

The way the dialogue will be structured is also the same. Talks will be held at the level of secretaries. The secretary-level meetings on each of the different subjects will be followed by a wrap-up round between the foreign secretaries and then by a visit of the foreign minister of Pakistan to India by July 2011 to review overall progress.

The Indian public reaction so far to the announced resumption of dialogue has been muted. The BJP, which scuttled the Sharm el-Sheikh initiative, has not openly opposed last week's declaration. But there is some whining in India that unlike the Musharraf-Vajpayee Joint Press Statement issued in January 2004, under which the "composite dialogue" was instituted, there is no assurance by Pakistan this time not to permit its territory to be used for attacks on India. Some in India are riled that the Pakistan Foreign Minister's visit to India is being projected as a grand diplomatic gesture by Islamabad, "as is normally done by the US for visits by its president", to quote a peeved former foreign secretary of India.

While the upcoming resumption of talks is a positive step, it would be illusory to expect any progress on the major outstanding issues. Kashmir is in a class by itself but even on issues like Siachen and Sir Creek, which admit of resolution with a little bit of political will, India has been stalling. India's mantra of removing the trust deficit first suggests that it will hold up progress on these issues as long as it does not get full satisfaction on the "terrorism" question.

India has also been stressing the need for a step-by-step process focusing on the 'do-ables'. In concrete terms, it means that India's priority is increased travel and trade (including across the LoC) as well as CBMs and other peripheral matters. Indian Home Secretary Pillai jumped the gun last month when he announced that Delhi was considering giving six-month, multiple entry permits to Kashmiris on the Pakistani side of the LoC to visit relatives on the Indian side.

A major reason why India has agreed to restart talks with Pakistan is that India is keen to resuscitate the back channel dialogue on Kashmir. That is not surprising because the settlement that was being negotiated by Musharraf would have sanctified the division of Kashmir along the Line of Control, in effect legitimising India's occupation of the state.

It is typical of our broken political system that we do not know where the present government stands on the revival of the back channel; and what we know of the military leadership's position comes from WikiLeaks. Initially, the present government had reacted enthusiastically to Manmohan Singh's proposal in September 2008 to continue the back channel diplomacy. But the government's subsequent signals were mixed. On the one hand, in September 2009 the government appointed former Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan as the new special envoy, indicating its support for the back channel; and on the other, Shah Mahmood declared in March 2010 that Pakistan was reverting to its old stand on Kashmir.

According to WikiLeaks, both Kayani and Pasha told former US Ambassador Anne Patterson that they wanted the back channel to succeed. Kayani also expressed his confidence in Riaz's integrity and intelligence. But the army chief was not sure that Zardari was "quite willing to wade into these political waters yet." Kasuri has also been saying that as the ISI chief under Musharraf, Kayani was "on board" in the back channel negotiations.

It is most unusual for an army chief to be talking with a foreign ambassador on internal deliberations on policy matters or on the merits of decisions duly taken by the government. Even more shocking is the fact that none of our political parties or parliamentarians has expressed any views or even taken interest in the deal on Kashmir that Musharraf was negotiating through the back channel.

The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.








In 1942, when Faiz Ahmed Faiz joined the army and was produced before the public relations department on the first day, the British officer inquired: "I have your police report. It says you are an advanced communist. Are you?" A calm and composed Faiz replied: "I don't know what retarded communist is."

As we mark his birth centenary today (Feb. 13), a decent tribute to Faiz would be to honestly remember him the way he was. Reducing Faiz's intellect and multifaceted personality to poetry—which no doubt constitutes the crown and glory of Urdu literature—is akin to trimming the Himalayas down to K2. Therefore, to understand Faiz, a rich legacy of prose he left is equally important to mention. In fact, his poetry is decontextualised if read without the essays, editorials, travelogues and plays he wrote, or the speeches he made, the interviews he gave, or his talks. After all, he was not mere a poet. He was an intellectual par excellence, a trade unionist, a successful editor, a literary and cultural critic, a peace activist, an educationist and, above all, a visionary. But a visionary engaged in activism.

Soon after the creation of Pakistan, when the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF) was formed, he was elected its vice president. The legendary trade union leader, the late Mirza Ibrahim, was president while M Malik, who was later to be governor of East Pakistan, was elected general secretary. Most Pakistani postal workers would be surprised to know that Faiz Ahmed Faiz was the first president of the organisation when the Post and Telegraph Workers Union was formed in Pakistan.

Faiz actively engaged in efforts to unionise clerical staff across Pakistan and the workers at the Pakistan Mint. For years, his routine was to visit the offices of the Railway Workers Union at Garhi Shahu in Lahore. As happens now, workers active on the trade union platform were frequently charge-sheeted. For hours, Faiz would type up replies to show-cause notices the unlettered workers were issued. He represented the PTUF at the International Labour Organisation for two years. In 1948, when Faiz was representing Pakistani workers at the ILO, Pakistan became a signatory to the ILO's Convention 87 (on unionisation) and Convention 98 (on collective bargaining). Simultaneously, he was editing Pakistan Times, Imroz and Lail-o-Nehar, publications owned by Progressive Papers Limited (PPL), until he landed in jail in 1951. "Those were very, very satisfying days for four years" (1947-51), he would later recall.

On his release from jail, he was back at the Pakistan Times offices. When Gen Ayub imposed his martial law, one of his initial orders was for PPL newspapers to be nationalised. Faiz landed in jail yet again, without any charge. "The funny thing was that the government at that time—the martial law government—rounded up everyone whose name appeared on police files from 1920 onwards," he said.


In 1962, he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize, as if in anticipation of what lay ahead. In 1965 and 1971, when Pakistan went to war, Faiz refused to jump on the "patriotic" bandwagon. "These two were difficult periods for me because I was under a great deal of pressure to write war songs. But I said, 'Look here, I am not writing any war songs!' They said, 'Well, why not? It is your patriotic duty.' I said, 'Look, firstly, because I consider these wars to be a very wanton waste of precious lives and, secondly, because I know that Pakistan is not going to get anything out of either this war or that war. I am not going to write any war songs.' " Instead, Faiz wrote poems for peace during both wars. During the 1965 war, he wrote "Elegy" to a fallen soldier, and "Blackout":

Since our lights were extinguished/I have been searching for a way to see; /my eyes are lost, God knows where./You who know me, tell me who I am, /who is a friend, and who an enemy./A murderous river has been unleashed/into my veins; hatred beats in it./Be patient; a flash of lightning will come/from another horizon like the white hand of Moses/with my eyes, my lost diamonds.

During the 1971 war, he wrote "Stay Away from Me" and "The Dust of Hatred in My Eyes." The latter was written from the point of view of East Pakistan, where the khakis, assisted by the Jamaat-e-Islami brigades, launched a planned genocide. Faiz refused to accept this massacre as something taking place in his name, since he was from West Pakistan.

How can I embellish this carnival of slaughter,

How to decorate this massacre? Whose attention could my lamenting blood attract?

According to Faiz himself, "Well, that naturally infuriated these people even more. So for a few days I was obliged to go underground in Sindh and not to stay with the wrath of my patriotic friends." Understandably, the media mujahideen of those days heaped scorn on him and subjected him to slurs. Dignified as he was, Faiz would not even contradict the fake statements made about him by rightwing rags and the scandals they invented.

He was beyond provocation. So rather than being bothered and distracted by provocations, he busied himself with the important tasks on his hands. He founded the Pakistan Arts Council. As secretary of the Arts Council (1959-62) and vice president of the Pakistan Arts Council, Karachi (1964-72), he dedicated himself to laying the groundwork for the cultural industry in the country. After Zulfikar Ali Bhutto assumed power, Faiz, for the first time, was not a dissident the state had wanted to hunt down since independence. He was requested by Bhutto to help determine the country's cultural and educational policies. In his capacity as advisor on cultural affairs at the ministry of education, Faiz began to vitalise the country's cultural life.

But the forces of darkness were waiting in the wings. The Zia dictatorship sent Bhutto to the gallows and drove Faiz into exile, which was a traumatic experience for him. In exile, as editor of Lotus, he became the voice of Palestine, a nation exiled to refugee camps, a country converted into a foreign land. Edward Said, together with Eqbal Ahmed, visited him in Beirut. Since he himself was a Palestinian exile, Edward Said shared Faiz's exilic trauma.

Edward Said told Eqbal Ahmed, who was translating extempore into English the poems Faiz was reciting, not to translate as he could feel what Faiz was reciting.

My heart, my fellow traveller/It has been decreed again/That you and I be exiled, /go calling out in every street, /turn to every town./To search for a clue/of a messenger from our Beloved./To ask every stranger/the way back to our home.

He found the way back, only to rest in peace forever. On Nov 20, 1984, be became immortal.

The writer is a freelance contributor.









Check this out. Hosni Mubarak's speech writer enters his office in a tearing hurry with a piece of paper in his hand. "Here you go, Mr President! Your final address to the nation."

"What happened?" asks a stunned Mubarak. "Are all the Egyptians leaving the country?" The Egyptians are known throughout the Arab world for their zany sense of humour. So this, posted on a blog of fellow travellers of the diaspora, must have originated in the land of pyramids and pharaohs.

The last pharaoh remained defiant and utterly brazen till the very end. Nearly 85 million people were out there on the streets, cursing and shouting at the top of their voices for two weeks asking him to leave – take a hike or just 'go to hell,' as many of those placards demanded. Nothing seemed to work on the Teflon-tough pharaoh though. He remained deaf to the crescendo rising from the streets of Egypt that pierced the skies setting the Arab world on fire. And blind to the unmistakable writing on the wall screaming at him, he has overstayed his welcome.

At 82 and after 30 summers of absolute power, it was still hard for him to take that flight to Sharm el Sheikh. And by desperately fighting, clawing and dragging his feet like a reluctant, spoilt brat on the way to school, the Arab world's answer to 'dear leader' squandered whatever modicum of respect he might have once enjoyed in the eyes of his people.

History is littered with tyrants who insisted, convincing even themselves that "Aprés moi, le deluge!" ("After me, the deluge!"). No wonder Mubarak believed in his own fiction that if he deprived his people of his great leadership, Egypt would be plunged into chaos and those nuts from the Muslim Brotherhood would take over.

In the end though, none of his dirty little tricks and shenanigans to cling on to fast slipping power for a few more months and years, could save him. It was people power at its most potent. No one and nothing, including the little, petty games of big powers, could save their man or delay or derail the Egyptian revolution. The die was cast. Indeed, Mubarak's fate – and that of other tyrants – was sealed the day the people in neighbouring Tunisia threw Ben Ali out. The Middle East's date with destiny had arrived and Egypt – and the Arab world – will never be the same again.

After long decades of repression, the Arabs have finally begun to throw out the yoke, the albatross around their neck. They have crossed the proverbial Rubicon and nothing can now persuade them to go back, or turn back the clock. This genuinely democratic metamorphosis is now irreversible, no matter what the scheming Israelis and their nervous patrons do.

What makes Egypt truly historic for the Middle East and the rest of the world is the fact that it has at last set the long imprisoned and repressed Arab soul free. The fall of the most corrupt and feared regime heading the most populous and powerful Arab country has unleashed the fighting spirit of the long demoralised Arabs. Egypt has rediscovered the Arabs' confidence and their esteem for themselves.

As an Arab writer argued last week, the Arabs haven't witnessed any significant victory since Saladin the Great, the victor of Jerusalem, defeated the Crusaders 800 years ago. The legacy of the great warrior king lives on in the proud falcon that is the insignia of Egyptian army, and that of numerous Arab countries.

