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Thursday, February 17, 2011

EDITORIAL 17.02.11

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  media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month February 17, edition 000757, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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











































































Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's interaction with editors of television news channels was supposed to be a public relations exercise to shore up his battered and bruised image ahead of the Budget session of Parliament. But Mr Singh, through his obfuscatory responses, has ended up looking worse than before. Not only have his replies to questions relating to the 2G Spectrum scam failed to convince anybody barring the faithful, he has cut a pathetic figure by trying to pass on the buck to TRAI and the Finance Minister. No less laughable is his claim that Mr Raja took all crucial decisions himself. It is stunning that the Prime Minister of India should have allowed himself to be fooled by a Minister not known for either integrity or probity. If we are indeed being ruled by a Government whose head is kept out of the loop on major policy decisions, or who prefers to remain blissfully ignorant so that he can wash his hands of an issue should a dispute arise, then there is not only cause for concern but ample reason to feel alarmed. It is absurd to suggest, as Mr Singh has done, though not for the first time, that the massive, mind-boggling corruption we are witnessing under his leadership has nothing to do with him and everything to do with the Congress's coalition partners. The 'coalition dharma' that he has referred to, and to which he adheres scrupulously, is an abomination and a perversion of the concept of managing the inherent contradictions of a rainbow political alliance. By no stretch of the imagination does 'coalition dharma' mean turning a Nelson's eye to rampant thievery of coalition partners or genuflecting at the altar of those who pursue office for pelf and profit. Appointing a Minister and allotting a particular portfolio to him or her is entirely a matter of prime ministerial privilege and discretion. Even if we were to accept that the DMK forced A Raja on the Prime Minister, there is no reason to believe that he reluctantly allocated the Telecom Minister to him despite knowing about his shenanigans during UPA1. It is equally unbelievable that Mr Singh was entirely out of the loop on the controversial ISRO-Devas Multimedia Private Ltd deal which, had it gone undetected, would have resulted in gifting the dubious firm with precious S-band Spectrum without inviting bids.

Nothing can be worse than a Prime Minister who misleads the people knowingly, wilfully, as Mr Singh does ever so often. Indeed, he has been found doing so ever since the UPA came to power in 2004: Recall how he never told the truth on the India-US nuclear agreement; recall also how he tried to subvert the publicly stated policy on talks with Pakistan or holding that country accountable for cross-border terrorism. A lesser politician would have been accused of lying had he or she taken recourse to similar obfuscation or sought to suppress the truth. After Wednesday's manipulated media interaction, the Opposition should strengthen its resolve not to accept anything less than a wide-ranging inquiry into all cases of corruption by a JPC. The Prime Minister should be taken up on his offer and made to appear for exhaustive questioning so that he is denied the privilege that allows babus to shake off responsibility by merely pointing a finger at others and passing on the buck. The buck stops with him.






While its new military leaders have busied themselves with the mammoth task of amending the Constitution and preparing for elections to usher in some form of a democratic Government, Egypt's most influential Islamist organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, popularly known as the Ikhwan, has seized the opportunity to announce its plans to officially step into the country's soon-to-be liberated political arena. On Tuesday, the Ikhwan, said that it will register as a political party as soon as the freedom to form new ones is made available and crucial changes to the Constitution are carried out. Egypt's largest opposition party, the Ikhwan has no legal recognition in the country whose currently suspended Constitution prohibits the formation of any political party which has a religious identity. Banned since 1948, the Ikhwan was somewhat tolerated under former President Hosni Mubarak, who allowed its candidates to participate as Independents in elections as long as they did not pose a threat to his NDP. In 2005, the group won a large number of seats in Parliament; but it boycotted the 2010 election. In the days following the resignation of Mr Mubarak that has produced a huge political vacuum in the country, the Ikhwan has often been touted as a viable alternative to the military-backed old regime. But the Ikhwan insisted that Egypt's tech-savvy youth be the face of the 18-day long popular revolution that dislodged Mr Mubarak's three-decade-long rule and made a conscious decision to stay on the margins. That was, of course, only until Tuesday when it declared it would participate in the post-Mubarak era politics and staked its claim to power which is up for grabs. How the Ikhwan will perform as a mainstream political party is debatable, especially since the Brotherhood is yet to release its political agenda in the changed circumstances.

It is entirely possible that the proposed new party will serve as a front for the Islamists, allowing them to claim power without placing all their cards on the table. And, if the party were to form the new Government, the Ikhwan would remote control it from the background. It would not be surprising at all if the new party produces an inoffensive agenda that hails democratic values but nonetheless aims to build a radical Islamic state. The Ikhwan's statement, which envisions the establishment of a "democratic state… with central Islamic values", points to this dichotomy. At this point, it will be worthwhile to take a look at Turkey where the Islamist Justice and Development Party came to power on a democratic agenda but has slowly moulded both policy and programme to suit its larger ideological interests. Are we going to witness something similar in Egypt?









By agreeing to resume dialogue with Islamabad, New Delhi has allowed those behind the 26/11 carnage to walk free. Will Manmohan Singh now hand over Siachen?

New Delhi appears to have lost its sense of direction in dealing with Islamabad. Mr Manmohan Singh came close to fashioning an agreement with General Pervez Musharraf on Jammu & Kashmir, which recognised that "while borders cannot be redrawn, we can work towards making them irrelevant — towards making them just lines on a map". But Mr Singh's belief that terrorism should not be allowed to undermine the 'composite dialogue process' with Pakistan has cost us dearly both before and after the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. At least 184 people, including nationals of countries ranging from the US and the UK to Israel and Singapore, perished in the ruthless terrorist carnage unleashed by the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. There is no dearth of evidence about the involvement of the ISI in this carnage. This was not the first attack by the ISI on Mumbai. Dawood Ibrahim, the mastermind of the 1993 carnage, still lives comfortably in Karachi.

Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to resume the 'composite dialogue process' in January 2004 following an assurance from Gen Musharraf that territory under Pakistan's control would not be used for terrorism against India. India and Pakistan announced the resumption of what was the 'composite dialogue process' in all but name on February 10 this year. Worse still, the Mumbai carnage was reduced to a virtual footnote — just another terrorist incident — in the announcement. India has received unprecedented international support to deal with the perpetrators of 26/11. The Israelis have filed a highly publicised law suit in a New York court against LeT chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and ISI boss Lt General Shuja Pasha for their role in the Mumbai attack. We have, however, shot ourselves in the foot, thanks to some divisive and irresponsible statements by certain politicians, voicing concern about 'Hindu terrorism' in India.

The damage caused by these irresponsible statements became evident when I recently met a group of distinguished Pakistanis who averred that India had no right to insist on action against the perpetrators of the 26/11 terrorist attack as it had taken no action against the 'Hindu terrorists' responsible for the deaths of Pakistani nationals in the Samjhauta Express bomb blasts. Pakistan's official spokesman has accused India of lacking the resolve to act against 'Hindu terrorists'. Pakistan has also launched a campaign claiming that the Indian Army is full of 'Hindu terrorists' like Lt Colonel Srikant Purohit, now under arrest for his alleged involvement in the Malegaon blasts. The issue of 'Hindu terrorism' was raised when Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao met her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in Thimphu. Irresponsible statements have resulted in India paying a high price internationally.

India's response to the Pakistani propaganda machinery has been weak and incoherent. Instead of asserting that terrorist acts, allegedly executed by Indians (from SIMI and Abhinav Bharat), were exclusively in their own country and cannot be equated with the 26/11 attack, which was carried out by Pakistanis crossing illegally into India, our Government has appeared defensive and confused in handling the issue. This, in turn, has led to India getting itself cornered and unable to maintain continuing pressure to force Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the 26/11 attack to book. India's astute Foreign Secretary, who has handled past negotiations with Pakistan with commendable skill, has urged people not to "lend any credence" to what Hafiz Mohamed Saeed says. But is it prudent to forget that after vowing to raise the "green flag of Islam" on the ramparts of the Red Fort, Hafiz Saeed masterminded terrorist strikes on the Red Fort in Delhi in January 2001 and on Mumbai in December 2008?

Having been put on the defensive on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, the Government of India has only further weakened our position by agreeing to what in effect is resumption of the 'composite dialogue' with Pakistan. The result of this is going to be that Pakistan will divert attention from terrorism it sponsors to its 'grievances' on issues like river waters, Siachen, Sir Creek and Jammu & Kashmir. While continuing engagement with a neighbour is imperative even in times of conflict as during Gen Musharraf's Kargil misadventure, what we are now finding is that even the terms of the dialogue, which effectively sideline the salience of terrorism Islamabad sponsors, have been set by Pakistan.

Given the growing violence and religious extremism within Pakistan, it should be obvious that the weak civilian Government headed by President Asif Ali Zardari lacks the authority to take any bold measures on issues like terrorism, given the 'India-centric' obsession of its Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. It is, therefore, astonishing that our Government is prepared to resume dialogue with Pakistan on Siachen. Only a few years ago, the Prime Minister appeared agreeable to withdrawing forces from Siachen until he was forced to backtrack because of political and public opposition. Mr Singh's readiness to consider troop withdrawal from Siachen was not only opposed by the Army but also reportedly by his colleagues in the Government and the Congress. Given Gen Kayani's track record, it would be a perilous mistake to withdraw from Siachen in the belief that the Pakistani Army will keep its word and not move into areas vacated by us as it did earlier in Kargil. Our Army has made it clear that if the Pakistanis were to walk into vacated positions we now occupy in Siachen, we would not be able to retake those positions which we have held sacrificing the lives of scores of our officers and men. Do the sacrifices of our men in uniform count for nothing?

India has already lost its trump card in dealing with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism because of political leaders giving divisive, religious colours to terrorism and due to its diplomatic naiveté. Under the directions of Gen Kayani, the Pakistani Government has returned to sterile rhetoric about Jammu & Kashmir and disowned the framework for a solution devised earlier with Gen Musharraf which was based on territorial status quo. Does our Government seriously believe that talks between Foreign Secretaries will lead to Gen Kayani having a change of heart or restraining Gen Pasha from planning attacks on Indian Territory and on Indian interests in Afghanistan? Any pullout from Siachen has to be linked to a final settlement of the Kashmir issue and India should neither forget not forgive the perpetrators and masterminds of the 26/11 attack.








Judges of the Supreme Court should not seek to 'read down' each and every law and label Acts meant for specific purposes, for instance fighting terrorism, as 'un-constitutional'. Repeated 're-interpretation' of laws to suit the views of judges will reduce the concept of rule of law to a mockery even wile emboldening those who have no respect for either the courts or the laws of the land

Barely days after exonerating a member of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom on the strange premise that being a member of a banned outfit did not make one a criminal, Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra of the Supreme Court have let off another ULFA member on similar ground. This time they offered the explanation that they had "read down" some provisions of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act — under which the accused had been tried — because they seemed to violate the Constitution. The option before the Bench, they added, was to strike them down as un-constitutional. In other words, "reading them down" was a means to maintain the constitutional validity of the Act and yet remove the conflict the statute posed with the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

On the face of it, the explanation makes eminent sense, and courts have been "reading down" provisions in the past through fresh interpretations. But there are established guidelines for reading down statutes, and the mere supposed need to protect the constitutionality of a law cannot be reason alone to conduct that exercise. Let us look at three such guidelines:

·  Reading down cannot be used to emasculate a statute or create confusion, making its workability difficult.

·  No reading down of a provision is permitted if that exercise makes it into a provision altogether different from what was intended by the legislature.

·  Reading down is adopted only when the statute is unworkable or cannot be enforced.

We may now turn to the provisions "read down" by the eminent judges, namely Section 10 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and Section 3 (5) of TADA Act under which the earlier referred to ULFA member was tried. (Incidentally, the Justices also said that Section 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with sedition, must be read so that it conforms to the guaranteed fundamental rights. In other words, that too should be "read down," when occasion permits).

Both Section 3 (5) of TADA and Section 10 of UAPA clearly lay down punishment for even mere membership of an outlawed organisation. There is nothing confusing in the provisions — if anything, they are so elaborately worded that they leave no scope for even the slightest doubt over interpretation. Because they are so carefully worded, there has never been any trouble over their implementation either.

But the Bench decided to read them down anyway, creating in the process the very confusion the statutes sought to avoid, making them potentially unworkable. The introduction by these judges of the concept of "passive" and "active" members of banned outfits, for instance, is a demarcation that the legislature never intended to have — for in its scheme of things, all members of an unlawful organisation deserve some form of punishment. Now, security and investigative agencies will expend their energy in segregating the 'active' members from the 'passive', and the courts will indulge in hair-splitting exercises in deciding between the two.

Since 'reading down' is employed as a tool for interpretation of statutes, we arrive at the question: When is the need to interpret real? Courts have settled the issue, and they have said that interpretation is required only where the statutes are ambiguous and, therefore, admit more than one interpretation. In case after case, our courts have underlined this basic rule. In Mithilesh Singh versus Union of India (2003) case, the Supreme Court stated that it was a presumption of interpretation of a statute that the legislature inserted every word and expression for a definite purpose, and while interpreting no word can be rejected as being "inapposite or surplusage". And, in the landmark Kartar Singh versus State of Punjab (1994) case, the apex court observed that the "object of interpreting a statute is to ascertain the intention of legislature enacting it".

The provisions of TADA and UAPA under debate — as indeed some others such as 124 (A) of the IPC and Section 6 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act — are neither ambiguous nor do they encourage multiple interpretations. The object of the legislature in making those provisions too is crystal clear. Yet, Justice Katju and Justice Mishra have thought it fit to interpret the statutes.

This brings us to the thumb rule for the interpretation of statutes: The doctrine of 'harmonious construction', which seeks to harmonise or tone down statues that are in apparent conflict with one another. The Bench can claim that its act of 'reading down' was to harmonise the sections of TADA and UAPA with the rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution by adding clarity to the provisions. But even here the judges seem to have overlooked the basic principle laid down by the Supreme Court itself, when it said, "Where the words of a statute are in themselves precise and unambiguous, no more is necessary than to expound these words in their natural and ordinary sense". The court went on to add, "… where alternative constructions are equally open … that alternative is to be rejected which will introduce uncertainty, friction of confusion into the working of the system."

Finally, while the Bench's concern for upholding the constitutional guarantees is praiseworthy, it is not as if anti-terror laws like UAPA (and the lapsed TADA) are un-constitutional. While the UAPA is a much milder law, even the harsher TADA (and the more recent Prevention of Terrorism (Activities) Act) was upheld for its constitutionality, despite being forcefully challenged on occasions. In the People's Union for Civil Liberties versus Union of India case (2004), the court, while upholding provisions of POTA, said, "To face terrorism we need new approaches, techniques, weapons, expertise and of course new laws. It has become our obligation to pass necessary laws to fight terrorism.

Similarly, on the validity of TADA, the apex court in Kartar Singh versus State of Punjab had largely upheld the various contentious provisions ranging from the matter of confessional statement before a police officer as admissible evidence in courts under Section 15 of the Act to the establishment of TADA designated courts and the appointment of judges to such courts, to remedies before an aggrieved person who feels his fundamental rights have been tampered with.








By reading out the Portuguese Foreign Minister's speech, SM Krishna has cut a sorry figure and made the world laugh at him and India. Surely this country deserves a better Minister for External Affairs than what we have at the moment

The bizarre incident at the United Nations Security Council last Friday, in which Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna began reading out the speech by the Portuguese Foreign Minister, Mr Luis Amado, who had spoken before him, should not be dismissed as one of those things that sometimes happen. It was several minutes before the farce ended, and that too not because Mr Krishna could realise what he was doing. India's Permanent Representative at the UN, Mr Hardeep Puri, had to rush to him, point out the gaffe and advise him to begin his own speech from the beginning. It is not unfair to surmise that Mr Krishna might have continued to read out the wrong speech if he had not been halted.

The argument that Portugal's Foreign Minister began his speech with rather general statements and, therefore, not much harm was done, merits contemptuous dismissal because it is not true. That something was seriously wrong should have struck Mr Krishna when he came to the part where Mr Amado had said, "On a more personal note, allow me to express my profound satisfaction regarding the happy coincidence of having two members of Portuguese speaking countries, Brazil and Portugal, here today". Clearly, it was not a general statement containing salutations and courteous references, as claimed by the sources in the Ministry of External Affairs, but the expression of a personal sentiment by the Portuguese Foreign Minister. Yet, Mr Krishna found nothing amiss and blissfully continued until Mr Puri intervened.

Such a lapse might have been condoned with a laugh in the case of the proverbially absent-minded professor, but not in the Foreign Minister of a country, particularly since he is, after the Prime Minister or President (as the case may be), its public face abroad. Unfortunately, the incident further projected India's External Affairs Minister as someone utterly clueless about what he is supposed to say at an important forum like the UNSC.

Given the circumstances, the speech he finally delivered, reportedly underlining the relevance of India's success story to the world, must have appeared as part of a scene from a comic opera. Understandably, jokes and wisecracks have flown thick and fast.

Apart from the matter of Mr Krishna's competence or the lack of it, and the general amusement over his faux pas — the Pakistanis must be chortling — it has caused, the incident raises a couple of serious questions. Did India's Minister for External Affairs not know what he was to say at the UNSC? Of course, foreign policy is made by the Government of India as a whole and not the Ministry of External Affairs alone. Speeches are often written by bureaucrats. But then a good and forceful Minister would always look at what his officers have written and modify it wherever necessary to give it the distinct imprimatur of his style. He should lead and officials should follow. Mr Krishna has clearly not done so in the present instance. He does not seem to have read it even once before rising to speak. Otherwise, how could it not strike him at the outset that he had the text of somebody else's speech in his hands?

If Mr Krishna had not read his speech, then it was a case of gross dereliction of duty which needs to be taken seriously. The matter is far graver if his lapse reflects a lack of interest in his work and speeches because he has little say in policy matters — even, perhaps, in issuing administrative orders — which are decided elsewhere, his role being limited to just reading out what he is asked to. It would be a poor commentary on him if he has accepted such a role and on the Government if it has reduced him to being a programmed articulation device.

Last Friday's was yet another of those incidents which suggest that Mr Krishna's innings as Minister for External Affairs has been far from distinguished. Yet, he was left untouched in the last Cabinet reshuffle. If anything, the whole episode was emblematic of the manner in which the entire Union Government has been functioning and a general scenario of collapsing governance marked by soaring prices, ubiquitous corruption and gargantuan incompetence. And this is happening when the country faces serious threats to its security and economic well being.







The CPM-led Left Front's mammoth rally at Brigade Parade Ground has lifted the sagging confidence of the Marxist cadre and their leaders. But the Left would be foolish to believe that it can beat the Trinamool's slogan for change with rallies

As a show of organisational efficiency, the Brigade Parade ground meeting by the CPI(M)-led Left Front was an outstanding success. Support was mobilised from across the State and brought to Kolkata for the rally. Police estimates indicate it topped 10 lakhs, including processions and vehicles that did not make it to the meeting.

To describe the meeting as a rally by the "harmad vahinis" of a "dead body" is an outburst that is contemptuous and dismissive of the reasons that underlay the participation of lakhs of people, who travelled by bus, trucks, matadors, trains and on foot to reach the Brigade Parade ground on Sunday. Wishing the opponent dead is one thing, declaring the opponent dead is another. It plunges the political discourse down to a level that — by trivialising the spirited defence of the CPI(M) in declaring that it will win the elections in 2011 — underestimates the resistance that is getting organised against the Trinamool Congress's invincible forward march.

For the Trinamool Congress pooh-poohing the Brigade rally is perhaps necessary to reassure its supporters that the size of the meeting is an illusion and does not reflect any diminution in the ardour of the masses for the "Ma-Mati-Manush" call for change. If that is so, then there is evidently some anxiety within the party about how much of that ardour will translate into votes sufficient to win a majority in the 294-seat State Assembly in West Bengal.

Swept by revulsion against the CPI(M), buoyed by the slogan of change, the triumph of the Trinamool Congress in three successive elections beginning 2008 fundamentally altered the politics of West Bengal. The Opposition had turned into a real challenger and the CPI(M) was unable to hold on to its domination, oppressive, abusive and corroding as it was.

The impact of that shock and the subsequent wins of the Trinamool Congress in the Lok Sabha, municipal and a series of by-elections has compelled the complacent CPI(M) to acknowledge that it had nurtured monsters in its midst. The frank self-criticism by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his party colleague Mr Biman Bose at the Brigade Parade ground that the cadres and leaders needed to reach out to the people and learn from the criticism and so rectify themselves, especially in their behaviour, is revealing of how deep the rot has penetrated into the CPI(M)'s body politic. The confession, along with the steps taken, namely the suspension of membership of 23,000 workers, was meant to signal to the masses that the CPI(M) is walking the talk.

By listing the 377 dead between 2009 and February this year, the CPI(M) has also exposed its vulnerability and its inability to protect its supporters from attack. The deliberate move to admit its weakness against a parliamentary Opposition, namely the Trinamool Congress and the Maoist insurgents hunkered down in three districts — West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia — is also a call to the disaffected Left support to close ranks. The listing of the dead was like a red rag, designed to muster the masses and drive home the message that without a victory there would be more slaughter.

As a kick off to the campaign the message from the Brigade Parade ground was significant. Gone was the "vision" of industrialisation, of leading West Bengal into a glorious future. The message that was delivered without any frills was there was no future, glorious or otherwise unless the CPI(M) was voted back into power. The call was for a last ditch battle to save the barricades from being pushed down.

The forces aligned against the CPI(M) were simplified to first the party's internal rot and second the Maoist-Trinamool Congress "link" through which death and destruction had been delivered since 2006. The line that Mr Bhattacharjee had adopted in previous elections that the Trinamool Congress was responsible for the demolition of the vision for an industrial turn around was discarded. In bold, broad strokes, the CPI(M) leadership said that it needed a win to resist destruction.

Instead of listing all the good things that the party had done from 1977 and blaming the Congress for West Bengal's dismal development, the CPI(M) declared that the Opposition was responsible for the misery of the masses.

Over the past six weeks, the party including Mr Bhattacharjee and Mr Bose have addressed dozens of meetings in the districts. In North and South 24 Parganas, East Midnapore, Howrah and Hooghly districts where the Trinamool Congress is deeply entrenched with all the MPs, several MLAs and in control of three panchayats, the number of meetings that the Mr Bhattacharjee, Mr Bose and the tireless Mr Gautam Deb addressed, including what were effectively small roadside rallies, is indicative of how hard they worked to mobilise masses for the Briagade's success. It was also a way of driving home the point that the party was indeed returning to the grassroots and giving it the attention it had not received in the past decade.

The effect was not only the numbers who turned up at the Brigade Parade ground, but the kind of numbers who did. Youth were visibly enthusiastic about being filmed by television so that the people back home would see them as participants; women, too, demanded that their presence be telecast. From the villages, small groups kept arriving at not just the main railway terminals of Sealdah and Howrah, but at the smaller stations dotted across the city. These were organised rallyists, but they were conscious participants as well.

Pitted against an organisation that is straining to restore its credibility and contact with a mass base that had deserted it for the Trinamool Congress and its change slogan, the Opposition now needs to do more than stir up sentiment; it needs to structure its organisation into a lean mean election machine.









Society`s less well-off have long been treated as passive wards of the state. This has served as justification for a byzantine subsidy edifice which helps the poor less than it does politicians playing populist cards and babus entrenched as intermediaries in public services delivery. The government`s move to form a task force to facilitate direct cash transfers to beneficiaries of subsidies like kerosene, LPG, fertilisers, etc, signals fresh, reformist thinking. The panel being led by UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani, there`ll be technical expertise at the top for the job. As also a necessary synergy between the cash transfer and UID endeavours: both aim at better targeting and leak-proofing of redistributive mechanisms via proper identification of the end-users of subsidies.

A cash transfer scheme, which ought to cover food subsidy as well, will help fix systemic leakages by putting money directly in the needy`s hands. When the poor can buy items at normal prices in any shop, scope for diversion and corruption narrows since the incentive to profit from price differences between subsidised and market-rated products is reduced. Today, fuel subsidies benefit rich families that don`t need them while also enriching a mafia engaged in adulteration and smuggling. Fertiliser subsidies mostly gravitate to fertiliser makers and wealthy farmers. As for food, over 65 per cent of PDS foodgrain ends up in the open market. And, while largely eluding the poor, subsidies boost wasteful consumption that impacts negatively on the environment.

However, for instruments like direct cash transfers, food coupons and the like to work, we need updated numerical data on poor families. BPL cards are rampantly accessed outside that category. While the planned pilot project can start with available statistics in urban areas, NREG records can be a useful statistical subset to better gauge rural poverty levels. Overall, the Aadhaar scheme needs fast-tracking so that the claimants of direct subsidy can be easily identified. Financial inclusion projects too have to insulate the new system against being subverted.

Wherever possible, the government should reduce subsidy-linked financial strain, which increases fiscal deficits, creates inflationary pressure and market distortions while misallocating resources better spent on public amenities, health and education. Should our leaky PDS, for instance, continue being supported given the alternatives? Cash transfers too mean a fiscal load that will demand economising elsewhere. If private stores can serve the less well-off, why not start paring down our labyrinthine PDS bureaucracy and infrastructure? We need to bust the politically convenient myth that the needy can`t do without public sector paternalism. In a nation pursuing inclusive growth, what the less privileged need are tools of empowerment fostering choice and self-reliance. Making politicians and babus see that will be a major challenge.







In 1991, there was an uproar over hundreds of politicians` and journalists` phones being tapped. In 1997, the Supreme Court slammed the legislative arm`s failure to amend the antiquated Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, in order to clarify and limit the basis on which communications are monitored and enact coherent phone-tapping guidelines. Last year, there was another uproar over Amar Singh alleging that his phone had been tapped. Reliance Communication`s revelation that the authorities had asked it to tap over 1.5 lakh phones between 2006 and 2010 is confirmation of what these incidents and many others besides indicate — the quiet establishment of a surveillance society that is taken so much for granted that unless a power-broker finds himself in an embarrassing position, the entire phenomenon goes unremarked.

On paper, there are procedures in place to provide checks and balances. But given the sheer quantum of phone-tapping cases, it beggars the imagination to believe that the Union and state home secretaries are able to review each case individually as the former, G K Pillai, has claimed. Unauthorised phone-tapping must be rife. The 1997 SC judgment had stipulated five criteria for phone-tapping, revolving around national security and public order. These are now used as catch-all categories to justify using tapping against political opponents, businessmen, journalists and anyone else who might prove either awkward or profitable. It is long past time for reform, starting perhaps with taking authorisation out of the hands of the executive and giving it to the judiciary as it is in the US. Else, so much for the SC`s pointing out that such invasion of privacy is a direct infringement of an individual`s constitutional rights.









The first decade of the 21 {+s} {+t} century was a period that witnessed many ups and downs in the India-Pakistan relationship. The period between 1999 and 2002 witnessed a high level of tension between the two countries due to a number of developments — Kargil in 1999, the inconclusive Agra Summit of 2001, and the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, resulting in the mobilisation of a million troops on the border. This ended in 2002, resulting in a thaw in the relationship, leading to former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee extending the "hand of friendship" to Pakistan. Pakistan responded by announcing a large number of CBMs, including announcement of the ceasefire on the LoC which still holds.

There were quite a few reasons at this time which gave confidence to the governments to embark on a new peace process. Both countries had tried everything including wars and mobilisation of troops to force the other to accept its version of a Kashmir settlement. They failed in this. Secondly, nuclear parity in South Asia made war almost impossible. Thirdly, the economies of both the countries were doing very well at this time and the rising middle classes in both countries desired peace for continued growth.

This necessitated an alternative strategy for a solution of the Kashmir dispute which would satisfy the people of Kashmir, India and Pakistan. That being the case, it was clear that any solution we found would not be an ideal one from the perspective of all the Kashmiris, Pakistanis and the Indians. It could only be the best under the circumstances. It was precisely to find such a formula that the two leaderships directed their representatives involved in back-channel talks to remain engaged.

The major features of the draft Kashmir agreement involved a gradual demilitarisation as the situation improved, self-governance and a joint mechanism involving Kashmiris from both sides as well as the presence of Pakistani and Indian representatives in some form or other. The purpose was to improve the comfort level of Kashmiris. The joint mechanism envisaged cooperation in various fields including exploitation of water resources and hydroelectric power. Self-governance also provided the maximum possible powers to Kashmiris to manage their political, economic, financial and social matters, as well as those pertaining to economic development for enhanced travel and economic interaction on both sides of the LoC. For practical purposes, as far as the Kashmiris on both sides were concerned, the LoC would be made irrelevant for movement of goods and people and mitigate the misery of divided families.

If you were to measure the level of progress made and the confidence generated between the two sides as a result of the peace process, you only had to look at the joint statement on the irreversibility of the peace process on 18 {+t} {+h} of April, 2005 in New Delhi under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former President Pervez Musharraf.

A related question that people sometimes ask is whether the agreement that we had arrived at had the support of the Pakistani army. Of course, it had the support of all the stakeholders. Besides the presidency and the foreign office, the military was appropriately represented. Pakistani army high command understands clearly that national security is a very broad concept and military preparedness is only one — albeit, a very important — component of it. The concept of national security includes economic and political stability, and a settlement with India on honourable terms strengthens Pakistan`s national security.

It is also pertinent to mention here that while Musharraf may not be on the scene presently, national interest does not change radically over a period of two or three years. Since i left office, quite a few people have asked me whether the army had staged a U-turn on the back-channel agreements. Since i currently do not hold office, i can only speak on the basis of analysis, informed by experience, that recent statements by the Pakistani army are tactical in nature in light of the approaching end-game in Afghanistan. In this context, a news item was published in major Pakistani national newspapers that General Kayani supported back-channel engagement.

Coming to the
Mumbai terrorist attack, i feel that the best way to tackle this issue is to deny the terrorists the satisfaction of disrupting the peace process. I remember just one day before i was going to visit New Delhi in connection with the ongoing peace process, the Samjhauta Express terrorist attack took place. Similarly, perhaps one day after the arrival of Shah Mehmood Qureshi in New Delhi, the Mumbai terrorist attack took place. I do not wish to trivialise the subject since a lot can be said on this. It would, however, be a fair conclusion that there are extremist elements on both sides who do not wish Pakistan-India relations to be normalised.

Pakistan wishes to have friendly, cooperative and good neighbourly relations with India. We are not destined to live as adversaries forever. The press and particularly the electronic media can play an important role in promoting peace and developing a well thought out approach towards relations with each other, so that we can pursue our legitimate security concerns without denying the economic benefits that regional cooperation can bring to each other.

The writer is a former foreign minister of Pakistan.








A lot is being made out of the cancelled Bryan Adams concert in Delhi. Irrespective of the anguish of diehard fans of the Canadian musician, the authorities were spot on in cancelling the event. The venue for the concert had a maximum capacity of 6,000 people. Yet the organisers — no doubt motivated by greed and salivating at the prospect of making a killing in revenue — sold nearly 10,000 tickets. It is also astonishing that the organisers did not secure the mandatory clearance from the fire department. Neither was permission obtained from the traffic police nor necessary parking arrangements made for the big-ticket event. In such a scenario, the show was a disaster waiting to happen. The Delhi Police need to be commended for having the foresight to put an end to it.

One must realise that as the national capital, Delhi is different from other cities. Hence, comparisons to Mumbai and Bangalore in terms of ease of hosting large-scale entertainment events are patently unfair. Bangalore doesn`t have to worry about the high security standards that Delhi must constantly maintain. Mumbai doesn`t have to bother with things like VVIP movement. These are factors that authorities in Delhi need to heed before handing out permissions. Any slip-up can potentially lead to a massive disaster, which no doubt will be blamed on government agencies. Concerts and live performances cannot be held at the cost of safety considerations.

Lambasting Delhi for not having high-capacity venues to host such shows is also wrong. The city`s resources must be applied to more pressing infrastructure needs. Thanks to the continuous inflow of migrants to the city, Delhi is already facing a housing shortage. Civic amenities need boosting. In this backdrop, building massive concert halls should not be a priority. Let other cities host large-scale entertainment shows. Delhi simply can`t risk it.







These so-called service providers are changing the numbers game


If you are of an unmentionable age, you will recall a time when only typewriters and 2- in-1 radio-and-cassette players were portable.  You tried to smuggle in both when you returned from what used to be called 'phoren'. Globalization made 'phoren' redundant quite some years ago, and now the definition of portability has been extended. Right into my cell-phone. 


For the past few weeks, my BB inbox has been spammed  -- and RAMmed -- by complete strangers giving me the revolutionary information that I can change my service provider without changing my cell-number. Apparently, such promiscuity is not just possible, but desirable. In fact, it is a must-do if you consider yourself a part of the Page 3G set.


Even if  I don't want this social EDGE (that's Enhanced Data for Global Evoution), it is still good to know that there is more legit benefit to this 2G/ 3G business than the number of generations that can live off the grabbed gains of  the spectrum scam. Liberalization and the nearest mall have ensured that we have no choice other than to become choice junkies So, if your precious cell number was all that shackled you to your lousy service provider, rejoice. This, your most non-partable possession, is now portable. And said companies are hustling you like coolies at the railway station to grab it for their own handsfree heads.


Still,  I have no idea why all these guys are shouting 'Happy to help' when there's little reliance on any of them; you end up saying ta-ta to your signal with most of them; and every one of them charges you inflated rates for this so-called service. Luggage coolies, number porters, they are all like that only. Mind them.


It's not just about mobile cell-phones. All manner of fellows have boarded the gravy train of portability. Last week, car numbers and health insurance jumped on the broadband wagon. This means that your fixation with your current premium number-plate or premium will no longer come in the way of choosing which machine kills you or which insurance  agency walks away whistling while you lie there bleeding.


The spectrum of contagion could quite alter the numbers game. Taking off from Big B's Kaun Banega Crorepati, a catchy cola commercial for a lucky-digits contest had Cyrus Broacha whining, 'Mera number kab ayega?' A decade on, technology has enabled a heady scenario where 'Mera number kabhi nahin jayega.' It will remain steadfast even if you switch camps as perfidiously as a Mumbai housemaid.


There are some numbers we would like to change. For example, those of population, inflation, illiteracy and the incidence of maternal mortality TB or cervical cancer. Other numbers have a more desirable mystique, and portability could well destroy it. In this category fall Biwi No1 and the No 10 Jersey. A biwi in a jersey is something else, yearning for a size 0, or a more substantial figure.


Be that as it may, we have attained the consumerist nirvana where suppliers of goods or services have no choice other than to offer multiple choices. In days of yore, only royalty had the 'divine' right to get what it wanted. This privilege has passed on to the customer who is now king. Or queen. Or, increasingly, the brat prince or princess wielding 'pester power'. We have travelled far from Henry Ford's famous offer, 'You can have a car in any colour of your choice provided it is black.'


Actually, we have come full circle. Today's customer would be delighted if 3G allowed him to have 'a bank account in any colour of your choice, provided it is black - and portable too.'


Alec Smart said: "S M Krishna read out another country's speech. Call it a 'Portugaffe'."







Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should be chuffed with himself after his question-and-answer session with broadcast editors on Wednesday morning. If he didn't come across as throwing light on the various mysteries the nation is currently trying to unravel, no one expected him to be anything more than explanatory.

His usual strategy of bludgeoning 'probing' questions with longish, deadpan replies worked remarkably well in an interaction that saw much confirmation and few declarations. But even in the rather flat pitch on which Mr Singh played his customary forward defensive shots, there were couple of 'statements' that stood out against the genteel display of politesse.

One, Mr Singh admitted candidly that his government needs to "improve the quality of governance". More than the promise of bringing the corrupt to book — which prime minister would say otherwise? — it was Mr Singh's admission of a 'governance deficit' that made us sit up and take note of the fact that the prime minister is, thankfully, not in denial.

Mr Singh's gentle tutorial to the editors about the need of the media "not to focus excessively on negative features" was on the charming side of affairs. His insistence on calling the various cases of governmental corruption 'aberrations' is a matter of opinion. But he buttressed this 'defence' by reiterating that he is willing to be questioned by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) looking into the 2G scam, adding for ears that cared to latch on to a subtext that he was willing to even face a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).

His response to a question about his alleged 'inaction' against former telecom minister A Raja was public knowledge. But it was helpful, coming as it did straight from the proverbial horse's mouth.

The PM's comments on curbing inflation without hurting growth, the government now being "better prepared to deal with acts of terror", the turbulent situation in the North-east and Jammu and Kashmir being "under control", the observation that India's status on the global stage being reflected by leaders of all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council visiting India in quick succession, and the insistence that his government has not lost the "will for reforms" were checklisted one by one.

On the political front, Mr Singh anti-climactically responded to a query about whether he would step down as prime minister, brushing aside the non sequitur about him being the UPA's prime ministerial candidate for the next general elections.

On the whole, the diwan-e-khas may have been short on big ticket statements. But the fact that we heard the prime minister respond — rather than his many interlocutors respond on his behalf — to various questions pertaining to these 'aberrational' times is to be welcomed.

We would request Mr Singh to make such interactions at least an annual habit.





Who knows better about 'rights' than the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairman himself? So is it a bit surprising that the former Chief Justice of India and present NHRC top boss KG Balakrishnan uses the 'rights' card every time he's told to share information about his and his family's finances and assets?

All the while Bala — and we're well within our rights to call him by that epithet — deftly deflects all those he thinks are nosey parkers, he never forgets to say those magic words: "I have nothing to hide". Er, Bala? What's the problem? Cat got your account details?

Keeping to his form and using his clout, Bala recently blocked Kochi-based Right to Information (RTI) activist

K Balachandran's query regarding his and his family members' income tax (IT) returns and assets. The former chief justice shot off a letter asking the IT authorities in Kochi not to give his permanent account number (PAN) number and asset details to

Mr Balachandran — whom we will not insult by calling him 'Bala' — because such information does not have any 'value' for the public. Bala has got us wrong. All we're interested in are asset management tips from his family, his son-in-law PV Sreenijan especially, who is a financial wizard considering his assets multiplied from R25,000 to a few crores between 2007 and 2010.

Why is a public figure like Bala so inhibited? Even our netas are declaring their wealth these days before fighting polls (so what if they lop off a few lakhs here and a few crores there).