More important, Egypt shows the way forward, demonstrating once again that nothing can stand in the way of a people united by a yearning for change and faith in the future.

Those marching on the streets of Egypt and elsewhere in the region give hope and a much needed sense of purpose and direction to the faceless, long dispossessed multitudes of our world.

Suddenly, it's cool to be Arab, easily the most vilified and demonised character in Western popular culture. Those young people – and old – standing their ground at the Tahrir Square day after day with a simple yet defiant finality make you proud. Who says democracy and Islam can't be the best of pals!

The Tahrir Square has elbowed out the Tiananmen Square and will remain seared in popular imagination for years to come, long after crowds have gone home. No wonder people around the world, from Americas to Australia, are increasingly identifying and celebrating with the people of Egypt.

In his 2009 Cairo speech, and before that in the Inaugural address, President Obama had reached out to the Arabs and Muslims, seeking a "new way forward." And the people of the Middle East have given him just that – a new way forward!

Yet over the past three weeks, all you've heard from Washington – and from other Western capitals – is either deafening silence or diplomatic gobbledygook that means nothing. Doubtless, the best emanated from Israel. "When there are rapid changes as it happened in Iran," Netanyahu warned, "an oppressive regime of radical Islam will rise. Such a regime will crush human rights and will not allow democracy or freedom, and will constitute a threat to peace."

Now we need lessons in democracy, freedom and human rights from those who have stolen someone else's land enslaving its population! Hillary Clinton seconded Netanyahu warning, "revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy, only to see the process hijacked by new autocrats."

What's the West really afraid of? What's it about Islam that so terrifies the champions of democracy and individual freedoms? But it's not Islam, as Noam Chomsky argues, but independence of the Middle East that worries the West.

In a fine dispatch this week from Cairo titled, Tehran 1979 or Berlin 1989?, Roger Cohen pleads with the US and Israel to not deal with Egypt the way they dealt with Iran after the 1979 Revolution. Cohen suggests a more 'nuanced approach', like the one the West allegedly adopted after the fall of the Berlin wall (1989) and in the run up to the fall of Soviet Union and regimes across eastern Europe . So what's it going to be? Tehran '79 or Berlin '89?

Whichever way the West goes, it's not going to be the Egyptians' way. Gone is the time of the empire ruling by proxy. It's time for the people of Egypt – and the Middle East – to chart their own course without the expert advice or promptings of the empire. The sooner Western powers and their minions realise this, the better for everyone. Call it the Islamic resurgence, Arab revival or whatever but a giant has awakened after long centuries of slumber. Change has finally arrived and for once it's not choreographed by the empire but driven by people power. And Egypt holds the key to this future. It's not so bad being an Arab anymore.

The writer is a Gulf-based commentator who has written extensively on the Middle East. Email:







A 12-year-old boy blew himself up during morning parade at the Punjab Regiment's centre in Mardan, killing 31 young recruits. Television footage showed lines of vehicles stacked with empty coffins entering the centre after the tragedy. Another 42 recruits had perished at the same place in a similar attack four years ago.

In this war thousands of fathers have buried their sons. The "war on terror" was a convenient smokescreen for the US oil oligarchy, planned long before 9/11. It was on Jan 26, 1998, that the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) first sent a letter to President Clinton urging the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Three years on, with Bush in office, 16 members of the PNAC assumed prominent positions in the Bush administration.

Apart from President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney the prominent names were Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage and John Bolton. Zalmay Khalilzad made a later entry. Eight cabinet secretaries and the National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice had direct ties to the oil industry. Reportedly the Departments of Defence, State, Energy, Agriculture and Interior and the Office of Management and Budget had 32 high officials belonging to the same group.

They set about realising their dream of securing global oil. The main target was political/geographical remapping of the Middle East and South and Central Asia and a permanent US presence in the regions.

Nobel laureate Doris Lessing termed Britain's former premier Tony Blair as "a little showman who proved disastrous for Britain" and President George Bush as a "world calamity," saying "you have to remember he is a member of a social class which has profited from wars."

Professor Mary Kaldor of the London School of Economics writes in Beyond Militarism, Arms Races and Arms Control: "It could be argued that if September 11 had not happened, the American military-industrial complex might have had to invent it."

The day the valiant Commando buckled to the Armitage call heralded disaster and calamity for Pakistan. We accepted bondage, bartered away our honour and our sovereignty and thereby became hostage to a war. "None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free," as Goethe said.

In 1996 Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes" asked Madeleine Albright, then US ambassador to the United Nations, about the half-a-million Iraqi children who perished due to the US sanctions. She calmly responded: "We think the price is worth it." When Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006, Condoleezza Rice, who had by then become secretary of state, described the death and destruction in Lebanon as the "birth pangs of a new Middle East," and asked Israel to ignore international calls for a ceasefire. So we can hardly expect Washington to have a different attitude towards Pakistanis.

Our leaders continue to harp on the myth of American indispensability. On July 2 last year, the IMF released a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper on Pakistan. It enumerates the reasons leading to the extremely adverse effect on Pakistan's economy and social sector. "Most importantly," it said, Pakistan is "bearing the direct and indirect costs of being a frontline state in the War on Terror."

The war has cost us an estimated $50 billion. The debt-to-GDP ratio stands at almost 60 per cent. Today our

external debt and liabilities are a staggering $58.8 billion. Since 9/11 Pakistan has received $18 billion in aid. $7.35 billion has gone to the Coalition Support Fund as reimbursement for our soldiers acting as cannon fodder. Meanwhile, a major chunk goes back to the US in terms of military sales, consultancy and intermediary costs. Yet the myth endures of the United States keeping us alive economically.

With British prime minister David Cameron already accusing Pakistan of "exporting terror" and "harbouring terrorists," and Admiral Mullen, Robert Gates and many others insisting the country is "not doing enough," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now trying to browbeat Pakistan. She is calling for the immediate release of American Raymond Davis, who is charged with two murders in Lahore last month.

"Scare answers to scare, and force begets force, until at length it comes to be seen that we are racing one against another after a phantom security which continually vanishes as we approach," in the words of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. It is as if the 19th-century British statesman were referring to the United States' policies after 9/11.

This is a war based on a lie, premised on a contradiction and continuing against reason, creating a multifaceted disaster that threatens our very existence. It is critical that we redefine our role in it. Today the ramparts of fortress America extend to Pakistan, because our rulers offer to defend that fortress at the cost of our sons.

The writer is a freelance contributor.Email:








The people of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas will no doubt celebrate, in a befitting manner, the departure of the last remnant of a dictator who did not live up to their expectations and the appointment of the new governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata in his place. Barrister Masood Kauser, a renowned lawyer, brings with him rich legal, political and administrative experience that gives him an edge over all his predecessors in the performance of his functions as governor of this volatile region.

The post of governor of Fata and KPK is not a bed of roses. It is a very difficult and demanding job in view of the prevailing situation in Fata and KPK. This daunting task requires a lot of acumen in varied fields. It requires skill, wisdom, patience and forbearance which the new governor seems to have in abundance. Let us hope he lives up to the expectations of the people of that region.

Having successfully conducted the affairs of the provincial assembly as its speaker and then as a member of the senate in Islamabad, doing justice to his present assignment should not be a problem for him. Hailing from Kohat seems to be an added qualification as it happens to be on the periphery of the tribal areas which provided him an opportunity to see for himself the state of affairs in those areas as well as the conditions of the IDPs of district Hangu, Orakzai and Kurram tribal agencies coming to Kohat and other areas for shelter. The place itself

s also not immune to the onslaught of militants in that area.

I am sure Barrister Masood realises that the importance of the governor of KPK is further enhanced, both in the country and abroad, only because of Fata and the current situation there. The responsibility devolved upon him of looking after this particular area will keep him in the limelight at all times. It is thus important for him to pay more attention to the dire problems faced by the people of Fata rather than to other ceremonial matters that he would be attending to in the province.

KPK has its own representative government which is striving hard to take the province out of the quagmire that it is stuck in. Fata has no such thing. It has no political party system operating in the areas to represent it in important meetings in Peshawar, Islamabad or elsewhere. In the absence of allegiance to any party manifesto, Fata's representatives elected through one man-one vote are not loyal to anything except their personal interests. As a result, the people have no one to look up to except the governor to plead their case with the ones who matter in Islamabad or Rawalpindi. They have great hopes that the new governor will represent them properly where others before him have failed to do so.

While Barrister Masood has many qualities I would like to point out that the job of the governor of KPK and Fata is not an easy one. To do justice to the job, one needs the values of a saint and the courage of a lion. You have to fight on all fronts to redress the grievances of the people in a situation where things are not as simple as they appear on the surface.

The army is deeply entrenched in this war on terror – which was not ours to begin with but was imposed upon us – and now finds it difficult to get out of the situation. The people on the other hand, having seen enough of death and destruction, are tired and want peace. They are not prepared to give more sacrifices or to become IDPs in their own areas while peace still remains only a very distant hope. They want the civilian government to take over full responsibility of administering the area. They want rehabilitation and reconstruction of the devastation caused during military operations. They want withdrawal of troops, who have taken over their villages, to the main forts and their own military encampments. They want them to be available for action, if so required, but only by the civil government.

General Kiyani should do for the tribesmen what he did for the army in restoring its lost image by curtailing its role in civil affairs without disengaging from combat position. Similarly, he should prevail upon those who matter for disengaging troops from civilian affairs in Fata which will not only enhance its image but will help bridge the trust deficit that so widely exists between the army and the people there. If the new governor can prevail upon the army to do this, it will send strong signals to everyone in the area that the new governor is serious and means business.

Alongside this, he should ensure the government promptly makes payment of the unpaid compensation owed to the tribesmen for the losses they suffered. They should not only be paid the amount equal to actual loss but a little bit extra so that they can reconstruct their destroyed properties and begin their lives afresh with the help of the government.

The people of Fata have full knowledge of the financial assistance being given to the federal government by different countries in the name of reconstruction of the destroyed areas in the tribal agencies, which is lying in government coffers undisbursed. They are also aware of the liberal compensation paid to victims in other areas of the country. Their ire has been aroused at this poor treatment. They are also aware of similar treatment meted to them by the media, for reasons which are unclear, in the coverage of major catastrophes like Yakaghund and Ghalanai in Mohmand agency compared to wider coverage of minor incidents elsewhere in the country. These injustices have to end if we genuinely want to end the grievances of the people of Fata.

The people of KPK in general and Fata in particular have great hopes and expectations from the new governor. They want him to play a positive role for improvement of the security situation in that area. Before accepting this challenging job he must have pondered over the objectives he aims to achieve and we hope that foremost among these must have been establishing peace in the area and through peace, development of this neglected area.

It would be very sagacious of the new governor to visit all the seven tribal agencies to interact with the people there like the founding father of the political party he represents. That will not only set the ball rolling to bring peace and prosperity to the region but will lead to the restoration of confidence between the people and the government.

Barrister Masood Kauser has achieved what an ordinary worker of any political party aspires to achieve. He has nothing at stake at this stage in his life except the post that he occupies. This is a golden opportunity for him to go even higher and carve a place for himself in the history of this area if he brings peace and development to Fata. His late elder brother Ahmad Faraz, the world-renowned poet and my teacher, left a high benchmark of courage and devotion for achieving an objective for his younger brother to follow. I hope and pray that his younger brother not only reaches but surpasses this benchmark. If not, he will pass into the dustbin of history as yet another petty usurper of the coin of high rank like so many others before him.









Despite evidence that the Taliban insurgency had grown significantly in 2010, the US intelligence community failed to revise its estimate for Taliban forces as part of a National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan in December.

That unusual decision was in deference to General David Petraeus who did not want any official estimate of the insurgency's strength that would contradict his claims of success by Special Operations Forces in reducing the capabilities of the Taliban in 2010.

In late 2009, the intelligence community adopted an estimate of 20,000 to 30,000 full-time insurgents, as reported by McClatchy newspapers in November and confirmed in a press briefing by Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force on December 3, 2009.

But in 2010, the Taliban and their allies increased the total number of attacks by a whopping 54 per cent rise according to official ISAF data. That suggested that the Taliban had grown substantially between 2009 and 2010. Yet no revised intelligence estimate of Taliban strength appeared in late 2010, even though the National Intelligence Council produced a National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan in December. Such an NIE would normally be expected to include an updated estimate of insurgent strength.

Last month, officials of NATO and Petraeus's command managed to suggest that the number of insurgents had not grown in 2010 and then dismissed the very idea of an intelligence estimate of the size of the forces fighting against ISAF.

In a January 9 response to a query from Associated Press, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu clearly disparaged the idea that there could be an official estimate of the Taliban strength. "There has never been a single reliable source for the size of the insurgency," said Lungescu, adding that all estimates of the insurgents are "highly unreliable".

Lungescu sought to divert attention away from a focus on the numerical strength of the Taliban, suggesting that it "misrepresents gains made by alliance forces in the past year". But it is logically impossible for a numerical estimate of insurgent strength to "misrepresent" the results of military operations. Lungescu was implying that an estimate of Taliban numerical strength would interfere with ISAF's claims of having weakened the Taliban.

An Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman said February 9 that the ministry estimates the number of Taliban insurgents at between 25,000 and 35,000, although he said it was "just a guess".

The failure of the intelligence community to adopt a revised estimate in the NIE last year was shaped by a highly politicised relationship between the intelligence community and the most powerful field commander in modern US warfare.

An estimate of Taliban strength in the NIE would have obvious bearing on the success of US military operations, since it would show whether the Taliban had been able to continue to grow despite losses inflicted by Special Operations Forces raids.

The decision to forego a formal estimate of insurgent forces may have been authorised by the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who has oversight of any national intelligence product, and adjudicates any major differences of view that can't be negotiated. Clapper, who took over as DNI last August, has a reputation for sacrificing truth to support existing war policies.

He is best known for having claimed in October 2003, when he was director of the Defence Department's National Imagery and Mapping Agency, that the missing WMD in Iraq "unquestionably" had been transferred to Syria and other countries before the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

The writer is an investigative historian and journalist with Inter-Press Service specialising in US national security policy










TODAY birthday of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the last of the messengers of Almighty Allah, is being celebrated with religious fervour. Each and every Muslim is participating in these celebrations in one way or the other—some by decorating mosques and streets, some by arranging Eid Milad processions of Mehfil-e-Milad, others by taking part in gatherings to highlight different aspects of the life of the Prophet (PBUH).

No doubt, all these events are aimed at projecting various facets of Islam and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and help crystallize his message but we strongly believe that mere rituals would not suffice and the Muslim world will have to make concerted efforts to present a true picture of their great religion and the Prophet (PBUH) who brought the ultimate message that was as relevant as 1400 years ago and would remain so as long as the universe lasts. As the message is not meant for a particular age or community, it is our duty to spread his (PBUH) message in right perspective both at individual and collective levels. This is especially so because Islam, these days, is being equated with extremism and terrorism and its followers are being suppressed and crushed by those who believe in clash of civilizations. But it is all about overall perception or propaganda but also our own conduct and behaviour as Muslims, which is far from what our religion teaches us. We call ourselves Muslims but regrettably our individual and collective lives are devoid of the true spirit of the great religion and we have become victim of vices of all sorts. We have discarded Islamic values and traditions as a result of which our very identity is evaporating and strength of the Ummah is weakening day-by-day. Eid Milad should, therefore, serve as an occasion for soul-searching at individual, state and Ummah levels as to where the fault lies and how to rectify it. It is the duty of Muslim scholars and religious leaders as well as media of the Islamic world to launch an aggressive campaign to regain the lost ground by sensitizing Muslims on the issues involved and countering the adverse propaganda against Islam.








AMERICAN national, widely believed to be an under-cover secret agent, Raymond Davis had already become a symbol of hatred because of the gruesome murder of two innocent Pakistanis in Lahore and subsequent suicide by the wife of one of his victims. However, he is being made more detestable figure because of follies on the part of various PPP functionaries.

Following the statement by former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi that he was dropped from the new Cabinet because of his principled position on the question of diplomatic immunity to the killer, several PPP leaders directed their guns towards him and adopted a stance that was seen by majority of people of Pakistan as an attempt to defend the American. And on Monday, PPP's Information Secretary Fauzia Wahab crossed all limits by claiming on the beat of the drum that the killer enjoyed diplomatic immunity, raising questions about the real intentions of the ruling Party on the issue that has overwhelmed the entire nation because of its gravity and perversity. Sensing the damage that Fauzia did to the Party by churning out uncanny remarks, Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar quickly came out with a clarification that these were personal views of Fauzia and had nothing to do with Party policy. The timely notice taken by the spokesman helped dilute the fury that was brewing up across the country over these senseless remarks. No doubt, the issue has assumed many dimensions but it is also relevant to point out that the Government is mishandling the entire episode as a result of which it is becoming more complex with the passage of time. Apart from Americans who issue statements after statements aimed at browbeating Pakistan on the controversy, the Government has also allowed all and sundry to make statements on the issue despite the fact that it is sub judice. If Foreign Secretary believes that it is for the High Court to determine the question of immunity then who is Fauzia Wahab to give a conclusive opinion. Such statements are, in no way, serving the cause of Pakistan-US relationship but creating more obstacles in resolving the issue in an amicable manner.







DESPITE tall claims by the Government that the power crisis would be resolved in two to three years, the situation on the ground is murky and the shortfall of power is on the rise. The Government has completed its three years in office and there is no possibility that this crisis would be resolved in the remaining two years.

While during winter season, domestic consumers' electricity demand is minimum yet there was a shortfall of 785 MW on Monday and it is feared that during summer the situation could be worse than the preceding years as demand is rising and generation is not keeping pace. The economic fallout of the rising energy shortfall would be catastrophic because declining productivity would lead to lower growth of the Gross Domestic Product and rising unemployment levels. Critics of the Government are no longer willing to accept the rationale that the blame for continued energy shortfall rests with the former Government as they rightly argue that in three years the Government has not been able to give a semblance of improvement in supply. This situation would continue to haunt Pakistan unless and until some out of box solutions are found as RPPs or small generation plants in the private sector would not meet the growing demand of around ten per cent a year. The country not only needs cheaper sources of energy but also mega projects. It is astonishing that despite repeated statements unnecessary delay is being caused in the launching of Diamer-Bhasha Dam and exploitation of Thar coal reserves. We are aware that a pilot project is in hand in Thar but the country needs to prioritise the exploitation of coal resources for power generation. Yet another option for the Government to cope with the crisis is to go for nuclear power generation. There is a worldwide trend of nuclear power generation because of uncertain oil prices and international concerns on carbon dioxide emissions. Thus optimal nuclear power is necessary to meet the growing needs of affordable electricity for industrial and commercial sectors. At the same time Government must revamp the distribution network as around 25% of electricity is being wasted through line losses and if this could be done, at least some relief could be provided to industrial and domestic consumers in the immediate future.






The revolution has crossed the first mile stone, overcoming the legacy of old and new colonialism, yet there are more milestones to be crossed to reach the goal of freedom, democracy and empowerment. A grim struggle lies ahead.

Thirty-two years back, on this day the eleventh of February, Iranians snatched power from Shah of Iran – a staunch ally of America and consolidated the revolution under the leadership of Imam Khomeini. On this day, the eleventh of February, the Egyptians, after eighteen days of siege, brought Mubarak down - a staunch American ally, yet power remains transferred into the hands of the military and Mubarak prefers to stay on the Egyptian soil at the Red Sea resort of Sharmal Sheikh. How power will be transferred to the people, is the real issue, which can be analysed in the light of the conspiracies which were hatched to destroy the Iranian revolution.

The pro-American political forces, such as the Fidaeen-e-Khalq and others, were the main instruments in the hands of the conspirators, who eliminated over seventy top revolutionary leaders of Iran in one act of terror bombing. Efforts were made to create divisions in the ranks and file of the revolutionaries. Ultimately the Americans forced Saddam Hussain to invade Iran, hoping that "the revolution would be destroyed and both Iran and Iraq would kill each other." But on the contrary, the invasion helped Iran consolidate the revolution.

With power handed over to the military and Mubarak allowed to stay in the country, there is a greater risk of confrontation with the masses, demanding full transfer of power. Thus, "Behind this unified hierarchical façade contradictory influences are at work, posing serious threats to national security." And no doubt, people are talking about the Foreign Agenda "of dismantling the nation into sectarian components led towards infighting and tightening the siege and imposition of a peaceful solution with Israel." The military have deep vested interests, as they had remained hand and glove with Mubarak, to build vast businesses, linked with big businesses in United States and Egypt. It would be extremely difficult for the military to hand over such privileges and power for the sake of the revolution. And they also know that the revolutionaries, as they gain full power and authority, would make the armed forces, including Mubarak, accountable for their past misdeeds. The Americans, therefore also would prefer the military to retain/share power to protect their interests and the interests of those who made hay during Mubarak's regime. Such conflict of interests therefore would lead to deeper conspiracy, to block the process of transfer of power. Therefore, the very first step, military has taken is, abrogation of the constitution; dissolution of the assembly and the promise for holding of elections in September 2011. These are hollow promises and delaying tactics, similar to General Zia's promise of elections in ninety days. The Egyptians won't take it, and the protests will continue, to press for their demands.

The revolution has not been able to throw up any towering personality like Imam Khomeini of Iran, who could lead and maintain unity of the movement. Moreover, the revolutionaries, under Muslim Brotherhood, hold powerful elements with diverse views and vision of life. There is a strong element of Jehadis and militants who had been confronting Mubarak for the last three decades, under the leaders with regional status only. Side by side, there are a considerable number of youth amongst them, holding liberal and moderate views on life and belong to the new cyber generation, nationalist in outlook, having respect for democracy and freedom. Despite these differences of views, they stood as one, under the banner of Muslim Brotherhood and won the first battle of freedom. What is going to follow now is a struggle for power, which will provide enough space to the conspirators to accentuate the differences between the militants and the moderates. And if they succeed, it would help the military to retain power to safeguard their interests and the interests of others, they have been associated with, for the last five decades. The success of the revolution therefore, depends on their ability to force the armed forces for early transfer of power and subordination to the civil authority. Saddam helped Iran consolidate the revolution, but there is no Saddam around to help Egypt consolidate the revolution.

The Americans and their allies are allergic to Islamists coming to power. Hammas won the fair and free elections in Palestine, but was not allowed to form the government and the Israelis now are facing the consequences. Similarly, the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, who fought the war to expel the Soviets, were not allowed to form the government and were pushed into a contrived civil war. And now, as they emerge as the winner, efforts are afoot, to deny them due share in power. This obsession, in fact has been the cause of Americans defeat in Afghanistan. They have lost the war in Afghanistan but find it difficult to rationalize the defeat, without hurting their ego and pride of a super power.