May we suggest that the PM intervenes in the matter. Nothing much. Just a comment that he thinks that Bala will surely volunteer the information soon, as he has 'nothing to hide'.









Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan wants it to be the new Singapore. State officials call it Urjanchal, land of energy. For sociologist Sakarama Somayaji, the enduring image from India's emerging energy wonderland in Singrauli is the women who sell baskets of stones on the roadside.

Individually or in groups, the women break stones, and sell them to passing trucks for R80-R90 a basket, a day's labour. The women are among half a million people who have lost their homes and modest livelihoods tending single crops or gathering herbs and honey from forests that have all but disappeared in the rush for development since the 1980s.

Somayaji, a relocation and rehabilitation specialist with The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri), New Delhi, met families who have been moved not once but up to four times in 30 years, as Singrauli rushes to find land for its relentless expansion on the dusty borders of southern Uttar Pradesh and eastern Madhya Pradesh.

As India struggles to balance development with growing environmental concerns and a Maoist insurgency fuelled by the exploitation of tribals, Singrauli is a case study of how the country is getting it wrong — and how it can yet be rectified.

The rich seams of coal that run through an area of more than 2,200 sq kms — about four times the size of Singapore — draw some of India's biggest names to Singrauli, one of India's poorest districts.

Human development indices are among the lowest in the world. But in less than four years since the district was created in 2008, it has attracted investments of R84,115 crore, according to government figures. Half that money has been invested by the Reliance (Anil Dhirubhai Ambani) Group.

Other investors include the Essar Group, the Aditya Birla Group, Hindalco, the Dainik Bhaskar Group, publishers of India's largest-circulated Hindi newspaper, and public sector giants National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and the Power Grid Corporation.

Across Singrauli, coal mines are being excavated to feed the coming of the ultra-mega power plants, as these giants are called. As these plants come onstream over the next two or three years, starting this year (if they keep to schedule), Singrauli, with a planned capacity of between 20,000 and 30,000 MW, will become one of the largest global hubs of electricity generation.

Already, a tenth of power-starved India's electricity flows from five Singrauli super thermal power plants, mostly run by NTPC.

The rush for power has already come at a cost.

Singrauli is one of India's 22 critically polluted areas identified by the Central Pollution Control Board. The coal-fired plants have made vast swathes of land unfit for cultivation and in some parts of Singrauli, toxic flyash, a byproduct, lies in piles five feet deep. Researchers have found children with respiratory problems and low IQ levels.

The women report still-births, menstrual irregularities and sterility. These problems will worsen once the 15 planned mega plants and mines come on stream. But worries about ill-health pale before the injustice of multiple displacement and lost livelihoods being inflicted on the mostly tribal, scheduled castes and other backward castes.

Singrauli's people are among the 50 million displaced over five decades across India by dams, highways, ports, mines and other industrial developments. Recognising how broken promises create rootless paupers — and violent rebels — the government in 2007 issued the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy.

It upheld the power of the state to acquire any property for 'public purpose' but also said the status of those displaced should be equal or better than their previous positions in life.

The state has enthusiastically carried out the first provision and mostly washed its hand off the second. It acquires land and leaves the fate of Singrauli's displaced to State-owned and private companies. It's a grim fate, worsened by the fact that the resettlement policy is merely a guideline — no one can go to court.

So tribals find themselves with some money and little else. Save for a tiny elite, illiterate subsistence farmers cannot run the canteens, transport, laundry and other professional services the new projects need. Much of the machinery and specialised labour comes from China, with many services subcontracted to professional companies outside India.

The loss of land and lack of alternative livelihoods is one of the greatest challenges to industrialising India. Since they have never been adequately addressed, many families faced repeated displacement. Teri's Somayaji narrates the story of Samaylal Gond, a tribal in his 50s, first displaced by an NTPC plant in 1979-80, then by the State-owned Northern Coalfields in 1994-95 and in 2008 by an Essar project.

Every time, he was promised a job if he moved. Every time that promise was broken.

"The displaced person's backbone is systematically  broken and the psychological trauma is immense," says Somayaji, whose organisation works with some companies to improve rehabilitation efforts. "If these developers want to do good for the people, they really can."

That good will only emerge if, as a start, two new laws, pending in Parliament for the last two years, are passed: the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill and the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007, the latter meant to supplant a 116-year-old colonial version that allows the State to take over any land it wants.

Real change will only come when local authorities are trained in resettlement concerns and companies retrain locals. Some labour cooperatives provide cleaning and gardening services, but these are no more than flickering candles in Urjanchal's vast heart of darkness.






Environmentally conscious citizens have been shocked at the conditional clearance for the Posco steel project in Orissa, in flagrant breach of the Forest Rights Act. But a bigger, more flawed project, was cleared two months back with equally vacuous and irrelevant conditions. Jaitapur, in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district, is expected to be the world's biggest nuclear power station and generate 9,900 MW (India's current nuclear capacity is 4,780 MW).

It will be based on the untested European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), not approved anywhere — including in France, where the nuclear company Areva designed it.

The project is being imposed on a beautiful ecosystem, a segment of the Sahyadris where the Krishna and the Godavari originate, with a flourishing farming, horticultural and fisheries economy. It lies in one of the world's 10 greatest biodiversity hotspots.

Only an irrational mind would want to risk degradation of this region to build nuclear reactors that will displace 40,000 people, disrupt water flows and uproot fruit-yielding trees.

Seismicity is also of concern. Jaitapur is an earthquake-prone area, with a rating of 4 on a 1-5 scale. This violates an official committee's recommendations against locating hazardous industries outside Zone 2.

Yet that's what Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), a subsidiary of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), is doing. It zeroed in on Jaitapur in 2003, assuming the site would be approved; the DAE always prevails.

Consider another irrationality. Four years after the project report was made, the state started acquiring 2,400 acres for the reactors, six days before French President Nicolas Sarkozy came to India. In deep financial trouble, Areva has long eyed India's nuclear market and was the first to seize the opportunity offered by the India-US nuclear deal.

Jaitapur's six proposed EPRs were cleared in an extraordinarily sloppy Environment Impact Assessment by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute that has no competence in seismic or nuclear safety-related matters. It evades biodiversity issues and one of the greatest problems with nuclear power — generation and storage of large quantities of radioactive wastes.

The EPR's safety design is problematic because of its large (1,650 MW) size, complexity, and high neutron density, which will produce seven times more toxic iodine-129 than normal reactors. The world's first EPR-under-construction, in Finland — western Europe's first post-Chernobyl reactor — has been delayed by at least 42 months and is 90% over budget.

Finnish, French, British and US nuclear regulators have raised 3,000 issues about its safety. A French government-appointed expert suggests several modifications to 'optimise' the design. The Finnish fiasco has entangled Areva into bitter litigation and losses.

The NPCIL has now decided to import six EPRs, ignoring the generic problems with nuclear power. Reactors are high-pressure-high-temperature systems in which a barely-controlled fission chain-reaction occurs. Controls can fail. Minor malfunctions get quickly magnified.

The EPR produced power will be costlier than the disaster called Enron, also located in Ratnagiri. Design modifications will further raise the EPR's already sky-high capital costs — R21 crore per MW, compared to R9 crore for Indian reactors and R5 crore for coal-fired power. Its unit generation costs, R5-8 could ruin downstream industries.

The Jaitapur project earns another black mark. The area's highly literate people are dead against it as it will destroy livelihoods and expose them to hazards. They oppose it not out of ignorance, but know the dangers of nuclear power. More than 95% have refused to take compensation for forcibly acquired land, despite it being raised from R1.6 lakh to R10 lakh an acre. Ten villages pointedly did not hoist the national flag on Republic Day.

The government has unleashed savage repression against the resistance by arresting and slapping trumped-up charges and externment notices on hundreds, and prohibiting peaceful assembly. Eminent citizens were banned from Jaitapur.

Maharashtra minister Narayan Rane recently threatened to ensure that 'outsiders' who enter Jaitapur 'won't return'. None of this has broken the people's resolve. Suppression of fundamental rights is the price Jaitapur will extract, besides ecological devastation, if the nuclear juggernaut is allowed to roll. It must be halted.

*Praful Bidwai is a New Delhi-based political commentator and environmental activist

**The views expressed by the author are personal





While the final curtain was falling on Hosni Mubarak's one-man show in Egypt, the Facebooks and the Twitters of the world — the phantom revolutionaries — were waiting to take their bows. On February 11, while Egyptians proclaimed the end of an era, we entered into a world, which was till yesterday being inspired and governed by social networks and today is being revolutionised in the very sense of the word.

But there's hardly anything '21st century' about all this.

Earlier, in the non-networked world, a Che, a Mahatma or a Mandela along with a fistful of luminaries motivated the slogan-shouting, foot-thumping obedient hoi polloi, tasked with intensifying the blare. It was a few that the many looked up to for guidance and motivation.

It took a while for the message to spread, but it did spread like ink in water. The results, gradual but definitive, today occupy a special place in world history; much like Egyptian Revolution 2011 will.

On the internet today, it's still a handful of original thinkers whose thoughts are forwarded, shared and re-tweeted by the majority, which gets a kick out of just joining either a 'I hate Mubarak' or 'I ª Revolution' group and becoming passive revolutionaries.

So is it that in all the kerfuffle created around such watershed moments, we are missing the method for the speed? Is pressing an 'I Like' button to endorse someone else's displeasure at the status quo the new qualification to become a 'radical'?

The pace of life decides the levels of confusion that accompanies a grand change. One is instantly reminded of Czech writer Milan Kundera relating memory with the speed of movement — rapidness representing forgetting, slowness representing remembering — in his novel, Slowness. That kinship also applies to the various political gyrations over the decades.

In the past, a comprehensive and step-by-step 'plan' was formed before a change was sought, and ends decided the means. Today, in the rush to get what we desire — and courtesy speedy motivation via social networks — there is no plan B, let alone plan C.

People and the internet — the new monkey and the razor blade? — might be the best combo after fish and chips. But what use is unlimited power when it only provides partial solutions? Be it China, Iran or Egypt, pushing another person's thoughts at broadband speed may be enough to spark a revolution. But once the dust settles, various questions will still be left hanging in the air. As they are in Cairo now.










It was hardly surprising that many of the questions put to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday dealt with one scam or another. The PM did not duck any of the questions, laying out what his office had and had not done at each step. But he also shoved public discourse in other directions, as a reminder that his personal priorities as PM extend elsewhere. He emphasised that while food inflation was a concern, sacrificing his government's commitment to growth "would do nobody any good". He spoke of evolving a consensus on Telangana, and said, quite strongly, that he was not blocking an agreement on a joint parliamentary committee as he had no objection to appearing before one.

This is clearly a push to try and end the confrontational paralysis, an atmosphere to which parts of the government have contributed. The opposition too, needs to move on. The PM hinted that the BJP's graceless attitude on reforms like the Goods and

Services Tax was based on the expectation of reciprocal favours. The BJP will achieve nothing by non-cooperation. The party's desire to include Adarsh in the ambit of any JPC is an example of such thoughtlessness. If Union and state jurisdictions can be so recklessly blurred, what about their own record in Karnataka? With the budget session of

Parliament days away, it is time for a bit of perspective. After all, in our parliamentary system, the government and opposition must of necessity have a working equation.

A confrontational air will only deepen public mistrust. The mess and toxicity of the past few months have corroded public faith and hardened a sense of all-pervasive thievery. The PM rightly called the danger in allowing this false impression to take hold. Now more than ever the political system, especially the opposition, needs to react to scams and corruption in a more grown-up way, sifting through information and holding the government to real account. Despite a slow and reluctant start, the 2G investigations have acquired a momentum that insulates them from administrative interference. This is why Dr Singh's colleagues in the UPA do their government's cause great harm by their persistent aggression and obfuscation on "presumptive losses" that could undermine institutions and the investigation. But with Wednesday's press conference, the PM too laid down an agenda to change the mood, saying he's "dead serious" about nailing wrongdoers, moving on reforms and restructuring his council of ministers. We hope it's an agenda he urgently holds himself to.







The care the state extends to a mother and her newborn is at the same time the most basic and the most challenging. India grasped its particular conundrum in maternal and neonatal healthcare — even as its maternal and infant mortality rates were declining, the numbers were still cause for alarm — when it launched one of its most imaginative programmes five years ago, the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY). The conditional cash transfer mechanism to encourage "institutional delivery" brought many women to nearby health centres to have a child.

Now, as the Union health ministry tries to strengthen the scheme — by supplementing cash transfer with free transport to health centres and free treatment to mother and child — it's crucial to learn from the JSY narrative. On how states like Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan achieved high levels of JSY uptake. In MP, for instance, the JSY proved to be a success as the state strengthened infrastructure, especially by accrediting health centres in far-flung areas.

At the same time, it's critical to understand where and how JSY failed. Why the intervention proved to be insubstantial in populous states like Uttar Pradesh. Why the efficacy of a cash-transfer scheme, which is gaining traction in policy-making in state and Central levels, is based on a large part on awareness programmes. The message should reach before the money does, in this case, our poorest, illiterate women, who are in dire need of programmes like JSY. With the Centre setting up a task force to consider cash transfers for fuel subsidies, these lessons could have bearings on other welfare programmes.






Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on behalf of the Indian government and the Indian people, uttered the words on the momentous changes in Egypt that needed to be put in the diplomatic public domain for the consumption and assurance of the world, to say nothing of the people who have brought about this turning point in the Arab world's history. Answering a query from Al Jazeera TV's representative at his media conference on Wednesday, the PM said India welcomes the "dawn of democracy" anywhere in the world and people desiring to move to democracy had the good wishes of the Indian people, even as India would not interfere in the internal affairs of any country.

The PM's answer is adequate. But much more could have been said by the foreign office, and much sooner. As the second autocratic regime in the Arab world was being toppled last weekend, the Indian foreign ministry could have been more proactive and speedier in welcoming the dawn of the new era. Instead, India somehow continues to wake up late to gigantic events and then fumble for words. Such severe circumspection is unbecoming of a rising global power currently on the UN Security Council and aspiring for a permanent seat. That apart, India's economy and regional stature have bolstered its global rise. Yet, none of that seems to help New Delhi's verbal reticence on the big thing. If the world is to take you seriously, you have to demonstrate for its benefit that you do so yourself. The logic is simple.

Helping Egypt on its new journey doesn't amount to interference but assistance; the consequence being friendship and influence — no mean capital in global geopolitics. Big-time diplomacy does not dispense with pragmatism even as it demands vision. However, when the advent of democracy happens anywhere, it is important to be on the right side of history. That doesn't entail a crusade but certainly a timely utterance of the right words at the right volume.










For a democracy, the Prime Minister of India's explanations of his government's conduct are unconscionably rare. At a moment of crisis, his interaction with television journalists was supposed to be an opportunity to clear the air and show that he is in charge. How much presumptive loss or gain that press interaction produced will, like your reaction to the CAG report on the 2G scam, depend on your baseline assumptions. No expectations, no disappointment. But judging by the investment many still have in the PM succeeding, some accounting of this rare event is in order.

An appropriate summary judgment would be this. First, there was the stony silence. Then a wily whimper. The PM's responses were artful in many respects. But the timing and content of these responses are likely to leave the country more rather than less confused. They carried the odour of a wily politician more than that of a forthright leader.

It is still not clear what narrative to take out of this interaction. The PM seemed to be saying that there was some cause for concern on corruption but not as much as had been suggested. The discussion was not so much about a resolve to combat corruption as it was an attempt to throw cold water over it. He was at his forceful best in countering the charge that his government had caused high losses in the 2G scam. He rightly pointed out that mere non-auction of spectrum is no more a crime than giving subsidies. A government may decide to dispose of it at whatever price, if it can make a reasoned case for doing so. It is the first time that he has defended the broad policy framework both on substance and on procedure. The policy framework did, after all, have the backing of the then finance minister as well. A. Raja may have been guilty of specific allocation decisions. But he was very much operating within the framework of a policy that the government as a whole seems to have endorsed.

But there are two mysteries. The minor one is on messaging. What took the PM so long to explain this to the public? What about the attempts over the last two months to distance the PM from the policy framework, by suggesting that he had endorsed auctions? If there is one big takeaway from the experience of the last two months, it is this. The cabinet needs to adopt a practice perfected by Jairam Ramesh: govern with what are called speaking orders. These are orders that clearly and publicly explain why certain decisions have been taken (whether the reasons are compelling or not can be debated). But at least government will not fall into the trap leaving it unclear who took decisions and why.

But watching the prime minister, you could not help feeling that there was a more Machiavellian political mind at work than we give credit for. For one thing, he consistently blamed coalition politics for the limits on his power. At a surface level, this can be seen to be a piece of evasiveness that it is: blame everyone but yourself. We should be vigilant against this kind of self-exoneration. But at a deeper level, look at how the crisis is playing out. The focus has shifted almost entirely to Raja and the corporates. The PM seemed to be saying that all the problems are at that level of implementation, not at the level of the cabinet.

But now ask a mischievous question. Would the CBI and the courts and all of us have been going after Raja as assiduously if a sense of crisis had not been built up? We will give the Supreme Court much of the credit for going after Raja. But the PM seemed to be signalling two things: the crisis was necessary to overcome the constraints of coalition government. And second, that crisis pertains to individuals, not to government as whole. Now that the crisis has resulted in actions against specific individuals, government can defend its broad policy framework. In short, Manmohan Singh has more shades of the devious politics of Narasimha Rao than we realise. Speak only long after the fact, and a crisis will turn into an opportunity.

What suggests deviousness at play is this. The lollipop character of the questions asked by the distinguished journalists suggests buying into the line that the government as a whole does not have much to account for. Not one probing question was asked about this government's rampant decimation of institutions. Even the one thing the PM directly signed, the controversial appointment of the CVC, was conveniently forgotten. Unless there are fresh revelations, Raja, Kalmadi and maybe Ashok Chavan will be history in a few months, sacrificial goats that will have expatiated our longing that someone pays. The interaction was not designed to clear the air about what happened. It was designed to say: "Calm down, Raja is out, I am an honest guy and guess what, I am an economist too."

The PM was combative about the BJP. He went so far as to insinuate that the BJP was holding up something as important as the GST because it wanted relief for a minister from Gujarat. It clearly signalled the intent that the government was ready to engage with any skulduggery to take on the opposition.

The PM's constant refrain that talk about scams was denting the country's self-confidence quickly elided the fact that the confidence has been dented more by a lack of visible leadership than it has by the press raising the pitch. Appeals to patriotism in a political argument should almost always raise a red flag: the PM's exhortation that we worry about the image of the country was very much a disingenuous blaming the messenger.

The PM continued his refrain of being helpless on several fronts. The only politically interesting statement he made was that for government growth was the highest priority, even if it meant risking inflation. But on most other issues, his answers were characteristic: things are out of my control, or there is a committee looking into it. But the overall impression was a steely determination to hold on. But since he cannot like a true leader roar, and silence was becoming exorbitantly costly, he did the thing he does so well: just whimper enough in the hope that he cuts a sympathetic figure. But he was not a prime minister taking charge of a crisis; after all, in his reckoning, there isn't one.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi<.i>







On Monday, a full bench of the Karnataka high court upheld the disqualification of five independent MLAs under the anti-defection law. In October 2010, the speaker of the Karnataka assembly had disqualified them just before the trust vote by the Yeddyurappa government. The MLAs, who had been ministers in the Yeddyurappa government, challenged the order of the speaker in the high court, pleading that they were not subject to disqualification as they were independent MLAs and had never become part of the BJP.

In disposing of this case, the Karnataka high court referred to the landmark 1993 Kihoto Hollohan judgment by the Supreme Court on the validity of the anti-defection law. In that case, the apex court had ruled that the scope of judicial review in respect of an order passed by the speaker or chairman of a House would be confined only to jurisdictional errors such as (a) infirmities based on violation of the constitutional mandate, (b) mala fides, (c) non-compliance with rules of natural justice, and (d) perversity.

The MLAs in Karnataka had argued in the court that each independent member should in fact be treated as a distinct political party having one member that had chosen to be part of the coalition government led by the BJP. But the court held that they would be subject to the provisions of the anti-defection law since the "...facts leading to the conduct otherwise show that the independent member has joined a political party or lost his independent status."

The petitioners also argued that if joining a ministry in a coalition government leads to an independent member losing "independent" status, it can have serious implications for the future of coalition governments across the country. The court came up with a nuanced argument. It said that, when an independent member becomes part of a government led by a single party, the member will essentially have to implement the policies of that political party. This implies that they have lost their independent status. The court drew a distinction between such cases and coalitions where political parties get together to form a government and each party is not just implementing the will of the other political parties. Often, in such cases, a common minimum programme is drawn up beforehand.

The court dismissed the writ petitions of the five MLAs on the basis of four significant points. First, the independent members did not offer outside support, but instead became ministers in a government led by a single political party. Second, these independent members received and obeyed whips issued by the BJP whip in the legislature. Third, that these members attended meetings of the BJP legislature party. And last, these independent members participated in rallies organised by the BJP under the party flag and symbol. In the court's view, all of these were enough reason to believe that the MLAs were not independent any longer.

Importantly, this ruling also brought to fore an important issue about voters. The court held that in voting for an independent member, the voters in a constituency have essentially rejected the candidates from political parties. And, therefore, if an independent member became part of a government which implements the programme of a single political party, "...every voter of the constituency should have an opportunity to oppose the illegal defection by bringing it to the notice of the Speaker." This is different from the traditional understanding that issues of defection are to be dealt with within the purview of the rules of legislatures.

The problem of political defections is not new in India. As far back as 1967, the menace of defections had begun to affect our democratic polity. Between the fourth and fifth general elections, there were nearly 2,000 defections. A committee on defections was set up, which in the late-1960s recommended framing a law to address the problem. The anti-defection law was finally passed in Parliament in 1985 with 418 ayes and nil noes.

There is no doubt that the anti-defection law has resulted in a significant lowering of the number of defections. But, most practitioners and analysts of Indian politics recognise the perverse and perhaps unforeseen negative consequences of this law.

The independent MLAs from Karnataka have reportedly expressed a desire to appeal to the SC. The ingenuity of the Indian politician to constantly push boundaries, explore new ways of effecting defections, try to find any possible loophole in the interpretation of the law, will only mean that the courts will continue to consider cases under this law for many years to come.

Even as we wait to see how this case might evolve under the current law, there is a need to rethink some aspects of the anti-defection law in the overall interest of strengthening our democratic discourse on substantive issues on the floor of Parliament.

The writer is director, PRS Legislative Research, Delhi







Marie Antoinette, the liberal and concerned queen of France, on seeing the poor and hungry masses demanding bread, said in a fit of charity — "let them eat cake". Member of the prestigious National Advisory Council (NAC) Jean Dreze surveyed the performance of the existing National Food For Work Programme (NFFWP) in July 2005 and concluded that the performance was "alarming". The work guidelines were not being enforced, and the workers were not getting the minimum wage (only Rs 25 to Rs 30 a day). The major problem was with "muster rolls". There was a lot of corruption, Dreze concluded. To help provide cake to the needy, the UPA government introduced a replacement for the NFFWP in the form of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). This act would right the wrongs of existing NFFWP programmes. Why would it right the wrongs? Because it would be implemented by committed experts rather than by corrupt government officials.

Given the lessons learnt from the failure of food-for-work programmes, the NREGA is seemingly a booming success. In April 2008, Phase 3 of the programme was introduced across 285 additional districts. With this addition, all the districts of India have been covered, and the government claims that 130 crore workdays were provided in 2007-08 at an average wage of Rs 75 per person, per day. Buoyed by this success, the NAC recommended, and obtained, an expansion of the NREGA programme to more than triple the 2007-08 allocation, to Rs 39,000 crore in 2010-11. Interestingly, the programme continues to be non-corrupt and as evidence, there is the fact that all the money allocated for 2010-11 has not been spent.

However, the government, and the NAC, are asking for more money to be spent on the NREGA. Is it the case that the poor are actually getting bread under the scheme? And how likely is it that after decades of poor implementation and corruption (recall that food-for-work programmes first started in 1973), Indian administrators have suddenly become efficient and non-corrupt?

As agreed by all, corruption is the number one issue facing the country. The biggest scam that the country has encountered, ever, is the telecom 2G scam, where rough estimates suggest that Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 crore were "lost", disappeared into thin air, did not accrue to the government, etc. Thankfully, such scams come once a decade or less.

But the scams pertaining to national welfare schemes like the NREGA and the public distribution system of food (PDS) may annually be about the size of the 2G scam, if not more. I repeat — the flow of corruption money via operation of NREGA, PDS, fertiliser subsidy, kerosene subsidy, etc, may well be substantially in excess of Rs 40,000 crore a year, and well in excess of 1 per cent of GDP each year. This conclusion is not new — the late PM Rajiv Gandhi reached the same conclusion in 1985 when he claimed that only 15 per cent of the money meant for the poor reached the poor.

Future articles will look into the possible "leakages" in the PDS and other subsidy schemes. For the moment, the NREGA deserves a closer scrutiny. To date, all expert analyses of the NREGA programme have regurgitated the official ministry of rural development (MRD) data on the administration of the programme — presumably the same statistics that the NAC, Dreze and others use to conclude that the people, via the NREGA, are eating both bread and cake. Using these statistics may be akin to asking the accused to be the judge! Fortunately, there is data from outside of the MRD that can be used to test not only the veracity of the MRD claims, but also the efficacy of the old, much maligned (and rightly so) food-for-work programmes.

All of this is possible through use of the National Sample Survey for 2007-08 (July 2007 to June 2008). The following question was asked of all individuals in households covered by the survey: How many days in the preceding week did you work as a casual worker in a public works programme? The respondent days will be an upper-bound to the NREGA programme since there can be public works programmes that are not NREGA.

The results are the following. The government claims of 130 crore person days of work seem to be wildly exaggerated (interestingly, not dissimilar to the CAG claim that Rs 1.76 lakh crore were lost in the 2G scam, rather than the more realistic figure of Rs 40,000 crore). The NSS figure is 46 crore person days total and 38 crore in districts where the NREGA was operational. The NSS data can identify whether a household was poor or not according to the Tendulkar poverty line; the result — only 8.8 crore person days of the NREGA programme were availed by the poor.

One final statistic — for 285 Phase 3 districts, there was no NREGA between June 2007 and March 2008. Yet these districts had provided as much as 86 per cent of the workdays in non-NREGA programmes as was provided by NREGA after its implementation in April 2008.

A conservative estimate of the disappearance into thin air of money meant for the poor NREGA recipients in 2007-08 is about two-thirds of the money spent on the programme. Disappearance means money not accounted for by receipt, by the poor or the rich. It is unlikely that corruption in the NREGA has decreased in the last three years while having increased in all sectors of the economy. Which means that scam money in the NREGA, in just one year, 2010-11, is upwards of Rs 25,000 crore.

The writer is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm







By the time you read, this, you would have heard the prime minister speak to TV editors and what those editors and other people thought of his replies. From the standpoint of television, the questions were pointed, precise and polite — even after some unnecessary provocation from the moderator — and the replies were equally polite but imprecise on details. Manmohan Singh willingly answered questions that even the moderator tried to brush aside. The answers, however, were not satisfying and you left the press conference hungry for more.

It began as a fairly robust performance. Never a fluent speaker, Dr Singh was more forceful than is his wont — that or he benefited from a good sound system. He smiled, yes, he did several times, and tried to gaze directly ahead as if to look the viewer in the eye. He spoke extempore throughout, except on the ISRO-Devas deal where he chose to read out a convoluted statement.

But his replies on the 2G spectrum scam, A. Raja and coalition compromises were too carefully worded. The PM seemed often on the verge of saying more but stopped short. His studied replies and statements that "in a coalition government you have to go by what the coalition partner's leader wants", that he was "not very happy" with the "irregularities" (read scams), that there were "weaknesses in the processes of governance", etc., suggested a degree of helplessness. It was as if the PM was trying to be honest and that very honesty undermined him. He admitted that he was not totally in control of his government. For a PM, facing the nation on live TV, when his government is on shaky ground, this is not an image he would want to project — or, is it?

Interestingly, Dr Singh chose to gently reprimand the media while acknowledging its role in exposing the scams — focusing on "negative" features may weaken the self-confidence of India, he said. You thought, well, yes, maybe, but wasn't corruption already doing that?

The editors were subdued, except Times Now's Arnab Goswami, who was his normal, combative self. A verbal scuffle between him and the PM's media adviser Harish Khare was averted by Dr Singh taking another question. Immediately after the press conference, the editors summed up the meeting and, with understandable self-congratulation, highlighted their individual questions — it is not every day that they interrogate the PM before the nation.

But they were cut short, by the BJP. No sooner had the TV studio roundtable discussions begun than BJP president Nitin Gadkari held a press conference of his own about the prime minister's press conference. A clever piece of media management. By following the PM so swiftly with their assessment of his performance, the BJP managed to share the headlines with him — otherwise, breaking news would have been solely devoted to the PM's statements.

Earlier, before the PM's press conference had commenced, TV channels were gushing with self-importance. You could hear the anchors from a kilometre away. Not that they had much to offer. At 10.55 am the Times Now anchor announced it was 10.55 am and asked us to join its man outside the PM's residence. The press conference should begin at 11, right, she asked him. Yes, he replied, but let us see what happens (being a live broadcast that is precisely what we would be seeing). The editors are here, our editor is here now, he added, the PM has to come out and speak to them. Quite.

Finally, since the PM was asked about the World Cup, let us end with cricket. In this season of predictions, even the players are meant to be blessed with divine foresight. How's this (as opposed to howzzat!)?

Question to Piyush Chawla after India's warm-up game against Australia: "Did you think you would end up with 4 for 31?"

Of course, he ought to have replied, if only I could have bowled from both ends, I'd have got 8 for 62. Talk about silly points in cricket.






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 finalise 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 US 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 honour 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 per cent of Egyptians live on $2 a day and some 30 per cent 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 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 realised 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 clamouring 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."THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN








Unravelling plots

The RSS's Hindi weekly Panchjanya has published, on its front page, general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi's letter to the prime minister, demanding an independent inquiry into the alleged plot to assassinate RSS leaders. The letter was displayed in the RSS's journal in English, Organiser, as well.

"The Maharashtra ATS (MATS) has evidence in its possession to show that the accused in the Malegaon blast case, Col Purohit and Dayanand Pandey, were simultaneously plotting to eliminate Shri Mohanrao Bhagwat, the then Sarkaryavah — general secretary — of the RSS (currently the sarsanghachalak), and a senior RSS leader, Shri Indresh Kumar... The CD recordings showed the conspirators spewing venom at the RSS and the BJP. This extra-judicial confession conclusively proved that the RSS was a target of the accused persons in the Malegaon case," said the letter.

"But despite being in possession of such explosive, critical and specific evidence of the plot, the MATS took a 'conscious decision' and told the Bombay high court in July 2010 that, as there was nothing 'specific', 'no further action is required to be taken'." The letter added that "the RSS had decided, in good faith, to leave the issue to MATS, the Maharashtra and Central governments. But with the MATS criminally forsaking its basic duty under the law and the governments at the state and at the Centre keeping silent about it, the RSS is taking legal advice about its future course of action."

Uphill battle

A Panchjanya editorial focused on the influence exerted by the Maoists in the election of Nepal's prime minister, after 16 failed attempts in earlier months. It cautioned Delhi, asking it to keep a constant watch on the situation evolving in Nepal, given that it has been a security buffer for India in the Himalayan region. "Prachanda and his group created obstacles against the formation of a democratic government in Nepal resulting in the stalemate of the last seven months... Finally, when Jhalanath Khanal succeeded as the prime minister in the 17th attempt, the price that is being tried to be extracted by Prachanda for his support has emerged as a fresh thorn in the throne of the new government," says an editorial. It warns the Indian government: "Reports suggest that Prachanda has managed to secure the formation of a new security force for the People's Liberation Army of the Maoists. These kinds of compromises pose a serious challenge to the future of Nepal. What is also worrisome is the fact that China is stoking anti-India sentiments there in the absence of a democratic nationalist government in Nepal."

Down in UP

Panchjanya carries two pages of reports on the alleged anarchy in Uttar Pradesh under the Mayawati administration. "The strictures and warnings from high court, National Commission for Women, and National SC/ST Commission against the involvement of her ministers and MLAs have made no difference to Mayawati. Violence against the women is only going up under Maya-raj. Criminals are uncontrolled and organised crime is on the upswing," says a report.

Operation hearts and minds

Panchjanya has a news story about a meeting of Hindu seers in Allahabad, who warned the government against ascribing bad motives to the Hindu community and took a resolution for a "stand-alone temple" at Ayodhya. The report also carried a picture of senior VHP functionary Pravin Togadia along with his exhortations: "Union home minister and the Congress party are speaking the language of Jinnah. While Jinnah carved a single Pakistan, these people are dreaming of carving out 10 Pakistans."

The latest issue of Organiser has the Narmada Samajik Kumbh organised by the RSS in Madhya Pradesh as its cover story, titled "A historic initiative for social harmony, national unity". It also carried an editorial lambasting those who criticised the congregation. "The unwarranted protest of some Christian leaders over the Kumbh and the instant support of the Congress party to them only confirm the long-held suspicion that the Congress and the UPA government are actively abetting religious conversion of tribals and adivasis," it says, pointing out that the previous Kumbh organised in 2006 in Dangs (Gujarat) successfully strengthened "the fabric of the society and nationalism".

"There is absolutely no reason for the Christian leaders to express 'fear' over this Samajik Kumbh. They have said that the Kumbh is an event for reconversion of tribals, from Christianity back to the Hindu fold. Their 'fear' only goes to prove that they have been indulging in coercive and aggressive conversions unchallenged, and any sign of resistance is giving them jitters. The Kumbh's objective is not reconversion. And even if it is, what right does any community have to protest? If Christians and Muslims have a right to carry on conversions..., the Hindus have double the right to bring the converts back to their original faith. It must be made clear, once and for all, that as long as conversions take place, anti-conversion and reconversions efforts will be made by Hindus," the Organiser editorial said.








How many governments do you know of who get a minister to resign on grounds of corruption, and then arrest him? How many governments have arrested former officials on grounds of corruption, who have chosen to give up many of their discretionary powers … had PM Manmohan Singh taken this line at his first post-scam press conference, it would probably have ended up convincing people the government was serious about cleaning up its act. More so given the kind of planning that went into the press conference — a careful selection of television journalists, including some from overseas, ensured there were less questions on A Raja and other scams and more on issues like Telangana, Ulfa, agriculture reforms, GST (which allowed the PM to hint the BJP was opposing GST because of Amit Shah's arrest in Gujarat), safety nets for the poor and, if you please, even one on whether the absence of a rupee debt market was holding back infrastructure development. And yes, even one on who his favourite cricketer was.

But since the PM chose to stick to the old party line, his statement about how the media's exclusive focus on corruption was hurting the country's image also failed to make the kind of impact it should have. The fact that the PM was badly briefed didn't help either. One of the first questions asked was why the PM brought back Raja in 2009 when it was obvious in 2008 itself that the government had lost a lot of money when two firms that got cheap licences from Raja sold a part of their equity at a huge premium. While talking of the compulsions of coalition politics, the PM added that since both the finance ministry and the Telecom Commission had agreed to the points Raja was making, he didn't think Raja had committed any great wrong on policy either — since the Justice Patil committee appointed by the government has made it clear the finance ministry was ignored and that the full Telecom Commission had been bypassed on the matter, it is clear the PM was badly briefed. The PM's reply to where he stood on the Sibal (zero-loss) and Chidambaram (governance deficit) statements was an eye-opener and signalled there was little change in the government line on the scam. The Budget, the PM said, gave Rs 80,000 crore of subsidies on food and large amounts on fertiliser and kerosene — was this to be considered a loss of revenue, he asked, in the way the CAG said Raja's actions had caused a loss of revenue to the exchequer? While the subsidy losses are unconscionable, it takes a real leap of faith to compare subsidies for the common man with subsidies to firms owned by billionaires (some of whom were quick to monetise the profits), but that's what the PM did. Even American presidents, with all their preparation and folksy answers, have a tough time dealing with an angry press — Indian heads of state, unused to dealing with direct questions and answers, would do well to stick to televised addresses to the nation.






Once the Raja of India's telecom market, the state-owned BSNL is a pale shadow of itself today. It ceased to be the largest player in the telecom market many years ago, and telcos like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone beat it even in terms of subscribers in rural areas some years ago. Today, as FE reported on Tuesday, BSNL probably has a year to live. It has been making losses over the past few years, but managed to stay afloat thanks to the interest earnings on its Rs 30,000-odd crore of cash reserves. Today, with the losses mounting, the company has been dipping into its reserves by around Rs 400 crore each month — reserves are down to Rs 5,000 crore, enough for a year or so.

The government knows BSNL is on its last legs. It even set up a committee under Sam Pitroda to fix things, to offer solutions beyond those offered by BSNL's management — allow us to buy more equipment, and that'll fix the problem. Pitroda suggested a far more dramatic plan — this included separating the post of chairman from the managing director who would be a professional, ending the current tendering system and going in for a Bharti Airtel-style system of outsourcing of network management to firms like Ericsson and Nokia, large VRS and listing of the firm. It's been a year since, but little has happened on the Pitroda report. Raja, it appears, was busy with his spectrum scam; Sibal, it is obvious, is preoccupied with putting out the Raja fire. Where that leaves BSNL is equally clear — in a year's time, outside BIFR's door.







Marie Antoinette, the liberal and concerned queen of France, on seeing all the poor and hungry masses demanding bread said in a fit of charity: "Let them eat cake". Prestigious National Advisory Council (NAC) member Dr Jean Drèze surveyed the performance of the existing National Food For Work Programme (NFFWP) in July 2005 and concluded that the performance was "alarming"*. The work guidelines were not being enforced and the workers were not getting the minimum wage (only Rs 25 to Rs 30 a day). The major problem was with "muster rolls". There was a lot of corruption, Dr Drèze concluded. To help provide cake to the needy, the UPA government introduced a replacement for the NFFWP in the form of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). This act would right the wrongs of existing NFFWP programmes. Why would it right the wrongs? Because it would be implemented by committed experts rather than by corrupt government officials.