If the Americans want democracy and rule of law in Egypt, they must pay heed to the demands of the revolutionaries: release political prisoners; lift emergency; abolish state security apparatus and start negotiations for transfer of power. These are fair demands, to help Brotherhood to form the government, with Armed Forces accepting a subordinating role as the military in Pakistan has accepted its role and is no more willing to play the American game.

Intrigues and manipulations would damage the cause of revolution and the emerging process of democracy and rule of law. Let the people of Egypt determine the course of freedom and democracy, in the manner, the people of Pakistan, having found democracy and are now fighting corruption and bad governance. This is our struggle for democracy. Struggle brings the best in the nation, in the worst of times and that is the struggle which lies ahead for the people of Egypt.

—The writer is former Chief of Army Staff. Pakistan







A "Doing Business in Pakistan" conference was held in London very recently which was organized by the UK Trade and Investment Board and the Pakistan High Commission. The main aim of the conference was to chart out plans to attract more British businesses to invest in Pakistan. Over 80 business representatives from the UK and Pakistan attended the conference. Lord Green speaking after the launch of the UK government's Trade and Investment White Paper said that Pakistan will be one of the world drivers of growth in years to come, notwithstanding some of the challenges faced by the country at present. He also said that political stability and law and order situation had a role to play in foreign investments and UK was keen to help in all areas where help was needed or necessary.


Mr Saleem Mandiwala, Minister of State for Investment admitted that investors were shy of going to Pakistan due to its engagement in the "war on terror" but also acknowledged that corruption was another hindrance. "Despite these challenges, Pakistan economy has been able to sustain an acceptable growth rate of 4.1% in 2009-10," he told the conference. The first recommendation was that on a war footing the government needs to address the severe energy crisis by taking critical reform decisions which tackle pricing distortions; production & distribution inefficiencies; remove bottlenecks for urgently needed imports and develop the indigenous energy resources. Pakistan has a liberal investment policy and before the global recession there was keen investors' interest. All that has changed now. The rising cost of doing business has deterred both domestic and foreign investors. Political instability, deteriorating law and order situation, high interest rates, broken down infra-structure and uncertainty about availability of power and natural gas. The recent increase in power and gas tariff and rampant corruption in these sectors have made marginally profitable industries non-viable. They are not being set up or are being closed down. This will lead to more unemployed people on the streets. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP)'s high policy rate has not only added to the rising business costs, but has also enlarged the size of non- performing loans (NPS) to almost Rs13,448 million (as recorded on 30th October 2009). The effect of the high interest rates resulted in losses for a number of industrial units. Terrorism is yet another reason causing huge losses to the industrialized and trading sectors.

The army is attacking the northwestern strongholds of the militants, who have responded with suicide bombings in towns and cities. The marble industry in the Frontier province and the tribal areas is severely hit by the ongoing militancy. All Pakistan Marble Mining Processing Industry and Exporters Association (APMMPIEA) revealed that 300 marble units have closed down and 250 more are on the verge of closure. The industry is said to have shed over 50,000 jobs already.


President Asif Ali Zardari is under criticism from opposition parties after the Supreme Court struck down a reprieve that had protected the increasingly unpopular leader and several of his political allies from corruption charges. The ambiguity regarding corruption cases against some sitting ministers, advisors and members of parliament has created uncertainty among the businessmen. For the last ten years or more, Pakistan's economy is being handled by bankers. Our commando President General Pervez Musharraf engaged private Banker Shaukat Aziz who was happily ensconced in the Citibank and would have stayed there if left alone.

But there were pressures on him. Unable to resist these pressures, He took his brief case, a couple of Pierre Cardin suits, received a first class ticket from the Pakistan Embassy and arrived in Islamabad. He was sworn in as our Finance Minister the next day. He has been succeeded by other bankers who have taken special care to protect the financial interests of the banking industry. The banking spread in the country is the highest in the world at 7.8 per cent and needs to be cut down by two per cent at least.. The high interest rate is the main reason behind the fall in the country's industrial output.

The decline in auto, textile, electronic, petroleum, and other key sectors adversely affected the performance of large scale manufacturing (LSM) in the country. We have no competitive edge, as our exporters are facing a lot of difficulties due to high cost of production. Cutting interest rates to a single digit will produce multiple benefits for the economy, as it will lower the cost of doing business, give a strong boost to business and industrial activities, provide easy credit and loaning facilities to trade and industry, promote better investment and exports, and generate more tax revenue for the government.

There is a long list of examples that adversely reflect on the Pakistan's inefficient and inhospitable business environment. Som Despite repeated claims of the government of 'one window' operation for setting up new businesses, it takes at least six months to start-up an industrial unit against less than seven days in most countries.

It usually takes over 6 months to secure electricity, gas and phone connection. The supply of skilled and technically trained manpower is inadequate. There are no national institutions for acquisition and dissemination of modern technology. Instituional changes must take place for the removal of these inadequacies and bottlenecks if any headway is to be made inpromoting employment, alleviating poverty and raising the country's GDP.

—The writer is a member of the former Civil Service of Pakistan.







Raymond Davis has been sent to Central Jail Kot Lakhpat on a 14-day judicial remand. The next hearing will be on February 25. Earlier, Police submitted the provisional Challan requesting the court to take action against him under the Article 302 of Pakistan Penal Code. Washington is insisting that Davis killed two Pakistanis because they were trying to rob him but presently this seems not that important issue as his true identity and the question whether he has diplomatic immunity is a matter of concern.

The judge has also ordered the government to clarify about his diplomatic immunity. It is pertinent to mention here that US officials till to-date could not produce any certificate which is granted to diplomats upon arrival in Pakistan by Foreign Office under Diplomatic and Counsellors Act of 1972. Three persons killed in the in the incident of terrorism in Lahore included Faizan, Faheem and Ubaid ur Rehman. We should not forget that the newly wed wife of Faheem namely Shumaila is also linked to the incident as she committed suicide on February 5 because of too much US pressure on Pakistani government, Police and judicary to release the killer without any trial. In a televised interview from Allied Hospital, Faisalabad she said that she had swallowed the pills because she suspected that the government would release Davis and would not take action against him. She recorded her statement, "They are already treating my husband's murderer like a VIP in police custody and I am sure they will let him go because of international pressure."There are certain groups who demanded swap of Davis for Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in an American court for attempting to murder her American interrogators in Afghanistan. We should not forget that the families of those killed want justice not a political bargain. One wonders why we fail to demand anything for those who are daily killed in Khyber PK, Tribal Areas and other parts of the country as a result of US attacks or for the Pakistani arrested on the charge of terrorism in US.

The true identity of Raymond Davis is yet to be ascertained but there are chances that he might also be associated with some front organization in the vicinity of Muzang. It is too early to say anything with uncertainty but the clips of important Madrassas and Mosques as well as Cantonment areas captured in his mobile clearly depicted that he was on a mission against Sunnis in Pakistan. Satellite phone and Global Positioning System (GPS) recovered from terrorist, Raymomd Davis was used for passing grid references of sensitive locations at various locations to Islamabad, Afghanistan and India. It is important to mention here that certain circles in US have admitted that Davis was former US Special Forces personnel and was in cover. Reportedly, Davis was employee of Special Activities Division that is associated with US Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) National Clandestine Service (NCS) and was involved in assassinations of important leaders in Pakistan, which Washington considered high value targets.

Public records in US reflected that Raymond Davis and his wife run a company namely Hyperion Protective Services which has been registered in Nevada. There are bright chances that the Sunni and Shia Ulema killed in the recent past was carried out by Davis and his terrorist group. The Pakistan authorities have confirmed that he visited Pakistan at least ten times on his passport but the fact cannot be ignored that his number of visits through porous Pak-Afghan border cannot be counted on fingers. He also visited India to correlate Mumbai attacks with religious groups in Pakistan. Bob Woodward, in his book 'Obama's Wars,' has also confirmed presence of 3,000 US illegal operatives on specific assassination assignments in Pakistan. Washington is making fruitless attempts to invoke diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention. It is now the responsibility of the Pakistani authorities to protect this person at all costs in order to find out the truth behind all those killed by unknown religious extremists in Karachi, Quetta, Lahore, Peshawar and other cities of Pakistan.








Has the reader noticed how our visual media have taken to the so called 'Valentine's Day' in a big way? Have we even paused to think what this hype is all about? Have we fallen so low in our self-esteem that anything western looks good to us? Do we have to sacrifice all our values and mores just to satisfy our commercial instinct? As one looks around, one discovers to one's horror that the civilized (?) world has been well and truly engulfed by 'commercials'. Is this destined to be the fate of our society too?No one can escape the impact of larger-than-life commercials that are all around and all embracing. Take the visual media, sports arenas, the roadways or what you will, it would be a futile exercise to even think of evading the wretched things. Like it or not, commercials are upon us like an epidemic. They appear to have become an inseparable part of life itself. Can one logically complain, though? Apparently not! This is the price that man has perforce to pay for the march of civilization (?).

Take the case of what happens to be undoubtedly the most popular entertainment media of today – television. It goes without saying that the advertising industry shamelessly exploits the vast captive audience that this media enjoys. Not that one does not make allowance for the financial constraints that make the airing of commercials necessary, but is it cricket for the godfathers of commercials to make a bid to virtually take over the electronic media? One can even go to the extent of showing understanding when a popular programme is snuffed out all of a sudden for what is euphemistically termed as a 'commercial break'. What gets one is that these 'breaks' are ominously getting not only longer and longer but also more frequent. More often than not, by the time the commercial break finally comes to an end, one has all but forgotten the context of the narrative that was so rudely interrupted. In the United States of America, where commercials have acquired an almost reverent character all their own, popular programmes have been virtually deluged. There are viewers there who complain - not without reason - that they are now being obliged to watch a series of commercials, interspersed occasionally by some entertainment, rather than the other way round. We too are fast approaching that stage.

The urge to sell – and sell in a hurry – appears to pervade all else. It has assumed the form of a never-ending vicious cycle. As sales soar, so does the urge to advertise. Newer and newer methods of entrapping the hapless consumer are being devised all the time. The objective of the commercial is to put the consumer through a re-orienting process of sorts. He or she emerges from the exercise thoroughly brainwashed and raring to go for any product in question.

Sale of the advertised product apart, advertising itself is big business. The advertising agencies themselves earn millions in their campaigns to enable their clients to rake in even more millions. At the receiving end, as always, is the poor consumer, who ends up footing the bill for both the product as well as the advertising. Another and longstanding complaint against advertisers is the way they exploit the captive audience of children. Children obviously are in no position to exercise objective judgment as to the quality and/or utility of the advertised product. The overtly aggressive and, at times, unethical way in which commercials aimed at children are devised leaves a lot to be desired. The accent appears to be on appealing to the minors' immature minds in such a fashion that they are brainwashed into forcing their parents' hand into purchasing products that may or may not be either useful or, indeed, suitable for the children. Honesty in advertising can hardly be taken for granted. Commercial campaigns, more often than not, are extremely economical with the truth. Some agencies have no qualms about making outrageous and outlandish claims just to push up the sales of the products they have been contracted to advertise. The fact that most claims do not measure up to reality is for them of little or no import. The end, so far as they are concerned, is more important than the means.

To illustrate the point, let us take the example of commercials for, say, hair- grooming products. Some of these products are advertised as a panacea for all ills of the scalp and hair. Hair, if one were to believe the claims aired in the commercials, would grow healthier, thicker and longer after the use of the miracle product in question. Such claims do appear a trifle far-fetched, to say the least. One has yet to come across a product with such miraculous cure-all properties. And yet our advertiser friends see nothing wrong in going on merrily making these outlandish claims. What is more, they get away with it and with impunity.