Given the lessons learnt from the failure of food for work programmes, MGNREGA is seemingly a booming success. In April of 2008, Phase III of the programme was introduced across 285 additional districts. With this addition, all the districts of India have been covered, and the government claims that 130 crore workdays of work was provided in 2007-08 at an average wage of Rs 75 per person per day. Buoyed by this success, the NAC recommended, and obtained, an expansion of the MGNREGA programme to more than triple the 2007-08 allocation to Rs 39,000 crore in 2010-11. Interestingly, the programme continues to be non-corrupt and as evidence there is the fact that all the money allocated for 2010-11 has not been spent.

However, the government, and the NAC, is asking for more money to be spent on MGNREGA. Is it the case that the poor are actually getting bread under the scheme? And how likely is it that after decades of poor implementation and corruption (recall that food for work programmes first started in 1973), Indian administrators have suddenly turned efficient and non-corrupt?

As agreed by all, corruption is the number one issue facing the country. The biggest scam that the country has encountered, ever, is the telecom 2G scam, where rough estimates suggest that Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 crore was "lost", disappeared into thin air, did not accrue to the government, etc. Thankfully, such scams come once in a decade or less.

But the scams pertaining to the national welfare schemes like MGNREGA and PDS, may annually be about the size of the 2G scam, if not more. I repeat—the flow of corruption money via operation of MGNREGA, PDS, fertiliser subsidy, kerosene subsidy, etc, may well be substantially in excess of Rs 40,000 crore a year, and well in excess of 1% of GDP each year. This conclusion is not new — the late PM Rajiv Gandhi reached the same conclusion in 1985 when he claimed that only 15% of the money meant for the poor reached the poor.

Future articles will look into the possible "leakages" in the PDS and other subsidy schemes. For the moment, MGNREGA deserves a closer scrutiny. To date, all expert analyses of the MGNREGA programme have regurgitated the official ministry of rural development (MRD) data on the administration of the programme — presumably the same statistics that the NAC, Dr Drèze and others use to conclude that the people via MGNREGA are eating both bread and cake.

Using these statistics may be akin to asking the accused to be the judge! Fortunately, there are data from outside of the MRD that can be used to test not only the veracity of the MRD claims but also the efficacy of the old, much maligned (and rightly so), food for work programmes.

All of this is possible via use of the National Sample Survey for 2007-08 (July 2007 to June 2008). The following question was asked of all individuals in households covered by the survey: How many days in the preceding week did you work as a casual worker in a public works programme? The respondent days will be an upper-bound to the MGNREGA programme since there can be public works programme that are not-MGNREGA.

The results are the following. The government claims of 130 crore person days of work seem to be wildly exaggerated (interestingly, not dissimilar to the CAG claim that Rs 1.76 lakh crore was lost in the 2G scam, rather than the more realistic figure of Rs 40,000 crore). The NSS figure is 46 crore person days total and 38 crore in districts where MGNREGA was operational. The NSS data can identify whether a household was poor or not according to the Tendulkar poverty line; the result — only 8.8 crore person days of the MGNREGA programme were availed of by the poor.

One final statistic — for 285 Phase 3 districts, there was no MGNREGA between June 2007 and March 2008. Yet these districts had provided as much as 86% of the workdays in non-MGNREGA programmes as was provided by MGNREGA after its implementation in April 2008.

A conservative estimate of the disappearance into thin air of money meant for the poor MGNREGA recipients in 2007-08 is about two-thirds of the money spent on the programme. Disappearance means money not accounted for by receipt by the poor or the rich. It is unlikely that corruption in MGNREGA has decreased in the last three years while having increased in all sectors of the economy. Which means that scam money in MGNREGA, in just one year 2010-11, is upwards of Rs 25,000 crore.

* Jean Drèze, "Loot for work programme", ToI, July 1, 2005

The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm







Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said his piece. Not as an address to the nation, or a speech in Parliament, but to a group of television editors, and through the miracle of live television, to the country as a whole. The object of the exercise was to demonstrate that he is still the most honest Prime Minister despite being surrounded by not so honest Cabinet colleagues. Was that object achieved, are we now more convinced that the Prime Minister is more sinned against than sinning? The verdict is not encouraging, the country saw the Prime Minister publicly admit to having had no say in the appointment of his Cabinet, being forced to accommodate a man — who is now in the custody of the CBI — and accused of unprecedented graft. Is being considered helpless an advantage?

But for students of political communication, what is more stunning are the little things that ruined this choreographed event.

Right off the bat, press conferences and statements of any kind, especially during a crisis of some sort, benefit most when there are no counter questions asked. In William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the Roman world would have tread a different path, had Brutus had the last word over Marc Antony, since Brutus was, after all, an honourable man. The Prime Minister, too, appeared to be having a good run, till in a desperate bid for a news point, the questions became pointed, tougher and appeared to have departed from any agreed boundary lines.

In spin doctoring during a crisis, it never pays to be defensive. The government's steps on corruption, the arrest of Raja, the removal of Ashok Chavan and the pursuit of cases against Suresh Kalmadi were never once mentioned by the Prime Minister, in the things that he has done to combat corruption. He didn't even mention the fact that the president of the BJP, Nitin Gadkari, had termed the corrupt actions of his party's chief minister BS Yeddyurappa as being "immoral but not illegal", a howling exercise in cheese paring if ever there was one.

The third big mistake in Wednesday's exercise was the timing. In life, as in politics, timing is everything. To hold a press conference at 11 am in the morning, especially one where the Prime Minister is desperate for a particular kind of message to be disbursed, is nothing short of criminal. While the press conference wound up at 12 noon or thereafter, the Opposition had the entire day in which to attack the Prime Minister, punch holes in his statement and generally diffuse any good that might have come of it.

Spin doctors in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) say that he will be speaking again, this time in Parliament, on February 22. His previous speeches in Parliament, peppered with Urdu couplets and grand historical sweeps, have been more successful in portraying him as a scholar-politician, far removed from the heat and dust and compromises of electoral politics, and yes, as the only honest man in the government trying hard at a tough job.

A shining example of that was the speech he delivered at the end of a debate on the Indo-US nuclear deal, where he had been accused of selling India's strategic interests down the river. His words had bellowed his outrage at the suggestion, silencing the Opposition.

In a reply to a question today, Manmohan Singh said that he did not look at his previous career as a scholar and bureaucrat as being opposed to his current one as a politician, as he considered his life to be one of "learning and relearning things". If not for him, then for those looking for a career in the budding field of spin doctoring, Wednesday's exercise has lessons galore.






Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 70-minute interaction with editors of television channels, which was telecast live, is an event of some political significance. It has come at a time when the United Progressive Alliance government is besieged by corruption scandals and issues arising from governance and ethical deficits, policy muddles, and coalition woes. Reaching out to a large national audience by having a free and open interaction with informed journalists is a politically smart idea. But this assumes that the leader has a strong message to communicate and can do it persuasively. Wednesday's event was worthwhile in that we got to know a little more about what has been going on in Dr. Singh's mind than we did before this 'conversation.' Unfortunately, the terms and format of the interaction imposed severe limitations on the depth of questioning by not allowing any real focus on the key issues raised by the television journalists. But that was not the real problem with the Prime Minister's performance on live television. He had no strong and clear message to communicate on any of the critical issues troubling the people of India — corruption, inflation, livelihood and other economic issues — and therefore failed to persuade.

Dr. Singh did well to announce unequivocally the government's "sovereign policy decision," even if taken rather late in the day, to go for annulment of the indefensible Antrix-Devas S-band deal. But on the issue at the top of political India's mind — the 2G spectrum allocation scam, where the kingpin, a former Cabinet colleague, is in the custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation and will soon be charge-sheeted, and various others, including those in high places, are presumably being investigated for their misdeeds — he was anything but convincing. Facing questions on how and why he as Prime Minister, who was in communication with Telecom Minister A. Raja in 2007-2008, allowed the so-called First Come, First Served policy of 2G spectrum allocation to go through, he essentially washed his hands of the affair, which resulted in a revenue loss of tens of thousands of crores of rupees. Dr. Singh's defence is four-legged: (a) Mr. Raja, the Telecom Ministry, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the Telecom Commission, and eventually even the Finance Ministry were of "the same view," namely that "auctions ...[were] not the way forward as far as 2G spectrum ... [was] concerned"; (b) "at that moment, there was no reason to feel that anything wrong had been done"; (c) was the presumptive loss a real 'loss'? and (d) in any case, coalition compulsions made his party accept its ally's choice of Cabinet Ministers and presumably their ways. This amounts to evading the key issue of prime ministerial accountability for high-stake Cabinet decisions in a parliamentary form of government.





Egyptians who are looking to the future following their magnificent victory over a dictatorial and venal regime face many challenges. Among them is that of finding reliable ways to recover their past. When protesters were on the streets fighting the Mubarak regime, and before the military could throw a protective cordon, thieves broke into Cairo's Egyptian Museum, which holds the most extensive collection of pharaonic antiquities in the world. After initial denial, the newly created Ministry of Antiquities confirmed that 18 priceless objects including the gilded wood-statue of Tutankhamun with a harpoon — which is more than 3000 years old and was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922 — are untraceable. In addition, about 70 important artefacts were damaged. Considering that the museum is located at Tahrir Square and there was a tumultuous crowd nearby, the loss could have been worse. There is enough expertise available to restore the damaged artefacts but the loss of antiquities is deeply worrying. They must be recovered swiftly before they are irretrievably lost to the illicit antiquity market.

Egypt has stringent laws that prescribe heavy fines and rigorous imprisonment up to seven years for stealing and smuggling out antiquities. However, this has not deterred smugglers such as Tokeley-Parry, the antiquities restorer turned thief who disguised the stolen head of Amenhotep III, valued at US $1.1 million, as a cheap replica and slipped it through Egyptian Customs. The prospects of recovering the lost Egyptian antiquities depend entirely on international cooperation that needs to go beyond technical implementation of rules. Museums, antique dealers, and auction houses must demonstrate a firm resolve to stay clear of these stolen antiquities. They must not take up any activity that even indirectly supports their circulation. Institutions that try to defend the indefensible by taking the self-serving ideological stance that museums anywhere must be allowed to acquire and protect "undocumented antiquities," which are the heritage of humankind and not of any one country, must be shamed and proceeded against legally. Egpyt's antiquities are assets of universal and timeless importance. Recovering and returning them to where they belong is, first, the responsibility of Egypt's transitional regime and, secondly, of governments and law enforcement agencies everywhere.








A lot has changed in the nearly four years since the peace of Hyderabad was shattered — first by the May 2007 Mecca Masjid blasts and, three months later, by the twin blasts at the Gokul Chat Bhandar and Lumbini Park.

Some 20 Muslim boys who were picked up randomly in the aftermath of the blasts and charged with waging war on the nation, have won their freedom. A new term, Hindutva terror, has gained official recognition. The Andhra Pradesh police who, by instinct, habit and training, chased after Muslim "masterminds" and connected the dots between Muslim terror groups, have learnt the hard way that terror does not always have to have the "jihadi" prefix. Indeed, fresh trails have opened up, suggesting that the Muslim boys were deliberately framed.

And yet, these are at best cosmetic changes that have brought no tangible relief to those falsely implicated in the blast cases. For many of them, the feeling of living on the edge continues; the court may have acquitted them but the label of "terrorist" remains as does the lurking fear that the reprieve is temporary, that the cycle of police visits, interrogation, torture and incarceration can re-commence anytime — if there is a fresh terror attack or even if there isn't.

For Mohammad Rayeezuddin, who smartly chatted up customers at Hyderabad's grandest jewellery showroom before being picked up and tossed into jail, the experience was a life-altering one. Two facts went against him: he was witness to a shoot-out outside the office of the Director-General of Police in 2004 and he lived in the same locality as Shahid Bilal, a key terror suspect.

The dragnet began to close in on Mr. Rayeezuddin, now 28, after the Mecca Masjid blasts. First came the summons from the Special Investigation Cell, which put him through the wringer on Bilal's whereabouts, network and his specific role in the Mecca Masjid blasts. With the Gokul-Lumbini twin blasts, Mr. Rayeezuddin made the transition from "terror suspect" to "terror accused," going through the inescapable drill of being blindfolded, shunted between shadowy farmhouses and tortured, before being formally arrested and fleetingly produced before a magistrate. Mr. Rayeezuddin was picked up on August 31, 2007 but typically in the police records, the arrest date is shown as September 6, 2007. He was released on conditional bail on February 14, 2008. And on December 31, 2009, the Court of the VII Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge cleared him and 20 others of all charges. But the freedom has been only in a manner of speaking, because, as Mr. Rayeezuddin says, " hum utthe baitthe dar me rahte hain" (I live in constant fear of the police). The men in uniform turn up often to give him company, when it is the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, when a terror alert has been sounded, or when there is trouble anywhere in the city.

Scarred for life

Mr. Rayeezuddin lost his job the day he visited the special cell. Today, scarred for life and stigmatised for having once been charged with terror, he sells watermelons on the pavement. Others acquitted along with him feel similarly wrecked: the torture marks have faded but the memories have not. To compound the injury, there has been much promise but no action on compensating and rehabilitating the young men. Chief Minister Kiran Reddy and others in the Congress have offered to apologise for the injustice, which seems so much a mockery when the perpetrators of the injustice have not been prosecuted and punished. Says Mr. Rayeezuddin: "Please tell the Chief Minister that we have forgiven him. Now will he please punish those policemen who so brutally and calculatedly turned us into terrorists?"

The plight of the boys was formally recorded in an interim report as early as September 2007 by L. Ravi Chander, Advocate Commissioner for the Andhra Pradesh Minorities Commission. Mr. Ravi Chander, who visited the blast suspects in the Cherlapally jail, was left so shattered by the experience that he began his final report, submitted in September 2008, with a poignant quote from Vikas Swarup's debut novel, Q&A, made later into Slumdog Millionaire. In the story, the teenage protagonist is picked up from the Dharavi slums for winning a quiz show. But arrests are an everyday affair in Dharavi, and so the boy concludes that even if he had "kicked and screamed, protested his innocence, and raised a stink," the neighbourhood would not have lifted a finger to defend him.

"Unfortunately, sometimes life imitates fiction," Mr. Ravi Chander noted in his report, going on to detail the shocking lack of procedure in the detention of Mr. Rayeezuddin and others: "[The boys] reiterate with telling consistency the now familiar story of arrest without warrant, arrest without informing the kith and kin, being taken away to unknown places, torture, etc … Typically a pigment on skin reflecting minor electric shocks are visible. While time heals the physical wounds, [they have] left an indelible impression on the psyche of the persons." It was like a macabre replay as each boy spoke — of being detained without knowing the charge, of extended periods of torture, of indifferent magistrates who somehow always missed the distress signals from the prisoners, of being forced to confess to terror plots and of having to sign on blank papers.

Mr. Ravi Chander's report reiterated the procedure laid down by the Supreme Court for arrest and detention, including maintaining records of the time and date of arrests along with the names of officers executing the warrants; preparing a memo of arrest, signed by a witness preferably from the detainee's family and countersigned by the detainee; ensuring a tri-weekly medical examination of every detainee and keeping a memo of major and minor injuries, again countersigned by the detainee. The Supreme Court held failure to comply with the requirements to be punishable with departmental action and contempt of court proceedings. Mr. Ravi Chander concluded his report with this chilling passage: "To counter terrorism and "counter terrorism" [by the State] are not one and the same … It is clear that all the victims belong to a single community and mostly to a single economic class. This may be insufficient to place the burden surely at a single door-step, namely the police. This however surely tells a pattern. A seriously dangerous pattern."

Mr. Ravi Chander's findings came as a surprise to civil rights activists. Because, as he himself laughingly told The Hindu, "I am not viewed as a Muslim-friendly person, as I had fought on the opposite side on the issue of Minorities reservation." But this fact has only enhanced the credibility of the report.

Stunning exposé

If Mr. Ravi Chander underscored the arbitrariness of police detentions, the court proceedings turned out to be a stunning exposé on the state of Indian policing and the investigation-prosecution apparatus. The burden of the two charge sheets filed by the police was that Shahid Bilal (listed as Area Commander of Jaish-e-Mohammed/HuJI, and believed to have been killed since) and his associates conspired to wage war on the nation by organising bomb blasts in Hyderabad. In this they were helped by many others, including Mr. Rayeezuddin. And yet, astonishingly, neither charge sheet linked the accused specifically to any of the three bomb blasts. While the first was filed against Bilal and his associates, the second named two other key actors, Abdul Sattar and Abdul Khadri. Having learnt bomb-making in Bangladesh, Sattar and Khadri helped Bilal with the logistics. Mr. Rayeezuddin and others pitched in by promising "their solidarity and support for the jihadi movement and the protection of Muslims all over the world."

With Bilal presumed killed, the second charge sheet came up in the court, which threw it out, quashing the charges against all the accused. Against each of the 21 accused, the charge sheet had shown invariably the same recoveries: "Two VCDs containing seditious clips, rebellious Islamic activities, Urdu seditious matter and Muslim fundamentalism." But not one of the panch witnesses produced by the prosecution accepted that he was present when the recoveries were made. Panch witness Mohammad Saleem testified that the police wrote up the seizure mahazer (memo) after seizing the papers and CDs from a fellow police inspector. In one instance "Urdu seditious literature" turned out to be in English. The inspector who framed the charge sheet confessed to not being able to read Urdu. "Except the alleged confessional statement rendered to a police officer, there is no other evidence available connecting the accused with the theory of conspiracy to wage war," the judge noted.

Earlier, in December 2008, another Hyderabad court cleared some among the same group of Muslim boys of the charge that they had conspired to kill a local Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Sampath. In that case the police inspector had translated "Arabic literature" into English without knowing any Arabic. The prosecution witness could not even confirm the existence of Sampath!

The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are furious that Aseemanand and some other Hindutva names have emerged in recent terror investigations. The parivar has every right to demand that due process be followed in their cases. However, one wishes they had been similarly concerned about young Muslim boys jailed and charge sheeted without evidence.






As Hosni Mubarak reluctantly retired last Friday (on February 11), another revolt was reaching its climax in Pakistan. For four days the workers of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the national carrier, had been on strike. Some 25,000 passengers were stranded, including me.

I was stuck in Quetta, a tense, paranoid city near the Afghan border where the security forces are engaged in a ruthless cat-and-mouse game with nationalist rebels; it is also a supposed refuge for the one-eyed Taliban leader Mullah Omar. As the skies emptied of planes, guests from my hotel fled Quetta by car, crossing the sprawling deserts, or chancing the rickety 22-hour train ride to Karachi. I stayed put.

On TV the picture flipped from ecstatic crowds surging through Tahrir Square in Cairo, to Pakistani riot police baton-charging PIA workers at Karachi airport. The strike was over planned reforms. PIA is a bloated, sick elephant. It has 400 employees per aircraft — about three times the norm — and last year it asked the government to pay $1.7bn (£1.06bn) in debt. But the unions objected to plans to rationalise the workforce, and demanded that managing director Aijaz Haroon resign. And so on Friday night, under immense pressure, he went, resigning at the same time as Mubarak fell in Egypt.

A country on edge

As the screen filled with ecstatic revolutionaries surging through Tahrir Square, a note of envy sounded among Pakistanis on Twitter. Could the glorious revolution spread to their country? "I wish, wish, wish Pakistan could be next," wrote the author Fatima Bhutto.

Pakistan certainly seems ripe for revolt. It is perpetually on a knife edge — extremists plot and explode bombs, senior politicians are assassinated, society seethes with discontent. A slim upper crust floats in a bubble of wealth and privilege — the local version of Hello! offers coverage of upper-class toddler parties — while the poor grind along under soaring food inflation and 12-hour power cuts. Regional tensions threaten to pull the country asunder. In Quetta, residents were shivering in their homes because the rebels had blown up the gas pipelines four times over the previous week.

"We're in a bad way," one mournful lawyer told me before I left, glancing over his shoulder to see if intelligence officials were evesdropping.

Some analysts compare the mood to Iran in 1979, when a restive middle-class upended the American-backed Shah and opened the door to theocratic Islamic rule. Yet on the ground in Pakistan, the whiff of revolution is faint. For a start, the country is too fractured. Take Karachi, a sprawling megalopolis of 16 million people, about the size of Cairo. Control of the city is divided between a patchwork of political, sectarian and criminal gangs. All are heavily armed. Protests against Pervez Musharraf in the city four years ago pitted rival groups against each other, triggering a bloodbath.

On President Zardari

The bigger problem, perhaps, is that there is no dictator to overthrow. Pakistanis already have democracy, elections and a vigorous press. But among the educated classes, few want to engage with the political system, considering it dirty and corrupt. And so they focus their frustration on their President, Asif Ali Zardari, a fantastically unpopular figure. Locked into his fortified Islamabad palace, Zardari is portrayed by a hostile media as aloof and corrupt, a schemer and a shyster. Many people are prepared to believe the most lurid stories about him, including that he plotted the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, in 2007. Zardari-hating has become a virtual fetish among the chattering classes.

Some of this is warranted — his government disastrously bungled the recent blasphemy furore, and is struggling to deal with the case of Raymond Davis, an American official who shot two people dead on a Lahore street. Corruption is certainly rife, although many of the wilder stories are almost certainly exaggerated. But the hard truth is that power in Pakistan resides inside the gleaming halls of the army headquarters, where liveried generals hold the keys to the country's nuclear weapons — more than 100, according to one recent count — and control policy with India, Afghanistan and America.

And so a true revolution in Pakistan would see the army being ousted from power — except that would be tricky, because it isn't officially in charge.

The real danger, however, may lie in the dark clouds gathering over the economy. Companies such as PIA are sucking the Treasury dry; last week's strike demonstrated scant political will to get them into shape. On the revenue side, the rich refuse to pay tax — the tax-to-GDP ratio is a disastrously low nine per cent and many politicians pay just a few hundred pounds tax per year. To plug this hole, the government has resorted to printing money at an alarming pace. Few doubt it is unsustainable. Over tea in his office, a senior western diplomat told me the economy was his "number one priority".

Economists say the bubble could burst in a matter of months — rocketing inflation, a crashing currency, capital flight. If that happens, trouble could stir on the streets, notwithstanding Pakistanis' amazing tolerance for adversity. But it's unlikely to have the same clean lines as the Egyptian revolt. And its consequences could be just as unpredictable.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011




Unrest surging through the Arab world has so far taken no toll on the American military. But that could change if revolt washes over the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, long-time home to the U.S. Navy's mighty 5th Fleet and arguably the Middle East anchor of U.S. defence strategy.

The discontent that has spilled into the streets of Bahrain's capital, Manama, this week features no anti-American sentiment, but the U.S. has a lot at stake in preserving its dominant naval presence in the Gulf.

In announcing that it is "very concerned" about violence linked to the protests, the State Department on February 15 underscored Bahrain's strategic importance as a U.S. partner.

The 5th Fleet operates at least one aircraft carrier in the Gulf at all times, along with an "amphibious ready group" of ships with Marines aboard. Their presence is central to a longstanding U.S. commitment to ensuring the free flow of oil through the Gulf, while keeping an eye on a hostile Iran and seeking to deter piracy in the region.

Anthony Cordesman, a Mideast defence specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Bahrain has security services capable of handling protesters and potentially backed by neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

In the weeks leading up to popular revolts that toppled autocratic regimes first in Tunisia and then Egypt, Obama administration officials portrayed Bahrain as being on the right track toward democracy..— AP






The World Bank has given a stark warning of the impact of the rising cost of food, saying an estimated 44 million people had been pushed into poverty since the middle of last year by soaring commodity prices.

Robert Zoellick, the Bank's president, said food prices had risen by almost 30 per cent in the past year and were within striking distance of the record levels reached during 2008.

"Global food prices are rising to dangerous levels and threaten tens of millions of poor people around the world," Zoellick said. "The price hike is already pushing millions of people into poverty, and putting stress on the most vulnerable, who spend more than half of their income on food." According to the latest edition of Food Price Watch, the World Bank's food price index was up by 15 per cent between October 2010 and January 2011, is 29 per cent above its level a year earlier, and only three per cent below its 2008 peak. Wheat prices have seen the most pronounced increases, doubling between June last year and January 2011, while maize prices were up 73 per cent.

The bank said fewer people had fallen into poverty than in 2008 because of two factors — good harvests in many African countries had kept prices stable, and the increases in rice prices — a key part of the diet for many of the world's poor — had been moderate.

It added: "Measures to address the recent round of food price spikes include expanding nutritional and safety net programmes in countries where food prices are rising fastest, avoiding food export restrictions, and finding better information on food stocks. More investments in agriculture, the development of less food—intensive biofuels and climate change adaptation are also needed." Announcing the latest findings, the bank said its Global Food Crisis Response Programme was helping some 40 million people in need by providing $1.5bn of support. "To date, over 40 low-income countries are receiving or will receive assistance through new and improved seeds, irrigation, and other farm support and food assistance for the most vulnerable people. For example, in Benin, fertiliser provided through these resources led to the production of an extra 100,000 tonnes of cereal." In the longer term, the bank said it was boosting its spending on agriculture to $6bn—8bn a year from $4.1bn in 2008.

'An aggravating factor'

Zoellick also said rising global food prices were an "aggravating factor" but not the main reason for violent protests that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia. He said Egypt's financing situation "is one that should be able to be managed", suggesting the country may not need additional World Bank loans. A team from the bank is currently in Tunisia assessing its transition and possible financing needs. ( Larry Elliott is economics editor of the Guardian.) — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011




Amid surging demand for rare earth minerals used in everything from cell phones to gas-saving cars, Afghans are dreaming of cashing in on vast deposits they believe lie beneath their feet.

The problem is that they are in one of the country's most dangerous spots, on the south bank of the Helmand River in southern Afghanistan, where fighting rages in a traditional Taliban stronghold.

That Afghanistan sits on vast mineral wealth has been detailed in several surveys, the most extensive of which were conducted by the Soviets in the 1970s. Mining companies, both Afghan and foreign, already have shown interest, notably in its copper, iron and oil. Last month, Afghan officials proudly presented what they say is $3 trillion worth of deposits scattered throughout the country, more than triple the initial dollar amount estimated by the U.S. Defence Department last June. But with poor infrastructure and security that ranges from precarious to downright prohibitive, there is a limit to how much the country can hope for, at least in the medium term.

Among the most exciting right now are the rare earths, with a spat between China and Japan last fall highlighting China's near-monopoly on the minerals.

In 2007 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimated 1.4 million metric tons of rare earth elements lie in southwest Helmand. The Afghan Ministry of Mines says there is more elsewhere in the country, "huge deposits" overall, according to Jalil Jumriani, who deals with policy and promotion at the ministry in Kabul. The U.S. Defence Department's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations estimates the Khanneshin area in Helmand holds some $89 billion in rare earths and niobium, minerals strategic for high tech and industrial industries. "This deposit could represent a long-term development opportunity for Helmand province that would create jobs across the spectrum from low-skilled labourers to chemists, physicists and engineers," the task force said in a statement last month.

USGS scientists are analysing samples taken over the past 18 months from Helmand to determine what exactly is there in the way of the 17 rare earth minerals.


Jumriani said officials were treading cautiously. Once the picture clears and the mining law is overhauled to define investors' rights, Afghanistan will hold a roadshow to present its rare earth deposits, possibly this summer in Hong Kong or Singapore.

"We want to take these steps slowly, and we want to make sure that the people in Afghanistan can get the real benefits of this," Jumriani said.

Rare earth minerals are used in areas as diverse as cell phones, hybrid car batteries, defence industries and wind turbines, and China accounts for 97 per cent of production.

China has 30 per cent of the world's rare earth deposits, but the United States, Australia and others stopped mining their own a decade ago because it was cheaper to buy Chinese ores. Several companies now plan to resume production in North America and Australia.

China already has made a hefty investment in Afghan minerals, signing a $3 billion contract to mine copper. But it is not known whether it will seek a stake in Afghanistan's rare earths. Also, experts caution that it is still unclear whether the Helmand deposits are mineable and can yield a profit. One question needing study is which of the rare earth minerals are more abundant, the more abundant ones called light rare earths, or the heavy rare earths critical to specific industries. Medlin said old data lean toward the lights, but there are indications heavy rare earths are present too. A Ministry of Mines report last month indicated the deposit included the rarer type. "The heavy rare earths in Khanneshin are found only in few locations around the world. This deposit could represent a long-term opportunity for Helmand province, creating jobs and stabilising the area," a statement said.

"There's been quite a lot of hype about mineral resources in Afghanistan," said Andrew Bloodworth, a mining expert at the British Geological Survey. But just having the minerals is not enough. Mines need roads and railroads, no easy proposition in a war-wracked country.– AP






British and European universities have often been criticised for neglecting contemporary India which, critics say, is studied in a somewhat "fragmentary" way with much of what passes for Indian studies being either about ancient India or colonial and post-colonial "stuff."

Now, King's College London, which has old links with India (it proudly lists Khushwant Singh among its famous alumni), has stepped in to plug the gap by setting up an India Institute which it hopes to develop as "a focal point" for an inter-disciplinary study of contemporary India.

It has poached well-known modern India scholar Sunil Khilnani from Johns Hopkins University, Washington, to run the Institute to be formally launched in the summer.

Prof Khilnani, best-known for his 1997 seminal book The Idea of India, says that in Britain and Europe more generally there is a lack of focus on contemporary India.

"If you look at British and European engagement with India it is either in terms of Indology or colonialism — the rise of nationalism and the end of the raj, that is, mostly up to independence. There is very little coherence when it comes to engaging with contemporary India. Lots of individuals are doing some good work and you have great university departments working on specific areas such as economic development or strategic studies but the focus on post-1947 India is lacking. We will bring all these strands together to promote an understanding of modern India through cutting-edge research and debate," he told The Hindu.

More than just a department

The Institute, he said, would be more than just a university department. It would be a "cross" between a centre of academic study and a think-tank developing links with British and European think-tanks like the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) and the India-Europe Futures Forum. The idea behind the Institute derived from the recognition that India had emerged not only as a major economic power but also as a global player in a whole range of other areas such as environment, security, and democracy.

"It comes from a recognition that India is going to play an increasingly crucial role in years to come and you have to look at India if you want to understand global issues. The institute will be an arena for regular interaction between the scholarly and policy-making community as well as a platform for major India-related events. It will aim to connect Indian questions and subjects to more general academic and policy debates," Prof. Khilnani said.

Multi-disciplinary approach

The approach would be multi-disciplinary involving specialists from diverse fields, including the media. The focus in media studies would be on "reporting India" both as it is reported by journalists in India and by the foreign, especially western, media. His own sense is that India is not reported by western journalists in the "informed" way that China is.

As someone who wears two hats — that of a historian and a political scientist — with strong views on how modern India has developed and where it is going, what does he hope to bring to the programme?

"I will attempt to connect different disciplinary perspectives to understanding India and look at contemporary India in a long historical perspective. If you want to understand the present you have to see where it comes from and where it is going," said Prof. Khilnani who is working on a book on India's global role and prospects.

How much of his own left-of-centre, Nehruvian, position would influence the Institute's programme?

"We are not going to impose any ideological view and would welcome, indeed encourage, diversity of views and debate. You can't keep out ideas. If I disagree with something I would rather have those views debated inside than exclude them."

Meanwhile, at a time when British universities are facing massive spending cuts with some facing closure, the King's move may surprise some. But, according to Prof. Khilnani, if anything, it simply confirms the growing interest in India.

"The fact that they are making such a huge investment shows the importance they attach to Indian studies. It is a high priority for King's," he said.

The college would welcome support from the Indian government as well as private sector so long as it comes without any strings attached to it.

"Our ideas are not for hire. We are very clear on that," said Prof. Khilnani ahead of a visit to India before taking up his new assignment.







After his interaction with television editors on Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should be wondering why he has been meeting the press so very sparingly. At the end of the televised event, the two key Opposition parties — BJP and CPI(M) — continued to be highly critical of the government's handling of corruption and inflation, the two issues on everyone's mind. Indeed, after hearing the Prime Minister on the 2G spectrum affair, the sense would not fully dissipate that the government got it more wrong than right in respect of both spectrum allotment and the tardiness in dealing with the fallout, especially in the sloppy handling of A. Raja, the erstwhile communications minister who finally had to be sent packing. The storyline is likely to have been somewhat different if Mr Raja had been got rid of before the CAG report castigated the 2G allotment process in no uncertain terms.

In spite of negative marks on this count, few would deny that Dr Manmohan Singh came through as a sincere leader of the government who is not afraid to make statements that might be deemed politically ill-advised, and one who readily accepts the limitations of the position he is in. (People don't expect their leaders to be superhuman.) When he said he was not afraid to face a joint parliamentary committee probe in the 2G matter and that it was not on his account that the Opposition's demand on this score had not been conceded, he as good as said it was the Congress Party's decision to not agree to a JPC inquiry, not his. This is refreshing candour. Opposition parties are not impartial observers of the scene and they are expected to take the government to task at every opportunity. But the press conference did show that the Prime Minister is an honest and transparent man even if he doesn't get everything right. With the exposure of a succession of scandals, India had come to harbour a sense of moral injury. Dr Singh talking to the people directly on television does help to ease that sense of hurt.

The back-breaking price rise is a serious problem but it was good to hear the economist in Dr Singh say that if the compulsions of keeping up the growth momentum did not exist, prices could have been handled more smartly, although it was being negatively influenced by international events like a big hike in the prices if petroleum, food and (industrial) commodities. The Prime Minister also pointed to the need for striking compromises ("or we might face elections every six months!") in a coalition situation. Making this awareness explicit cannot exempt a leader from responsibility. Nevertheless, viewers would have noted the simplicity of the man who is keen to soldier on. If the Prime Minister's press conference was a regular practice, it is unlikely matters would pile up and speculation of the most unsavoury kind would be rife. A leader who does not communicate with the people generally invites trouble. Jawaharlal Nehru used to have a monthly press conference (not just for editors) and Indira Gandhi met the media quite frequently, as did Morarji Desai. In a democracy it is a good practice for the head of government to seek out opportunities to interact with the press which, in India, is avidly followed.

In holding a press conference the Prime Minister was clearly in a mood to release some pressure on the eve of the Budget Session of Parliament, beginning on Monday. To that extent he may have succeeded. With the BJP seeking to expand the ambit of the JPC, which it wants should now examine not just the 2G matter but all the other scams plaguing the country, Parliament might still be a site for bitter contention, but the government side would have retrieved some ground.






When contemplating Pakistan's nuclear build-up, Major General Ausaf Ali comes to mind. An engineer officer, also director general (operations and plans), Ali is arguably the most important man in the strategic plans division, Chaklala, the secretariat for that country's Nuclear Command Authority. The occasion was his briefing on the Pakistan nuclear weapons programme at an "international seminar" in March 2007 held in Bahawalpur. As the lone Indian invitee, I was apparently the offline channel to convey nuclear signals to interested audiences in India.

Among other things, Maj. Gen. Ali indicated that Pakistan planned to beef up its nuclear forces sufficient to enable a "counterforce third strike" — a scheme too ambitious not to prompt scepticism. A counterforce third strike essentially means having enough surviving nuclear weapons/warheads and delivery systems (missiles and aircraft) to take out Indian nuclear force assets after absorbing an Indian retaliatory hit in response to Pakistan's first use of nuclear weapons. His impressive confidence notwithstanding, this strategy is unsustainable for the reason Maj. Gen. Ali also mentioned, namely, that the location of 70 per cent of Pakistani nuclear weapons is known to American, Indian and Israeli intelligence agencies and, in a nuclear crisis or conflict, will face pre-emption. The remaining 30 per cent, he asserted, "will never be found". It is reasonable to deduce that the underway augmentation of the nuclear arsenal — with reports of Pakistani nuclear weapons strength now exceeding India's estimated arsenal and the 100 figure mark — is meant to increase both this force-fraction considered immune to pre-emptive destruction and Pakistan's margin of safety.

The more noteworthy aspect is Pakistan's resolve not to be overwhelmed in a nuclear confrontation with India. It is reflected in the reported construction of a fourth plutonium reactor at Khushab. This is a speedy follow-up to the first and second reactors that went on stream in 1996 and 2009 respectively and the third which is at the half-way stage of construction. Deterrence is a mind-game — how I wish I had patented this phrase first used by me in a 1998 book — and Pakistan seems to be psychologically fortifying itself for it.

None of this will matter very much in an actual nuclear exchange though because however large the Pakistani weapons inventory, especially its protected force fraction, the certainty of Pakistan's extinction (given the extreme vulnerability of the narrow "strategic corridor" near the Indian border, containing most of its cities and economic centres) versus the obliteration of a couple of Indian cities will compel Islamabad, I have argued, to avoid nuclear first use no matter what the Indian provocation, including limited ingress into Pakistani territory by Indian conventional forces ("Cold Start"). Then again, Pakistan has discovered that India scares easy and simply having its leaders indulge in nuclear bombast at the first sign of trouble deters Delhi from approving even punitive strikes. This happened after the December 13, 2001, attack on Parliament and the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.

A nuclear Pakistan, in any case, poses a greater danger to itself than to India — with the possibility of fanatics accessing nuclear materials, if not whole weapons, in unsettled domestic situations. These jihadis, geared to blowing themselves up, may decide that the use of nuclear weapons or radiation diffusion devices as means of national suicide either by turning them against the Pakistan establishment or India, advances their cause.
But, Pakistan's nuclear preparations nevertheless highlight the Indian government's relaxed attitude and extraordinary complacency. The stock answers by senior officials to any sensitive questions regarding national security are usually unilluminating counter-questions: "How do you know we are not taking appropriate actions? And, if we are, would we be announcing them?" Alas, excessive opacity hurts nuclear deterrence when there's little evidence of meaningful measures on the ground.