Let us move on to another example, if you will. What can one say about the way fashion shows are organized to sell so-called designer clothing? A selected bevy of svelte fashion models - who after spending years starving themselves and twisting have acquired wispy figures that are hardly the norm by any standards - are provocatively paraded in front of prospective buyers. The joke is that these buyers –all having surplus money (not to talk of fat!) to throw around – are actually deluded into believing that they would look equally glamorous in the clothing being modeled by the wispy models!

And now to the fundamental question that presents itself, begging for an answer: is advertising at all justified or, in deed, necessary? The advertising agencies would, naturally, have us believe that it definitely is so. In justifying their existence, these advertising companies claim that commercials help afford to the consumer "the right to choose". The critics, on their part, argue that commercials make the consumers yearn to reach out for products that they could very well do without. The consumers, in effect, end up not only paying a jacked-up price for the advertised products but also end up purchasing a lot of stuff they did not need in the first place and which they would not have bought had it not been for some clever – and misleading - advertising.

It would hardly be fair, of course, to condemn commercials per se. Advertising does help, in a way, to make the world go round. Print media, for one, would be virtually non-existent were it not for the revenue generated through advertising. All in all, commercials, their negative aspects notwithstanding, are evidently not devoid of positive features. And - needless to point out - they do add a bit of glamour to what would otherwise have been a dull and drab existence. What needs to be done in the circumstances is to hone up one's capability to co-exist with the commercials without at the same time getting hurt in the process. Easier said than done that, though!










Last year, ABC radio broadcast a Centre for Independent Studies debate, Cultural Cringe: Are Australians the plebeians of the Western world? The answer is decidedly "no". The cargo-cult mentality, however, has not been eradicated from ABC, where producers still insist on giving star billing to disgruntled expatriates with little useful contribution to make to the national debate. Watching the ABC fawn over John Pilger and others who admonish us for what they think is wrong with the nation they left half a century ago is amusing on one level but betrays a troubling cultural insecurity at the highest levels of the national broadcaster.

On Monday night, Q&A compere Tony Jones feted Pilger as "one of Australia's best-known journalists and filmmakers". But Pilger's shallow arguments were easily exposed by Egyptian Middle Eastern politics analyst Lydia Khalil, who countered the anti-American rhetoric with measured, factual debate. Pilger's errors are no surprise. He regards President Barack Obama as "a glossy Uncle Tom" and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as an anti-feminist, and claims former Labor prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating "eliminated the most equitable spread of personal income on earth: a model for the Blairites". He modestly markets his work as "documentaries that changed the world."

Expatriate celebrities have fallen flat on Q&A before. Germaine Greer's views on female genital mutilation were condemned by a British parliamentary committee as "simplistic and offensive", yet the ABC cannot get enough of her. She complained in 2009 about our "digging holes" to export minerals and said Australians expected "black and yellow hordes are going to arrive tomorrow and push everybody out because they're going to work so hard."

And last year, this newspaper's Paul Kelly cut through celebrity lawyer Geoffrey Robertson's idea of putting the Pope in the dock over the acts of pedophile priests like a hot knife through butter.

Today's Australians are comfortable with who they are, proud of their heritage but confident in their place as an independent, sovereign nation.

If the ABC's expatriate talking heads spent more time listening, they'd know that.






Pity the orphan who buried his father in Sydney yesterday, and the parents, aunts and uncles who buried the children, all so far away from their homeland. On the cusp of what they hoped would be a new life in a new country, the victims instead are lifeless in a lonely grave. This is the human tragedy of the Christmas Island boat disaster. It is sad, very sad.

Border protection policy demands some difficult choices and, yes, some tough policies. The opposition has been right to say that hard-headed policies might help save lives by discouraging more boats. But, with a clutch of pitiful funerals under way, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison's condemnation of the arrangements bordered on crass and insensitive. Mr Morrison decried the taxpayer expense of holding the funerals in Sydney so relatives could attend. He said the funerals could have been held on Christmas Island and relatives from here or overseas could have made their own way there, at their own expense. Australian citizens, Mr Morrison noted, usually do not receive government assistance to attend funerals. This is a line of argument used by none other than One Nation. Mr Morrison may have thought it would be politically advantageous. He may be right, but we suspect not. Many Australians understand different arrangements are justified for people held in detention, away from friends and family, on a remote island. Already, the Liberals are splitting, with opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey expressing a compassionate view certain to be welcomed inside and outside the party.

As the opposition has said many times the temptation for asylum-seekers to come to Australia is understandable. While it can criticise the government for ineffective policies and condemn people-smugglers for preying on others' desperation, they should not condemn the people who make the dangerous journey in a desperate attempt to forge a new life. People should not risk their lives in this way, but we understand why they do. We mourn the deaths of the Christmas Island victims as we mourn those of any innocents taken in accidental tragedies. There was no excuse for Mr Morrison to make such uncharitable remarks, especially on the day of the funerals. In the broader political debate, he is justified in being hard-headed but The Australian believes there is no reason to be hard-hearted.







As champions of government transparency, The Australian naturally supports WikiLeaks' distribution of leaked information. Providing due diligence is conducted to protect lives and avoid compromising national security, WikiLeaks serves the public interest as a clearing house for leaked material.

Its founder, Julian Assange, is currently distracted by his legal fight to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex charges, but he faces another important battle if he is to protect the integrity of his organisation.

He must guard against those who would subvert Wikileaks' purpose to serve their own blinkered agenda. If the impression gains traction that Wikileaks is degenerating into just another self-loathing, anti-American operation, its effectiveness will be compromised.

If Mr Assange wants to be taken seriously as a journalist, styling himself as an editor-in-chief and publisher is not enough. Unfortunately, despite WikiLeaks' boast about "an unbroken record in protecting confidential sources", the organisation has failed to protect its most valuable source.

Alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning, 23, the US private detained in chains in solitary confinement for nine months at a US military base awaiting court martial, was a low-ranking army intelligence analyst in Iraq when he allegedly downloaded classified material and passed it to WikiLeaks .

US authorities have reportedly been unable to link Mr Assange to Private Manning, who faces 52 years' imprisonment if found guilty.

It is no bad thing that Mr Assange has attracted support from both sides of the political spectrum. He will do his long-term interests no good, however, if he is seen to throw in his lot with those currently adopting him as their cause celebre and who are also eager to peddle the view that the US is the greatest danger on the world stage this year.

Mr Assange showed a welcome degree of neutrality on the ABC's Four Corners program when he said he aspired to use the structure he has created to publish a "Pentagon papers from every country in the world every year".

Should he come even close to such an achievement, the world's dictatorships would have more to fear than democratic states, which by their nature are more open.

The people of China, North Korea, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Yemen and numerous other states will benefit from open debate that until now they could only imagine.

Nor will it do citizens in the Middle East or the repressive regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran any harm to learn that Saudi Arabia privately urged the US to invade Iran.

Open and transparent information and historical records, as Mr Assange said, are part of the scaffold on which societies and states are built.

There is no evidence that the charges against Mr Assange in Sweden are part of a conspiracy to have him extradited to the US, as some of his supporters claim.

Britain and the US, which have extradition treaties in place, are closer allies, after all, than the US and Sweden.

Like any citizen facing charges, Mr Assange deserves the presumption of innocence as the law takes it course. It is also in his interests and those of free speech and more transparent government for him to protect WikiLeaks' independence and its sources.






ANYONE who has walked along the blighted streetscape of Parramatta Road would understand immediately the appeal of the NRMA's plan to transform it from a major motor traffic artery to a so-called transit boulevard, with light rail and cycling lanes. Few do walk there though: at present it is a car sewer.

Sydney has many of these - the Princes Highway, Canterbury Road, Victoria Road, the Pacific Highway, Military Road and the route to the Northern Beaches are some of them. They are roads so dominated by cars and trucks with their smell, noise, danger and boorish driver behaviour that pedestrians and shoppers avoid them. Parramatta Road is probably the worst. For long stretches it is a wasteland.

The NRMA's plan is to put the sewer where it should be - underground. The M4 would be joined to the City West link by a tunnel between Strathfield and Lilyfield. That might just move one bottleneck closer to the city at the Anzac bridge, but the plan also envisages the tunnel branching southwards to St Peters where there are links to the Princes Highway, the M5 and Port Botany. (It makes no mention of the Roads and Traffic Authority's plan to link the M4 to Victoria Road.) The association's report cleverly links improvements to Parramatta Road with the M4 East project: the one, it says, can pay for the other.

By eliminating most of Parramatta Road's motor traffic, and allowing increased floor space ratios and densities along the corridor, it will see land values rise and with them income from stamp duties. Enough over time, it believes, to pay for the M4 project.

Well, perhaps. But before the next state government gets too excited about this neat switcheroo, a few problems must be overcome. First, how will it be funded in the initial stages - before the pie-in-the-sky money starts rolling in? A public-private partnership is almost out of the question because of NSW's poor record with them. But as a government project, the estimated $7.4 billion cost is beyond the state's capacity in the short term. Will Canberra help? Then there are environmental considerations. Rejuvenating Parramatta Road would be a major gain, but a big new traffic tunnel - more reliance on roads, more traffic and congestion - would not. At 8 kilometres it would be the longest in Sydney. Where would the exhaust stacks go? Lastly there is simply a problem of credibility. Road projects, we know, get built in NSW - but not rail or light rail. What if, instead of one Parramatta Road, we ended up with two?





WHEN Yahoo! Inc acquiesced to a Chinese warrant in 2004 seeking the identity codes that would help track down a threat to ''state security'' from internet postings, it was widely condemned for not even trying to stand up for the ideal of free expression inherent in the worldwide web. Its compliance resulted in a 10-year jail term for a young activist, Shi Tao, who had posted secret censorship orders relating to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square tragedy.

Now unease is focused on the internet's home base, as US agencies mount a punitive expedition into cyberspace to seek and destroy those behind the WikiLeaks disclosures, Julian Assange in particular. Washington's discomfiture is understandable. Yet there is something unbalanced in the desperate yearning to punish.

The subpoena for details of the messages on the social networking service Twitter to and from Assange and other WikiLeaks figures sets the American government at odds with the culture of the information age supposed to be the future for the US economy. Twitter Inc was given a court order to supply the account information and not tell anyone about it. It has successfully challenged the gag order, allowing the subjects of the search at least to be informed. Now it is fighting the disclosure itself, arguing that its right to protect confidentiality and the free speech of its users are breached.

Presumably the argument will come down to a more narrow search, for specific evidence that authorities hope will show assistance on the part of Assange and WikiLeaks to the jailed Private Bradley Manning to help him download and pass on the secret files. If such a link is found, beyond passive reception of the files, the case would then be built for trying to extradite Assange and others to face trial in the United States. Without evidence of active assistance to the leaker, a prosecution would face a huge obstacle in the First Amendment, guaranteeing free speech.

Washington would do better to let the WikiLeaks episode flow through, and meanwhile tighten up its security. The WikiLeaks manhunt does it little credit: a secret grand jury cooking up an indictment, Manning held in prolonged and harsh solitary confinement in a military camp, the forces of law and spookdom unleashed on internet gadflies. These are not people who have flown airliners at office towers. Their revelations have shown US diplomats to be intelligent and professional - and so far they have helped bring down dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt.





VICTORIA'S Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, and the acts of Parliament from which it derives its moral and legal force, are integral to this state's enviable democracy. That does not mean the commission should never be reviewed, but it does place an onus on advocates of change - particularly those who want to strip away some of the powers - to make the case that what they propose will do more good than harm. The Baillieu government's plans to restore certain discrimination rights to religious organisations do not pass that test.

State Attorney-General Robert Clark has signalled that one of his early legislative priorities will be to seek to overturn reforms by the previous government that enhanced the protection against discrimination of individuals in their dealings with religious groups as employers and service providers. The Labor reforms, introduced last year after extensive community consultation, contained two important advances: they gave wider investigative powers to the commission, and they placed restrictions on the rights of churches and other ''faith-based organisations'' to discriminate against people on the basis of such things as their sexuality, politics or beliefs. It would be a retrograde step to wind back either reform.

Any worthwhile human rights regime requires more than the prosecution of breaches, and the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission's most valuable task is to help prevent discrimination in the first place, by educating institutions on ways to break down the systemic causes of inequality. It would be short-sighted of the Government to now fashion a system capable of doing little more than reacting to individual complaints of discrimination.

The Coalition's plan to reinstate ''permanent exceptions'' from anti-discrimination laws for religious groups is still more concerning. Under the Labor changes, for example, a Catholic school wanting to refuse to employ a single mother as a receptionist is required to justify the decision and show why it may be considered fair and reasonable. The new government is wrong to suggest that that is a violation of freedom of religion; rather, it is a sensible recognition of the fact that such freedoms sometimes conflict with other rights, such as the right to equality.

The Coalition should rethink its proposals to disturb the careful balance found in Victoria's human rights and anti-discrimination laws.





ALL too often, good policy is trumped by so-called ''good politics''. Exhibit 1 is the costly, ineffective muddle that is climate policy. An Age analysis has found that over the past decade the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments spent about $5.6 billion on climate programs for little result, at an extraordinary average cost of $168 per tonne of carbon emissions abated. Not only has public money been lavished on schemes that were dreamt up as eye-catching election promises, but the public goodwill required to achieve emissions targets has been tested.

By 2020, both Labor and the Coalition aim to have cut greenhouse emissions to 5 per cent less than in 2000, but the Department of Climate Change estimates emissions will be 24 per cent higher under current policies. The forecast confirms the folly of doling out taxpayers' money to selected projects rather than biting the bullet and adopting an overarching carbon-pricing mechanism.

The basic case for emissions trading is simple: a market mechanism offers the most cost-efficient way to achieve mandated targets. This was the basis of a 2003 cabinet submission by then treasurer Peter Costello and environment minister David Kemp, only to be rebuffed by prime minister John Howard. In 2007, the Shergold review offered similar advice, warning that ''policies in the current mix impose significant economic costs for relatively modest outcomes''. Under electoral pressure to act, the Howard government accepted the advice and both sides of politics went to the election promising emissions trading schemes. Yet when new prime minister Kevin Rudd moved to honour this promise, the Coalition responded by replacing Malcolm Turnbull, a supporter of the policy, with the openly sceptical Tony Abbott. The Coalition combined with the Greens - who believed the scheme's targets were too modest - to block the legislation. After a couple of attempts, Labor timidly retreated.

Today, Julia Gillard is the latest national leader who appears to have realised that there is no adequate alternative to a comprehensive carbon-pricing mechanism. At this Friday's meeting of the multiparty climate change committee, the government will present a hybrid model: a fixed carbon price developing over time into an emissions trading scheme. If Mr Abbott lazily rails against a ''great big new tax'', he should be given short shrift.

Even after all the policy failures and backdowns, in the latest Age/Nielsen poll 46 per cent of voters support a carbon price, with 44 per cent against. Support for emissions trading was as high as 60 per cent, which suggests the Gillard government could regain the upper hand politically if it has the courage of its convictions and argues the case for a carbon price. Australians have already paid $5.6 billion for 17 largely inconsequential programs. The initial cost of abatement of emissions under the scheme blocked in parliament was to be $20 to $25 a tonne of carbon. Abatement costs for most of the biggest programs over the past decade, with total funding of $4.6 billion, were six to 20 times greater than that. In all, the 17 programs will produce less than a 10th of the cuts in emissions needed to achieve the bipartisan target for 2020.

Piecemeal government intervention hasn't worked. The Coalition's current policy, paying for specific emissions reduction projects, offers more of the same. At the same time, Labor has provided little cause for confidence that it has enough political will to atone for its spineless abandonment of the cause it had advocated so strongly. Climate change has been a political football for so long that the instinct to keep playing short-term politics is very strong. The level of public disillusionment is correspondingly high. Whoever leads the way with a policy to deliver substantial emissions cuts may find that this is the way to restore their standing. After all, when Australians were last presented with an unambiguous promise of decisive action they voted resoundingly for it.








The foreign secretary, William Hague, vowed yesterday to seek a patient, steady improvement in relations with Russia. His counterpart Sergei Lavrov then provided at least three reasons why they will remain turbulent. He said western support for the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia would be counterproductive, that Russia would not support further sanctions on Iran, and that serious disagreements in Russia's bilateral relationship with Britain remained.

The list of these disputes never seems to lessen: the latest was the refusal to admit entry to the Guardian's Moscow correspondent on what Mr Lavrov called a technicality. Our correspondent is now back in Moscow after a diplomatic protest was launched. However, the reason for his exclusion was anything but technical. It was because of what he wrote. There are regular spy rows; the shadow of the Litvinenko affair is a long one, and at least 40 people in Britain are wanted by Russia on criminal extradition warrants. The question is tritely posed: if businessmen from the two countries can trade with each other – the volume of bilateral trade quadrupled over five years – then why can't their politicians?

The two countries certainly have common interests: combating the sort of butchery inflicted by a suicide bomber in the baggage hall of Domodedovo airport is undoubtedly one. But go then to Ali-Yurt, the village in Ingushetia from where that suicide bomber came, and another picture emerges: that of a region seething in anger. What began as a secular insurgency in Chechnya has now been transformed, by the brutality of the security forces' response, into an Islamic rebellion spreading throughout the north Caucasus. The greatest chronicler of this tragedy, the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, is now dead. Which side should Britain be on? Not an insurgency which uses suicide bombers against civilian targets, but nor should it look the other way when the security forces launch raids on villages like Ali-Yurt which form the subject of appeals to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg.

Ms Politkovskaya said Chechnya's fate was Russia's also. Each spelled the death of democracy. In a smaller sense, Britain's relationship with Russia is inseparable, too, from the extent to which cries of misrule resound unanswered in the empty echo chamber of political life in Russia. Wave after wave of émigrés arrives on these shores as a result. The decision to reset relations after the Bush era is among the few US foreign policy initiatives to bear fruit. Britain has no equivalent attraction to offer Russia. Yes, the two governments should talk directly to each other, rather than snarl through proxies, but there may not be much listening done.






It would be easy enough for Mervyn King and his eight colleagues on the Bank of England's monetary policy committee (MPC) to bring inflation back down to the government's 2% target. They could push up bank rate, slow down the economy, lengthen the dole queues and cause more firms to go bust. In the past, that is the way upward pressure on the cost of living has been curbed. No doubt a dose of the same medicine would work again.

And, it should be made clear, there is a serious argument for administering one. Figures out yesterday showed that inflation is running at 4% and is unlikely to have peaked. As Mr King noted yesterday, the Bank has been taken unawares by the scale of the increase in global food and energy prices. What is more, Britain's record of dealing with inflation is hardly an unblemished one. Harold Wilson reacted too slowly to the quadrupling of oil prices in 1973-74, and saw inflation rocket to almost 27%. Nigel Lawson lost control of the economy in the late 1980s, with the result that interest rates had to be cranked up to 15% in order to bring inflation down from a peak of nearly 10%.

Those economists who, like the MPC's Andrew Sentance, favour an immediate increase in bank rate believe a stitch in time will save nine: failure to tighten policy now while inflation is still relatively low could mean that much more draconian action will be needed later. They also point out, quite correctly, that bank rate has been at 0.5% for the past two years: this is an emergency low level never seen before in the Bank's 317-year history. Giving interest rates a slight upward tweak would do little damage to the economy but would do wonders for the Bank's inflation-fighting credibility.

However, judging by his letter to George Osborne explaining the Bank's failure to hit the inflation target, the governor has yet to be persuaded of this argument. He is right to be wary, for there are solid reasons why it would be a mistake to tighten policy too soon. The Bank, for example, has no policy levers available that could affect the cost of crude oil or the price of food on global markets. Mr King noted yesterday that inflation would probably be below 2% if the impact of higher VAT, the fall in the value of the pound and the increases in commodity prices were stripped out. That may sound a bit like an under-pressure Premier League manager telling the press that his team would be top of the table had they not lost home and away to Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea. But it is still a fair point. The MPC can only counteract the impact of global inflationary pressures by increasing the deflationary pressure on an already weak domestic economy. Even then, there would be no immediate impact on inflation, because it takes time for changes in monetary policy to work their way through the economy. It would not be until the end of this year or early 2012 that the effects of decisions taken by the MPC now would start to be felt, and by that time inflation will be falling anyway. Decisions on interest rates are supposed to be taken looking at the road ahead rather than with eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror.

The next 12 to 18 months are going to be tough for the UK, as David Cameron frankly admitted earlier this week. Taxes have risen, inflation is squeezing real incomes, credit rationing for first-time buyers means the housing market is flat, and the big cuts in public spending have yet to bite. Mr Osborne, in his published reply to Mr King yesterday, made it clear that he is in no hurry to see interest rates pushed higher. It is not hard to see why. The chancellor has raised taxes and announced spending cuts precisely so that the Bank can keep monetary policy loose. To impose the toughest spending round of the postwar era and then to raise interest rates simultaneously would make an already grim economic year even grimmer. The MPC should stand firm.








Some yearn for departed Custos, some revere Rufus, some swear by (though, in moments of deepest puzzlement, sometimes possibly at) the inventive Paul. But plainly the best-loved of Guardian crossword setters, more than half a century since his first concoction appeared, is Araucaria, less well known as the Reverend John Graham MBE. The first of the great crossword compilers called himself Torquemada, the second Ximenes – each taking his name from an agent of the inquisition. John Graham settled for the more benign alias Araucaria, taken from the tree known in Britain as the monkey puzzle. That is not to say he is averse to inducing a sense of helplessness in his clientele. The French call the tree "the monkey's despair", and it's one mark of the perfect crossword that the solver will at some point despair of being able to finish it. There are critics who bemoan his failure to obey strict Ximenean rules. Yet even they must honour the astonishing ingenuity with which he furnishes clues that tempt you in one direction when quite another is wanted; serves up idiosyncratic treats like his alphabetical crosswords, where you have to fill the answers into an unnumbered grid; or somehow gathers so many composers or cattle or cricket grounds into one puzzle that his customers gasp in wonder. All the fruits of an erudition that ranges easily from Bach through to Lady Gaga, from Aristotle to Keith Flett. These qualities are happily undiminished as he celebrates his 90th birthday today.






Eighteen days of protest ended 30 years of one-man rule by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. While the demonstrations had been mounting in intensity and reflected deep-seated grievances that had been building over decades, his decision Friday to step down was never certain. As the country enters a new era, Egypt's future is unclear. The army is now in charge, and its commitment to democracy is uncertain. Friends of Egypt and supporters of democracy should do all they can to push the nation toward a stable and sustainable democracy.