For instance, dedicated military-use plutonium reactors cannot be conjured out of thin air nor erected in a trice. Indeed, with the decommissioning of the CIRUS reactor at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, courtesy the nuclear deal with the United States, a third of the weapon-grade plutonium production capacity was lopped off. The upcoming breeder reactor having been ruled out of the military ambit by former National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, there's only the 100 MW Dhruva reactor, if the eight power plants are discounted as source owing to the huge economic costs of diverting these from electricity generation to running them on low burn-up mode for plutonium production. A second Dhruva was approved in the mid-1990s and Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao sanctioned `600 crores for it. But 15 years on, the project is in the doldrums. Moreover, instead of constructing a straight-through graphite-moderated reactor exclusively to output weapon-grade fissile material such as the ones Pakistan has obtained from China, another multi-purpose Dhruva-type reactor (tasked to also produce isotopes, etc) is on the cards. This last is the result mainly of professional laziness on the part of the Indian nuclear engineers who would rather duplicate something old than design and build an altogether new, efficient and militarily more useful plutonium reactor.
There are two great nuclear deficit areas: In the light of the failed hydrogen bomb test in 1998, the absence of proven high-yield thermonuclear armaments — a condition only further explosive testing can remedy, and curtailed weapon-grade plutonium production capacity. These shortfalls are particularly onerous when considering it is China with ramped up strategic wherewithal India has most to worry about. With the gaps in Indian weapons performance and fissile material production capacity widening into chasms, achieving credible deterrence vis a vis China, already problematic, will soon become unthinkable. Lulled by the comforting illusions of "minimal" deterrence based on the 20/20 hindsight of the Cold War rather than the verities of the harsh and unforgiving world of international relations, the Indian government seems to be paddling around in the strategic shallows, unmindful of the rapids ahead.

Bharat Karnad is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi







From the moment "1760000000000" entered our collective consciousness, the prime minister, previously described by foreigners as mild-mannered and academic, was disgraced.


He is now seen by Indians as culpable through silent acquiescence, if not worse, in the loot of national property.


During his seven years, the government was often seen as adrift; now, such a description seems positive. The negativity is sucking everything down. This, in the absence of any policy pronouncement, is probably the reason for Dr Manmohan Singh's meeting with TV editors on Wednesday.


Did it work? We don't think so. On one hand, Dr Singh said his was not a scam-driven government, but, on the other, he said the corrupt would be punished. On one hand, he said the telecom and finance ministries were both on board when A Raja was given the go-ahead to auction 2G spectrum; and on the other, he admitted there was governance deficit. On one hand, he said his hands were tied due to the compulsions of coalition politics; and on the other, he asserted that he was no lame duck prime minister.


The prime minister's is a political office; his main job is political management of his cabinet. Yet, the only time


Dr Singh looked comfortable during Wednesday's interaction was when he spoke about inflation or Egypt. Despite his apolitical image, he appears to be the beneficiary of Rahul Gandhi's reluctance to take up the reins of the government.


Dr Singh showed us on Wednesday that he will cling to power. That makes him no better than run-of-the-mill politicians. So, as an exercise in image-building, his press conference was a depressing failure.









India along with three other aspiring countries of G4 group has stepped up pressure on the UN for increasing the number of the Security Council members. This is the second time the G4 have met in six months to stake their claim as additional permanent members of the SC. Owing to the significant changes in the international community over the past 60 years, many UN member nations have criticized the UN structure, particularly that of the UNSC, and have thus brought forth proposals regarding potential reform of the UNSC. Many countries in the developing world criticize the Security Council based on the perception of it being an elite "nuclear club"; the P5 nations are the only recognized nations in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as having the permission to have nuclear arms. The P5 nations also do not accurately reflect the power and population distribution throughout the world. In addition, the veto power of the P5 presents a strong point of contention coupled with the perceived lack of democracy in the UNSC structure. Within the European Union and the United States, criticism focuses on the voting and management systems. The United States emphasizes management and oversight problems as well as human rights concerns and peace building efforts. One of the main weaknesses of the UNSC is the apparent disconnect between decision-making and the implementation ability of the Council. This has resulted in decreased legitimacy of the UNSC and of the UN on the whole. The rise in criticisms of the UNSC, emphasized by the increased momentum toward reform, demonstrates the decreasing effectiveness of the current institution. Powerful countries with the ability to act alone or together without the UN, have chosen to do so, as in the case of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States, Great Britain and others. Distrust of the efficiency and ability of the UNSC dictates the need for reform if the international community wants the organization to function as it was originally designed. There have been many proposals as to how to reform the UNSC; however, there are several that have gained the most publicity and momentum. The developing world, in conjunction with more recent regional powers are the strongest proponents of UNSC reform, with the United States seeking overall reform of the organization rather than the enforcement of significant changes to only the Security Council. The European Union is caught somewhat in the middle with internal divisions among member states providing significant challenges to developing a joint EU policy toward the UN. The four nations most strongly campaigning for permanent membership on the Security Council are Brazil, India, Germany, and Japan. Brazil is by far the largest country in South America and therefore argues for membership based on its size and power with respect to the region. India is the largest democracy in the world and one of the most populous countries in Asia. It is also at the forefront of technological innovation, a nuclear power, and believes that that is reason enough for its permanent membership in the Security Council. Germany has changed dramatically since the UN was established after its defeat in WWII and, as well as Japan, is a member of the G-8, the group of the 7 wealthiest countries in the world, plus Russia. Both nations are two of the largest financial contributors to the UN. The G4 nations have included in their proposal one permanent seat for an African nation, and thus their idea for reform has become known as the G4 + 1 proposal. Of the five permanent members, this proposal is currently backed by the United Kingdom and France. The G4 +1 proposal would significantly improve the demographic representation of the Council and distribute power more accurately according to those nations who contribute the most financially to the organization. However, many countries in the European Union, especially Spain and Italy do not want to see Germany gain a permanent seat out of fear of a coalition of power among the three most powerful nations in the EU: Great Britain, France and Germany. The rest of the EU would then feel even more excluded than it already does from the prestigious UNSC. As such, there has been discussion of exchanging the potential seat for Germany, and possibly the current ones for France and Great Britain, for a collective EU permanent seat. The EU has adopted a joint foreign policy, and a common seat would follow in line with what the EU established post - Maastricht. However, it is unlikely that Great Britain and France are currently willing to give up their seat, nor is Germany ready to stop campaigning for its own permanent seat on the Security Council. The EU is quite divided on this matter, with Italy leading the opposition against both an EU seat and a German seat. Led by Italy, Pakistan, Argentina, South Korea, and Mexico, a group of almost 40 countries, including Spain, has been formed as a direct counter to the proposal of the G4 nations. They would like to keep the 5 permanent members as they are, and increase the number of non-permanent members to 20 for a total increase of 10 seats to the Security Council. The Latin American countries oppose Brazil gaining a permanent seat on the basis that although it is the largest country in South America, it is a Portuguese-speaking country, and therefore not an accurate portrayal of the make-up of the region. Likewise Pakistan opposes India's membership because of continue rivalry. While increasing the size of the UNSC would improve the demographic representation and democratic nature of the council, there is a significant risk of its losing effectiveness. Part of what makes the UNSC function is that it is a small group of powerful nations and rotational regional representatives from the General Assembly. The more nations that join the UNSC, the more similar it will be to the GA, and therefore, its chances of successful decision-making and implementation will decrease. The UNSC already has difficulties in implementation and making decisions as a result of the veto power of the P5. Increasing the size by 10 nations could lead to increased disagreement and hamstring the implementation efforts of the council.








What is ailing India, the world's largest democracy? It is the saga of corruption going unabted–be it relating to the Commonwealth Games, allocation 2-G Spectrum and S-band Spectrum, appointment of the CVC chairman, protecting market manipulators causing price rise or the disclosures of Nira Radia tapes.

This is happening in the backdrop of a situation where farmers are committing suicide, rural people are in distress, poor becoming poorer, people losing their livelihood. Few are, of course, becoming rich through largescale corruption, evasion of tax payment and stashing away ill-gotton money in German and Swiss banks in Liechtenstein Island. Such is the paradox of the day.

Another paradox is money laundering leading to foreign funding of terrorist activities in the country. Terrorists are also funded through fake currency and resources mobilised through drug trafficking.

The ill-gotton money is now being stashed away in 15 banks in Liechtenstein Island, out of which seven are Swiss. Noted lawyer, Ram Jethmalani who has filed a PIL in the Supreme Court has estimated $1500 billion illegally stashed away in LGT and other foreign banks. The Global Financial Integrity has estimated the amount at $462 billion.

According to Jethmalani if the total ill-gotton money is brought back it would wipe out all the debts of the country, each family would get Rs 2.5 lakh each and there would be a tax-free Budget for next 30 years. The government, however, has the details of depositors of the ill-gotton money and is unwilling to make it public claiming that the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with Germany would come in the way of making the information public. If this is so then why the government in a democracy should strike an agreement with any other country which compells it to withold informations of genuine public importance and concern.
The Government has submitted the documents to the apex court under a sealed cover and has requested not to disclose the contents to the petitioner. But the government's contention is being challeged as Liechtenstein island is an independent principality – monarchy – in Europe and the DTAA with Germany would not come in the way of public discloure if the government opts to source information directly from Liechtenstein Monarchy.
Other view is that the DTAA should not come in the way when transactions concerned only Indians. DTAA comes into play when transactions are between German and Indian entities. The US Administration has recently been successfuly in getting back the ill-gotton money from these banks. Why can't India garner this courage and competance?

The Union finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee claims that India has begun playing a proactive role in the global crusade against illicit funds. But no concrete action is seen on the ground. He says that India played an active role in finalizing the Declarations of G-20 Finance Ministers Meetings in London and Pittsburg which included delivering an effective programme of peer review, capacity building and counter measures to tackle non-cooperative jurisdictions that fail to meet regulatory standards. As a result, all the tax havens have now agreed to end the bank secrecy. They have also agreed for not applying the principle of dual criminality while exchanging information for tax purposes. Countries are also willing to enter into Tax Information Exchange Agreements in the absence of a tax treaty.

India is playing a very active role as a Vice Chair of the Peer Review Group of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for tax purposes and making a positive contribution. It also joined the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development in order to bring greater transparency and accountability in the financial system.

It has joined as the 34th member of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on June 25, 2010. FATF membership is important as it will help India to build the capacity to fight terrorism and trace terror funds and to successfully investigate and prosecute money laundering and terrorist financing offences.

India on December, 15, 2010 gained membership of the Eurasian Group (EAG), which is a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) styled regional body, responsible for enforcing global standards on anti-money laundering (AML) and combating the financing of terrorism (CFT) in the Eurasian region. The Eurasian Group is strategically and geopolitically important for India to fight financing of terrorism and money laundering through drug trafficking and fake Indian currency notes. India is actively participating as an Observer in OECD and is also a member of the UN Tax Committee and Sub-Committee on Transfer Pricing.

India has Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAAs) with 79 countries, but as many as 74 DTAAs needs to be modified to broaden the scope of the articles of exchange of information to include that on banking transaction. This show that how DTAAs were drafted and signed without proper homework.
Letters have been issued to 65 countriesfor initiating the negotiations to modify the relevant articles in DTAAs.


Ongoing negotiations with 9 countries has been put on the fast track.

In negotiating new DTAAs with 15 countries, attempts are being made to ensure that articles concerning exchange of information are in accordance with the international standards and specifically providing for exchange of banking information. Two new DTAAs have been notified and in 11 more, negotiations have been completed and are in the advanced stage of finalization. Negotiations are in progress in another 2 DTAAs.

DTAA with Switzerland was signed on August, 30 2010 and is now before the Swiss Parliament for approval.


Once the Swiss Parliament grants the approval, DTAA will become operational.

India has completed negotiations for 10 new Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs) with Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Isle of Man, Cayman Islands, Jersey, Monaco, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Argentina and Marshall Islands out of 22 identified countries/jurisdictions. G-20 Communique has made mandatory the signing of TIEAs in case any country demands this instrument with low or no tax jurisdictions and countries.
To sum up, a total of 23 negotiations in line with international standards have been completed for DTAAs and 10 for TIEAs. In 31 cases, DTAA negotiations and in 5 cases, TIEA negotiations are in progress. On June 1, 2009 the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) was amended whereby the predicate offences listed in the Schedule to the Act were substantially increased in terms of the Acts covered and sections covered under such Acts. This amendment has tremendously widened the scope of money laundering investigations by the Directorate. The provisions of the Act also allow for causing attachment of the tainted proceeds located abroad by requesting the foreign administrations through Letters of Request issued by competent courts. FIU-INDIA is fully functional now.

However, the existing transfer pricing provisions which were introduced in 2001 do not have detailed provisions as compared to transfer pricing provisions of developed countries. There is need to upgrade these transfer pricing provisions to meet the challenges of growing intangible economy and various complex cost sharing arrangements. DGIT (International Taxation) has constituted a committee to look into the issue of revising the transfer pricing provisions. The committee will submit its report by March 2011.
The DGIT (International Taxation) is slated to formulate a strategy for swift and uniform application of law on international taxation and transfer pricing. A committee has also been constituted to formulate a strategy for proactive and comprehensive representation before AAR, Tribunal, High Court and the Supreme Court by February 2011. The Finance Minister claims that the new Direct Tax Code Bill slated to be introduced in the Parliament would help to unearth black money in the country.

Recently overseas units of Income Tax office has been set up in 8 countries only namely, USA, UK, Netherlands, Japan, Cyprus, Germany, France and UAE to track illegal funds of Indians. These 8 offices will soon be functional. However till date only two Income-tax overseas units located in Mauritius and Singapore and these units are providing some valuable information. A dedicated Exchange of Information (EOI) Unit with direct access power is being created under the Foreign Tax Division of CBDT to ensure that the work of exchange of information is effectively carried out.

Much needs to be done in making the laws more effective for checking tax evasion and sources of illegal money both inside and outside the country. International agreements and bilateral agreements with countries should ensure that informations are made public in the best interests of democracy and effective actions taken to book the culprits. [NPA]








Even as the Sonia Gandhi- led National Advisory Council (NAC) is engaged in an apparent losing battle against the Prime Minister-led Economic Advisory Council are engaged in a battle of words in order to give effect to the National Food Security Act (NFA), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Feb. 3 that world food prices surged to a new historic peak in January for the seventh consecutive month. The index averaged 231 points in January, and was up 3.4 per cent from December 2010.

In the context of the high world prices on food, several experts have questioned the wisdom of enacting a law for supply of subsidized grains to the deprived section of the people at concessional rates. It has been stated that the Government would require a little more than 54 million tones of food grains to be reserved for this category of consumers from out of the procurement of food by the Food Corporation of India.

There is another estimate that the actual figure of procurement would be at least ten million tonnes more. This would mean that hardly any food grains would be left with the FCI for other claimants of cheap food grains.

In fact some of the proponents of the scheme are being described as "jholasallas", a group of well – meaning people who do not have basic information about the implications of the proposal for a food security act. Not all in the NAC can be described as "jholawalas" because the NAC is headed by Dr. M.S. Swaminatham who is treated as the father of the Green Revolution of 1968.

Many have pointed to the principle adopted by the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in providing bicycles to school-going girls which had proved to be a roaring-success in this State.

However, instead of providing bicycles to the girls, Nitish Kumar had adopted the stratagem of granting cash subsidy to the girls for buying bicycles of their choice without any official intervention.

He feels that providing cash to the eligible below the poverty line population is a better idea than providing food grains at a cheaper rate and setting up a huge bureaucracy to manage it. A hungry family will buy food grains with the cash and not other items because food is of essence to people, whether above or below the poverty line.


Then there is likely to be huge leakage in this system.

Nitish Kumar felt that there should be only a targeted Public Distribution system than having a universal system. With cash in hand, a hungry person would opt for buying food only from the cash and nothing else.
One recalls that when during the NDA regime, after a bumper harvest in 2003 (the year following the drought of 2002) the then Food Minister Shanta Kumar had expressed the helplessness of the official system in managing the huge procurement of wheat and rice. He had said the Government would rather distribute cash to the needy rather than have such a hug e procurement and buffer stock of food grains "We cannot manage it" he had confessed.

There is another option too highlighted by one member of the NAC Jean Dreze. In a visit to the interior of the Chhattisgarh State's remote corners, he was surprised to find the PDS functioning perfectly. He had made in an article in the Month of October 2010 that even a remote village like Lakhanpur in the Surguja district, the Chhattisgarh system worked perfectly, with the grains reaching the village on the appointed dates and people supplied with grains at highly subsidized rates. Mr. Dreze had said that universal computerization of beneficiaries and the grains had worked successfully. One is not certain if this study will impress the other members of the NAC.

In the otherwise dismal scenario of food grains availability, there is a ray of hope.

The production of food grains during the 2010-11 may be substantially higher than in the previous year. The current spell of long winter will certainly help higher yield of wheat, mustard and gram in particular. Corn or maize, winter maize in particular will post higher production and productivity, one feels.

The ultimate solution is of course raising production and productivity of food grain and allotment of higher funds for "extending the green revolution to eastern India". A paltry sum of Rs. 400 crores was allotted by the Finance Minister last year for this purpose, which had invited derisive laughter from agricultural scientists Lastly, do not depend upon imports, because, as pointed out at the beginning of this article, world food prices have gone up uncontrollably. (NPA)









Youth everywhere under the Sun, is in a state of restlessness and revolt. It was so in past and it shall be so in future as well. Although there has been development in every field of life at a fast speed. But the young have neither rested on their laurels nor they are contented with their lot. No doubt the problems of youth vary under different socio-political systems. But one thing is almost certain that modern youth is up against problems, the like of which did not exist in past.

Indian youth are going through turbulent times. Ever since independence the youth feel alinated and frustrated. The main cause of it is the change in social structure, over population, unemployment, erosion of values, influence of western culture and commercialisation. There factors have made life complicated for new generation.

Religions plays a vital role in life of common masses of country. It is said that there is erosion of values in our society. Now young are unable to understand the value of religion in its real sense which form the bases of moral development.

Today we see it is age of competition in every sphere of life. Every youth is expected to prepare himself for it. There is competition from time of conception upto death. Thus when child enters the Sec. School there is pressure from parents, elders, teachers to excel in studies so that the individual can enter the college and get admission in the most lucrative profession. How ever most of youth are unable to do so and get furstrated on their failure. They also feel disheartened when they do not get job after the completion of their education. This atmosphere gives birth to unrest in society.

The society has become materialistic.Today a person is revered if he is successful in position of power and riches. Wealth has become the yardstick of status in society. Now the youth being affected by these values try to adopt shortcuts to fast rise in life.

Means are no longer important, it is end that matters.

The individuals who want to live an honest life are disgusted to see corruption at every stage. Thus an individual is forced either to join this system or suffer silently.

Industrialisation has a great affect on the life of people. Electronic and print media i.e TV, cinema, radio, newspaper, magazine are responsible for erosion of values through substandard and unhealthy values. Dowry system and many social evils are still prevalent in our society, people are prone to western culture. Although we own a great culture.

Above all, educational set up is not able to help the young to understand the life fully. Education system is overburdened with outdated curriculum, several subjects and poor teaching which demotivate the young and they feel restless. There is urgent need of ideal teachers who can prepare a child for life. Such policies should not be made by which youth feel insecure in society.

In the person of Gandhi Ji India did throw up a leader who became the symbol of Indian awakening. But later Indian leadership was not able to transform the challenge of national development. It could inspire the youth with ideal thinking and the action has made Indian youth cynics or snobs, unable to cope with the day to day problems.

It cannot be denied that youth are builders of nation. Therefore it is duty of teachers, leaders, parents and elders to look into the problem of youth and to provide a sense of meaningful and purposeful life otherwise the boundless energy of the youth will be dissipated in the wrong direction and will lead to chaos and confusion in country. Parents can have a great role in this field to inculcate good values in children. ''Family is a cradle of civic virtues'' Besides Mother is the first teacher of child and family the first school. During the time schooling a child has to remain in school for 6 hour and rest he is in family. So in real sense it is parents and family which can mould a child as a responsible citizen and infuse self or inner discipline in him in the impressionate age.
In this way unrest in youth can disappear from the social structure of our society and our nation can become a paradise on earth and a role model for other nations of world. For this we should try to know how the first Prime Minister of India J L Nehru has brought up his lone daughter Indira Gandhi who then became the famous personality of the century in the world.



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





Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's interaction with editors of the electronic media in New Delhi on Wednesday was much needed in the wake of a spate of scams that have rocked the UPA government in recent months. The prolonged silence on his part had indeed begun to give the impression of a government that was adrift in rough seas. By responding to questions with his characteristic candour and earnestness, Dr Singh has indeed re-established his credentials as a well-meaning leader. However, the impression has been strengthened that the Prime Minister is weighed down by what he regards as compulsions of coalition politics. His response that in a coalition government the choices of the leaders of the alliance partners have to be accepted, while defending the retention of Mr A. Raja of the DMK as the Telecom Minister in UPA-II (despite complaints about his role in the 2G muddle), betrayed a weakness of the present system of governance that needs to be introspected about.


Dr Manmohan Singh's observation that the allocation of 2G licences and how the first-come-first-served policy for grant of spectrum was implemented was never discussed with him nor was it brought to the Cabinet and that all this was exclusively the Telecom Minister's decision, speaks for itself. His defence that since the Ministries of Finance and Telecom had agreed to continue with the existing policy of allocating 2G spectrum, he did not feel that he was in a position to insist on spectrum auction also reflected a dubious non-interventionist attitude. Clearly, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet should have called Mr Raja's actions into question and taken steps to ensure that there was transparency in issues relating to spectrum allocation.


Prime Minister Singh's charge that the BJP had been attacking the government to vent its anger at the action taken against a Gujarat minister is serious and needs to be gone into. At the same time, his assurance that his government is dead serious about bringing to book all the wrongdoers in the various scams that have hit the country is reassuring. Yet, all said and done, it is difficult to decipher any major gains for the government from the Prime Minister's media interaction.









Whether it is the result of what recently transpired between the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan at Thimphu (Bhutan) or the silent efforts being made for the past few months to get engaged, the easily noticeable change in India's tone raises certain questions. Why has the posturing by Islamabad on the issue of punishing the guilty of the Mumbai terrorist killings not evoked similar reaction from New Delhi? Earlier it was Pakistan which was trying to persuade India to agree to resume the "composite dialogue process" that got snapped after 26/11. But now it is India which is doing all it can to ensure that the two countries start talking to each other once again. Why? Of course, both have made concessions — India agreeing to start a dialogue on the outstanding issues between the two without calling it the "composite dialogue process" and Pakistan offering to discuss all that was there on the earlier agenda. The unusually conciliatory noises being heard from both sides indicate a welcome change of heart.


Perhaps, it is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's vision outlined earlier that is the cause for this interesting scenario. Some hidden hand may also be working behind it. There seems to be a realisation that India and Pakistan have a shared destiny and cannot ignore the geographical reality. So, why do they not learn to live as good neighbours? Actually, this question is relevant more in the case of Pakistan because attempts to vitiate the atmosphere have mostly been made from across the border. By adopting an accommodative approach India is, perhaps, telling Pakistan that negative policies like the use of terrorism to achieve geopolitical objectives will take us nowhere.


India is patiently waiting for who comes to occupy the Foreign Minister's position in Islamabad after the exit of Shah Mahmood Qureshi. The two countries are to have Foreign Secretary-level talks before the expected dialogue between their Foreign Ministers in July. It is already there in the air that there will be no difficulty in settling the disputes over Siachen and Sir Creek, as considerable ground had already been covered before the "composite dialogue process" came to an abrupt end. The subcontinent needs an atmosphere of peace and cooperation more than anything else.
















Recently, residents of Delhi had to suffer from interrupted water supply not because of shortage of water, but because of the high concentration of ammonia in water flowing down the Yamuna River. The disruption in Delhi drove home the unpleasant truth that most of the rivers in India are being choked by pollutants. The Central Pollution Control Board monitors the water quality of the Yamuna at the upstream of Wazirabad and at Okhla, and its reports are far from encouraging, since they show significant deterioration in water quality. Authorities in Delhi blame the upstream discharge of industrial and municipal effluents, especially in the industrial belt of Panipat, for the pollution in the river.


There is no doubt that major industries are always major contaminators. However, with proper treatment plants, the toxicity of the effluents, whether they are industrial or municipal, can be reduced. Those in Delhi who blame Haryana for their woes would do well to remember that according to a study, while Delhi constitutes only 2 per cent of the catchments of the Yamuna basin, it contributes about 80 per cent of the pollution in the river. The river then flows on to Agra, another major polluter.


State governments have set up effluent plants, but in the absence of a proper revenue plan, they have remained largely inoperative, since it costs a lot to operate and manage them. The Ministry of Environment and Forests gives technical and financial support for common facilities for the treatment of effluents scheme CETPs and over 80 have been set up throughout India, but their track record leaves much to be desired. Of late, courts have been taking action against erring units, and there has been some activism, but the problem of contamination of drinking water is so serious that it demands that immediate and effective measures be taken to prevent further damage to Indian citizens.









NEW Delhi appears to have lost the sense of direction in dealing with Pakistan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came close to fashioning an agreement with President Pervez Musharraf on Jammu and Kashmir, which recognised that "while borders cannot be redrawn, we can work towards making them irrelevant — towards making them just lines on a map." But his belief that terrorism would not be allowed to undermine the "composite dialogue process" with Pakistan has cost us dearly both before and after the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. A large number of persons, including nationals of the US, the UK, Israel and Singapore, perished in the ruthless terrorist carnage unleashed by the Lashkar-e-Toiba on the people of Mumbai. There is no dearth of evidence about the involvement of the ISI in the Mumbai killings. This was not the first attack unleashed by the ISI. Dawood Ibrahim, the mastermind behind the 1993 carnage, still lives comfortably in Karachi.


Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister agreed to resume the "composite dialogue process" in January 2004 following an assurance from President Musharraf that "territory under Pakistan's control would not be used for terrorism against India". India and Pakistan announced the resumption of what was called the "composite dialogue process" in all but name on February 10. Worse still, the Mumbai carnage was reduced to a virtual footnote — just another terrorist incident — in the announcement.


India has received unprecedented international support to deal with the perpetrators of 26/11. The Israelis have filed a highly publicised law suit in a New York court against LeT chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and ISI boss Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha for their role in the Mumbai attack. We have, however, shot ourselves in the foot thanks to some divisive and irresponsible statements by some of our politicians, voicing concern about "Hindu terrorism" in India.


The damage caused by these irresponsible statements became evident when I recently met a group of distinguished Pakistanis, who averred that India had no right to insist on action against the perpetrators of the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai, as it had taken no action against the "Hindu terrorists" responsible for the deaths of Pakistani nationals in the Samjhauta Express bomb blasts. Pakistan's official spokesman accused India of lacking the resolve to act against ""Hindu terrorists". Pakistan has also launched a campaign claiming that the Indian Army is full of "Hindu terrorists" like Lt-Col Srikant Purohit, now under arrest for involvement in the Malegaon blasts. The issue of "Hindu terrorism" was raised when Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao met her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in Thimphu. Irresponsible statements have resulted in India paying a high price internationally.


India's response to these developments has been weak and incoherent. Instead of asserting that terrorist acts allegedly executed by Indians (from SIMI and Abhinav Bharat) were exclusively in their own country, which cannot be equated with the 26/11 attack, carried out by Pakistanis crossing illegally into India, our government has appeared defensive and confused in handling the issue. This, in turn, has led to India now getting itself cornered and unable to keep up pressure to force Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the 26/11 attack to book.


India's astute Foreign Secretary, who handled past negotiations with Pakistan with commendable skill, has urged people not to "lend any credence" to what Hafiz Saeed says. But is it prudent to forget that after vowing to raise the "Green flag of Islam" on the ramparts of the Red Fort, Hafiz Saeed masterminded terrorist strikes on the Red Fort in Delhi in 2001 and on Mumbai in 2008?


Having been put on the defensive on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, the government has only further weakened our position by agreeing to what, in effect, is the resumption of the "composite dialogue" with Pakistan. The result of this is going to be that Pakistan will divert attention from terrorism it sponsors to its "grievances" on issues like river waters, Siachen, Sir Creek and Jammu and Kashmir. While continuing engagement with a neighbour is imperative even in times of conflict, what we are now finding is that the terms of the dialogue, which effectively sideline the salience of terrorism it sponsors, are being set by Pakistan.


Given the growing violence and religious extremism within Pakistan, it should be obvious that the weak civilian government headed by President Zardari lacks the authority to take any bold measures on issues like terrorism. The India-centric obsession of the Pakistan Army Chief, Gen Ashfaque Parvez Kayani, should also be kept in view. It is, therefore, astonishing that our government is prepared to resume the stalled dialogue with Pakistan on Siachen. Only a few years ago, the Prime Minister appeared agreeable to pulling out our forces from Siachen. He was forced to backtrack because of political and public opposition.


Dr Manmohan Singh's readiness to consider withdrawal from Siachen was not only opposed by the Army, but also reportedly by his colleagues in the government and the Congress party. Given General Kayani's track record, it would be a perilous mistake to withdraw from Siachen in the belief that the Pakistan Army will keep its word and not move into areas vacated by us, as it did earlier in Kargil. Our Army has made it clear that if the Pakistanis walked into vacated positions we now occupy in Siachen, we would not be able to retake these positions, which we have held sacrificing the lives of scores of our officers and men. Do the sacrifices of our men in uniform count for nothing?


New Delhi has already lost its trump cards in dealing with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism because of political leaders giving divisive, religious colours to terrorism and due to its diplomatic naiveté. Under directions from General Kayani, the Pakistan Government has returned to sterile rhetoric about Jammu and Kashmir and disowned the framework for a solution devised earlier with General Musharraf, which was based on the territorial status quo.


Does our government seriously believe that talks between Foreign Secretaries will lead to General Kayani having a change of heart, or his restraining General Pasha from planning attacks on Indian territory and on Indian interests in Afghanistan? Moreover, Home Minister P. Chidambaram's visit to Islamabad has established that the civilian government is unable and unwilling to rein in, or act against, ISI-backed terrorist outfits. In these circumstances, any pullout from Siachen has to be linked to a final settlement of the Kashmir issue, and India should neither forget not forgive the perpetrators and masterminds of the 26/11 attack.








Being rather old-fashioned, every time I hear a certain four-letter word spoken or appearing in print in a novel produced by one of our brilliant young writers, desi or foreign, I experience a sense of shock. But there is one four-letter word, not obscene, but with ramifications that spread far and wide, up and down.


The word which has gained currency during the past 30 years or so is 'seva', 'khidmat' if you have declared Urdu as your mother tongue. It means serving or to be precise, "selfless service". It is the 'selflessness' that seems to have undergone a complete reversal in its connotation over the years, so that it now stands for 'service to self.


Here are a few examples of how it works. Take the telephone man who comes to your house after repeated overtures to an inscrutable entity called 'Complaints'. After he has rectified the fault in your telephone line he salaams you with a grin and asks 'kutchh aur seva?' This is the signal for you to hand over a fiver or tenner depending on the enormity of the fault. You thank him for his "takleef"!


It is as you go up the bureaucratic ladder begging for public service that the word becomes a financial burden.


Twenty-three years ago I had to obtain a mutation from the M.C.D office in respect of a flat I had bought in New Delhi. The application, together with supporting documents was submitted in the month of July. Without it, I couldn't have the electrical and water connections changed to my name. Nothing happened till September despite half-a-dozen personal visits to the M.C.D office at the cost of much petrol. Eventually the inspector arrived to make sure that I had not made any external additions or alterations in the flat. I hadn't. As he was about to leave I asked him how much longer I would have to wait for the mutation. 'It depends' was the cryptic reply. I got the message.


As it happened, I was writing a weekly column at the time for a local eveninger and the latest piece I had done was on the growing official corruption in Delhi. So the next time I went to see the functionary concerned at the local zonal office I took a copy of the paper with me with the edit page on top and 'inadvertently' left it on the man's desk. Two days later the mutation was delivered at my residence!


The odd thing about this 'seva' is that it increases in direct proportion to the rank and designation of the official dealing with your case. Understandably so, as there are so many 'middlemen' collecting their crumbs.









A physician comes across varied situations full of excitement, anxiety, fear, emotional trauma and legal issues resulting from unfavorable outcome of the best medical care, or at times, due to an act of omission. Coping with such situations is a skill in itself that can either be learnt with hit and trial or by imparting the structured capsules of teaching programmes.


The present medical curriculum, however, lays stress mainly on imparting the loads of medical knowledge only. Thus the medical students with top academic ranks have rarely interacted with the public life. A medical student usually enters the course at the age of 17, and finishes it at the age of 21 years. The period of 4.5 years is mostly spent in a similar environment thus restricting the overall maturity and development of the personality. Suddenly after the course, the medical student enters an environment which demands great responsibility, courteousness, communication skills and mature behaviour out of him.


When I entered the clinical environment as an intern, I was not prepared for the psychological trauma of life and death. I remember that during my first duty of internship in paediatrics, 25 years back, a two-year- old child visited the OPD in the lap of his mother with the problem of breathlessness. A prescription was handed over to the patient by the consultant after thorough examination and the patient was advised to take medicine at home. But the mother insisted on the child to be admitted because she had come from a remote village and she wanted her child to get well before she went home. The child was accordingly admitted. I was on night duty along with the junior resident and nurse. At midnight the child suddenly developed a bout of breathlessness and could not be revived. The scene was full of trauma and horror for me. The thoughts of conviction of the mother about the seriousness of her child resulting in hospital admission and the error of judgment on our part for treating the child as an outpatient were knocking my mind repeatedly. The question whether we took the disease of the child too casually resulting into some act of omission was haunting me. I almost cried and was consoled by the co- residents and the nurses explaining that it was a part of our career.


It is a known fact now that the adverse events have significant impact on the behaviour of doctors. Terry Mizrahi from Hunter College School of Social Work, New York describes 3 'Ds' as a range of negative coping mechanisms employed by doctors in training when a mistake is made:


 'denial' - which involves redefining errors asn nonerrors and may even involve negation of the concept of error.
'discounting' - when personal responsibility is minimised and blame externalised.
 'distancing' - when we manage our guilt by removing ourselves
n from the patient's care.


These mechanisms are often unsuccessful; a finding confirmed by Baylis. With the unveiling of mistakes with time, the resultant emotional reactions as per the scientific studies can take the form of shame, doubt, fear, guilt, sadness, loss, frustration and panic.


Furthermore, the situations of unfavorable outcome in spite of the best medical care are also a well recognised cause of emotional trauma. Tait Shanafelt, in his article "When Your Favorite Patient Relapses: Physician Grief and Well-Being" has described the grief of a physician due to sudden and unexpected bad outcome of a patient. Dr Frank L. Meyskens, in his poem "Tidal wave" has expressed the feelings of a physician as to how he feels powerless and overwhelmed by tidal waves of bad news, treatment failures, patient suffering, medical futility, and death.


In a book, Trauma and Recovery, written by Dr Judith Herman, the author has emphasised that certain emotional traumas sustained by a physician during the course of his/ her career can manifest as a bona fide form of post-traumatic stress disorder.


Furthermore, there are instances when even the dedicated and competent medical men have to face unwarranted circumstances like rude behaviour of patients, legal cases, and even interpersonal rivalries. Although, in due course of time they come out of the adverse situations, but during that time and for some time later on, the trauma and stress gets manifested in their behaviour affecting the performance of their work.


I remember a colleague of mine who was slapped with a legal case when he operated upon a 90-year-old male patient for a hip fracture who developed thrombus in the legs on the tenth day of surgery that travelled to the lungs and ultimately the patient could not be saved. My friend went through a lot of mental stress during those days. He wasted a lot of time and energy to prove that the thrombus in elderly patients can occur after hip surgery in spite of the best care. In the present era of information technology, the patients need to be informed about the nature of their problems and the possible solutions and risks in their own language.


The physician is supposed to have the skills so that he has the capability of communicating with the richest and the poorest, the elite and the down trodden, and the literate and the illiterate. Majority of the legal cases pertaining to medical profession can be avoided with optimum level of communication. Thus it is the need of the hour that short courses in developing the communication skills should be introduced into the medical curriculum. Dr John D Kelly in his article "Medical Student Education: Time for a Different Radical Change" has suggested that the knowledge of literature can also go a long way in enhancing the overall communication skills of the physicians to establish a life-giving emotional connection with patients. This will also help in accelerating the two-way flow of knowledge in the classrooms as well as writing their research projects and papers.


Thus even a short stint of training in emotional crisis management will be helpful to the medical graduates not only in the well being of these caregivers but is also likely to go a long way in enhancing the performance of medical work. Therefore, it is essential that the medical curriculum should be revised with addition of some optional courses. The coaching should be provided for handling death, dying, litigation stress, and adverse events. Dr Kelly has also suggested many tools like cognitive behaviour therapy, support groups, and stress management techniques that most of the medical personnel are never exposed to. The experts have earlier suggested that development of medical men with wholesome and mature personalities can be enhanced by introducing the optional courses in humanities and arts to medical students. The pangs of medicine may be better tolerated by a soul nourished by an icing of art and literature on the cake of medicine than the one tasting only the monotonous medicine-laden cake. The subjects from nonmedical streams will not only facilitate the overall development of the medical students thus helping them dealing with untoward situations in a mature manner, but also can act as stress busters by relaxing their mind from the monotonous routine of medicine.


Lastly, this is also an important fact that our mistakes and traumas tend to force us to carry the effect of our work place to our homes with a risk of even disturbing the family life and ultimately coming to work place with more frustration thus entering into a vicious loop of unending circle. Thus training of the physicians in acquiring the better communication skills, and handling the emotional trauma and adverse situations in a better way must be introduced into the medical curriculum in order to produce doctors who are themselves happy and are able to provide superior care, make fewer mistakes, and are sued less often.


The writer is associated with Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector 32, Chandigarh



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The debate among New Delhi's more mature and non-partisan political journalists after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh concluded his 65-minute interaction with them, televised live, was whether he deserved 5/10 or 6/10 for his performance. This is not a bad outcome given that the Opposition would like to award him even less marks and few in his own party are doing much about defending him. The prime minister did not evade answering any question, nor did he try to spin out unconvincing answers. Even his claim that the alleged "revenue loss" from telecom spectrum licences was no different from the notional "loss" to the exchequer on account of a fertiliser or revenue subsidy is a credible argument, even if it was not adequately explained to a lay audience, giving the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party an opportunity to pooh-pooh it. Some of the information the PM gave his audience, for example the details about the movement of files pertaining to the Antrix-Devas deal could easily have been shared with the media by his officials, without the embarrassment of the PM reading from notes to explain what his officials were up to! The one claim that Dr Singh made which he need not have, and his critics did not miss the opportunity to attack him on that, was about the media demoralising the nation by its excessive focus on corruption in public life. The PM should have known that both inflation and corruption have become the two major concerns of middle class India, the prime audience of Indian television channels. Instead of thanking the media for its role in exposing a series of scams, some that have hurt even media celebrities, the PM seemed to admonish them. This was unfortunate.

On a range of other national issues, the PM showed that he was well aware of what was happening in the country and the world and he was very much in command, and not just in office. His assertion that he would last out his full term and that the question of who would lead the Congress party into the 2014 elections was open ended not only showed that he wished to end all the wasteful internal power struggles for succession within his own party, but also that he did not feel obliged to chant the party's mantra that its general secretary Rahul Gandhi would lead the party into the next elections! It is a measure of how much the media is focused on domestic issues, especially corruption, that few questions were asked on foreign policy. The Delhi media's favourite foreign policy subject — India-Pakistan relations — did not even figure in the press conference. However, in responding to a question on the popular uprising in the Arab world, the prime minister enunciated a new foreign policy thesis when he declared "we welcome the dawn of democracy everywhere", adding the usual caveat that India is not in the business of exporting democracy. This is a thought that must be adequately absorbed within the external affairs ministry and within India's foreign policy community, including in the PM's own party. Though a 50 to 60 per cent result is probably a decent one under given circumstances, the PM might have been able to establish a better connect with the nation, while giving less time for his critics to hit back, if his press conference was telecast live at prime time!







The Business Standard (Rupee) billionaires club (BS, 16/2/2011) has 106 new members joining it in 2010, taking the number of "super-rich" in India to 657. India's dollar billionaires are still in double digits, having increased from 33 to 45 last year (way below the numbers for China and Russia). The total net worth of India's 657 Rupee billionaires was estimated at Rs 16 lakh crore, accounting for a fifth of the collective market value of all listed companies in India. While this is the narrow tip of a pyramid of highly unequal wealth, it gets even narrower at the very top with India's top five billionaires — Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, Azim Premji, Anil Agarwal and Anil Ambani — accounting for 30 per cent of the total net worth of the 657 super-rich. While the celebration of wealth and enterprise has been an integral part of rising India's new entrepreneurial culture, this year the billionaires' list will be viewed by most through two prisms. First, how many of India's billionaires are in businesses where oligopolistic access to scarce resources has been a far more important driver of wealth creation than entrepreneurship in a competitive market or leadership in new technologies, markets and products. Second, the list will also be scrutinised to see how many of the new entrants are genuine first generation business leaders and how many have political godfathers. Sun TV's Kalanithi Maran (rank 16 in 2010 as opposed to 23 in 2009) is a good example of a billionaire who has made good use of his family's political connections. On both counts, the list is not inspiring.

One of the exciting aspects of the rise of the rich in India in the post-liberalisation era was that many of them, like N R Narayana Murthy (rank 31) and Nandan Nilekani (rank 40) became wealthy through genuine enterprise (though one must account for the help from land subsidies and tax exemptions in IT) in highly competitive markets. It would appear that the pace of change at the top has slowed down. While there are some new entrants to the list, and not all of them have benefited from the cornering of scare resources or their political connections, there have been fewer dramatic entrants to the ranks of India's highly successful entrepreneurs in the past few years compared to the decade of 1990-2000. Perhaps, as India sustains its growth story and enters new markets, it will continue to produce new entrepreneurs.


 The wealth and success of India's billionaires, and the fact that many of them are increasingly going global (taking their business away from India), would suggest that the time may have come for the country's political leadership to demand increased plough-back of this wealth within India. Equally important, India's social leaders and conscience-keepers must urge the super-rich to share their wealth more liberally and be less ostentatious in their lifestyles in the interests of social and political stability.







The role of the government in the operation of land transactions has once again hit the headlines. If earlier the focus was on the processes of acquisition of private land by the government, attention has shifted now to the complementary process of transferring land under public control to private parties.

Some big land transfers that have recently been in the news, like the Vedanta University case in Orissa and the land for the Nano factory in Gujarat, have involved lands that were under public control, directly or indirectly. Some of these lands were acquired earlier for some other announced public purposes, in the case of the Nano factory land, for an agricultural university. Should the state be free to take land acquired for one purpose and transfer it for a different purpose?


 But there are signs of change. Stung by the Adarsh housing society scam, which implicated the Congress government in Maharashtra, Sonia Gandhi has asked all Congress chief ministers to forgo discretionary authority over the transfer of lands under public control. More recently, at the end of January, honourable Justices Katju and Mishra of the Supreme Court have given a major judgment dealing with the issue of common lands which will require radical changes in the way in which state governments deal with the common lands under their control.

The Supreme Court judgment is far-reaching. The case arose because some influential locals had trespassed and occupied a village pond, filled it and built on it.

The judgment limits the powers of the government to authorise or regularise the privatisation of village ponds and common lands. It instructs the state governments to prepare schemes for the eviction of illegal/unauthorised occupants of such lands, with only a few exceptions, even if such occupation has subsisted for a long time and has involved a huge expenditure in construction.

Another category of common land that is under pressure is the area classified as wasteland, a misleading term as it creates the impression that the land is not used for anything. But that is not correct. These so-called wastelands are used by locals for grazing, firewood or water supply. State governments are handing over these common lands to private parties for biofuels or for compensatory forestry undertaken by enterprises as a requirement for the environmental clearance of their projects. Once these common lands are re-forested, they pass out of the control of the local community into the hands of the forest department.

Forest lands are also under pressure from mining interests as a large proportion of the unexploited mineral wealth of India is under forests. The present struggle about the no-go areas for coal mining is a manifestation of this pressure. A different type of pressure comes from bio-conservationists who want to protect areas excluding locals. Even though the forest lands are owned by the government, its freedom to transfer them is limited by the Forest Rights Act that requires the consent of locals who have traditional rights to forest products.

The scope for mala fide transfers of public lands is greatest in urban areas. For a variety of reasons, state governments control large tracts of vacant land in urban areas, including ecologically fragile lands reclaimed from marshes or shallow coastal waters. Large areas of land were acquired and placed in the hands of urban development authorities like the DDA. The central government also is a major urban landlord particularly in metro areas where land costs have gone through the roof. The cantonment areas of the defence services extend to some 1.8 million hectares and the Railways, the Post Office and port trusts also own valuable urban properties.

The large areas of urban land controlled by the state would have helped contain land speculation and promote affordable housing development. But in practice, the urban development authorities operated like land speculators. Their stranglehold on urban land led private property developers to leapfrog beyond urban limits into peri-urban areas thus leading to urban sprawl and thereby imposing huge infrastructure costs on the public sector.

How can one get to grips with the challenge of ensuring honest, transparent and efficient management of the vast tracts of land that are under public control?

As a first step, the government must prepare a complete inventory of the lands under its control and the agency that can decide how this land should be used and that has the power to transfer this land to private parties. An annual audit of land transactions undertaken by these agencies should be mandatory. In urban areas, the probity of the transactions can be assessed by comparing them with similar private transactions.

The management of the urban lands under public control can be vested in a professionally run land management corporation. This corporation can be accountable to the legislature and should observe high standards of transparency. But it must be situated at an arms length from the political executive. These publicly owned urban lands must be subject to the same planning controls as privately owned lands.

Transfers of land at concessionary prices should be avoided altogether and all transactions must take place at market prices. If a particular activity, say a school or a hospital or a cultural centre, provides free or low-cost services to the general public, the cost of acquisition at market prices should be subsidised directly by the government department concerned rather than through discretionary provision of urban land at a concessional price.

The transfer of large tracts of public lands in rural areas to private parties should be done only in exceptional cases. Forests and the so-called wastelands are under public control for ecological rather than commercial reasons. Local communities depend on these lands for many services. Hence the primary control on such transfers has to be the environmental clearance. Since local communities are affected, they must be consulted and their interests protected before any such transfer takes place. The area of land transferred must bear some reasonable relationship with need and that terms of the transfer should be consistent with the best available information on nearby commercial transactions.

Rational management of public land, particularly in urban areas, is absolutely necessary not just to avoid scams but to move towards a more efficient land market. Let us hope that the current turmoil brings us closer to this.






Till recently, the head of my company used to send me signed birthday greetings every year. The first year I was mildly touched. But it quickly became apparent that this was a proforma exercise, since many colleagues received similar letters — plus, there were several birthdays on which I was roundly ticked off for page errors by the signatory soon after I received the warmly worded greetings. This was clearly a morale-boosting exercise thought up, no doubt, by a zealous HR manager at a time when the expanding demand for journalists had raised attrition rates.


 Thankfully, I no longer receive these birthday letters, but it was a useful indicator of the approach to people management pretty much anywhere in the world. Every time the economy starts expanding and companies up their hiring, HR managers appear to rediscover the importance of the employee.

Of course, the arid label of "employee" is increasingly being jettisoned. Today they're either referred to as Talent or Human Capital (capital letters included) depending on the ideological proclivities of the corporation and the shortages in each industry (it is notable that neither term has stormed the bastions of government; it continues to have its ponderously titled ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions). This year, with the Asian economies in expansion mode, the World Economic Forum at Davos even held a session on the subject with one consultant naively coining the awkward term Talentism as a replacement for capitalism.

Seasoned managers will smirk at this. People are and always have been at the heart of any corporation; it's managements that have ricocheted from overlooking this fact to recognising it depending on the business environment and related externalities. In the US, for example, the hard-nosed hire-and-fire polices as practised by the Whiz Kids at Ford Motor Company in the fifties occurred at a time when the cost of capital was low and returning GIs created a vast employment pool. By the eighties, you had Tom Peters-type consultants writing about exemplary kinder, gentler corporations (these were post-Volcker years when interest rates nearly doubled and Japan became a significant threat). This thought gained currency and sophistication over the nineties and noughties as the US economy expanded, until now when American employers are leveraging low capital costs to invest in technological efficiency and employ people outside their country.

In India, the evolution of personnel policy into talent management has a distinct fault-line in the pre- and post-liberalisation years. Pre-liberalisation, HR management was a fairly vapid affair that was limited to payroll management with highly discretionary hiring and reward structures, inevitable in an environment dominated by family-owned businesses. CEO-employee interactions were limited to the odd annual picnic or annual meet and so on.

Post-liberalisation, with Indian firms forced to compete both domestically and globally, much of this changed. But this time, the new best practices came from the globally competitive IT sector — especially in the back offices that competed for the services of India's scarce English-speaking youth. The frequency of CEO engagement with their staff increased considerably — quarterly Town Hall meets have become a standard in most large corporations. Employee benefits, too, became lavish in terms of numerous allowances and performance awards (it started with complimentary meals, then graduated to overseas trips; today they even include cars and two-wheelers). These abruptly abated with the Asian currency crisis but when the dot-com boom saw loose-fisted venture capitalists willing to back anyone with half an entrepreneurial idea, companies keen to retain talent came out with the employee stock option, a fad that faded once the tax laws changed. Predictably, many of these good-to-have elements disappeared abruptly with the dot-com bust and only made a comeback with the post-2003 boom.

The significant point about the 2008 slowdown was that the response from India Inc's HR departments was not knee-jerk. Many struggled not to cut salaries and the other employee goodies when revenues shrank. They opted instead to squeeze other costs, notably vendor and raw material contracts, before examining the salary cut or pink slip option. In contrast to earlier slowdowns, top managements also worked at strategies to communicate their message down the line as sensitively as possible. Maybe they were aware that, for India at least, the slowdown was going to be short-lived. But as a people management trend, it is surely healthier than the mood swings of yesteryear.







In seeking to balance the interests of the developed and developing countries, two recent proposals by WTO members evade the development objective

After declaring their intent to complete the Doha Round of the World Trade Organisation this year, member countries have been intensifying their participation at Geneva for the last few weeks.


 The growing intensity of the negotiations is evident with Mexico tabling a proposal to take the Round forward as also with the release of an interim report by a group co-chaired by Jagdish Bhagwati and Peter Sutherland that provides suggestions for completing the Round this year. Interestingly, both the report and the Mexican proposal seem to be missing the core objective of development that is central to the Doha Round.

The Bhagwati-Sutherland report, which was sponsored by Germany, UK, Indonesia and Turkey, is comprehensive but it does not reflect a position that can be acceptable to developing countries like India. One area of concern for industry in India in the Mexican proposal and the Bhagwati-Sutherland report is the call for pursuing sectoral negotiations in the industrial goods pillar.

The sectoral negotiations have been central to the US and the Eurpean Union demand on moving forward in the negotiations on industrial goods. However, countries like India have been opposed to any sectoral negotiations, which, at present, is a voluntary initiative since that would take away the development dimension of the Round.

The Mexican proposal states that member countries should identify at least two "sectoral" liberalisation initiatives, among the many that have been tabled for sectors such as forest products, toys, chemicals, textiles and clothing, and auto parts.

On agriculture, the Bhagwati-Sutherland report does not seek to put any extra pressure on the developed world to make any substantial proposal beyond what is already on the table. The Mexican proposal, however, calls for capping trade-distorting domestic subsidies by developed countries, which is an important first step if the least developed and developing countries are to achieve any meaningful access in global markets. The Bhagwati-Sutherland report needs to look at how some real market access can be provided to the poor countries for if to be taken seriously by all negotiators. 

Since agriculture and industrial goods are the two key areas that are being negotiated seriously at present, it is important to note that neither the Mexican proposal nor the report puts any substantial pressure on the developed countries to open their markets beyond what is already on the table. On the other hand, there would be a lot that the developing countries will have to bring on the table if the non-agricultural market access (NAMA) proposals as suggested are to be taken seriously. Interestingly, the US is reportedly not in favour of the Mexican proposal since it calls for capping agricultural subsidies, which it does not support.

From a developing country perspective, the problem with both the Mexican proposal and the Bhagwati-Sutherland report is that they seek to balance the interests of the developed and the developing countries. This goes against the Doha Round's core objective of providing the poorer countries higher market openings in the developed country markets to balance the inequity that exists in global trade today.

For the negotiations to go ahead, it is important for countries to keep a few specific principles in mind. To begin with, there has to be real market access for the least developed and developing countries in global agricultural trade. This can be achieved only if the sensitive list of products for the developed countries is kept at the minimum and there are some real cuts and capping of subsidies that will contain the current distortion in world agricultural trade.

Second, on industrial goods, developing and least developed countries should not be forced to eliminate tariffs in any sector. Instead, the focus has to shift in seeking substantial cuts in bound tariffs by some large developing countries which is matched by equally substantial cuts by the developed countries.

Even as the Bhagwati-Sutherland report and the Mexican proposal seek to balance ambition with pragmatism, they fail to deliver on the need to put forward a solution that will meet the development objective and, at the same time, provide market access opportunities for member countries. Hopefully, the final report from the Bhagwati and Sutherland group will bring to the table more substantial suggestions to conclude the Round in 2011. The Mexican proposal, too, will have to be changed substantially to incorporate the positions taken by developing countries if it has to be taken seriously.

The author is principal adviser, APJ-SLG Law Offices









Despite a demographic advantage, India's growth has faced considerable constraints from an inadequate supply of qualified manpower. To begin with, despite a rise in the number of general and professional colleges over the last two decades, the enrolment in higher education lags the world average. The 11th five year plan document on education noted a low gross enrolment ratio (GER) of 11 per cent in higher education in 2004-05, much lower than the world average of 23.2 per cent. Further, even as rural GER stood at 6.7 per cent, urban GER was 19.9 per cent. The plan, therefore, set out to increase GER to 21 per cent by the end of the 12th plan with an interim target of 15 per cent by 2011-12.


According to the latest data available from the ministry of human resources development for 2006-07, the largest number of professional colleges are in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, in large part due to the presence of the private sector. In Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, the number of professional colleges is higher than that of general colleges — this reflects the emphasis on technical education in these states. Interestingly, when it comes to general colleges, Uttar Pradesh had 1,676 in 2006-07, while Andhra Pradesh had 1,674, the top two in the country. However, the population in the age group 15-24 years in Andhra Pradesh was roughly half that in Uttar Pradesh in 2006. Disparities in access, therefore, abound in the country. Students do have the option to migrate to other states for higher education, but this is available only to those who can afford the higher costs of tuition and living away from home.


In effect, there is a huge problem of access to higher education. The government, however, has made efforts to mitigate this deficit by giving extra support to boost expansion in states with low GERs, setting up new degree colleges in 370 districts that have been identified with very low GER. In addition, expansion is on for setting up new Central Universities, Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Management and so on. Although the private sector now accommodates more than half of total higher education enrolment, there are severe problems with regard to quality, fees and accreditation that need to be resolved through appropriate regulation.

The Report to the People on Education 2009-10 noted that the GER target of 15 per cent for 2011-12 will be reached. There is a simultaneous effort to raise the quality and effectiveness of higher education courses. Reforms that are pending in Parliament include accreditation through a National Accreditation Regulatory Authority, prohibition of unfair practices in technical colleges, regulating entry of foreign educational institutes and so on. There have also been many initiatives to broaden access to learning. The National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning, for instance, has developed online courses in collaboration with seven IITs and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; more than 1,000 courses will be accessible through the mobile phone free of charge. Investment in education is an important determinant of economic growth; a sector that has been neglected for decades is finally getting the attention it deserves, providing the vital infrastructure for the development of human capital.

Indian States Development Scorecard is a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics that focuses on the progress in India and the states across various socio-economic parameters









The wealth that is Kannada — that is the meaning of the word 'Sirigannada'. And it's the title of an anthology of contemporary Kannada writing in translation, edited by Vivek Shanbag (Tranquebar 2010). Shanbag is an engineer by training, works for a multinational, and is "an acclaimed writer with contemporary concerns". He also edits a Kannada literary journal.


The introduction is brief and balanced. It praises the good work done by various writers, but also points out that the effect of ideology on literature was not particularly beneficial. Voices against social injustice were eagerly received, but, in the end, "the literary output of these movements did not match its conviction… Personal experiences, collective memories of the Dalit community, philosophical and metaphysical discourses in their world were far too intense to fit into the movement's ideological framework. Writers got carried away by the visibility and frenzy of sloganeering…"


This failure had one beneficial result: it sharpened the importance of the craft of writing. Many of the writers of the "Navya" movement were socially conscious as well, but paid attention to form, experiment, and language. Many fine short stories emerged from this combination.


 Poet and short-story writer Vaidehi is represented by an extract from one of her essays. Called 'Going by Tables and Chairs', it's an amusing (if sometimes a little laboured) piece on the evolution of women from mats to chairs to sofas. In her grandfather's home, it was unheard of for a woman to sit on a chair. "Even in the case of school-going children: 'Not even the size of three small pickle-mangoes, but she wants a chair!'… In sum, table and chair symbolised male. They symbolised position and the hauteur of authority."

Even the extract from Dalit writer Siddalingaiah's autobiography has a spot of humour in it. The writer tells us that, by chance, he discovered a lovely graveyard on one of his walks. It was full of tall, old trees and colourful flowering plants. "I started visiting it every evening. I would sit on one of the tombs. Lines of poetry came of their own accord." A friend who came to his home to visit him was told by the mother that he was in the graveyard. "He thought my mother, who looked worried, was grieving. He assumed I had departed from this world and started wailing. My mother had to console him."


D R Nagaraj's 'The Kannada-English Combat' is, thank goodness, not another tirade against writers in English. It's a discussion about the insistence of Dalits on sending their children only to English-medium schools. "Knowledge of English forms the basis of economic progress and social dominance of upper castes. So, English is inevitable for the emancipation of the lowest of low castes." These ideas are not new, but they are interestingly presented. Rangaswamy is a Dalit friend, Shivashaker an upper caste one. "Both are worshippers of the English language… but, while Rangaswamy puts forward a Shudra theory of social upliftment in favour of English, Shivashankar's arguments are transnational."


Nagaraj's essay is taken from a posthumously published collection of essays. If all the articles are of the quality of the one included, I hope someone will edit and translate the collection at some stage. Very little critical discussion from the various languages is published. I've always been curious about the way writers evaluate each other in specific language groups, but very little is available. All we see is attacks on writers in English, whether the attack is relevant to the purpose at hand or not. It's boring and utterly pointless. Karnataka University in Dharwad publishes interesting material but, as often happens, requests for publication lists receive no reply. Whatever I've come across in this area has been entirely by chance.








The Prime Minister's press conference underlined, once again, Dr Manmohan Singh's unique value for the Congress party. Avuncular, soft-spoken, forthright and earnest, he altogether lacks the finesse and glibness of the average politician and is, for the public, all the more credible on that very account. He did well to assert that he would do his best to tackle corruption and bring the guilty to book. However, he failed to convince when he attributed tolerance of corruption solely to coalition compulsions. True, if the choice is between political instability leading on to fresh elections while clamping down on every hint of corruption by a coalition partner and striking workable compromises, compromise would win. But what about corruption within the ranks of the Congress itself ? It does not suffice to assert that the law would take its own course. We need proactive action to clean up political funding, the root of all corruption. Corruption is the de facto means of financing India's great democracy and cannot be confronted with terminal intent until political funding is institutionalised and made accountable. This is not a question of setting up some more committees or calling for reports. This is a question of a paradigm shift in how political parties and politicians function. The nation cries out for leadership to effect this paradigm shift. But does Dr Singh have the grit required to provide such leadership? It would be easy to dismiss the possibility. And wrong. He had singlehandedly fought for and won the nuclear deal in his last term, showing commitment, the ability to take risk and combativeness of a high order.

Combativeness was on display at the press conference as well, when he accused the BJP of undermining vital economic reform, the switchover to a single goods and services tax that would unify the national market and boost revenue as well as competitiveness, to shelter a certain 'minister from Gujarat' from legal action. The BJP must pick up the gauntlet, by cooperating in this huge federal exercise of changing the tax structure rather than by citing some non-ministerial explanation for noncooperation by BJP-ruled states.






" No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law." That is Article 21 of The Constitution of India on the Right to Protection of Life and Personal Liberty. Add to that the Supreme Court's judgement of 1993, expanding the scope of that Article to include, among other rights, the Right to Privacy, and reports that indicate the magnitude of phone tapping that has been indulged in appear particularly galling. The scale of this eavesdropping — a leading service provider has declared it intercepted around 1.51 lakh telephones in a five-year period which, if extrapolated for other service providers, means an inordinately high number — falsifies the government's claims that checks and balances are in place on phone tapping. It is nobody's case that certain exigencies do not warrant interception of communications between individuals or groups. But the determining factor behind each such case must be the law and the greater common good — be it going after criminals or terrorists or detecting economic fraud. The practice simply cannot transgress into shredding the fundamental rights of citizens. Doing so means vitiating not just the idea of democracy and a Constitutionally-run state, but also the vision of an emerging, free and fair India.
It isn't just the worrying aspect of whether the state, or an agency acting on its behalf, has been flagrantly violating basic rights. The point also is that whatever is gleaned by way of lawful intercepts must not be allowed to make its way into the public domain. There is, of course, a wider debate about what information a state should gather and retain about its ordinary citizens. And a system where the state intrudes facilely, and is also sloppy about protecting whatever data is secured, hardly buttresses the reputation India is seeking on the global stage. The Prime Minister has spoken on the need to strengthen relevant legal mechanisms. He must ensure such laws are framed and implemented. The Right to Privacy, it must be remembered, is inferred to be an integral aspect of the fundamental Right to Life.







Work is a four-letter word for those who want to run away from it. And then there are a few who run to work every morning in a desire to keep fit, with their vehicles following them at a discreet distance so as to presum ably not embarrass the chauffeur. The rarest category compris es those for whom running not a few miles but a marathon a day is their daily job like 49-year-old Belgian Stefaan Engels. Re cently, Engels became the first athlete in history to run a mara thon (26 miles and 385 yards or 42.195 km) every day for an en tire year. He began his pursuit on February 5, 2010, by running marathon in Ghent in Belgium and ended it exactly a year later by crossing the finishing line at the Carretera de les Agues Stadi um in Barcelona in Spain. "I am running just as Joe Average goes to work on Monday morning," he said. It all began with the herald Pheidippides running all the way from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC to convey the news of the Greeks' defeat of the invading Persian army and breathing his last after gasping out the one-word "Nenikekamen!" (We have won). Pheidippides' task was made all the more difficult by the fact that the mountain Penteli was in the way and he had to run round it. Engels would have taken the odd peak or two in his stride, going by his apparent credo that "A marathon a day keeps the doctor away". The Belgian referred to his daily marathon run as a "holiday" and added, "I have been a physical man for nearly 50 years. After this, I think it's time to exercise my mind. Perhaps Stefaan Engels could now emulate Friedrich Engels by writing the 21st-century marathon version of T h e C o m m u n i s M a n i f e s t o and ending it with the words "Runners of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!"





The Budget is a time for clichés. Through the 1990s, commentators informed us that 'it sends out a signal that reforms will continue'. Businessmen still find it prudent to commend the finance minister for 'striking a fine balance between growth and fiscal stability'.

The critics have their favourite line, 'What is sadly missing in the Budget is "big-ticket" reform'. This is one contention that has turned out to be completely misplaced. The success of the Indian economy is all about 'small-ticket' reform.

One area in which 'small-ticket' reform has clearly been a blessing for the economy is disinvestment of public sector undertakings (PSUs). Successive governments were panned for being pusillanimous on privatisation. Except for a brief period during the NDA regime, governments have preferred disinvestment, the sale of minority equity in PSUs, to privatisation, the transfer of control to private owners.

Critics of disinvestment made two points. One, PSUs would erode in value as long as they continued under government ownership; the longer the government hung on to them, the greater would be the loss to the exchequer. Two, prospective investors would pay more if PSUs were privatised instead of being disinvested.
As minister for disinvestment, Arun Shourie, attempted privatisation of PSUs. He became a hero to many votaries of reform. The mere promise of privatisation, it was claimed, had caused an appreciation in the value of listed PSUs of . 1,00,000 crore.

The critics have been proved resoundingly wrong. PSUs have appreciated in value over time, and beyond all expectations. So have public sector banks. (The government is not permitted to sell its equity in PSBs under the present statutes but that does not make a difference in conceptual terms). The table above shows the market capitalisation of 34 PSUs in 2001 and 2011, a 10-year period. The increase in value is a staggering . 6,32,000 crore, far greater than the increase in value of . 1,00,000 crore that Shourie is said to have created. The value of the government's shareholding in these PSUs has risen by over . 4,20,000 crore.

PSBs are an even bigger success story, going by the percentage increase in market capitalisation. The market cap of 14 listed PSBs increased by . 256,000 crore between 2001 and 2011. The value of the government's shareholding in these PSBs has risen by over . 1,38,000 crore. Had the government gone down the privatisation route and sold off its stakes in PSUs in their entirety, the exchequer would have been considerably poorer. It is clear that the 'strategic sale' of PSUs, as privatisation was then called, would have been a bigger scam than the alleged 2G scam in telecom (where the benefits to the sector from the policies followed by successive governments have been enormous). The number of listed PSUs has expanded beyond the 34 that is common to the two years considered, 2001 and 2011. Today, the value of 57 PSUs, including newly listed giants such as Coal India, is . 14,90,000 crore. The value of the government's shareholding in these PSUs is . 10,23,000 crore.

If, over the next five years, the government were to realise . 40,000 crore every year from disinvestment (which was the target for 2010-11), it would be still be left holding shares worth . 8,23,000 crore. (We are not taking into account the value of government shareholding in 25 listed PSBs today, which is . 2,33,000 crore).
Nobody imagined that listed PSUs would provide the government the sort of cushion it enjoys today. They did not expect PSUs to perform as they as they did because they had a blinkered view of government ownership of commercial enterprises. They thought PSUs simply could not compete in a deregulated setting because government ownership is an obstacle to commercial performance.

We have discovered what many studies of privatisation elsewhere have highlighted: ownership matters less than competition. When PSUs are exposed to greater competition and subjected to market discipline by being listed on stock exchanges, their performance tends to improve. It is not true that our PSUs have done well only because they operate in regulated or monopolistic settings. There are PSUs that have done well in the face of competition, such as Bhel, BEL and Nalco.

It is contended that the sale of government assets cannot solve fiscal problems of a structural kind, it can only be a palliative. This is indeed true, but the sale of government assets helps manage the fiscal problem until the underlying structural problems are addressed. It spares the government the need to effect drastic adjustments in revenues and expenditure that could be politically unpopular or infeasible.

The government is today wellplaced to manage the fiscal deficit in the face of rising expenditure on various counts (subsidies, NREGA, etc) thanks mainly to buoyant revenues. In this year, the proceeds of spectrum sales of over . 1,00,000 crore has been an important factor in containing the deficit. Disinvestment can serve a similar purpose in the years to come. The trick is not to allow the fiscal problem to derail growth.

Disinvestment is a notable area of the success of 'small-ticket' reform in India. We can point to several other areas where it has worked. The gradual movement towards full convertibility and the cautious approach towards foreign bank expansion helped stave off a banking crisis.


The phasing out of reduction in import duties over a long period gave Indian firms more time to adjust to competition and reduced the adverse impact on banks. The measured reduction in subsidies on petroleum and the reluctance to address other subsidies have ensured that economic progress was not derailed by popular unrest. One could go on. With sustained growth and rising incomes, it becomes easier for various constituencies to digest market-oriented policies. 'Small-ticket' reform has served India well.











Beginning this weekend, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will host the World Cup. Already, the hype around the event must tire the neutral observer. This writer is neither neutral, nor even an observer. The truth is he can't stand the sight of cricket, the only sport — except Sumo wrestling — that allows you to have a 38-inch waistline and under arm-biceps. As Indians play it, this is a game that is biologically meant for overfed, horizontally-inclined police constables whose idea of heaven is a charpoy in a field of fried potatoes.
India goes into the event believing they have got the best chance ever. They have always been good at conning themselves. Every World Cup year sees the billionstrong population auto-suggesting itself into the role of a world champion, only to be trundled out of reckoning at various stages of the event. Perhaps that is to be expected in a country which is good at pretending Mumbai is the Hong Kong of the future and Gurgaon is India's answer to Shanghai. It is all of a piece. Deception comes to us naturally, which is probably why Gandhiji set so much store by truth. He knew the value of reality check in a delusional society.
To make our favorite fantasy seem real, we have our tricks. The name of one such trick is Sachin Tendulkar. We keep harping about Tendulkar, because our obsession — world Champions — rides on him. Indeed, the reason why Sachin Tendulkar is a demigod is that his genius vindicates our aspirations to grandeur. He is the sole truth in our fond lie. The streak of self-delusion is not exclusive to cricket. It ties in with our other abstract sources of good feelings like democracy and Bollywood. Cricket, democracy and Bollywood are the institutions that define India as we perceive it. You will notice though that none of the institutions have delivered results in proportion to the compulsively celebratory halo we accord them.

The Indian team for the 2011 edition features a big-ticket batting line-up. It looks like a team of invincible mutant ninjas in blue, who will bat on for aeons, hitting up millions of runs, supplying good feelings in inexhaustible quantities -- at least on paper. But the funny fact is the Indian side always looked good on paper, from Vinoo Mankad days to Pataudi's days to Gavaskar's days to Tendulkar's. Think of all the tons of dreary centuries they all hit up as if the nation's destiny depended on it. The dull fact is that cricket is just another sport. If you pumped the same money and gave it the same attention, football would have had its IPL by now. Or kabadi. Or pretty much anything. But cricket it is for us, simply because it suits our flabby flesh and slothful spirit.

Dhoni's side looks better than any other Indian XI; possibly because we see them most of the time filtered through the ever-present camera lens. We watch them play their fanciest shots in ads for elixir-like soft drinks and gleaming cars that run on rusty technologies. And when they get out of the studios and fail on the ground, we hardly register it, because the ecosystem of cricket is one of triumph. We are unable to associate cricket with failure.

There may be only 11 playing team-members. But just about every Indian is a cricket pundit. Every second Indian is a historian of the sport. Every third Indian feels he is a possible replacement for Sachin Tendulkar. Sitting in his couch before the TV, the Indian knows exactly where Tendulkar is going wrong: the high back lift; faulty follow-up! But for all his cruelly unsolicited expertise, India has won the World Cup just once. That fact stares us in the face. We just choose not to see it.

That solo triumph was in 1983. Sahara, Pepsi or Sharad Pawar actually had little to do with it. That is another way of saying that perhaps winning the World Cup has little to do with money. If the history of the sport in India has a 'before' and 'after' date, it is 1983; the year of the leather.

That is the miracle year Indians want to repeat generation after generation. Everything else is a rehearsal to that fantasy. It is as if the World Cup is some Holy Grail, and the goal of evolution. This writer does not subscribe to that view. He is hoping India lose again, so we get real once for all, and get on with the day before it does us in.







 Political rhetoric has shifted away from the need to respond to the "generational challenge" of climate change. Investment in alternative energy technologies like solar and wind is no longer peddled on environmental grounds. Instead, we are being told of the purported economic payoffs, above all, the promise of socalled "green jobs". Unfortunately, that does not measure up to economic reality.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center asked Gürcan Gülen, a senior energy economist at the Center for Energy Economics, Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin, to assess the "state of the science" in defining, measuring, and predicting the creation of green jobs. Gülen concluded that job creation "cannot be defended as another benefit" of well-meaning green policies. In fact, the number of jobs that these policies create is likely to be offset — or worse — by the number of jobs that they destroy.

On the face of it, green-job creation seems straightforward. Deploying more wind turbines and solar panels creates a need for more builders, technicians, tradespeople, and specialist employees. Voilà: simply by investing in green policies, we have not only helped the climate, but also lowered unemployment. Indeed, this is the essence of many studies that politicians are eagerly citing. So what did those analyses get wrong? In some cases, Gülen finds that proponents of green jobs have not distinguished between construction jobs (building the wind turbines), which are temporary, and longer-term operational jobs (keeping the wind turbines going), which are more permanent. Moreover, sometimes advocates have assumed, without justification, that the new jobs would pay more than careers in conventional energy.

In other cases, the definition of a "green" job is so fuzzy that it becomes virtually useless. More disturbing is Gülen's finding that some claims of job creation have rested on assumptions of green-energy production that go far beyond reputable estimates. But the biggest problem in these analyses is that they often fail to recognise the higher costs or job losses that these policies will cause. Alternative energy sources such as solar and wind create significantly more expensive fuel and electricity than traditional energy sources. Increasing the cost of electricity and fuel will hurt productivity, reduce overall employment, and cut the amount of disposable income that people have. Yet many studies used by advocates of green jobs have not addressed these costs at all — overlooking both the cost of investment and the price hikes to be faced by end users. The companies calling for political intervention to create green jobs tend to be those that stand to gain from subsidies and tariffs. But, because these policies increase the cost of fuel and electricity, they imply layoffs elsewhere, across many different economic sectors.

Once these effects are taken into account, the purported increase in jobs is typically wiped out, and some economic models show lower overall employment. Despite a significant outlay, government efforts to create green jobs could end up resulting in net job losses.

Even if that is true, proponents might argue, investment in green jobs is nonetheless a good way to stimulate a sluggish economy. But Gülen shows that there are many other economic sectors, such as healthcare, that could actually create more jobs for the same amount of government investment.

In addition to job creation, some researchers have blithely claimed that all sorts of other economic benefits will accrue from investment in alternative energy, including increased productivity, higher disposable incomes and lower operating costs for businesses. Here, too, Gülen concludes that the assertions are "not backed up by any evidence and are inconsistent with the realities of green technologies and energy markets."

The fundamental problem is that green-energy technologies are still very inefficient and expensive compared to fossil fuels. Deploying less efficient, more expensive alternativeenergy sources will hurt businesses and consumers, not help them.

In order for the whole planet to make a sustainable shift away from fossil fuels, we need to make low-carbon energy both cheaper and more efficient. That requires a substantial increase in research and development into next-generation green-energy alternatives. Today's research budgets are tiny, and that desperately needs to change.

In the meantime, the public should be cautious of politicians' claims that deploying today's inefficient, expensive technology will result in windfall benefits at no cost.

(The author is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, and adjunct professor at the
Copenhagen Business School) © Project Syndicate, 2011








A child's first word is mindblowing. The lisp evolves into speech because of language instinct, says Princeton linguist Steven Pinker. This innate behaviour is un-invented in the sense that computers or cell phones are. Only some human cultures have them; while all cultures have language. Alfred Russell Wallace and Samuel Taylor Coleridge invoked God in the creation of language. The atheists countered that if language could be explained in terms of natural selection, there would be no need to invoke a higher intelligence or order. Similar claims for an 'art instinct' have been made by the recently deceased philosopher Denis Dutton: Our desire for beauty, what's called Sundaram, is as firmly rooted in biology as language is in Darwinian evolution. Both are a side effect of our endless struggle to survive, to reproduce. Jesse Bering, a cognitive psychologist from Belfast, has now put things like psychology of souls and destiny under instinct. His Belief Instinct puts new spin on Voltaire's comment in support of God: "Let us accept that God exists," he wrote. "But what if he didn't? Well, we would have to invent Him, because He is necessary for the individual/ society for whatever reasons." Bering says our belief in a personal god is an'adaptive illusion'. It serves a crucial evolutionary function. Accordingly, some form of religious belief would appear spontaneously even on a desert island untouched by cultural transmission. Atheists of the world be warned: You have nothing to lose except your scepticism!






The Prime Minister had a wonderful chance to neutralise the bad press he and his Government have been getting over the procession of scams but, as the Americans say, he blew it.

All leaders must be good men but all good men need not be good leaders, as Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh once again demonstrated at his meeting with the electronic media. He had a wonderful opportunity to neutralise some of the bad press he and his Government have been getting over the procession of scams. But the lack of ready wit and the knack for a well-timed but cutting repartee converted the occasion into a tedious re-statement by him of a variety of platitudes, known positions and obfuscations. He seemed to be going through the motions — as he indeed seems to have been doing for the last year or so where the media is concerned — and amazingly, even the journalists looked bored and unenthusiastic. There were some half-hearted attempts to get some further elucidation on why the Government had allowed all the scams to happen in the first place even though it had been adequately warned. Dr Singh's response was quite incredible. He said he didn't think they were scams at the time or that he didn't know they would be turned into scams by members of his Cabinet and that coalition dharma, too, was responsible in some measure for his lack of prophylactic action. Thus, the Prime Minister suggested, it was better to turn a blind eye to some of the mischief — boys will be boys, you know — than to have an election every six months. As admissions of helplessness go, it would be hard to find a parallel. This made his less-than-strenuous denial that UPA-II was a lame duck government sound quite hollow.