Protests began Jan. 25, 10 days after demonstrations forced the resignation of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Egyptians were complaining about high inflation, high unemployment and government repression. First, Mr. Mubarak tried the time-tested response — he sent riot police to break up the protests, but that tactic proved ineffective. Then the government took the country offline, disconnecting from the Internet in an attempt to silence and disorganize the protesters.

That too failed. In a last-gasp effort, loyalists unleashed a vicious assault on the protesters, with plainclothes security forces attacking demonstrators. Throughout this process, Mr. Mubarak offered one concession after another to the demonstrators in hope of placating the protesters. Rather than appeasing them, his moves only encouraged more demands.

Although Mr. Mubarak formally resigned Friday afternoon, the end was in sight as soon as the army took the streets. A military that consists primarily of conscripts is always an unreliable tool when deployed against the public: Too often soldiers see themselves in the faces of the protesters. Even the upper ranks of the military were torn between loyalty to the president and loyalty to the country. Their sympathies became clear when they noted that the protesters' demands were "legitimate." Finally, last Thursday, they chose the country over Mr. Mubarak, with a statement that signaled that the military, not the president, was in charge.

But Mr. Mubarak did not get the message. In the speech that followed the military communique, he said he would serve out the remaining seven months of his term. That infuriated both the protesters and the military. Finally, on Friday afternoon, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mr. Mubarak had stepped down, handing power to a military council.

It is not clear where Egypt will go. The military has suspended the constitution and dissolved Parliament. Remarkably, those are viewed as positive steps since both institutions are considered to be pillars of Mr. Mubarak's rule. The military has promised to hold free and fair elections but first a new constitution has to be agreed on.

No one knows how long that will take, and the military has said only that it would be in charge "for a temporary period of six months or until the end of elections to the upper and lower houses of Parliament, and presidential elections." A military council will run the country in the interim.

That could prove worrisome. Vice President Suleiman is a former intelligence chief who has shown little sympathy for democracy. The head of the military, former defense minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, is said to be resistant to change.

The best check against military rule could be the newly empowered Egyptian public. There is little indication that they will settle for anything less than democracy. For them to be successful, however, they will need allies. And here, external support is vital.

Friends of Egyptian democracy should make it clear to the military that it must return to the barracks. This interim period must not seque to permanent rule. That means conditioning aid and assistance on seeing the transition through. It also means helping Egypt develop the institutions of a functioning democracy.

In practical terms, the country needs political parties. The Mubarak regime had eliminated most of the opposition. Ironically, that created an atmosphere in which only the Muslim Brotherhood would flourish. Now the temptation is to see the hand of that group in every action and to fear that the spread of Islamic influence will inhibit progress toward democracy. Egypt's leaders must not give into that temptation.

The Muslim Brotherhood did win 20 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliamentary election in 2005. In a country with a truly democratic culture, the secularists are more likely to prevail. Indeed, the events in Egypt and Tunisia undercut the appeal of Islamic groups who have insisted that they represent the real opposition in Arab states. In fact, it has been ordinary citizens fed up with sclerotic political systems and who lack economic opportunities that brought about change in these countries — not the Islamic militants.

That message should be spread throughout the Arab world. It is a message that should give hope to democrats everywhere and could help ensure that Egypt realizes its brightest future.







SINGAPORE — The prospect of continuing Mideast political instability is widely portrayed as a geostrategic problem for the West, particularly the United States. For years, the U.S. has worked with a de facto coalition of authoritarian Arab regimes to contain Iran and protect Israel. The "people power" protests in Tunisia, Egypt and other parts of the region challenge this arrangement.

But the rippling unrest and uncertainty in the Middle East also expose the heavy dependence of China, Japan, India, South Korea and other leading Asian economies on the flow of oil from the volatile Persian Gulf. After 30 years in power, the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last Friday, following 18 days of street protests, has done little to reduce fears that tensions in the Middle East will help keep oil prices high and may lead to disruption of key oil-supply routes.

The narrow Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman is the only way into and out of the gulf by sea. It is ranked by the U.S. energy department as "the world's most important oil choke point." The average daily oil flow through this strait, which Iran has threatened to close if its nuclear facilities are attacked, was 15.5 million barrels in 2009, approximately one-third of world trade in seaborne oil.

More than 75 percent of crude oil exports from the Gulf went to Asian markets, not to the West. Many of the giant tankers carrying the oil crossed the Indian Ocean and passed through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore on their way to refineries in Southeast Asia as well as to China, Japan and other parts of Northeast Asia.

Asia has become the mainspring of global economic growth. Its surging energy demand and reliance on oil imported from the Middle East have contributed to the forces pushing the price of oil up by 25 percent since September and feeding inflation. With demand from China and other Asian importers rising and constraints on supply, oil for delivery later this year still costs over $100 a barrel.

The International Energy Agency reported Feb. 10 that world oil demand in 2010 had risen more strongly than previously thought and would increase further to exceed 90 million barrels per day for the first time by the end of this year. The U.S. predicts that oil prices could average about $93 a barrel in 2011.

All the Asian oil-importing economies are hostage to developments in the Middle East, but none more so than China given its size and ambition to surpass the U.S. as the world's biggest economy later this century. But will this happen when so much of China's oil comes from volatile suppliers in the Middle East and Africa? China's demand for oil, mainly to fuel its transport system, has more than doubled in the past decade, far outstripping home production.

Unlike Japan, China has not been able to curb oil consumption through energy conservation and efficiency. As a result, it has gone from being a net oil exporter in the early 1990s to the much more precarious position of having to import 55 percent of its oil in 2010. Half came from the Middle East and 30 percent from Africa, nearly all of it via the Malacca and Singapore straits.

Realizing the strategic importance of the straits to China, Japan and other users, the coastal states — Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore — have increased surveillance to keep the waterway safe for shipping.

China's dependence on foreign oil is expected to keep rising, reaching 65 percent by 2015 and 70 percent by 2020. China is already second only to the U.S. as an oil consumer and third in imports, after America and Japan.

However, U.S. reliance on imported oil has been declining since 2005. Its dependence on oil from abroad is projected to fall to 45 percent by 2035, from 51 percent in 2009, as domestic production expands, biofuel and coal-to-liquids output increases and energy efficiency improves.

Moreover, the majority of U.S. oil imports come from its own hemisphere, with next-door Canada supplying over 23 percent. Only 17 percent of U.S. oil imports came from the Persian Gulf in 2009, while 22 percent were from Africa.

Rapidly growing dependence on imported oil is a strategic vulnerability for China. It is elevating supply concerns into an increasingly prominent position in Chinese foreign and defense policy.

As China seeks to secure oil in the Middle East and Africa, it finds itself at odds with the U.S., which has the leeway to promote nonenergy interests. "Indeed, the risk for Washington is that China's growing dependence on imported oil will increasingly prompt Beijing to give higher priority to oil than to international issues such as the protection of human rights, nuclear nonproliferation, and good governance," says Erica Downs, China Energy Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

China's energy diplomacy is a mix of positive and negative. Positive actions include major investment and supply orders in energy exporting countries, such as Russia, Indonesia and Myanmar. China is increasing oil production abroad and diversifying suppliers. At home, it is improving energy efficiency, expanding renewable and nuclear power, and building a strategic petroleum reserve that is planned to total 85 million tons, equivalent to 90 days of oil imports, by 2020.

On the negative side, China's quest for energy security is being extended offshore in Asia into actual or prospective oil and gas zones that are also claimed by Japan and other Asian states. If backed by China's increasingly strong armed forces, this push will heighten the potential for conflict.

Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.







LONDON — They wouldn't do it for al-Qaida, but they finally did it for themselves.

The young Egyptian protesters who overthrew the Mubarak regime on Friday have accomplished what two generations of violent Islamist revolutionaries could not. And they did not just do it nonviolently; they succeeded because they were nonviolent.

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 9/11, 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, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is an Egyptian. The great majority of the founders of al-Qaida 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 fundamentalist army officers assassinated President Anwar Sadat on Oct. 6, 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-Qaida, 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 9/11 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.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist and historian whose columns appear in 45 countries.







MELBOURNE — Many years ago, my wife and I were driving somewhere with our three young daughters in the back, when one of them suddenly asked: "Would you rather that we were clever or that we were happy?"

I was reminded of that moment last month when I read Amy Chua's Wall Street Journal article, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," which sparked more than 4,000 comments on and over 100,000 comments on Facebook. The article was a promotional piece for Chua's book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," which has become an instant best-seller.

Chua's thesis is that, when compared to Americans, Chinese children tend to be successful because they have "tiger mothers," whereas Western mothers are pussycats, or worse. Chua's daughters, Sophia and Louise, were never allowed to watch television, play computer games, sleep over at a friend's home, or be in a school play. They had to spend hours every day practicing the piano or violin. They were expected to be the top student in every subject except gym and drama.

Chinese mothers, according to Chua, believe that children, once they get past the toddler stage, need to be told, in no uncertain terms, when they have not met the high standards their parents expect of them. (Chua says that she knows Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish, and Ghanaian mothers who are "Chinese" in their approach, as well as some ethnic-Chinese mothers who are not.) Their egos should be strong enough to take it.

But Chua, a professor at Yale Law School (as is her husband), lives in a culture in which a child's self-esteem is considered so fragile that children's sports teams give "Most Valuable Player" awards to every member. So it is not surprising that many Americans react with horror to her style of parenting.

One problem in assessing the tiger- mothering approach is that we can't separate its impact from that of the genes that the parents pass on to their children. If you want your children to be at the top of their class, it helps if you and your partner have the brains to become professors at elite universities. No matter how hard a tiger mom pushes, not every student can finish first (unless, of course, we make everyone "top of the class").

Tiger parenting aims at getting children to make the most of their abilities, and so seems to lean toward the "clever" side of the "clever or happy" choice. That's also the view of Betty Ming Liu, who blogged in response to Chua's article: "Parents like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian- Americans like me are in therapy."

Stanley Sue, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, has studied suicide, which is particularly common among Asian-American women. He believes that family pressure is a significant factor. Chua would reply that reaching a high level of achievement brings great satisfaction, and that the only way to do it is through hard work.

Perhaps, but can't children be encouraged to do things because they are intrinsically worthwhile, rather than because of fear of parental disapproval?

I agree with Chua to this extent: a reluctance to tell a child what to do can go too far. One of my daughters, who now has children of her own, tells me amazing stories about her friends' parenting styles. One of them let her daughter drop out of three kindergartens, because she didn't want to go to them. Another couple believes in "self-directed learning" to such an extent that one evening they went to bed at 11 p.m., leaving their 5-year-old watching her ninth straight hour of Barbie videos.

Tiger mothering might seem to be a useful counterbalance to such permissiveness, but both extremes leave something out. Chua's focus is unrelentingly on solitary activities in the home, with no encouragement of group activities, or of concern for others, either in school or in the wider community. Thus, she appears to view school plays as a waste of time that could be better spent studying or practicing music.

But to take part in a school play is to contribute to a community good. If talented children stay away, the quality of the production will suffer, to the detriment of the others who take part (and of the audience that will watch it). And all children whose parents bar them from such activities miss the opportunity to develop social skills that are just as important and rewarding — and just as demanding to master — as those that monopolize Chua's attention.

We should aim for our children to be good people, and to live ethical lives that manifest concern for others as well as for themselves. This approach to child-rearing is not unrelated to happiness: there is abundant evidence that those who are generous and kind are more content with their lives than those who are not. But it is also an important goal in its own right.