On the very unusual Devas-Antrix deal, which this newspaper was the first to expose last May, no one asked him how it had been allowed to go through in the first place. So he was content to narrate the sequence of events after July 2010. On the 2G scam he said Mr Raja told him all was OK and he took that at face value. On the delay in concluding the enquiry into the CWG shenanigans of the Organising Committee, he said India observed the rule of law and that these things could take time. On the issue of revenues foregone he came up with an absolute gem: are subsidies to the poor revenue foregone, he asked. Had it been someone else, he would have been accused of being too clever by half. But Dr Singh seemed to ask the question in all sincerity. Asked how he felt about being surrounded by men and women of doubtful principles, he said compromises were necessary in life. Queried if he would like to quit, he said — as once before — that he had a job to do.

That may well be true, but the pity is that he is not doing the job he was elected to do, namely, to provide a clean, if not good government. The meeting with the electronic media was a chance to show that he was trying hard. But, as the Americans so rudely put it, he blew it.






The efficacy of multilateral institutions, especially the WTO, is at stake and everything depends on the successful conclusion of the Doha Round.

The Doha Round, launched in September 2001, is yet to conclude. The stalemate is largely over developed countries' reluctance to make considerable reductions in their trade-distorting agricultural subsidies and unbalanced proposals for further reductions in industrial tariffs. After several failed attempts to revive the Round and bring it to an end, there is still hope that it could be saved, with the G-20 leaders, at the November 12, 2010 Summit (held in Seoul, Republic of Korea), giving a strong commitment to direct negotiators to engage in across-the-board talks to bring the Doha Development Round to a successful, and balanced, end, consistent with the mandate of the Doha Development Agenda, and build on the progress achieved. They recognised that 2011 is a critical window of opportunity, albeit narrow, and that engagement among different groups and countries must intensify. They also reaffirmed their commitment to resist all forms of protectionist measures.

Similarly, APEC leaders, at their November 14, 2010, Summit (held in Yokohama, Japan) reaffirmed their strong commitment to bring the Round to a prompt and successful conclusion. They agreed to take steps to roll-back trade- distorting measures introduced during the global financial crisis and extended their commitment to resist all forms of protectionist measures.

Gains from the deal

Further, at the November 30, 2010, informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee, the WTO Director-General, Mr Pascal Lamy, outlined a process for translating the leaders' commitments into the Doha Round negotiations in Geneva. Mr Lamy urged the WTO members to operate on a tight deadline to conclude the Round by the end of 2011. To this end, he proposed the following work programme for the first quarter of 2011: From January 10: The Rules, Trade Facilitation, Trade and Environment, TRIPS and Development groups to begin intensive sessions; from January 17: Agriculture, NAMA, Services and Dispute Settlement groups to begin intensive sessions.

But why is the Doha Round so important and are we anywhere near striking a deal? The conclusion of the Doha round is necessary for several reasons. First, the agreement is expected to provide a cushion against future protectionism by consolidating the large amount of unilateral liberalisation that has taken place since the Uruguay Round in the 1990s. Second, the deal would bring in large-scale reforms in farm trade by binding subsidy levels in the developed world and eliminating export subsidies. Third, it is estimated that the gains from the conclusion of the Round are around $ 360 billion and, if the deal is struck, it could be one of the most ambitious packages of trade liberalisation negotiated multilaterally.

Last and most important, the conclusion of the Doha round would protect the WTO and the multilateral trading system itself, which could be damaged by the failure of a Round, especially one explicitly designed to integrate the emerging economies into the multilateral trading system and give many developing countries a stake in the system's success. According to Prof Bhagwati, the permanent collapse of the Doha Round is likely to provoke a wave of preferential trading agreements that would fragment, rather than integrate, the multilateral trading system. The efficacy of multilateral institutions, especially the WTO, is at stake and everything depends on the successful conclusion of the Doha Round.

Re-starting talks

In this backdrop, the importance of re-starting the talks and negotiations at the earliest cannot be overlooked. One, it is going to determine the future role of the WTO as a facilitator of a multilateral trading regime. And, two, it will also determine the role of developing countries in world trade.

In spite of the all the furore over the success and future role of the WTO and the inability of the member countries to conclude the Round, there is no doubt that the WTO has gained in traction over the years. The number of countries waiting to seek accession and become members corroborates this.

The WTO Annual Report 2008 indicates that its total membership stands at 153 and a further 20-plus countries, most of which are LDCs, are negotiating accession. These countries account for nearly 90 per cent of world trade. In another WTO Annual Report 2005, it is said that elimination of barriers to merchandise trade in both industrialised and developing countries could result in welfare gains of $250-620 billion annually.

WTO, the right platform

A more rapid growth associated with a reduction in global protection could reduce the number of people living in poverty by as much as 13 per cent by 2015. It proves that trade liberalisation and poverty reduction go hand in hand. Therefore, it is clear that for the small and poor countries, the WTO is the right platform to go ahead with reforms and pursue their goals of economic development through enhanced trade liberalisation.

Differences between the rich and developing nations have been a stumbling block in the conclusion of the talks. India and other developing nations are defending their agricultural markets to protect millions of subsistence farmers from easy imports that may result from the multilateral agreement. The US and other developed countries, however, seek more market access in developing nations, including India. It is important that the countries intensify the talks and hold negotiations with an open mind.

Unless both the developed and developing move from their established positions, it would be difficult to conclude the Round. 2011 is being touted as the make or break year for the Doha Round. But in the meantime, it is essential that developing countries such as India continue to follow unilateral trade policies suited to their domestic needs but within the framework of the changing international trade environment. Hopefully, 'Doha' won't prove a jinxed venue for the WTO but the name for a landmark agreement in the history of multilateral trade.

(The author is Fellow, National Council of Applied Economic Research.)









It is not often that our Prime Minister holds a press conference or a meeting with senior editors and journalists. The last such one was held five months back with select senior editors from the print media. So expectations were running high over his encounter on Wednesday with the electronic media, especially in the backdrop of scams and scandals that the media has been relentlessly pursuing in recent months. Yet, the meeting, televised live over all the news channels turned out to be a disappointing, damp squib.

Dr Manmohan Singh was at his expressionless best, displaying no emotions whatsoever and content with reading out prepared statements as answers for the contentious questions such as the Devas-Antrix deal. Helping him in the endeavour were the editors and journalists themselves, some of them anchors, renowned for their high-decibel coverage on prime time news.

If one expected sharp, pointed questions to pin Dr Singh down either on the various scams or the investigations or Mr Kapil Sibal's infamous defence of Mr Raja or on his party's electoral alliance talks with the DMK in Tamil Nadu, well, it was only disappointment in store.

'Touching' faith

Of course, the first question was on the 2G scam but Dr Singh got away with the incredible answer that he believed Mr Raja when he told him that he (Mr Raja) was not up to any hanky-panky. Touching as his faith in his Cabinet colleague is, only the naïve would believe that the Prime Minister had no other means of accessing information on his own government's policy other than through the concerned Minister. After this, the only other question that came close to pinning Dr Singh down was on the Antrix-Devas deal, which came towards the end of the meeting. Again, Dr Singh read out from a long note that was nothing but a recap of events since July 2010 when ISRO, acting on an expose by Business Line, briefed the Space Commission for the first time on the Devas deal.

The anchor who raised this question was quick with a second one on the "zero loss" claim of Mr Sibal only to be put down by the Prime Minister's media adviser with the rather sharp remark: "this is not an interrogation of the Prime Minister".


It was sad to see even prominent, senior anchors raising such uninteresting questions as to whether Dr Singh would lead the government if the party was voted back to power in the next election, which is not due until 2014! The question that really should get the prize for being the most insipid one was from this journalist who wanted to know whether Dr Singh supports the Indian team in the World Cup! Can he support Pakistan or Australia, or even if he did, say so openly?? Was this a question for a high-profile interaction with the Prime Minister in the current troubled backdrop?

And, then, there was this journalist from a prominent West Asian channel with this shocker of a question: does Dr Singh expect the people's uprising in Egypt and other Middle East countries to spread to our own Kashmir, north-east and other Maoist infested areas of the country? Maybe someone should point out the difference between the autocratic dictatorships in Egypt and other countries in that region that suppress dissent, and India, with its democracy, warts and all, that allows free dissent.

If Dr Singh missed the chance to score a few points over his detractors, the electronic media failed to prove itself and wasted what was an excellent opportunity to ask some tough questions. Just imagine what could have been achieved if only the prominent anchors and editors had collaborated in asking their questions, dividing the tough ones amongst themselves to ensure that Dr Singh replied to all the contentious issues.

But, then, given the bitter competition for TRPs and eyeballs amongst these channels, it was probably too much to expect.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




First in Tunisia and now in Egypt, the people have spoken and made clear that they do not want to live under authoritarian rule and are fed up with regimes that hold power for decades.

In the end, the voice of the people will be decisive. The Arab elites, Egypt's neighbouring countries and the world powers should understand this and take it into account in their political calculations. The events now unfolding will have far-reaching consequences for Egypt itself, for West Asia and for the Muslim world.

Yet a lot of anxiety has surfaced in comments by politicians and the media. Many voice the fear that the popular movement could lead to chaos and then to fundamentalist reaction and confrontation between the Islamic world and the international community. Behind these fears is mistrust of the Egyptian people and of other Arab nations.

For too long, conventional political thinking about the Arab world was based on a false dichotomy: authoritarian regimes or fundamentalism, extremism, terrorism. The leaders of those regimes also seemed to believe in their roles as guardians of stability. Behind the façade, however, severe social and economic problems kept mounting. Stagnating economies, pervasive corruption, the widening chasm between rich and poor, and a life of frustration for millions of young people fuelled social unrest.

Egypt is the key country in West Asia and in the Arab world. Its stable development is in everyone's interest.

Just as everywhere else, the only way forward in the Arab world, with its tortuous history, unique culture and numerous risks and dangers, is towards democracy, with the understanding that the path is difficult and that democracy is not a magic wand.

Hosni Mubarak could have played a role in the difficult transition. But that did not happen.

The equation to be solved in Egypt and other countries of the Arab East has many unknowns. The most unpredictable is the Islamic factor. What is its place in the people's movement? What kind of Islam will emerge?

In Egypt itself, Islamic groups have so far behaved with restraint, while outside the country some irresponsible and provocative pronouncements have been made. It would be a mistake to see Islam as a destructive force. The history of Islamic culture includes periods when it was a leader in the development of world civilisation. Its contributions to science, education and literature cannot be disputed. Islamic doctrines strongly advocate social justice and peace. An Islam that emphasises those values can have great potential. Already, democratic processes and genuine socioeconomic achievements in countries like Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia offer optimism.

Everyone involved in Egypt's transition must now behave with utmost responsibility and a sense of balanced judgment and action. The lessons to be learned from the events in Egypt concern more than just the Arab world.

Similar regimes exist just about everywhere. Their ages and origins differ. Some resulted from rollbacks that followed popular democratic revolutions. Others took hold due to a favourable trade environment and high commodity prices. Many have focused on speeding economic development, often with success.

At a certain point, many observers concluded that these regimes and the people had struck a kind of bargain: economic growth in exchange for freedom and human rights.

All these regimes have one serious flaw: the gap between government and people, the lack of feedback, which sooner or later leads to unaccountable and uncontrolled power.

The leaders of such regimes have been served a warning. They may continue to persuade themselves that their case is different and that they have the situation "under control". Yet they must wonder how sustainable that control is. In their hearts, they must understand that it can't last forever, because much of it is a sheer formality.

So the inevitable question emerges: What next? Continue to go through the motions of fake democracy, which gives the ruling group 80 to 90 per cent of the vote? Or, just maybe, seek a transition to genuine democracy?

It's an agonising choice, and the second alternative is daunting. It means ensuring that there is a real opposition, and knowing that a real opposition will come to power sooner or later. Then abuses will come to light, the networks of corruption leading to the top will be broken, and someone must be held accountable for all that. Is that a prospect an authoritarian regime wants to contemplate?

One needs to muster courage for real change, because power without accountability cannot last. This is what hundreds of thousands of Egyptian citizens, whose faces we've seen on television, stated loud and clear.

Looking at those faces, one wants to believe that Egypt's democratic transition will succeed. That would be a good example, one the entire world needs.

- Mikhail Gorbachev is former President of the Soviet Union






When contemplating Pakistan's nuclear build-up, Major General Ausaf Ali comes to mind. An engineer officer, also director general (operations and plans), Ali is arguably the most important man in the strategic plans division, Chaklala, the secretariat for that country's Nuclear Command Authority. The occasion was his briefing on the Pakistan nuclear weapons programme at an "international seminar" in March 2007 held in Bahawalpur. As the lone Indian invitee, I was apparently the offline channel to convey nuclear signals to interested audiences in India.

Among other things, Maj. Gen. Ali indicated that Pakistan planned to beef up its nuclear forces sufficient to enable a "counterforce third strike" — a scheme too ambitious not to prompt scepticism. A counterforce third strike essentially means having enough surviving nuclear weapons/warheads and delivery systems to take out Indian nuclear force assets after absorbing an Indian retaliatory hit in response to Pakistan's first use of nuclear weapons. His impressive confidence notwithstanding, this strategy is unsustainable for the reason Maj. Gen. Ali also mentioned, namely, that the location of 70 per cent of Pakistani nuclear weapons is known to American, Indian and Israeli intelligence agencies and, in a nuclear crisis or conflict, will face pre-emption. The remaining 30 per cent, he asserted, "will never be found". It is reasonable to deduce that the underway augmentation of the nuclear arsenal — with reports of Pakistani nuclear weapons strength now exceeding India's estimated arsenal and the 100 figure mark — is meant to increase both this force-fraction considered immune to pre-emptive destruction and Pakistan's margin of safety.

The more noteworthy aspect is Pakistan's resolve not to be overwhelmed in a nuclear confrontation with India. It is reflected in the reported construction of a fourth plutonium reactor at Khushab. This is a speedy follow-up to the first and second reactors that went on stream in 1996 and 2009 respectively and the third which is at the half-way stage of construction. Deterrence is a mind-game — how I wish I had patented this phrase first used by me in a 1998 book — and Pakistan seems to be psychologically fortifying itself for it.

None of this will matter very much in an actual nuclear exchange though because however large the Pakistani weapons inventory, especially its protected force fraction, the certainty of Pakistan's extinction versus the obliteration of a couple of Indian cities will compel Islamabad, I have argued, to avoid nuclear first use no matter what the Indian provocation, including limited ingress into Pakistani territory by Indian conventional forces ("Cold Start"). Then again, Pakistan has discovered that India scares easy and simply having its leaders indulge in nuclear bombast at the first sign of trouble deters Delhi from approving even punitive strikes. This happened after the December 13, 2001, attack on Parliament and the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.

A nuclear Pakistan, in any case, poses a greater danger to itself than to India — with the possibility of fanatics accessing nuclear materials, if not whole weapons, in unsettled domestic situations. These jihadis, geared to blowing themselves up, may decide that the use of nuclear weapons or radiation diffusion devices as means of national suicide either by turning them against the Pakistan establishment or India, advances their cause. But, Pakistan's nuclear preparations nevertheless highlight the Indian government's relaxed attitude and extraordinary complacency. The stock answers by senior officials to any sensitive questions regarding national security are usually unilluminating counter-questions: "How do you know we are not taking appropriate actions? And, if we are, would we be announcing them?" Alas, excessive opacity hurts nuclear deterrence when there's little evidence of meaningful measures on the ground.

For instance, dedicated military-use plutonium reactors cannot be conjured out of thin air nor erected in a trice. Indeed, with the decommissioning of the CIRUS reactor at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, courtesy the nuclear deal with the United States, a third of the weapon-grade plutonium production capacity was lopped off.

The upcoming breeder reactor having been ruled out of the military ambit by former National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, there's only the 100 MW Dhruva reactor, if the eight power plants are discounted as source owing to the huge economic costs of diverting these from electricity generation to running them on low burn-up mode for plutonium production. A second Dhruva was approved in the mid-1990s and Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao sanctioned `600 crores for it. But 15 years on, the project is in the doldrums. Moreover, instead of constructing a straight-through graphite-moderated reactor exclusively to output weapon-grade fissile material such as the ones Pakistan has obtained from China, another multi-purpose Dhruva-type reactor (tasked to also produce isotopes, etc) is on the cards.

This last is the result mainly of professional laziness on the part of the Indian nuclear engineers who would rather duplicate something old than design and build an altogether new, efficient and militarily more useful plutonium reactor.

There are two great nuclear deficit areas: In the light of the failed hydrogen bomb test in 1998, the absence of proven high-yield thermonuclear armaments — a condition only further explosive testing can remedy, and curtailed weapon-grade plutonium production capacity.

These shortfalls are particularly onerous when considering it is China with ramped up strategic wherewithal India has most to worry about. With the gaps in Indian weapons performance and fissile material production capacity widening into chasms, achieving credible deterrence vis a vis China, already problematic, will soon become unthinkable. Lulled by the comforting illusions of "minimal" deterrence based on the 20/20 hindsight of the Cold War rather than the verities of the harsh and unforgiving world of international relations, the Indian government seems to be paddling around in the strategic shallows, unmindful of the rapids ahead.

- Bharat Karnad is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi





After his interaction with television editors on Wednesday morning, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, should be wondering why he has been meeting the press so very sparingly. At the end of the televised event, the two key Opposition parties — BJP and CPI(M) — continued to be highly critical of the government's handling of corruption and inflation, the two issues on everyone's mind. Indeed, after hearing Dr Singh on the 2G spectrum affair, the sense would not fully dissipate that the government got it more wrong than right in respect of both spectrum allotment and the tardiness in dealing with the fallout, especially in the sloppy handling of Mr A. Raja. The storyline is likely to have been somewhat different if Mr Raja had been got rid of before the CAG report castigated the 2G allotment process in no uncertain terms. In spite of negative marks on this count, few would deny that Dr Singh came through as a sincere leader who is not afraid to make statements that might be deemed politically ill-advised, and one who readily accepts the limitations of the position he is in (People don't expect their leaders to be superhuman). When he said he was not afraid to face a joint parliamentary committee probe in the 2G matter and that it was not on his account that the Opposition's demand on this score had not been conceded, he as good as said it was the Congress' decision to not agree to a JPC inquiry, not his. This is refreshing candour. Opposition parties are not impartial observers of the scene and they are expected to take the government to task at every opportunity. But the press conference did show that the Prime Minister is an honest and transparent man even if he doesn't get everything right. With the exposure of a succession of scandals, India had come to harbour a sense of moral injury. Dr Singh talking to the people directly on television does help to ease that sense of hurt. The back-breaking price rise is a serious problem but it was good to hear the economist in Dr Singh say that if the compulsions of keeping up the growth momentum did not exist, prices could have been handled more ably, although it was being negatively influenced by international events like a big hike in the prices of petroleum, food and (industrial) commodities. He also pointed to the need for striking compromises ("or we might face elections every six months!") in a coalition situation. Making this awareness explicit cannot exempt a leader from responsibility. Nevertheless, viewers would have noted the simplicity of the man who is keen to soldier on. A leader who does not communicate with the people generally invites trouble. Jawaharlal Nehru used to have a monthly press conference and Indira Gandhi met the media quite often, as did Morarji Desai. In a democracy it is a good practice for the head of government to seek out opportunities to interact with the press. In holding a press conference the Prime Minister was clearly in a mood to release some pressure on the eve of the Budget Session of Parliament. To that extent he may have succeeded.








Spinners are going to hold centrestage in this World Cup. Sunday's warm-up India vs Australia match gave early indications of spin's dominance with Piyush Chawla and Harbhajan Singh running through a strong Australian batting line-up.

Most of the teams have stocked up their squads with tweakers following the "horses for courses" policy, although the Australians don't have the same aura about them without Shane Warne. Warne was not a stock bowler, he was an out-and-out strike bowler, capable of turning the match on its head on tracks that hardly provided any assistance to spinners. I still expect Australia's off-spinner Jason Krejza to do well. I was very impressed when he picked up 12 wickets on his Test debut against India in 2008.

India seem to have found a good combination with Chawla and Harbhajan, while Pakistan are going to be formidable with off-spinner Saeed Ajmal and leggie Shahid Afridi. England are the dark horses. For me, Graeme Swann is the best spinner in the world at the moment, followed by Harbhajan. Swann forms a very effective combination with left-arm spinner Michael Yardy, and it is very important to hunt in pairs. That's why I am not betting on Daniel Vettori to take the tournament by storm. One of the major reasons for India's success in the '70s was the fact that we had four quality spinners in Bishen Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Srinivas Venkatraghavan and myself bowling in tandem. Vettori doesn't have that luxury as he will be the sole spinner in a team filled with seamers.

It is unrealistic to expect that sub-continental tracks will provide as much movement and bounce as some of the pitches in South Africa or Australia. Possibly, surfaces in Mohali and Wankhede might have some bounce but will be devoid of grass.

It is my belief that seamers might still extract something if the ball stops on the batsmen, but express pace bowlers are unlikely to succeed. The 50-over format restricts pace bowlers to 10 overs each, which is manageable. Captains around the world are also hesitant to give their pacers extended spells with so many different Powerplays coming into the game. All that the batsmen need to do is to ride through a difficult spell of maximum five overs. The part-time spinners are a lottery. By the time they are introduced, it becomes a 20-30 over game and batsmen have to hit the accelerator. With batters taking a risk or two, the bowlers' chances of picking up a wicket increases and that is what the captains are banking on.

- Erapalli Prasanna, former Test bowler and spinning great

Pace will be the ultimate weapon

Manoj Prabhakhar

Pace bowling is the ultimate weapon on the cricket field. I don't think any batsman in the world can claim that he is absolutely comfortable facing genuinely quick bowling. On seaming and bouncing surfaces like those in England and South Africa, medium-pace bowling on a good line and length can also be effective.

In the sub-continent, medium pacers are just what batsmen relish. With the slow nature of the tracks and ball hardly moving from the straight, batsmen can hit through the line and over the top. This is where variations come handy. A good slower ball, pin-point yorkers, and sharp bouncers are three essential components to succeed on Asian tracks.

Having said that, there are at least four teams at this edition of the World Cup who will look to pace to unsettle their opponents.

Australia, South Africa, England and the West Indies are all formidable when it comes to this department even on the slow pitches to be found here. Just a look at the line-up of pacers confirms this — Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson for Australia, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel for South Africa, West Indians Kemar Roach and Andre Russel, and the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad are all capable of cranking up- and sustaining high pace.

As no batsman can claim to be completely at ease when faced with the ball whizzing past him at speeds of 140 kmph and over, I am sure that pace will hold its own against spin, even on our pitches. The pitches will of course be slow to suit Indian strengths. While India are only playing one match in the north in the early stages, with venues like Mohali hosting neutral matches I expect the tracks to have a bit more bounce and carry.

As you go westwards towards centres like Ahmedabad and Mumbai, surfaces will be nothing but batting paradises. However, quality pacers only need a little bit of assistance from the track to do damage, as Curtly Ambrose and Co. displayed in the 1996 World Cup.

India will have Zaheer Khan leading the attack, who, I think, is a complete bowler. Although he bowls in the mid-130s, he moves the new as well as the old ball and can bowl yorkers at will. Apart from him, S. Sreesanth and Munaf Patel are expected to play a holding role. The odds are certainly stacked against the pacers, but the utility of a genuine quick bowler is never lost.

(As told to Devadyuti Das)

Manoj Prabhakhar, former Indian bowler







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 creed — 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. Every Israeli and Saudi should watch this video made by the youth in Tahrir — [1] — 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 finalise 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).

On my way back from Tahrir Square on February 12, 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 realised 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.

That is why I feel sorry for those Egyptians now clamouring 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".






According to our scriptures, a temple represents the body of the deity. The outer structures symbolise the material body of the deity whereas the idol within the sanctum sanctorum represents the subtle body. If either is subject to any harm or impurity, it affects the other also. Untidiness within the premises is as intolerable an offence as impurities on the idol itself.

"Praasaado archa cha viswesithuratha vapushee
Sthoolasookshme yatho athothradharadheyabhaavaa
Ditharathabhavon yathra chaabhyethi dosha"

This shloka that appears in the text Thanthrasa-muchchaya justifies the above concept. This concept of the temple has a connection with our life too. The health of the human body and mind are related to each other. If the body becomes tired, it weakens the mind, too. Similarly, if the mind is disturbed, the body also suffers. If hot liquid is poured into a metal vessel, it gets heated. An ice cold liquid poured into a vessel will make it cold. Similarly, the vaastu or the science of constructing a temple building and the idol have a very strong impact on each other.

It is believed that the life force of the idol pervades the whole temple.

Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, "Idam Sareeram Kauntheya! Kshethramithyabhidheeyathe", meaning, the body itself is a temple where the Paramatma (the Supreme Power) and the Jeevatma (the life force) dwell.

In fact, temples are designed according to the structure of the human body as understood by yogasasthra. The human body (excluding limbs) can be vertically divided into six portions: Mooladhara, Swadhishtanam, Manipoorakam, Anahathram, Visuddhi and Aajnja. Accordingly, in the sanctum sanctorum where the idol is supposed to be enshrined, a deep pit is dug and six layers of foundation laid with tantrik karma, namely Aadharasila, Nidhikumbha, Pad-mam, Koormam, Yoganaa-lam and Napumsakasila. Construction of a temple can begin only after this is done. The outer wall, the path for circumambulation, the conceptual line that joins the lamps, the outer boundary of the holy courtyard and the sanctum sanctorum symbolically represent the five facets of the human body, namely the Annamayakosa, Praa-namayakosa, Manomaya-kosa, Vijnjaanamayakosa and Aanandamaya-kosa.

dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the authorof Thaliyola, a book on Hindu belief and ritual. He has also written books on the Vedasand Upanishads. The author can be reachedat [1]









STRIDENCY has never been Dr Manmohan Singh's strong point. So while he may have emerged personally unscathed from his interaction with the electronic media on Wednesday, it was perhaps unavoidable to conclude that he presented a picture of near-helplessness when quizzed on an inability to prevent, or to counter, the various scams that have laid UPA-II low. Yet shedding that very image had been projected as the key purpose behind his opening up" before the television cameras. Maybe it did provide him opportunity to "take the nation into confidence" ~ opportunity denied to him by a stalled Parliament ~ but since he seldom got down to specifics he did not convince that the allegations flying thick and fast were unfounded. Worse, he took recourse to the "coalition compulsion" alibi to defend his inclusion of suspect individuals in his ministerial council. And, like most governments in the dock, he appealed to the media not to overdo the negative: cautioned that doing so sapped national self-confidence and impacted on India's international image ~ sounding the "patriotism" bugle that politicians find so convenient to deflect the attack they deservedly attract. The free-wheeling format did help him a bit: he was never pinned down on scam-specifics, and on economic issues he does present a fair case, though once again he found an escape route in the international economy floundering. And for good measure he indulged in a bit of politicking ~ accusing the BJP of stalling "reforms" like the GST because of certain action against a minister in its Gujarat government. That, he used as argument against the contention that his' was a government in drift. But also reflecting a lack of what it takes to carry all along with him.
For the record he claimed he had never contemplated quitting, but nor did he make out a strong case for him being asked to lead the next government provided the electorate reposed faith in the coalition. Yes, he was honest enough to admit to "aberrations", stated that corruption in any sphere was to be condemned and eradicated, but it must be remembered that all through the "aberrations" nobody accused him of personal misconduct ~ he was consistently slammed for allowing the scamsters to flourish. And despite some pious pontification, Dr Singh's essay on TV did little to rewrite that part of the script.

He just did not reassure that he was in control. So it will not be from a position of strength that he will be leading his side into the Budget session. One term he frequently used to describe the affairs of his administration was "functional ~ surely the Indian people are entitled to something with a little more "punch".




THE tragedy is at once heart-rending and revolting. It is heart-rending because a brother had to pay with his life at Barasat, on the outskirts of Kolkata, late on Monday night for trying to rescue his sister from the hands of a bunch of drunken goons. It is revolting as it tragically illustrates the remarkably insensitive attitude of the armed guards, manning the gates of the North 24-Parganas District Magistrate's high-security bungalow. By the girl's own testament, her brother would not have died had the guards nabbed the culprits in time. The SP has confirmed that her brother also gave a similar dying declaration. The bungalow is located less than 100 metres from where Rajib Das, scheduled to appear for the  Madhyamik examination next week, was done to death. Repeated banging on the iron gate for assistance yielded no tangible response save the telephone number of the local police station.

Given the proximity in terms of distance, there can be no justification for the almost criminal shirking of responsibility by the DM's guards. The District Magistrate's denial is breathtaking in its vacuity, callous in its abruptness. "I have heard the allegation but after conducting an inquiry I found it was not true." Mr Vinod Kumar has stopped short of spelling out the terms of his quick-fix inquiry. In his anxiety to protect his men, he has cut a corner too many. He ought to be acutely aware that the incident is testament to the collapse of law and order in his district, a blot on his administration. At least for 24 hours after the killing and the attempted abduction, the police made no headway in tracking down the culprits.  The rules are clear on the point that if in uniform, a policeman is dutybound to rush to the aid of a victim. The guards' version that "we can't leave our posts" is neither here nor there. So, the worst can happen. And it really has. The refusal of the police to intervene must be the focus of any inquiry that the government might routinely commission. The virtual collapse of an inactive, politicised and unionised force is confirmed, and mortally so.




However earnest the Union law minister may sound about the government's intention to cleanse the electoral system, the efforts get stuck in the task of getting the right kind of candidates to contest. Election commissioners have gone on record to say they have tried to convince political parties that criminalisation of the system is the poison that needs to be uprooted; other measures would fall in place. Now we have it from Mr Veerappa Moily that money power is the menace that needs to be wiped out and once that is done the mafia can be expected to disappear. It confirms that the minister shies away from taking the bull by the horns just when four states are due to go to the polls and the UPA has a chance to demonstrate the will to act against those who have disgraced the system by contesting with cases of murder and extortion hanging over their heads. It is with enough justification that chief election commissioner SY Qureshi regrets that parties across the board demonstrate a rare consensus on throwing out proposals to debar candidates with criminal antecedents. The degree of guilt varies from Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal, which thrives on anti-socials some of whom are recommended for cabinet berths, to the CPI-M which has ministers who have got away with acts of "cleansing'' villages on behalf of the party with the help of the local police. Predictably, all the amendments on this issue have so far come a cropper.

Mr Qureshi has mounted radical steps by despatching observers to sensitive areas in Bengal to ensure a peaceful poll and by monitoring bank accounts during the polls in four states. Where he remains helpless is on the question of accepting nominations from those with confirmed police records. The law minister raises fresh hopes of a "comprehensive amendment'' within a time-frame of three to four months. By that time the electoral process in four states will be over and the urgency will have gone. It would also be impractical to bring the 2001 recommendations of the National Commission to review the Constitution down from the shelf solely on the question of election expenses. With so much unaccounted money floating around, a more stringent law on expenses can at best meet the problem half-way while the roots of the menace remain intact. No one would begin to suggest that the muscle-power that blots the electoral system is sustained by the accounted wealth that is proposed to monitored.








THE people of Egypt must be still in the afterglow of their enormous victory. Theirs' was a legitimate triumph, something that brought satisfaction at home and spread excitement far and wide. As things settle down, there will be close assessment of what happened and what it portends ~ indeed, that is already taking place ~ but for now the great fact that demands attention is the grand demonstration of people's power that we have witnessed.
The events in Egypt have been hailed on all sides ~ President Obama even invoked the name of the Mahatma when acclaiming this movement of marginalized masses that brought down a powerfully entrenched dictatorship. The credit for the achievement belongs firmly to the Egyptian people, and that there was no trace of instigation from without adds to their credit. This was Egypt's moment that will serve to bring that country back to international centrestage after a long spell on the sidelines.

The euphoria is yet to be dissipated but even at this stage there are some points to note, some questions, maybe even some anxieties. It is after all a moment of radical transition and much about the next phase remains unclear. Initially, as Mr. Mubarak was shown the door, nobody quite knew who was in charge: it was the army that had had ultimately come down against him and ensured that he had to quit, thereby enhancing its high standing with the public, but while the supreme army council became the ultimate authority, it was not clear what agenda it would set for itself. The top generals had been part of the ousted dictator's ruling structure, and, notwithstanding the public respect they enjoyed, they did not look like natural promoters and defenders of the democracy for which people had flooded onto the streets. There was even some speculation that the army might opt for a fairly prolonged transition, which could cause confusion and uncertainty. But the army council's first decree has done something to clear the air, dissolving as it does the current parliament and calling for elections in six months to elect a popular government. The existing constitution has been set aside and a new interim one is to be drafted by a group of eminent people, to be completed in just a few days and subjected to a national referendum before it is adopted as the basis for the elections. Thus the army has moved rapidly and decisively, and has promulgated measures that seem attuned to the radical mood that transfigured the Egyptian nation.
The uprising in Egypt was inspired and directed by unknown people who emerged from nowhere to harness the capacity of the social media in a manner that effectively bypassed the attempts of the authorities to check them. It was an achievement of the young. The name of Wael Ghonim has become well known now, and there are others too who have achieved prominence. The radicalized youth rallied to the cause of democracy and showed no inclination to settle for half measures. Indeed, some of them were disinclined to disperse before it was clear what turn the movement would take, being prepared to continue their struggle as long as it was necessary. They have gone home now but remain watchful and will no doubt seek to ensure that the principles that motivated them will be reflected in future arrangements for governance.

While the uprising was in full flood, Nobel Laureate Dr El Baradei emerged as a potential pillar of an alternative regime, with his call for an interim authority to manage Egypt's affairs while more permanent arrangements were being made. That idea may not now be relevant but when it comes to a presidential election, Dr El Baradei could well emerge as a significant candidate. Another prominent name is that of the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Mr Amr Moussa. He is a very well known diplomat who has been Foreign Minister of his country and is well respected internationally, including in India, where he was a popular and successful ambassador for his country. These are among the seasoned figures who could take on larger responsibilities in the future.

The role of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood has raised some queries and anxieties. This group has a mixed record. It was the first of the fundamentalist groups and initially aimed at bringing about change through constitutional methods. But at times it resorted to violent means, notably in a failed assassination attempt on Gamal Abdul Nasser, which led to its being strongly suppressed. Nevertheless, it could never be rooted out and remained influential at home and elsewhere in the Arab world. But more recently the group has also taken part in elections, where it performed creditably the last time it participated, with something like 20 per cent of the popular vote. During the uprising it was careful not to appear too prominent, riding along with the popular mood and not trying to hijack it for its own purposes. The Brotherhood is believed to contain different strands of conviction and belief, of different degrees of radicalization. It provokes some uneasiness but no real apprehension right now, for though it became active, it did not put its stamp on the mass uprising.
While Egypt consolidates and deals with its new situation, the international consequences of the recent events continue to spread and disturb. Inspired by what has happened in Egypt, and earlier in Tunisia, crowds of young people have come out onto the streets in many parts of the Middle East. Outside the Arab world, the effects have been felt in Iran where demonstrations have had to be suppressed by the authorities. Elsewhere, too, entrenched regimes would no doubt feel uncomfortable at such popular manifestations. Among the most anxious are Egypt's treaty partners, USA and Israel. The military council in Cairo has affirmed that it will continue to abide by existing treaties, of which the 1979 peace treaty with Israel is the most significant, but with the aroused spirit of Egypt there may be surprises ahead.

That country has once more become a source of radical inspiration, and while no revival of the Nasserite days can be looked for, the famous era of military attachés with bombs in their briefcases working to dislodge established governments, a more active Egypt closer to popular Arab sentiment may well be on the cards. For instance, it may be less ready to be part of a cordon sanitaire around Gaza at a time when Arab Palestinians are short of food and medicines.

The fact that the Arab giant Egypt has stepped out of the shadows and taken its proper place in regional and international affairs is bound to have an impact. India's interests are not directly involved but it will watch with sympathy as this neighbouring region struggles for democratic values.]

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary





Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has held his much awaited Press conference. What he conveyed was that he will not quit despite the criticism levelled against him; that there have been shortcomings in governance which need to be rectified; that there has been corruption which is being probed; that despite the slow progress due to following correct legal procedure the guilty will not escape; and that the admitted shortcomings in the performance of his government may be traced to the compulsions of coalition politics that sometimes necessitate compromises.

In other words, it is business as usual. The biggest systemic flaw of the UPA government was ignored by the PM and his questioners alike. The government cannot credibly blame only coalition partners for the corruption or the compromises that have slowed down the efforts to nail it. The Commonwealth Games scam does not relate to coalition partners, It involves questionable decisions by Congress leaders. It was the Congress political secretary who met Hassan Ali. The progress of investigation in these scams has been even more dilatory than it is in the other scams. A PM need not be as inhibited in dealing with coalition partners as the present incumbent is. The heart of the problem lies elsewhere. Unless it is addressed, the performance of the UPA government will continue to flounder.

The problem is the systemic flaw under which this government functions. An extra-Constitutional centre of power exists that is more powerful than the Prime Minister. Such diarchy renders confused and self-contradictory governance. The relationship between the government and the party organisation in any democratic system works well because the lines of responsibility are clearly demarcated. The party is responsible for adhering to its agenda and to the government performing within the parameters set by it. The government is solely responsible for executing policy within those parameters. This arrangement does not obtain within the UPA setup.

Mrs Sonia Gandhi is not only the president of the Congress party. She is not only the chairperson of the National Advisory Council specially established against precedent to advise the government on all policy. She is also the head of a dynasty that is so powerful within the party that she could single-handedly appoint the Prime Minister before ascertaining the views of the party. And she achieved that because Dr Manmohan Singh accepted the post of PM in these humiliating and undemocratic circumstances. As a result, the entire Congress membership as well as its UPA coalition partners are aware where real power resides. It is Mrs Gandhi who is approached for approval of all key decisions while the PM remains a passive standerby. The PM seems content to aspire for a global Indian role while he remains marginalised as a nonentity in all matters of governance. Because of this monumental compromise that allowed him to become a PM, he is accountable for decisions not made by him. Because of the enormous power wielded by Mrs Gandhi, she can exercise power for which she is not answerable. This arrangement is unnatural, undemocratic and unworkable. Either Mrs Sonia Gandhi should become the PM, or Dr Manmohan Singh must behave as a PM should. Either the PM must call the shots. Or Mrs Gandhi must face the heat. Unless power is accompanied by accountability, the democratic process does not work. The present patchwork arrangement is tattered beyond repair. It has to be discarded. Otherwise the drift will continue. The debate will continue. And, the decline will continue. That is the bald truth Congress leaders must recognise.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

At a much-awaited Press conference, the Prime Minister has declared that he won't quit. What he fails to recognise is that bad governance stems from an extra-Constitutional centre of power that is more powerful than the Prime Minister, writes rajinder puri






"If only we had come to know sooner of his fever!" lamented my father-in-law. The tears sprang to his eyes even 10 years after he lost his only son to leukaemia at the tender age of 17. Himself a doctor, he had moved heaven and earth to provide his son the best treatment available, making numerous trips to Delhi with his ailing child for chemotherapy, blood transfusion and what not. After each session, my brother-in-law would seem vitalised and move about like a normal spirited boy; and then, without any warning, he would just fold up like a rag doll. In fact, when we all thought that he had at last crested the waves, the disease relapsed with a whiplash to claim him. The anguished father's valiant efforts had merely postponed the inevitable by two agonising years.

By the time the end had come, the parents had been inured to the tragedy and accepted it stoically, carrying on with their lives. Mr father-in-law resumed his practice and my mother-in-law went back to her kitchen where a decent dish had not been prepared for a long time. Their only concession to the tragedy was a refusal to celebrate Diwali. Mr parents-in-law stopped celebrating the festival altogether because their son had breathed his last on the dark, moonless night of Diwali.

Death of a young child is not only a cataclysmic event; it can be the defining moment in the parents' lives. The facade of normality that my parents-in-law presented to the world camouflaged the slow and steady erosion in their zest for life. The first indication came a few years later when my father-in-law suddenly gave up non-vegetarian food and and his wife dutifully followed him. To think that he had been such a great connoisseur of "all creatures great and small"! The bereaved father also gravitated towards spirituality with the works of Swami Vivekananda, Swami Sivananda, Swami Chinmayananda and others slowly replacing bestsellers on his shelf. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, was not so spiritually inclined. She tried to expend her pent-up filial love on her grandchildren ~ my children ~ when they arrived years after the tragedy. But there remained an invisible wall between the grandmother and her little objects of affection. It seemed as if she was afraid of loving them too much for fear of losing them as she had her son years ago. So there she was  ~ a loving grandmother but distant and unsure of demonstrating her love. But that changed on a Diwali. The urgency of the festive air made the children impatient. They demanded a celebration and unable to explain to them the reason for our abstinence, we gave in, wondering how their grandparents would react. But when the lights sparkled and sparklers came to life, and our little children jumped with joy, their grandmother could no longer hold herself back. She became a child again ~ full of regained zest to take on life afresh.







Among the recently published Bengal District Gazetteers that which deals with Burdwan is in some respects of unusual interest. Mr J.C.K. Peterson, of the Indian Civil Service, who is responsible for the publication, has devoted considerable space to the romantic and in many respects terrible history of a portion of Bengal which is now in possession of a peaceful prosperity that forms a striking contrast with its stormy past. The town of Burdwan has been identified with Parthalis, which, according to the Greek geographers, was the royal city of the Gangardae or Gangarides. Many centuries later the Mahomedan invaders fixed upon the district as one of their seats, and, as we are reminded, they have left among other legacies the splendid military road from Gaur and Rajmahal to Midnapore and Cuttack. During the Mahomedan domination many stirring incidents were recorded, but it was not until the appearance of the Marathas early in the eighteenth century that the inhabitants of Western Bengal realised to the full what rapine and plunder meant. The border principalities of Birbhum and Bishnupur bore the brunt of the invaders' fury. Once wealthy houses were reduced to indigence, and the cultivator fled from a country in which he peasant existed merely to provide for the exactions of the soldier. Burdwan from the physical nature of the district was not so readily accessible in the marauders. The Maratha horsemen found that it was not easy to operate in a marshy area, and the cultivators soon became accustomed to fly for refuge to some swamp-protected village, leaving little behind them in the shape of food or booty for the raiders to seize or destroy. About the middle of the eighteenth century forty thousand horsemen under the Maratha chief of Berar possessed themselves of all the country west of the Bagirathi.








A 16-year-old boy was stabbed to death for trying to save his sister from being molested by a gang of inebriated youth, literally at the portals of the highest seat of administration in Barasat. As Rajib Das lay dying, armed guards, who were "on duty" at the district magistrate's bungalow less than 100 metres away, allegedly looked the other way. While the men in uniform were so dutifully guarding the house of a very important person, a less important citizen was brutally killed under their noses. The police, who were supposed to be on vigil, were, predictably, nowhere on the scene. Selling and consumption of liquor were brazenly carried out in the vicinity of the district magistrate's office, the police headquarters and the district court. Decades of misrule by the Left Front in West Bengal has eroded the people's faith in the custodians of law and order. But the scale of disintegration, and the way it has fundamentally invaded the daily lives of ordinary people, were yet to be revealed in their full horror: Das's murder, in an area that is supposed to be under high surveillance at all hours, demonstrates the venality of the administration.

Das's death not only makes a mockery of the hallowed arms of the administration but also reveals a singular lack of political will. Apart from accounting for the specific failures of this case, the authorities will have a lot of accounting to do. It is baffling, to put it mildly, how drug peddling and drunkenness could flourish with such impunity just a stone's throw away from the offices of law and order. The police could not have been unaware of such activities as these were but common knowledge for the residents, who live in daily dread of hooliganism. Even more troubling is the kind of medical attention that Das managed to get after he was attacked. Why was a profusely bleeding schoolboy sent to Calcutta from Barasat? It surpasses belief that the doctors decided to send a critical patient on such a long journey after merely administering first aid. Heads are yet to roll, but the buck is already being passed around without a jot of shame or decency. The chairperson of Barasat municipality, a Trinamul Congress man, helpfully summed up the attitude of political leaders across the spectrum when he blamed the entire incident on "fate". Ironically, the only person who stood upright and fought for justice in this case had to pay the price with his life.






The higher judiciary's discomfort with the sex worker's lot has been articulated for some time. In 2009, the Supreme Court had remarked that if sex work could not be curbed, it should be made legal. This time the court has been more specific, asking the Central and state governments to arrange for technical and vocational training for sex workers so that they can live a life of dignity. This is not a benign pose; the court has asked the governments to file compliance reports on the start they make by May 4. What is equally striking is that the case that generated the Supreme Court's directions had nothing to do directly with sex workers' rights or conditions. Instead, it was an appeal from a man sentenced to life imprisonment for having killed a sex worker in 1999. The court dismissed the appeal and focused instead on the sex workers' right to dignity and respect. In its directions, the court also demonstrated its awareness of cosmetic rehabilitation. When trained and put to work, physically and sexually abused women should have a market for their produce, else they would starve. So it would also be up to the governments to make sure of this market.

Traditionally exploited groups cruelly ignored and deprived of rights, such as third gendered people or sex workers, have been speaking up for the past few years. It is now the Supreme Court that is insisting on the need for change in their conditions, as in this case. The sex workers' complete lack of safety and security is one of their most painful problems. The court also has concrete suggestions, and the mention of markets indicates that the suggestions were not made lightly. The importance of the court's response lies in the principle. The invisible has been made visible, and the equal right of everyone to a productive and dignified life has been reasserted. This is significant; whether attributing a moral cause is necessary by identifying poverty as the only reason for sex work is an irrelevant question at the moment. Instead, it would be more useful to explore the question of rehabilitation and the women's choice on the one hand, and the actual vocations that they can be trained in on the other. The difficult, often frustrating, experience of trying to reintegrate rescued girls into their earlier life and society should be analysed seriously, so that weaning women away from sex work does not end up as pointless posturing.






The people's revolution in Egypt was momentous, following Tunisia, which was equally game-changing. But these situations are not unique. In Asia, the first people's movement that overthrew a dictator was that of the Aquino couple, husband and wife, that toppled the regime of the Philippines president, Ferdinand Marcos, in 1986. And in our South Asia region, there was a people's coup d'état in 1990, when the Bangladeshi people compelled the resignation of their president at the time, Hussain Muhammad Ershad. These were the first two indications of people's power in Asia and were marked by a scant loss of life in the process of change.

Each revolution has its own dynamics and character. In Bangladesh, political parties already existed and had earlier enjoyed periods in power. The electronic media was State-controlled, but there was a free print media, and one in which Ershad was virulently attacked. In both Bangladesh and Egypt, a form of parliament existed which was dominated by the deposed president's party — respectively the Jatiya Party and National Democratic Party — and previous elections were considered fraudulent. In Bangladesh, Ershad made no pronouncements at the eleventh hour about staying on in defiance of public opinion, and the army was never called out even in a neutral capacity. Crucially, in both countries the tipping point was not the people's determination but the unwillingness of the army to support the position of the president, whom it was willing to sacrifice in order to protect its own interests.

In Bangladesh, unlike in Egypt, the president's role was passed to a chief justice who had the backing of all political groups. An interim neutral civilian administration was set up to run the country until elections took place within three months. Political parties had high-profile leaders who were at loggerheads with one another but had led the people's movement in unison. In Egypt, there are no identifiable leaders, and it is unlikely that the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, or the Arab League secretary-general, Amr Moussa, or someone from the Twitter, Facebook and Google generation will have the political staying power to garner the support of the people. Power has been passed, meanwhile, to a military council consisting of former vested interests.

What is likely to happen is that the army in Egypt, as in Tunisia, will run the country for longer than the period until September that is presently envisaged. Of course, behind the scenes, they have already been running the country ever since the fall of the monarchy. It is quite probable that a new strongman will emerge from the army ranks to assume the leadership and become the face of the revolution. It may not necessarily be the field marshal in charge of the army: it was Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser and not General Muhammad Naguib who took the reins of power after the exile of King Farouk. The army in Egypt, if it remains united, is a status quo institution; it will enjoy the support of the proponents of stability such as the West, the Saudis and Israel. It will be the new establishment with no sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood, let alone the brand of Imamist Islam propagated by Shia Iran.

In Bangladesh, the Islamist political groups were part of the people's movement as they were in Egypt, but they did badly at the ensuing polls, winning only a small percentage of the popular vote and a handful of parliamentary seats. This is not likely to be the same case with the Muslim Brotherhood when free elections are held in Egypt, because, unlike the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Muslim Brothers have a tradition of educational support and social welfare that has given comfort to millions of the deprived population in Egypt, who will be their main constituency in any election. But the cards in any polls will be stacked against them. In Bangladesh, the first election after the Jamdani Revolution was won by the conservative, nationalist, pro-Islamic party of Khaleda Zia, which beat Sheikh Hasina's pro-liberation, pro-secular Awami League. The same kind of result may be expected in Egypt, where new political parties will be formed through splits and splinter groups from Mubarak's NDP by leaders wishing to carve out a political role for themselves, and the attractions of a religiously affiliated party, other than the Muslim Brotherhood, will have obvious attractions for the new establishment and the general public.

The nurse, Edith Cavell, famously said, "Patriotism is not enough." So it may prove in Egypt, where the road ahead will be long and hard towards a truly democratic state and the enjoyment of basic human rights. Building strong democratic structures from scratch can take generations. The needs to earn a livelihood and sustain family life are always paramount, even for revolutionaries. If the army can restore a measure of stability and progress in the social and economic life of the Egyptian nation, it can win the confidence of the people and few will begrudge it a fairly leisurely roadmap to new and pluralist elections. Ershad made a comeback in Bangladesh politics, and his party is a member of the present ruling coalition. But he had been in power for only seven years, not 30; his rule had not been marked by abuse of human rights as in Egypt; he was 15 per cent autocrat and 85 per cent opportunist; and he was accessible and not a recluse sheltered within palaces guarded by bodyguards. Hosni Mubarak, in contrast, will never make a comeback and would do well to flee his country.

It is unlikely that the events in Tunisia and Egypt will be exemplary for the rest of the region in a domino effect. The countries ripe for revolution would be ones where the regimes have overstayed their welcome, where politics are the monopoly of the head of State, where the population is young and socio- economic conditions are stagnating. Among such countries are Algeria, Iran, Jordan, Syria and Yemen. They will hope to stave off the crisis by making popular concessions but falling short of political rights. Oil-rich states, like Libya and the Gulf sheikhdoms, have cushioned their rulers from upheaval by distributing the benefits of wealth, unequally of course, but in some measure to all levels of the population despite the absence of human rights. They are helped in this by a huge presence of non-political 'guest workers'.

After the Bangladesh revolution and the jubilation that followed, a diplomat said wryly, "Now they are ringing the bells, but soon they may be wringing their hands." That may be true of Egypt. The protesters comprise diverse groups with varied demands that can never be fully or quickly satisfied. Strikes and riots for better living standards that have broken out may retard the timetable for lifting the emergency and let the situation play into the hands of hardliners in the military council. Euphoria will give way to the reality that absolute power now vests in the military, and what the army does with it can be anticipated by reference to the country's past history. If the army that has suspended the parliament and promised a referendum on a new constitution can proceed to fashion a democratic Egypt and hand it over to a legitimately elected civilian authority, that will represent the biggest revolution of all.

The author is former foreign secretary of India







Dissent, and now constructive social work: the internet here is being used for everything. China has a few non-government organizations, but today the internet has become the biggest NGO space. But the freedom given by the net makes many campaigns go awry.

A campaign to track down kidnapped children with the help of the internet has ended up targeting children who beg with their parents. This has put the police and the netizens in a dilemma — should these families be left alone to beg or should they be punished? Punishment would separate child from parent; no one wants that, not even the police.

It all started off when a journalist helped trace a kidnapped child and restore him to his family. The little boy had been kidnapped three years ago from Shenzhen, but the parents never gave up searching for him. The journalist microblogged about the case, posting the child's picture on a website. Every new year, he would remind netizens to look out for the child when they went back to their villages. Finally, this year, someone called the father and sent him a picture of the boy he had seen in a village. With the help of the journalist and the police, the child was traced. He was being looked after well; his name had been changed and he was enrolled in school. He had been kidnapped because the family had no son.

This incident began a net campaign to free abducted children. Child kidnapping is rampant here for two reasons: children, especially boys, are sold to childless couples; and, for begging. However, not all child beggars have been kidnapped, as netizens found out. The original idea was that netizens would post pictures of lost or abandoned children and then match them with a database of kidnapped children.

New discoveries

But soon, this campaign turned into a campaign to eliminate child beggars. Netizens began posting pictures of children begging with adults, giving their location. The police followed this up promptly, and used DNA tests to find out the relationship between the child and adult. In all cases, they were found to be parent and child.

The police also used the net to inform people about their follow-ups. However, after they began posting photographs of the operation, netizens got upset. For one, they pointed out, the police should not take blood samples on the street — it is unhygienic. It was also an invasion of privacy to post these pictures on their websites.

The police then began taking the beggars to police station and masking their faces in the photographs. However, the main problem remained — what should they do with the beggars? Sending the parents to a beggars' home and the child to a juvenile centre was hardly the answer. In many cases, begging was the only way out. For example, a father and son had taken to begging to pay for the daughter's leukaemia. Prominent bloggers such as Ai Weiwei pointed out that people had a right to beg.

This campaign has led to other discoveries. On finding that most of the beggars hailed from two areas, reporters went to those remote mountainous places and found that the entire population depended on begging. Only, it was regarded as a regular profession here. The villages were extremely poor; many villagers didn't even have four walls to keep the cold away, or electricity, and lived with their cattle for warmth. They survived on root vegetables, eating meat only in the New Year.

Most of the kids went to school, but during their vacations,they accompanied their parents to beg, thereby paying for their own tuition. Some parents even rented their kids out for begging to their neighbours. Some kids have found begging more exciting than school. It's tough to reconcile this with the glittering China on display everywhere.






From Paris to Berlin and now to London, a grim consensus is emerging. David Cameron spoke this past weekend in Munich about the failure of "the doctrine of state multiculturalism" in the United Kingdom, suggesting that many British Muslims lead lives dangerously removed from the rest of society. His comments echo those of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and of the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, among others. The trouble of integrating Muslims, these leaders say, has stretched European liberal pluralism to its breaking point.

British critics of multiculturalism point to homegrown radicalism and Islamist violence (as evidenced by the July 2005 bombings), and to the notion that many Muslims do not share the same "values" as other Britons. They argue that the British state has encouraged Muslims to remain aloof from the mainstream, to fortify themselves in ghettos, and to refuse to accept modern democratic principles of individual rights and freedom of speech.

These symptoms of the multicultural malaise remain hotly debated and open to question. (One can quite rightly ask: Is Muslim piety antithetical to full participation in liberal, social democracy? How real is the threat of Islamist terrorism in Europe? Are the roots of terrorism not simply in radical ideology, but also in socio-economic conditions and foreign policy? and so forth). But what I found striking in the British prime minister's comments was the inadequacy of the diagnosis. Has "multiculturalism" in Britain failed?

Part of the problem with Cameron's speech was its vagueness, a bilious and blustering reliance on platitudes, soft on detail. The critique of "state multiculturalism" is disingenuous because it never clearly describes what it is against. It depends on the same "muddled thinking" derided by Cameron in Munich.

There are very few policies that can be seen as forming a British "doctrine of state multiculturalism". Some measures — for instance, making "religious" discrimination as serious an offence as "racial" discrimination — are largely uncontroversial and eminently worth keeping. Others — like the funding of Muslim state schools — cannot be undone without seeming discriminatory, since Christian, Jewish and Sikh schools, and now even one Hindu school, receive significant public resources.

The only clear reform suggested by Cameron was the cutting of support for civil society groups like the Muslim Council of Britain. But the amount of public funds given to the MCB and its equivalents is as paltry as these groups' ability to influence and shape British society. Such a minor move should hardly merit the sweeping tone of his speech.

"Multiculturalism" and "state multiculturalism", as such, are straw men invoked for particular political aims. The multiculturalism described in official rhetoric and in the accompanying frenzied media debates does not reflect its granular, inescapable reality.

I lived for several years in the centre of a vibrant and scruffy neighbourhood in north London, where Muslim Turks and Kurds, immigrants from West Africa and the Caribbean, South Asian, white Polish and British people all brushed up against one another. The rowdy Irish pub where I went to watch the matches of the local football team —Arsenal — sits right next to a halal butcher shop and a domed mosque. As outlandish as this contrast may seem, when you live there it is perfectly natural, another swirl in the mosaic and filigree of British life. Critics of multiculturalism would have us see the mosque and the pub as antagonistic institutions rather than what they actually are: buildings of glass, tile and brick on a shared street.

This kind of natural mixing exists in many places in the UK, the product not of short-term government actions, but of long historical processes. Multicultural Britain is the inevitable result of the crumbling of the empire, of the ebbs and flows of globalization, and of Protestant traditions of frigid tolerance that run deep in northern Europe. It has not been made and micro-managed by State policy.

For this reason, the dogged politicization of multiculturalism is troubling. Slamming "multiculturalism" is just code language for appearing to take a robust position towards Muslims. It is part of a politer vocabulary of distrust, misunderstanding and veiled Islamophobia. In an unfortunate choice of political slogans, Cameron branded his vision for British identity as "muscular liberalism." The term evokes Victorian "muscular Christianity," the holy bravado that so imbued English imperialists of the 19th century.

In the UK, the sole purpose of this language is to score points among the "white working class" (in my view, an impossible category, but one nonetheless accepted as real by much of the British political establishment) in the country's mildewing suburbs and rusting industrial towns, areas that were once comfortably in the hands of the Labour Party, but now form a contested battleground. To win these dour hinterlands, both the Conservatives and their Labour counterparts believe that they must pander to visceral anxieties about Islam. As Britain slumps through a bleak economic recession, it is unsurprising and tragic that these anxieties are easier to manipulate. Labour and Tory politicians mouth the same platitudinous tough talk about a failing multicultural "doctrine" that does not really exist, and about a Muslim threat that is being made more real through irresponsible discourse.

I do not deny that there are radical, potentially violent Muslims in Europe (albeit proportionally insignificant — the last official report of the European Union on terrorist attacks in the continent, for the calendar year 2009, found that only 1 out of 294 successful and thwarted attacks was by a Muslim or a Muslim group). I also accept that the current convulsions in European societies over religion and ethnic difference are complex, and cannot simply be dismissed as the fault of a racist, intolerant Europe.

But for those of us who believe strongly in the importance of pluralist democracy, Europe's current struggle with integration and its discontents is a warning. Since the Second World War, European countries have led the way in constructing systems that best secure the rights and the dignity of their peoples. It is now incumbent on pluralist democracies elsewhere — as in South Africa, Indonesia, and especially India, with its large minority of Muslims — to build and safeguard better models of tolerance, and commit themselves to a liberalism based on understanding, and not on the callow assertion of strength.

The author is a FLAS fellow at Columbia University



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




The use of fertilisers, their availability and prices are important factors in agriculture, with a bearing on productivity, health of the soil and returns for farmers. The present fertiliser price regime has major implications for the government's finances also because of the subsidies involved. Reforming the pricing system has long been discussed and some tentative steps have been taken. But the most important aspect of the reforms is decontrol of urea prices and the government has dillydallied on it for many years. This is in spite of  many statements that it is committed to it. The decision last year to free potassic and  phosphatic fertilsers from price control was a good step. The urea price, which had been kept unchanged for many years, was also increased by 10 per cent then. But the assurance made in the last budget to extend the free pricing system to urea also has not been acted upon.

There is no disagreement over the fact the price control on urea, which encourages its indiscriminate use, has a deleterious impact on the health of the soil. This has been repeatedly pointed out by agricultural scientists and agronomists. The increase in prices resulting from decontrol will help to reduce the usage and lead to a more balanced use of fertilisers. Urea accounts for more than 50 per cent of the Rs 50,000 crore fertiliser subsidy. Price decontrol will lead to a reduction in subsidies and ease the budget deficit which is the biggest challenge to the government's financial management. India's fertiliser industry, which has the potential to emerge as among the best and largest in the world, is languishing because of the price controls. There is no incentive to make fresh investments, expand capacities or to modernise production.

Till recently there was expectation that urea would be brought under the last year's nutrient-based subsidy scheme and there were even indications that it would be announced before the budget or as part of it. But the government has now referred the matter to a committee of secretaries and this means there is unlikely to be an early decision on the matter. The government does not perhaps want to increase the price when elections are due in some states.  But the farmers can be educated on the advantages of proper and balanced use of fertilisers. They will only stand to gain in the long run from the price decontrol. The industry and the government also will benefit.







A study commissioned by the Karnataka Knowledge Commission on healthcare in the state has revealed the harsh impact that the government's reduced investment on healthcare is having on people's lives. The bulk of health expenditure in the state - around 66.8 per cent - is being borne by patients, not the government. This would not have been reason for concern if the patients concerned were rich. The problem is that the poor are having to shell out hefty sums for treatment. The study reveals that rural households are spending around Rs 7,918 per admission for treatment in private hospitals. The option of treatment in government hospitals provides only marginal relief at best. When patients seek treatment at government hospitals they pay around Rs 2,610 per admission. This payment is towards user fees and medicines. The 'free' treatment that the government boasts it is giving the poorest sections of society is clearly not free.

 Medical care is the second most common cause of rural debt in India. Lacking the resources to meet medical costs, rural Indians turn to money lenders who loan them money at a high rate of interest. They are then sucked into a debt trap. Many stay away from treatment because they simply cannot afford it. Back in 1996, 25 per cent of rural Indians and 20 per cent of urban Indians were not availing treatment as they couldn't afford it. That was in the early days of economic liberalisation. In the years since governments have cut down budget allocations on healthcare drastically. Those unable to afford treatment could well be double that in the mid-1990s. Higher allocation towards health and education will enable India to address several of its problems. Free medical treatment to the poor will improve maternal and child health, as well as the chances of survival of infants and children. With health improving, attendance in schools will rise increasing literacy.

Karnataka boasts of super-specialty hospitals that provide world-class health care. The state is at the forefront of the medical tourism business. While the government has bent over backwards to support the interests of privately-run hospitals, it has pulled back from providing even minimal health facilities for the poor. Clearly, its priorities are misplaced. It must increase budgetary allocation towards public health and make medicines available for free in its hospitals.








Power without accountability cannot last. This is what thousands of Egyptian citizens seen on television have stated aloud clear.

First in Tunisia and now in Egypt, the people have spoken and made clear that they do not want to live under authoritarian rule and are fed up with regimes that hold power for decades.

In the end, the voice of the people will be decisive. The Arab elites, Egypt's neighbouring countries and the world powers should understand this and take it into account in their political calculations.

The events now unfolding will have far-reaching consequences for Egypt itself, for the Middle East and for the Muslim world.


Yet a lot of anxiety has surfaced in comments by politicians and the media. Many voice the fear that the popular movement could lead to chaos and then to fundamentalist reaction and confrontation between the Islamic world and the international community. Behind these fears is mistrust of the Egyptian people and of other Arab nations.

For too long, conventional political thinking about the Arab world was based on a false dichotomy:


authoritarian regimes or fundamentalism, extremism, terrorism. The leaders of those regimes also seemed to believe in their roles as guardians of stability. Behind the façade, however, severe social and economic problems kept mounting. Stagnating economies, pervasive corruption, the widening chasm between rich and poor, and a life of frustration for millions of young people fuelled social unrest.

Egypt is the key country in the Middle East and in the Arab world. Its stable development is in everyone's interest. But is stability tantamount to living under a perpetual state of emergency, which for nearly three decades 'suspended' all rights and freedoms and gave the executive branch unlimited powers, a license to arbitrary rule?

The people who filled Tahrir Square in Cairo and the streets of other Egyptian cities wanted to end this charade. I am sure that most of them equally abhor authoritarianism and extremism, religious or otherwise.

Just as everywhere else, the only way forward in the Arab world, with its tortuous history, unique culture and numerous risks and dangers, is towards democracy, with the understanding that the path is difficult and that democracy is not a magic wand.

Mubarak could have played a role in the difficult transition. But that did not happen. He made an undeniable contribution to the search for a peaceful settlement of the Middle East conflict, and he has his supporters in Egypt. I met him, and I know he is a man of strong character and willpower. But the majority of Egyptians saw the transition process he announced as nothing but an attempt to play for time. The Supreme Military Council, to which power was handed after the president's resignation, must keep that in mind.

The equation to be solved in Egypt and other countries of the Arab east has many unknowns. The most unpredictable is the Islamic factor. What is its place in the people's movement? What kind of Islam will emerge?

In Egypt itself, Islamic groups have so far behaved with restraint, while outside the country some irresponsible and provocative pronouncements have been made.

It would be a mistake to see Islam as a destructive force. The history of Islamic culture includes periods when it was a leader in the development of world civilisation. Its contributions to science, education and literature cannot be disputed. Islamic doctrines strongly advocate social justice and peace. An Islam that emphasises those values can have great potential.

Already, democratic processes and genuine socioeconomic achievements in countries like Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia offer optimism.

Everyone involved in Egypt's transition must now behave with utmost responsibility and a sense of balanced judgment and action. The lessons to be learned from the events in Egypt concern more than just the Arab world.

Similar regimes exist just about everywhere. Their ages and origins differ. Some resulted from rollbacks that followed popular democratic revolutions. Others took hold due to a favourable trade environment and high commodity prices. Many have focused on speeding economic development, often with success.

All these regimes have one serious flaw: the gap between government and people, the lack of feedback, which sooner or later leads to unaccountable and uncontrolled power.

The leaders of such regimes have been served a warning. They may continue to persuade themselves that their case is different and that they have the situation 'under control.' Yet they must wonder how sustainable that control is. In their hearts, they must understand that it can't last forever, because much of it is a sheer formality.

So the inevitable question emerges: What next? Continue to go through the motions of fake democracy, which invariably gives the ruling group 80 per cent to 90 per cent of the vote? Or, just maybe, seek a transition to genuine democracy?

It's an agonising choice, and the second alternative is daunting. It means ensuring that there is a real opposition, and knowing that a real opposition will come to power sooner or later. Then abuses will come to light, the networks of corruption leading to the top will be broken, and someone must be held accountable for all that. Is that a prospect an authoritarian regime wants to contemplate?

One needs to muster courage for real change, because power without accountability cannot last. This is what hundreds of thousands of Egyptian citizens, whose faces we've seen on television, stated loud and clear.

Looking at those faces, one wants to believe that Egypt's democratic transition will succeed. That would be a good example, one the entire world needs.

(The writer was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1985 until its collapse in 1991)







Statistical agencies use GDP, an inaccurate way that omits vital indicators of future trends.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) results for the final quarter of 2010 are an unreliable gauge of recovery and progress in Europe, the US, China, Brazil, and most other countries.

A new survey by GlobeScan and Ethical Markets, titled 'Beyond GDP,' reaffirms that large majorities favour reforming the money-based GDP economic yardstick and adopting many of the available indicators of health, education, infrastructure, poverty gaps, and environmental quality found in the survey for the European Commission. Yet statistical agencies still use GDP, an inaccurate 'rear view mirror' that omits vital indicators of future trends.

The chorus of critics of 'GDP fetishism' now point to many more accurate indicators forecasting national well-being, sustainability, and quality of life. Britain's David Cameron has ordered his office of national statistics to develop new measures by 2012, similar to Canada's Index of Well-being.

The survey's conclusions mirror those of the 2009 Stiglitz-Sen commission to French president Nicholas Sarkozy: that GDP had become a 'fetish' and it was time to move on. Reasons for the continued use of GDP include deregulation and the growing influence of money and finance in politics. In OECD countries, special interests and their allies in politics and in ministries of finance, economic development, trade, central banks, and stock markets grew to dominate government policies.

The survey showed that many companies, investors, and much of the public recognise that in GDP a well-trained work force, efficient public infrastructure, and productive ecosystems are all counted at zero.

The fallout from the continued reliance on GDP is considerable: as deregulation and privatisation became widespread, infrastructure (ignored in GDP) was short-changed, while ministries of education, health, social welfare, consumer, and environmental protection lost influence. Their support and that of NGOs for overhauling GDP accounts was insufficient to breach the bastions of macroeconomics.

In the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, 170 countries signed Agenda 21 Article 40 and so pledged to overhaul GDP to reflect infrastructure, social capital, unpaid work, and environmental assets. Indicators proliferated on infrastructure assets, environmental quality, resource depletion, loss of biodiversity, public health, access to clean water, education, poverty gaps, social welfare, and quality of life.

Yet, all these well-researched indicators have remained sidelined from GDP accounting and designated 'satellite accounts,' which devalued their importance and relegated them to academia, NGOs, and the margins of society. mass media, financed by advertising, still focuses on driving mass consumption, GDP, and other macro-economic indicators.

Stressing the need for 'faster growth,' most fail to clarify that they and politicians use GDP-growth as the tacit definition of overall progress.  Other indexes of national progress include the UN's Human Development Index since 1990, the Living Planet Index of WWF, and the Ecological Footprint to measure global conditions.

Meanwhile, the rise of socially-responsible business and investment has led to new corporate accounting standards -beyond earlier 'efficient market' models- to measure performance by environmental, social, and governance standards (ESG), the 'triple bottom line.'

The new breed of micro-economists corrected company balance sheets and incorporated the new indicators.  But macro-economists, the fossilised incumbent industries they serve, and their allies in politics and government agencies still seek to preserve their freedom to externalize social and environmental costs.  They benefit from the view of progress in GDP-measured growth.

Thus, our economies continue to pump out carbon and other pollutants while ignoring social and environmental assets, hiding poverty gaps as well as infrastructure assets, all of which are missing in GDP. Financial markets wager on the future of the euro and bet on member countries' sovereign bonds, while demanding 'austerity,' forcing taxpayers to pay again for bankers' follies. Calls by European leaders for bondholder 'haircuts' are fiercely opposed.

As distrust, anger, resentment at the unfairness of the bailouts emerge in the US and Europe, indicators on public infrastructure, environment, health, education, and quality of life are even more important for our future.  Nations can find new paths out of austerity and recession as casino finance is curbed and returned to its former, proper role in serving the world's real economies.








While I spent a sleepless night at the hospital, he was thinking of Facebook.

After approximately one-hour-forty-five minutes after an operation by two doctors helped by four nurses at a private hospital -- Suresh, my roommate, was shifted to a general ward at 4 am on that Sunday. He had 21 stitches on the right sole, a dislocated shoulder (needing another operation latter in the day) and a deep cut on his face. His two-wheeler had bumped into a speeding ambulance.

His injuries were less compared to his colleague, the pillion rider, who sustained three fractures on right leg, four of his upper teeth knocked out and the forehead had a deep wound, and above all the metal shock of meeting with an accident left him unable to recognise anyone They were riding home after finishing the night shift at 1.30 am.


Police officials and the hospital staff told me that their survival was nothing less than a miracle.

With all sympathy I sat next to Suresh in the general ward, held his hand and tried to console him: 'nothing to worry, you will be alright within a few days.' He was silent. I thought the pain and injections made him so, but after a few minutes he said, 'Can you update my Facebook status message saying I met with an accident?'

'Write on my wall that Suresh met with an accident. He crashed into an ambulance -- got 21 stitches on his leg and a broken shoulder.' Reaction to that request was beyond my senses.

He was not done with that yet. 'All my plans for Valentine's Day crashed. The Bryan Adams show, college reunion... now I can't attend any of them. You add even this to my Facebook wall,' he said with a pinch of pain in his voice.

The first thing that struck me at his request was the SMS joke of a criminal sentenced to gallows. He was asked by the jail in-charge as to what his last wish was. The criminal replied 'I want to update my facebook status as- Dead.'

I was irked by my friends weird wish. While I spent a sleepless night at the hospital worrying about him, he was thinking of a status message for Facebook. When asked why he wanted to post a message, he said: 'For sympathy. My Girl friend(s) will feel sympathetic about me and will call. You never know what will happen next!'









No doubt it is important to retain the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa, especially after the state has invested so much in terms of resources for the festival. But it should not mean that anything and everything can be done for this. The state government's proposal to set up a convention centre in the present parking area of the Inox multiplex complex is a prime example of a bad decision.

The Union Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry may want additional infrastructure to be ready by September 2012, but that does not mean it should be located at a place where there is already congestion. Besides a 2,000-seater film auditorium-cum-convention hall, the new complex will have a media centre for 750 journalists, a press conference hall, a lounge, a cafeteria, two or three smaller theatres and an exhibition hall for the Film Bazaar. But this will all come at the cost of parking space.

But no, the bureaucrats will say, there are two-level basement parking areas planned, for around 150 cars. Is that sufficient? The present Inox multiplex has just over 1,200 seats spread over four theatres. The Maquinez Palace has two theatres, with around 300 seats. Yet, the present parking area, which accommodates around 150 cars, is quite insufficient, especially on days of new film releases. Now, the state government plans to more than double the present capacity (counting all the new facilities) but keep parking area for only the same number of cars… Is there any logic to this?

It is not as if there are no alternatives. The old football ground next to the Kala Academy (which can't be used for a football stadium) will provide enough space for a picturesque riverside convention centre with ample parking space. So will the area at the rear of the parade ground at Campal, presently used for dumping and sorting the capital's non-biodegradable garbage. Both are also within easy reach of the other IFFI venues.
In a city where parking is just not available – even two-wheelers don't get space – and the Corporation of the City of Panjim (CCP), the North Goa Planning and Development Authority (NGPDA) and the Town and Country Planning (TCP) Department continue to allow commercial and residential buildings that have no parking area whatsoever to come up, the government must set a good, rather than bad example. But instead of improving the statutory parking norms and ensuring that builders provide adequate parking, it is proposing to do the exact opposite.

If it must cannibalise the parking area of the multiplex complex, let the government first have the courage to restrict entry of vehicles into Panjim and set up large multi-storied parking lots on the outskirts, with a system of mini-bus shuttles on circular routes for easy commuting within the city. Let it close certain roads to vehicles and declare them pedestrian plazas. Then only will it have the moral right to set up a convention centre in a parking area.

Temple misused

The investigations into the headless body murder case show that when they make up their minds, Goa's police are as good as the very best in the country. The uncovering of this Machiavellian plot is a result of good, solid detective work.
It is particularly shocking that deceased Sultan Bellary was allegedly tortured and beheaded in a gymnasium adjoining a temple at the Rumdamol Housing Board colony, before his body was dumped at Nessai. This kind of gross misuse of religious places needs to be curbed immediately.







Visit any night club or dance music party and it is quite amazing how much energy today's young partying people possess; they dance almost non-stop and freak out at such events. A closer scrutiny will reveal the real cause. Many of them are high on drugs - narcotics and/or synthetic drugs, a necessary ingredient of the rave party scene.

The numerous dance music events which are regularly held at various coastal areas of Goa, from Keri in Pernem to Palolem in Canacona, particularly during the Christmas-New Year festivities and the Carnival celebration, are nothing, but a modified version of the '80s-90s' rave. Even the controversial 'Sunburn' (dubbed as Asia's biggest electronic dance music festival) which is held in the state since 2007, is the new rave (also spelt 'neu rave' and 'nu rave'. It is the Rave revival, as it brings back all the things that used to make maniac magic – with a distinctly bonkers twist.

What is a rave? According to Wikipedia, a rave is a dance event where disk jockeys and other performers play electronic dance music. The slang expression 'rave' was originally used by people of Caribbean descent in London during the 60s to describe a party. Mainstream Haves, sometimes called 'radical audio visual experience', began in the late 60s as a product of reaction to and rebellion against trends in popular music, night club culture and commercial radio.