Tigers lead solitary lives, except for mothers with their cubs. We, by contrast, are social animals. So are elephants, and elephant mothers do not focus only on the well-being of their own offspring. Together, they protect and take care of all the young in their herd, like a day care center.

If we all think only of our own interests, we are headed for collective disaster — just look at what we are doing to the planet's climate. When it comes to raising our children, we need fewer tigers and more elephants.

Peter Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University and a laureate professor at the University of Melbourne. © 2011 Project Syndicate







February has always been a month of familial joy, love and care with Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day celebrations on the calendar. Take what former National Police deputy chief Comr. Gen. (ret.) Adang Daradjatun has done as an example. Apparently in the Valentine's Day mood, Adang, who is now a legislator for the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), has been engaged in an all out effort to defend his runaway wife, Nunun Nurbaeti, a businesswoman who allegedly passed Rp 24 billion (US$2.69 million) in bribes to legislators.

Unlike Adang's "personal approach", the Golkar Party has taken an institutional approach toward the case. The party's executive board has sent a letter asking the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to release nine former Golkar lawmakers who were detained in connection to the Bank Indonesia vote-buying scandal. The letter, signed by Golkar deputy chairman Muladi and secretary-general Idrus Marham, stated that the Golkar legislators knew nothing about the bribery scandal and that they would not try to obstruct the case by evading any KPK interrogation sessions.

Golkar's maneuver, although permitted in legal practice, could be considered as political pressure placed upon a legal proceeding and can therefore be categorized as contempt of law. It was the legislators' alleged wrongdoings that were thought to be their own personal business and therefore their own personal responsibility. Unless, of course, their alleged misdeeds were part of the party's institutional policies.

We should remember that the failed prosecution of a number of high-profile corruption cases has soured the initial optimistic mood that made us wonder whether the government was really serious in fighting corruption – an ambitious task which has been among the main campaign themes of the victorious administration over the last two general elections, as well as the ruling government's top priority agenda.

The controversy started with the Jan. 19, 2011 South Jakarta District Court verdict which sentenced former junior tax officer Gayus H. Tambunan to only seven years in prison and a Rp 300 million (US$33,604) fine for his role in manipulating a tax appeal by a shrimp processing company, while at the same time somehow neglecting his enormous "unaccounted" wealth. Another controversy involved the "limited investigation" into the Bank Century scandal, which has so far only affected former officials of the now defunct bank and seems to have avoided reaching out to people who are supposed to share the burden of responsibility, or may have even have had a hand in the bank's collapse.

Apart from the above two obvious examples, the country's poor anticorruption record is worsened by the brouhaha surrounding the prosecution of the 2004 Bank Indonesia bribery scandal, which has led to the detention of 25 politicians and the imprisonment of four. The scandal centered on the bribery of members of the House of Representatives in exchange for their support of Miranda S. Goeltom's appointment as a Bank Indonesia senior deputy governor.

The investigation into the scandal has wound through a long and crooked road, with no clear indication of success as of yet. And the main obstacle is none other than the highly political nuance of the case itself. With the legislators having been the key subject of the investigation, it is not surprising to see efforts to pull the bribery scandal into the political domain and set the legal aspects aside.





The UN Security Council has just heard the views of the parties in the case: Cambodia and Thailand. Both are on the root cause of the differences among them, namely the border dispute, as well the circumstances surrounding the most recent border clashes on Feb. 4-6, 2011.

Indeed, on Feb. 7-8, 2011, through my visit to both Phnom Penh and Bangkok, I had the opportunity to hear first hand from the parties concerned on the issues confronting them.  

There's little doubt about the complexity of the border issue confronting Thailand and Cambodia. However, there is absolutely no reason why the issue cannot be resolved through peaceful means; through dialogue and negotiations.

As chair of ASEAN, Indonesia is of the view that there is nothing inevitable about a military solution to the two countries' border issue. Indeed, as chair of ASEAN, Indonesia detects still a window of opportunity.

The recent communications from the two governments to the Security Council, as well as the statements just now made by the distinguished foreign ministers, illustrate well the differing interpretations of the circumstances surrounding the recent border incidents.  Each side professes its defensive and peaceful intent; apportioning to the other responsibility for provoking the border incidents. However, intent must be accurately deciphered. Confidence and trust build on the ground.

The recent military incidents illustrate that, at the very least, there is a communication gap; of perceptions and misperceptions, leading to, perhaps, a cycle of unintended violence and conflict.

There is, thus, a need to build a more reliable local and higher level communications system between the two sides, perhaps with third party support, to ensure that the cease-fire holds, to foster confidence in each others' commitment to hold the cease-fire and to remove self-fulfilling worst scenario action and counter reaction.  Not least, there is an obvious need for the two sides to make a higher level political commitment to respect the cease-fire.

The Security Council may wish to join in calling on the two sides to respect and to adhere to the cease-fire and to support ASEAN's endeavor in this regard. Commitment to address the issue by peaceful means and commitment to respect the cease-fire; these are essential if we are to create conditions conducive for diplomatic negotiations to take place.

The Security Council may wish to express support for ASEAN's efforts, to facilitate and actively encourage, the two sides to step up efforts to resolve their disputes by peaceful means. 

In anticipation of the outcome of the present Security Council meeting, as chair of ASEAN, Indonesia has called for a meeting of the foreign ministers of ASEAN member states in Jakarta on Feb. 22, 2011. Indonesia is very much encouraged that both Cambodia and Thailand readily and at once agreed to the convening of the meeting.

Based on the communications I have had, Indonesia foresees three basic and mutually reinforcing objectives:

First, an ASEAN call and, indeed, strong encouragement, to the parties concerned to continue to commit to the peaceful settlement of disputes and renunciation of the use and threat of the use of force, as provided for in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and its Charter;

Second, an ASEAN support to the efforts by the two parties to ensure respect of the cease-fire.

Enhanced communications modalities may need to be contemplated and introduced; and
Third, an ASEAN effort to ensure conducive climate for the resumption of negotiations between the two sides. ASEAN may facilitate such talks and be informed by the parties concerned on the general outline of its progress.

The Council may wish to express support for the aforementioned ASEAN foreign ministers meeting.

Our region is only too painfully aware of the costs of conflict. It is, at the same, cognizant of the dividends accruing from conditions of amity and cooperation. Common security means common prosperity and common progress. We are not about to let these gains lapse.

ASEAN has been at the forefront in catapulting the region to an ASEAN Community by 2015 in all its three pillars, namely economic, sociocultural and political-security. In such Community, resort to use of force to settle disputes cannot be the norm. It is an exceptional and unique aberration; as we believe the current situation between Cambodia and Thailand.

Indeed, cooperation within ASEAN, between ASEAN and its immediate regions, through the "plus one" and "plus three" processes, as well as the East Asia Summit, have continued unabated. ASEAN is occupying the driving seat role in the wider region's architecture building.

Beyond, ASEAN is identifying a roadmap for a more enhanced contribution on global affairs: An ASEAN common platform on global issues of common concern. 

In short, ASEAN has every incentive to ensure that the present difficulties afflicting two of its members be resolved amicably. Guns and artillery must remain silent in Southeast Asia.

Thus, we ask for synergy of efforts by the Security Council to support ASEAN's endeavors and ultimately, to support and provide every positive incentive for the two parties concerned, Cambodia and Thailand, to resolve their differences amicably, as befitting members of the ASEAN family of nations; and indeed, members of the global community of nations.

As chair of ASEAN, Indonesia is of the view that there is nothing inevitable about a military solution to the two countries' border issue.

The article is an excerpt of statement by Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa before the United Nations Security Council in New York on Monday.






Agus Pakpahan, in his article "Seeking a made in Indonesia policy" (The Jakarta Post, Jan. 17), was correct on a number of points. It's true that Indonesia must be concerned about the future price of sugar.

Indeed current world sugar prices have been on the rise over the last few years. Increases in oil prices over the last several months and the floods in Queensland, Australia, were among the very visible signs for the need to anticipate a shortage of sugar in the world, hence the continued high prices of sugar.

Quoting this paper's editorial of Jan. 18, "The FAO food-price index, which rose for the sixth consecutive month by 4.3 percent in December, driven by sugar and cereals, is projected to continue to rise." It's also very true that up to the 1930s Indonesia was a major sugar supplier to the world.

Unfortunately since then, production has deteriorated and today the country has had to import not only white sugar but also raw sugar for its refineries. This is despite the adoption of a strong policy during president Soeharto's regime.

How is sugar production in Indonesia nowadays? Well, suffice it to say that we are in no way close to meeting consumer demand. In the last several years production has declined from 2.8 million tons in 2008 to an estimate of less than 2 million tons in 2010. The weather is partly to blame. But one should not only blame the obvious.

The question is did other man-made mistakes contribute to the poor performance of our sugar industry. The answer is definitely yes.

State intervention is not at fault. Since Soeharto's time until now the government has intervened with different kinds of state programs under the moniker of "intensification". In 2006, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono himself gave an instruction to his ministers for what was called the "revitalization of the food sector".

The real issue is twofold. First, Indonesia is the only sugar-producing country left in the world that has "state mills" that are responsible for more than half of its national production. The second issue concerns "reliable" data. Different ministries and agencies — such as the Agriculture Ministry, Trade Ministry, Industry Ministry and last but not least the Central Statistics Agency — have different sets of data.

So state intervention, the IMF, sugar imports and a lack of farmers are not behind what Pakpahan termed as the "chaos". If we want to be true to ourselves, the real reason behind the inefficiency of the system is the government control of sugar production through the state mills.

The most crucial thing needed to start solving the problem is accurate data. Data collection should be left to an independent third-party, preferably from the private sector. Then the government must open itself to the question of whether we still want sugar production dominated by the state-owned mills.

If yes, then there must be a total revamp of the mills to increase productivity. It's not just the question of old machinery. The most important thing is to have a "transparent" system. If not, then the government must quickly open the sector to private investment and ease restrictions on the private sector to enter the sugar industry. The government must encourage them to "partner" with cane farmers. And last, the government must set up independent inspectors to ensure transparency.

Whatever the answer is the ultimate objective must be to develop a national sugar industry that will not only be capable of meeting domestic demand, but world demand — just as Indonesia used to do during the Dutch colonial era.

Government policy must be consistent with its goal of developing the agriculture sector. A significant portion of the Indonesian population is still comprised of subsistence farmers. Combining policies to supply "refined sugar" and imported raw sugar to domestic food industries with policies to meet local consumer demand will only aggravate the matter and furthermore suppress farmers' income, as well as going against its goals.

When the idea of developing sugar refineries in early 2000 was initiated, it was specifically aimed at producing sugar of very high quality to cater to the specific needs of specialized food industries in the country. The amount wasn't supposed to be very significant. But as more and more refineries were built and capacity started to exceed the needs of those industries, the problems started.

Refined sugar began to be seen in the consumer market. But at the same time efforts to increase local sugar farming seemed stillborn. On one hand there was a shortage of local sugar and on the other hand there was an excess of refined sugar made from raw imports from Thailand and India.

The government regulation is actually quite clear: "Refined" sugar is only for the direct supply of specialized food industries. But alas, the shortage was much too attractive in the eyes of the refineries, especially when the government increased the minimum sale price year after year. The consequences then started to snowball.

If there is going to be a "new" policy to promote local sugar production, the government must determine who must be prioritized: local subsistence farmers or refineries. New "rules of the game" must be put in place. The government must then also ensure that the rules are strictly applied and enforced.

A new Indonesian sugar policy must include both the refineries and the farmers in the picture to be politically accepted by all players.

The writer is former