Raves, which has always been associated with electronic music, electric style and esoteric high-inducing substances, had been criticised as hippie culture, even in relatively permissive western societies like the USA and UK, and the law enforcement agencies have broken up such events. The availability of drugs - narcotics like cocaine, heroin, brown sugar, etc, had caused raves to be targeted and criticised by law enforcement officials and parents' groups worldwide. But now, the psychedelia is suddenly pulling back the party-hearty punks. Whether it is London, New York or Manila, the new rave culture - with a spirit of inventiveness - has made a grand comeback. Its presence is being felt in India too, and particularly in Goa.

People who have participated in dance music parties in the last few years, say that the new rave movement is very hot. It is hitting everyone. The music is very electro and gangsta style. It's about listening to weird underground music or trance music. It's also about freak dressing. The clothes are excessively bright and showy. The costumes are bizarre. Think weird. Think unpredictable. It's the new eccentric fashion. New ravers are thriving on humour, absurdity and creativity, they say. In Goa, we can see that the mood is fast catching on in music and clothes.

Analysts are of the opinion that the new rave isn't much more than the old one, it is completely revitalised and reinvented. It's about adding today's sensibilities to music and fashion statements that characterised the old rave. The essential idea is to tap back into the old spirit, all gurgling keyboards, drugs and secret parties, only this time with more guitars and gewgaws. And while the classic '80s-90s' rave attracted tens of thousands of people to a venue that would often remain secret up until a few hours before the event, today's rave can often be more about quality than quantity. Today, a rave can be as small as 25 people or larger than 25,000. This new rave has a different influence as disk jockeys and rock artists are experimenting with newer genres. The new rave is a mish-mash of everything hip, cool and happening in music.

For new ravers, it is a very dance party act. There was a time when rock was cool, then rap was hot, but now, the mood is rave. It is not like the old rave, but very electro with crazy beats and sounds. Rave is about allowing your spirit to be free. Weird music is fun. The weirder it sounds, the better it is. The new rave movement has been triggered by fusion of various types of music.

What makes the new rave different is that it is not just about crazy, weird music, but also about your fashion, your accessories, and your attitude. The mood is very punk rock glam. Very eccentric, be it hairstyle or clothes. You have got to be flamboyant and flashy.

So, it is about putting what you see on the fashion ramps through your personal prism and coming up with something completely whacked out that showcases your psychotic psyche. Coloured glasses, wigs and cheap gold and silver jewellery, spiced up with the season's hottest ingredient, a crazy attitude. Being a raver is about being free from predictability.

Social activists, however, point out that part of the charm of a rave is its living-on-the-edge mood; for a generation that's grown up on music video lewdness and play station games, that involve shootouts and drug busts. This is the slice of real live action that is hard to resist. Ravers let go of all inhibitions and indulge in illegal, often life-threatening drugs. Many of them get high on drugs, a necessary ingredient of a rave scene.
In the last few years, drugs use at a rave has undergone a drastic shift. Usage of cocaine and heroin has declined globally while opium and hashish, traditional drugs in India, have given way to synthetic drugs – especially Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and prescription drugs. These drugs appeal to the needs of today's young people and have become part of modern lifestyles. Their use is to enhance performance, which include dancing. They are often taken in a discreet pill form, which avoids the dangers of injection or the social stigma of smoking. These drugs are also easily available as they can be brought and sold over the counter, sourced via the internet, sent through the local courier or even through the regular postal services. In fact, for the first time in India's history, drugs have come out in the open. They are visible and are also dangerous.

As new drugs find their way into urban and semi-urban setups, young people seek a dash of chemical comfort – easy to procure, cheap to buy, that allows them to navigate under the radar of social and legal scrutiny. Synthetic drugs (psychoactive substances produced in a lab) are the flavour of night-clubbing or a Rave scene. They cover a wide range, from mind-altering amphetamines, ecstasy, LSD and other designer drugs to the easily available and pocket friendly prescription and over the counter (OTC) medicines. In fact, pharma drug abuse is on a high – drug cocktailing, mix and match of synthetic chemicals is the new flavour of rave and club parties.

Medical experts say that misuse of pharma drugs, such as painkillers, sedatives, anxiolytics, hypnotics and systhetic opiods like buprenorphine as well as polydrug use is steadily rising, which could be a public health disaster in the making. Synthetic drugs are particularly attractive to young people, as they bring down social inhibitions and produce a sense of high energy and competence. Indeed, the rave scene and club parties have popularised an assortment of drugs which many young people mistakenly believe are harmless.








Sometimes, my mind is so busy reading the inner working of my musings that the external voices which seek my attention are put on hold. After a few minutes, they register, but often too late. You see I love sound of rare words. When I hear something, my mind immediately begins to work on all the possibilities contained in the sound. What you are saying in the meantime has to wait.

You will not find the word 'glooping' in the dictionary, because I believe I invented it. It's not something you or I very often do, but young people, especially adolescent boys, seem to do an awful lot of it, as in: "stop glooping around, boy, and earn your keep".  Roughly translated this means something like, "Get up off your fat backside, you lazy layabout, and help your father." A glooper uses grunts and groans as best he can. Thus "Aww, Mmm!" translates as "Do I've to do everything round here? Can't you leave a chap in peace for just a few minutes?" "Mmm," means "I've heard you and I'm doing my best to ignore you."

Each family develops its own private language over the years, composed of words that mean nothing to outsiders. Does your family have a name for those nasty speed breakers that shake your car and occupants when you drive over them? There are loads as you get to the Vintage Hospital. Some call them camel 'Humps', but my family members prefer to call them 'bumps'.

A BF Goodrich executive kept exclaiming: "Zip her up! Zip her up!" as he played with the contraption before "zippers" were named in the 20s.

Some families call the underwear a 'bookcase' it's really a bra that is being discussed. I remember a family whose embarrassed youngster once warned her mother when they went shopping for her first brassier to call this item a 'bookcase'. If anyone asked where they were going, the mother was to reply, "Out to buy a bookcase." Apart from the sheer fun of it, a lot of the reasons why we invent and continue to use such terms, is to have secret code words known only to the club members. Terms known only to insiders encourage a sense of belonging, and sayings based on shared experience remind family members of their history.

To our son, "Peggies" mean spaghetti. "Tubby" means tell me to our No l daughter. 'Hottie' means hot chocolate to our No 2 daughter. Then there are 'lalos'. Our youngest daughter craved for bananas as an infant, but could not pronounce the word. So her siblings tried teaching her to ask for 'yellows'. The closest she could come was 'Laloos'. And that's what bananas have been to the family ever since.

To think of it a few years ago, if someone told you that you were 'green', you would have taken it as an insult, as indeed it probably was. Now, however, if someone made the same remark, they are not likely to end up with a black eye! Reason? As we all know, our 'greenness' is measured by our care for the environment.

A beautiful thought of Iran comes leaping from my memory bank. I recollect my first trip, returning from the Caspian Sea to Tehran with friends Rock Fernandes SDB and Agnelo Lacerda of the Portuguese Embassy. It was just growing dark as we were bouncing down. The skyline loomed up in the twilight. It was glorious, with tall tree-lined road, and running water nearby. We had returned via the mountain road which runs through a certain village called Tamazchale. I didn't know how to pronounce the name on the map until I was told that the natives had named their village after two voluntary workers, a doctor and engineer, called Thomas and Charlie, who helped them in various ways to stand on their own feet. Thomas and Charlie were both Americans, who laboured with the villagers for many years. Then I knew how to pronounce the name. Truly, to perform good deeds, there are no man made borders!









With a little less than two months left for the Assembly elections of Assam, people are already beginning to see the ugly side of the so-called democratic processes bereft of any trace of tolerance. The ugly clashes between the Congress and the AGP in Nagaon on Monday in the course of election campaigning were most unfortunate for the world's largest democracy and could well be an indicator of things to come in the coming days. Campaigning before general elections in any democracy does result in some distortion of the truth, with the ruling party in much greater advantage in terms of the ability to use the media at public expense to project the achievements of the government which the electorate of the State are expected to see as achievements of the ruling political party. This time, such advertisements — often with incorrect data — have been used extensively to project the ruling party's assumed achievements during the last five years. This has been a sore area of discord for other political parties that do not have the means of going in for large-scale publicity of the party at government expense. But as if this was not enough, the ruling party has also been using the law-and-order machinery of the State to provide security for candidates of the ruling party during the election campaigning. Monday's clashes between the Congress and the AGP in Nagaon, in which 16 people were injured, could not have been entirely free of the undercurrent of general grievance at the ruling party's ability to secure unfair advantages from the State exchequer and elsewhere. In fact the advantages are three-fold. The ruling party gets free publicity at government expense because the achievements of the ruling party are publicized as achievements of the government. The ruling party is therefore already richer to start with than the other political parties for having spent far less on projecting itself. Secondly, the ruling party is always able to attract more donations for the elections than other political parties for very obvious reasons. Thirdly, the ruling party is also able to misuse the security set-up of the State even for election campaigning merely because the party is in power. These are factors that have always been great irritants to political adversaries of the ruling party at the time of election campaigning. It is quite possible that these factors worked in the minds of the AGP resulting in Monday's conflicts of Nagaon.

Whatever the motivations for the aforesaid conflicts, they are unfortunate aberrations of the democratic process at work. There must be concerted efforts made by all political parties to avoid such conflicts in the coming weeks because each conflict of this kind has a way of becoming an excuse for more such conflicts in the days to come. Here, the ruling party has a greater responsibility than its adversaries in preventing future conflicts of this kind. The ruling party must begin by restricting its security personnel for election meetings to the same level as what is made available for other political parties in the State. Once the ruling party candidates are aware that they do not have any advantage over candidates of other political parties in respect of security cover, it will help to control their speech and their aggressive behaviour to a great extent. One of the surest ways of avoiding conflict is for candidates to confine themselves to what their own party would achieve if elected to power. They should be able to curb their inclination to score Brownie points by merely pointing fingers at the ruling party on issues where their own performance has been no better. For instance, Prafulla Mahanta said on Monday that the Congress had turned corruption into a culture. While this may be true, there is no denying that the AGP also established records in respect of corrupt practices during its two five-year spells in office. Even in respect of election campaigning, political parties must evince some concern for the truth.







Regardless of what we hear the Chief Minister of Assam telling us about the marked improvement in the law-and-order situation of the State, the fact remains that crimes against women have increased. What has actually happened is that crimes related to insurgency and terrorism have declined somewhat, but against that we have a spurt in crimes against women. For instance, the number of registered rape cases was 1,203 in 2006, but went up to 1,310 in 2007, 1,419 in 2008 and 1,631 in 2009. As for 2010, the State recorded 1,610 rape cases up to the end of November 2010. Likewise, in a State that used to take pride in the fact that we did not have dowry, there were 2,548 registered dowry cases in 2006, 3,000 in 2007, 3,410 in 2008 and 4,355 in 2009. Up to the end November 2010, the State recorded 4,811 dowry cases. There is no need of a graph to tell us how both rape cases and dowry cases have increased during the last four years. Both sets of figures constitute a sad commentary on what has been happening in recent years to a State that was relatively free of such heinous crimes. For a State that was free of the scourge of dowry, the abnormal rise in dowry crimes merely shows that we have not hesitated to adopt a social evil that provides easy unearned income for our young men. The rise in the crime rates is bad enough; but the fact that the victims of both crimes are women merely serves to project some of the men of the present generation as bullies in addition to being criminals.







Uththanang Sangjamo Daxomopromado Dhriti Smriti:

Samikhyacha Samarvo Bidhdhimulang Bhabasyatu.        

(Mahabharata, Udyaga Parva, Chapter 39, Verse No. 68)

(Diligence, self-control, dexterity, cautiousness, patience, freeness from lust and beginning a new thing after mature thought are the roots of prosperity.)

This is the right time to take a lesson from the above lines of the Mahabharata. The time is extraordinarily crucial for Assam: to take a decision between peace and development, and violence and bloodshed. The choice is obvious but its implementation is still a long way to go. Certainly it is not a cakewalk. That is the problem. But that is the test of our wisdom and patience as well. Are we ready for that? The whole State of Assam is waiting to see the baby of peace taking its shaky steps forward.

We are talking about a negotiated settlement of the vexed ULFA issue that has rocked the State for more than three decades. The much-needed, much-hyped process has begun. One may ridicule, criticize and be sarcastic about what is going on for a peaceful solution of the ULFA issue. But there is hardly anyone who can afford to ignore it. We must understand the seriousness of the problem — that is, its importance — and so it needs greater introspection, open, broader discussions and above all a flexible attitude to see things through a fresh pair of eyes and only for the sake of one thing: the larger interests of Assam.

Let us see things from a positive angle first. In this context it should be made clear that no dramatic breakthrough was expected from the first round of formal talks or the so-called courtesy interaction between the pro-talk ULFA leaders and the government in New Delhi. Then, what was its significance? Just one thing: that the talks will continue. This should be seen and hailed as a positive development. The dialogue has been started without preconditions from both sides. This was also a positive and realistic approach. Going by media reports in Assam, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram conveyed to the ULFA delegation that the Government of India was even willing to amend the Constitution, if the need arose, to solve the problems of Assam. This is another positive development.

Despite other aspects, one thing is quite evident: that both sides have displayed a lot of flexibility, and more importantly, unprecedented seriousness and commitment to solve the issue. The message from New Delhi is that efforts will continue to avoid any deadlock in the dialogue process. This means both sides have taken lessons from past mistakes. This is the most positive development regarding the entire proceeding.

Now let us take a look at things that may be termed as negative. First comes the legitimacy of the dialogue itself without the outfit's commander-in-chief, Paresh Barua. Through the media in Assam, Barua has made his stand clear: that he does not support the existing form of the dialogue process. He has expressed his stubborn opinion that his arms struggle against ''Indian colonialism'' will continue. Secondly, it is the issue of split in the ULFA — as now the outlawed organization is clearly divided between the Arabinda Rajkhowa and Paresh Barua camps. The on-going peace process without Paresh Barua, who holds the military base of the banned organization, definitely puts a question mark regarding its success. This is the biggest question before the entire populace. This is also the chief complication related to the Government-ULFA peace talks.

No doubt, bringing Paresh Barua to the negotiating table is the real challenge before the peace initiative. The question is not how much importance should be given to Paresh Barua as an individual. The real issue here is the organization he leads and the position he holds in that organization. But it is also true that Paresh Barua's participation in the peace process is not the responsibility of the government alone. Barua should also shoulder responsibility. If he thinks that he is accountable to the people of Assam, he must address the concerns of the people of the State and respect public opinion in the changed atmosphere. Responsibility should be shouldered by all concerned for the better interests of the State.

What is again unfortunate is that the war of words between the convention brokering peace talks and some members of the People's Consultative Group (PCG) formed by the ULFA in 2005 has become an order of the day since the initiation of the dialogue process. The people of Assam are wondering as to what the intellectual section of the State really wants. The ULFA leaders in support of disbanding the PCG at its recently held general council meeting had termed its formation unconstitutional. It then proved to be a storm in the tea cup. It was a mere clash of egos or an effort at taking credit of bringing the ULFA leaders to the negotiating table. What can be more unfortunate if the State's intellectual section decides to change the discourse halfway?

 At the same time, however, that might be natural when the history of the State is about to take a decisive turn. The need of the hour is to build a congenial atmosphere in which negotiations on peace can take place. Fishing in troubled waters by our intellectuals will definitely send a wrong message to those involved in peacemaking. After all, the people of the State respect them and want them to go the extra mile for their interests.

Certainly a rare atmosphere of peace is prevailing in Assam at this point of time. It has ushered in a new hope of peace in the State. Things should, therefore, be seen differently with the change in the traditional tune. The peace hope has definitely encouraged the people of the State. It is time to be restrained and abstain from making controversial remarks that can sabotage the peace initiative. As peace can serve the interests of the State better than anything else can, all sorts of rigidity should be avoided.

Shibdas  Bhattacharjee

(The writer is a freelancer based in Halakura, Dhubri)




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



Are there any adults in charge of the House? Watching this week's frenzied slash-and-burn budget contest, we had to conclude the answer to that is no.

First Speaker John Boehner's Republican leadership proposed cutting the rest of the 2011 budget by $32 billion. But that wasn't enough for his fanatical freshmen, who demanded that it be cut by $61 billion, destroying vital government programs with gleeful abandon.

Even that wasn't enough for leaders of the hard-line Republican Study Committee, which represents two-thirds of House Republicans. They proposed cutting another $20 billion, for a ludicrous total of $81 billion, all out of the next seven months of government operations.

Now some members want to go still further. On Tuesday, the House began debating the list of proposed cuts, and more than 500 amendments were filed, mostly from Republicans trying to cut still more out of — or end — programs they dislike. One would stop paying dues to the United Nations. Others would cut all financing for the health care reform law, or Planned Parenthood, or any foreign aid to a country that regularly disagrees with the United States at the United Nations.

If the Republicans got their way, it would wreak havoc on Americans' lives and national security. This blood sport also has nothing to do with the programs that are driving up the long-term deficit: Medicare, Medicaid and, to a lesser extent, Social Security.

When he presented his 2012 budget on Monday, President Obama avoided those difficult issues. On Tuesday, he tried to bring a little adult supervision to the budget debate by offering to begin discussing with Republican leaders ways to solve those big-ticket problems. Senate Republican leaders and the House budget chairman, Paul Ryan, have indicated a willingness to discuss entitlements. (Given the political volatility of these issues, the talks need to be behind closed doors.)

Mr. Boehner could show leadership, and bring some sense back to the House, by reminding his members that entitlements are where the big money lies. Instead, he has endorsed the race to remove $100 billion from nonsecurity discretionary spending for the rest of 2011.

Asked on Tuesday if he was concerned that the proposed cuts could lead to tens of thousands of new layoffs, he said he was not. "Over the last two years, since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs," he said. "And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it."

His figure of 200,000 new federal workers appears to be more than three times higher than reality. Several credible economists have said that an $81 billion cut could result in up to 800,000 layoffs throughout the American economy.

The House freshmen seemed even less concerned about the effect of their budget slashing. "A lot of us freshmen don't have a whole lot of knowledge about how Washington, D.C., is operated," Representative Kristi Noem, a Republican of South Dakota, told the Conservative Political Action Conference last week. "And, frankly, we don't really care."

In all of their posturing, Republican lawmakers have studiously avoided making clear to voters what vital government services would be slashed or disappear if they got their way — like investment in cancer research or a sharp reduction in federal meat inspections, or the number of police on the street, or agents that keep the borders secure, or the number of teachers in your kids' schools.

Those cuts will never get past the Senate, and, on Tuesday, Mr. Obama said he would veto such job-killing cuts if they arrive at his desk. That puts the House leadership on notice. Will they follow the mob and allow the government to shut down if the cuts are not enacted? Or will they take back control of the House and steer it toward reality?





When Congress considers the Obama administration's proposals to phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it needs to keep several goals clearly in mind. It must keep the jittery housing market going and reduce taxpayer risk while enticing private companies back into the mortgage business. And it must keep homeownership affordable to moderate-income and working families.

Fannie and Freddie did not cause the mortgage crisis, despite what critics have since tried to claim. But the two companies have cost taxpayers nearly $150 billion, and counting, by emulating private firms that gorged on faulty loans and mortgage-backed securities. When the bottom fell out in 2008, Fannie and Freddie had to be put into conservatorship, where they remain today.

There is widespread agreement that the two should be wound down. That must be done very carefully. They are currently the biggest players in the market — accounting for more than half of all new mortgages.

The Obama administration has offered three possible approaches. Each envisions a market where the private sector plays the dominant role in providing mortgages. Where they differ is in the government's role.

The first option, for a system that is virtually all privatized, would result in the highest mortgage rates. It could imperil the availability of traditional, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, which currently exist only because of federal backing. It would also curtail the government's ability to mitigate a credit crisis — leaving taxpayers exposed to protracted downturns and possible bailouts.

The second, which involves a partial federal guarantee, raises similar cost and access problems. Theoretically, it would give the government a way to keep credit flowing in a crisis, but it would be difficult to shape a program that is small in good times and expands in bad.

Under the third and most promising option, losses on mortgages and related investments would be covered by capital set aside by banks and insurers or by other private institutions in the mortgage chain. On top of that, the government would provide reinsurance — essentially catastrophic coverage — but only for mortgages that met strict underwriting criteria and at a cost that would cover future claims.

Under this scenario, mortgage rates would be lower than in the other options, but moderate-income communities could still be left behind unless the government monitored lenders to make sure that they got access to credit.

The broken mortgage market needs to be fixed. The challenge is to do it in a way that balances the need for fair and affordable loans with the need to protect taxpayers from dangerous credit bubbles.





Last week, the University of California at Berkeley announced that it will restore three varsity teams it eliminated last fall: women's gymnastics and lacrosse and men's rugby. It will not, however, restore men's baseball and gymnastics. This Solomonic solution would very likely have been worse without Title IX, the federal law that bans gender discrimination in education.

Short of cash, the university decided it had to shut down the five popular varsity sports. The furious reaction of fans made it rethink the decision, as did the prospect of a lawsuit by women, though Berkeley says that wasn't a factor. The prospect of restoring men's rugby — the school has won 25 national titles since 1980 — brought in private donations, which will help support the other teams. That will avoid widening Berkeley's considerable gender gap in sports.

Women are half of American undergraduates, but have only 43 percent of the chances to play sports. At Berkeley, last year, 53 percent of students were women versus just 40 percent of the players on varsity teams.

The march toward equality is long, and a college or university can show it is in compliance with Title IX in one of three ways: the shares of female and male athletes are roughly proportional to those enrolled; the institution meets women's interests and abilities in sports; it is expanding opportunities for women.

Restoring the women's teams won't eliminate the sports gender gap at Berkeley or expand opportunities for women. But it does show that they are trying to meet women's interests and abilities. The benefits to young women from playing sports are well documented, in their health, psychological outlook, educational performance and future employment. Female athletes also say that sports give them a wonderful opportunity to test themselves.

When money is tight, the struggle to close the gap in athletic opportunity is even tougher. Thanks to Title IX, if something has to give, equality doesn't go first.







Everybody deserves some corner of privacy, even the mayor of New York City. The problem comes when there is a big event — like a Christmas snowstorm — and the mayor has gone away (destination secret) and the deputy mayor is unavailable as well.

The president, the governor and other mayors share their travel plans with the public and press. Mayor Michael Bloomberg should do the same. This is too big a city to be left on cruise control.

The whole snowstorm mess has come up again because newly released travel logs show the Bloomberg airplane fleet making numerous trips to Bermuda and London and Paris. The mayor has refused to reveal when he has been on board those planes — including the one that went to Bermuda on Christmas Day and returned the next day just before the airports closed.

The City Charter says that when the mayor leaves the city's five boroughs, he can turn the job over to the public advocate, currently Bill de Blasio, (which will never happen) or designate a deputy to take charge. The mayor has designated Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris, and if she is not in town, the job goes to another deputy mayor, Stephen Goldsmith.

When the blizzard hit in December, Mr. Goldsmith was in Washington, and it was unclear where Ms. Harris was. As the storm bore down, nobody seemed to have the authority or the willingness to declare a snow emergency, when that obviously was needed to stop people from clogging the streets with private cars.

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., of Queens, has promised a bill that would require City Hall to inform the public who is in charge while the mayor's away. But even Mr. Vallone does not say the mayor must tell the city exactly where he is on those weekends. It is no invasion of Mr. Bloomberg's privacy for him to announce when he leaves the city, where he's going and exactly who's in charge while he is away. Mayor of the City of New York is, after all, a public job.






MANAMA, Bahrain

The gleaming banking center of Bahrain, one of those family-run autocratic Arab states that count as American allies, has become the latest reminder that authoritarian regimes are slow learners.

Bahrain is another Middle East domino wobbled by an angry youth — and it has struck back with volleys of tear gas, rubber bullets and even buckshot at completely peaceful protesters. In the early-morning hours on Thursday here in the Bahrain capital, it used deadly force to clear the throngs of pro-democracy protesters who had turned Pearl Square in the center of the city into a local version of Tahrir Square in Cairo. This was the last spasm of brutality from a regime that has handled protests with an exceptionally heavy hand — and like the previous crackdowns, this will further undermine the legitimacy of the government.

"Egypt has infected Bahrain," a young businessman, Husain, explained to me as he trudged with a protest march snaking through Manama. Husain (I'm omitting some last names to protect those involved) said that Tunisia and Egypt awakened a sense of possibility inside him — and that his resolve only grew when Bahrain's riot police first attacked completely peaceful protesters.

When protesters held a funeral march for the first man killed by police, the authorities here then opened fire on the mourners, killing another person.

"I was scared to participate," Husain admitted. But he was so enraged that he decided that he couldn't stay home any longer. So he became one of the countless thousands of pro-democracy protesters demanding far-reaching change.

At first the protesters just wanted the release of political prisoners, an end to torture and less concentration of power in the al-Khalifa family that controls the country. But, now, after the violence against peaceful protesters, the crowds increasingly are calling for the overthrow of the Khalifa family. Many would accept a British-style constitutional monarchy in which King Hamad, one of the Khalifas, would reign without power. But an increasing number are calling for the ouster of the king himself.

King Hamad gave a speech regretting the deaths of demonstrators, and he temporarily called off the police. By dispatching the riot police early Thursday morning, King Hamad underscored his vulnerability and his moral bankruptcy.

All of this puts the United States in a bind. Bahrain is a critical United States ally because it is home to the American Navy's Fifth Fleet, and Washington has close relations with the Khalifa family. What's more, in some ways Bahrain was a model for the region. It gives women and minorities a far greater role than Saudi Arabia next door, it has achieved near universal literacy for women as well as men, and it has introduced some genuine democratic reforms. Of the 40 members of the (not powerful) Lower House of Parliament, 18 belong to an opposition party.

Somewhat cruelly, on Wednesday I asked the foreign minister, Sheik Khalid Ahmed al-Khalifa, if he doesn't owe his position to his family. He acknowledged the point but noted that Bahrain is changing and added that some day the country will have a foreign minister who is not a Khalifa. "It's an evolving process," he insisted, and he emphasized that Bahrain should be seen through the prism of its regional peer group. "Bahrain is in the Arabian gulf," he noted. "It's not in Lake Erie."

The problem is that Bahrain has educated its people and created a middle class that isn't content to settle for crumbs beneath a paternalistic Arab potentate — and this country is inherently unstable as a predominately Shiite country ruled by a Sunni royal family. That's one reason Bahrain's upheavals are sending a tremor through other gulf autocracies that oppress Shiites, not least Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain's leaders may whisper to American officials that the democracy protesters are fundamentalists inspired by Iran. That's ridiculous. There's no anti-Americanism in the protests — and if we favor "people power" in Iran, we should favor it in Bahrain as well.

Walk with protesters here, and their grievances seem eminently reasonable. One woman, Howra, beseeched me to write about her brother, Yasser Khalil, who she said was arrested in September at the age of 15 for vague political offenses. She showed me photos of Yasser injured by what she described as beatings by police.

Another woman, Hayat, said that she had been shot with rubber bullets twice this week. After hospitalization (which others confirmed), she painfully returned to the streets to continue to demand more democracy. "I will sacrifice my life if necessary so my children can have a better life," she said.

America has important interests at stake in Bahrain — and important values. I hope that our cozy relations with those in power won't dull our appreciation that history is more likely to side with protesters being shot with rubber bullets than with the regimes doing the shooting.






Today, let's discuss choices, starting with Barbara Bush raising an alarm and Gov. Rick Perry's personal experience with sexual abstinence.

I did throw in the last one to keep you interested. Sue me.

This month, The Houston Chronicle published an opinion piece by the former first lady titled "We Can't Afford to Cut Education," in which Mrs. Bush pointed out that students in Texas currently rank 47th in the nation in literacy, 49th in verbal SAT scores and 46th in math scores.

"In light of these statistics, can we afford to cut the number of teachers, increase class sizes, eliminate scholarships for underprivileged students and close several community colleges?" she asked.

You'd think there'd be an obvious answer. But the Texas State Legislature is looking to cut about $4.8 billion over the next two years from the schools. Budgets are tight everywhere, but Perry, the state's governor, and his supporters made things much worse by reducing school property taxes by a third in 2006 under the theory that a higher cigarette tax and a new business franchise tax would make up the difference. Which they didn't.

"In Austin, I've got half-a-dozen or more schools on a list to be closed — one of which I presented a federal blue-ribbon award to for excellence," said Representative Lloyd Doggett. "And several hundred school personnel on the list for possible terminations."

So the first choice is what to do. You may not be surprised to hear that Governor Perry has rejected new taxes. He's also currently refusing $830 million in federal aid to education because the Democratic members of Congress from Texas — ticked off because Perry used $3.2 billion in stimulus dollars for schools to plug other holes in his budget — put in special language requiring that this time Texas actually use the money for the kids.

"If I have to cast very tough votes, criticized by every Republican as too much federal spending, at least it ought to go to the purpose we voted for it," said Doggett.

Nobody wants to see underperforming, overcrowded schools being deprived of more resources anywhere. But when it happens in Texas, it's a national crisis. The birth rate there is the highest in the country, and if it continues that way, Texas will be educating about a tenth of the future population. It ranks third in teen pregnancies — always the children most likely to be in need of extra help. And it is No. 1 in repeat teen pregnancies.

Which brings us to choice two. Besides reducing services to children, Texas is doing as little as possible to help women — especially young women — avoid unwanted pregnancy.

For one thing, it's extremely tough for teenagers to get contraceptives in Texas. "If you are a kid, even in college, if it's state-funded you have to have parental consent," said Susan Tortolero, director of the Prevention Research Center at the University of Texas in Houston.

Plus, the Perry government is a huge fan of the deeply ineffective abstinence-only sex education. Texas gobbles up more federal funds than any other state for the purpose of teaching kids that the only way to avoid unwanted pregnancies is to avoid sex entirely. (Who knew that the health care reform bill included $250 million for abstinence-only sex ed? Thank you, Senator Orrin Hatch!) But the state refused to accept federal money for more expansive, "evidence-based" programs.

"Abstinence works," said Governor Perry during a televised interview with Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune.

"But we have the third highest teen pregnancy rate among all states in the country," Smith responded.

"It works," insisted Perry.

"Can you give me a statistic suggesting it works?" asked Smith.

"I'm just going to tell you from my own personal life. Abstinence works," said Perry, doggedly.

Tortolero, who lectures around the country on effective ways to prevent teenage pregnancy, once testified before a committee in the Texas House that was considering a bill to require that sex education classes only provide information that was medically accurate.

The bill was controversial. I'll let you ponder that for a minute.

Tortolero said she got some support from a legislator who was also a pediatrician. "We talked back and forth for a month. But some groups in Texas were threatening him and he was a very junior member," she recalled. The bill died.

Meanwhile, Perry — having chosen not to help young women avoid unwanted pregnancies and not to pay enough to educate the booming population of Texas children — wowed the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington with his states' rights rhetoric.

Which would be fine, as I said, if his state wasn't in charge of preparing a large chunk of the nation's future work force. Perry used to be famous for his flirtation with talk of secession. Maybe we should encourage him to revisit it.






Too-little noticed in the news of President Barack Obama's proposed 2012 budget of $3.73 trillion and his projections of deficits over the next few years is the fact that he makes very rosy assumptions about what will happen in our economy. And he wants big, destructive tax hikes.

The administration "guesstimates" that growth of our gross domestic product -- everything the United States produces in a year -- will be 3.6 percent in 2012, 4.4 percent in 2013, 4.3 percent in 2014 and 3.8 percent in 2015.

But that's unrealistic. Remember how the administration used to tout Congressional Budget Office figures suggesting that ObamaCare socialized medicine might not add too much to deficits? Well, now the president is ignoring the very same CBO because it predicts much less economic growth in the coming years than the administration forecasts.

Some private forecasters are also disputing the president's sunny predictions of rapid growth. For instance, the chief economist at Moody's Analytics estimates that U.S. economic output in 2021 will be almost $900 billion lower than the Obama administration forecasts.

The trouble is, if the growth the president predicts does not materialize, deficits over the next few years will be far greater than he acknowledges because tax revenue will still be down.

Economists also say unemployment is not going to drop as fast as the president thinks it will, creating a further drag on the economy.

It is equally troubling that the president wants to increase income taxes on "the rich," who already pay a wildly disproportionate share of federal income taxes. He seldom considers the fact that many of "the rich," whom he regularly criticizes, are simply small-business owners who provide jobs to a great many of the "non-rich."

The president also wants to reduce deductions that "the rich" can take for making contributions to charity. But that would only punish the charities that so many Americans rely on in this time of economic crisis. Will Washington increase red-ink safety-net spending yet again when many people can no longer get help from charities because so many donations have dried up?

The Obama budget plan is a vast exercise in smoke and mirrors. We can only hope that members of Congress will present a serious plan for some budget cuts -- including reform of crippling entitlement spending -- to begin to get our nation's finances in order. The president plainly has not done so.





What would you do if your home were on fire?

It's scary even to consider such a situation. But home fires do occur, often with tragic results.

In one frightening case this week, quick, heroic action by 26-year-old Andre Sharpe reportedly averted a potential tragedy.

Chattanooga firefighters reported that Sharpe and a friend happened to spot a house ablaze on 13th Street Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. Commendably, Sharpe took speedy action.

He broke a bedroom window -- with his fists -- and carried five-months-pregnant Angela Vasquez out of the fire danger and to safety on the porch of a nearby house.

She and her timely rescuer reportedly were treated for relatively minor cuts and abrasions.

The burning house was nearly engulfed in flames, which threatened another house, when firefighters arrived.

Just think what "might have been" if Sharpe had not acted as he did!

Sadly, some other recent house fires in Chattanooga have claimed lives, so it would be a good idea for all of us to consider what we might do in case of a fire in our home.

It's good to have smoke and fire alarms, of course, and to change their batteries regularly. It's also wise to have a fire extinguisher. But most important of all, it's smart to think coolly, when no emergency is occurring, about how we would get ourselves and our loved ones out of our home in case of fire -- and to settle on a plan of action.

After all, there is not always a brave passer-by handy to carry victims to safety.





Remember when almost everything imported to the United States from the Far East seemed to be marked "Made in Japan"?

Well, Communist China's economy has passed Japan's. China is believed to have reached that milestone in 2010. Japan confirmed it this week.

China now has the world's second-largest economy, exceeded only by that of America. Japan's production last year hit $5.47 trillion, compared with China's $5.88 trillion. While still repressive, China has grown by permitting some free-market reforms.

The United States still leads, however. The output of our country last year totaled more than $14 trillion!





It's a fact that most Muslims in America do not engage in terrorism. But it's also a fact that a great many of the terrorist acts against this country have been committed by radical Muslims.

So even though we surely should not brand every Muslim a terrorist, it is appropriate that Congress is planning hearings on the radicalization of some segments of America's Muslim population.

U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is convening hearings in March in the Homeland Security Committee of the House of Representatives. The hearings will focus on the threat of radical Islam in the United States.

That has led some "civil rights" groups to suggest the hearings are discriminatory and to demand that they be stopped, or expanded to include other hate groups.

You can find plenty of mindless hate from varied groups and individuals in this country, and that is much to be deplored. But as a matter of national security, other groups have not recently shown the same likelihood to engage in deadly terrorism that radical Muslims have.

The hearings should not, of course, suggest that all Muslims are violent. In fact, it would be appropriate to commend courageous Muslims who have headed off attacks by informing authorities of terrorist plots. But the threat of radical Islam cannot be ignored or treated as if it were no greater than the threat of violence by other extremist groups.

America will always remember the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York City, at the Pentagon and in a plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Radical Muslims were responsible.

You may recall, too, the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13 people and wounded 32. Authorities say the shocking attack was carried out by a U.S.-born Muslim, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan. Alarmingly, Hasan had made it clear long before the attack that he had become a radical Muslim, according to a new U.S. Senate report. Army supervisors referred to him as a "ticking time bomb," the report found. Yet he was never disciplined or discharged.

More recently, there have been foiled bomb plots at New York's Times Square and at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Seattle. Both were linked to radical Islam.

And just last month, a California chapter of a supposedly mainstream Muslim group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, put a poster on its website openly urging people not to cooperate with the FBI.

Hearings on radical Islam are not only reasonable, they're vital.








In recent weeks, much has been made of "people power" in the toppling of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and the role of technology. Once the province of tightly controlled state media, critical information now moves on social media networks like Facebook across platforms as simple as mobile phones. We feel this change intimately as we are swept along in this river ourselves: a freelance pitch arrives from Katmandu to cover the visit to Nepal of the Turkish foreign minister, video made with tiny cameras is sent to us from colleagues in Cairo, our web readership in Japan suddenly spikes over a story shared via Twitter.

Less explored but at least as important, however, is the technology-enabled renaissance in independent filmmaking. It is driven in no small measure by the ease of collaboration across borders, the plethora of cable channels that create new audience niches and the new economics of digital photography. This is a different kind of information revolution, one slower-moving than the latest smartphone application but surely more profound. And so we take a bit of space to salute "!f," the AFM International Film Festival that starts today in Istanbul amid celebrations of its 10th anniversary.

Before the mid-1990s, the cost of 35 mm film and access to the industrial strength studios and post-editing facilities that were the staple of moviemaking were the greatest barriers to this kind of expression. But in the last decade, off-the-shelf editing software that runs on a PC has reached the markets for prices as low as $1,000. A digital camera that can compete in terms of color and resolution with the film units that sold for $100,000 a generation ago can be had for less than the celluloid itself that went into that bulky and expensive technology.

This year, the !f festival will screen some of its films simultaneously in multiple cities; the festival itself will formally run in both Ankara and Istanbul. To quote famed Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola: "Cinema is escaping being controlled by the financier, and that's a wonderful thing. You don't have to go hat-in-hand to some film distributor and say, 'Please will you let me make a movie?'"

As storytellers in print, we think the implications for our colleagues who work on screen are dramatic and long-term. As we welcome such international figures as Chile's Alejandro Jodorowsky to Istanbul, we also praise such local pioneers as Hüseyin Karabey, who will head the international jury. Together, they are shoulder-to-shoulder in a rapidly growing and changing new medium that we know will enable and encourage better global understanding, encourage broader dialogue and expand the narratives about and between cultures. 

Elsewhere in the Daily News we share the program. We hope you share in some of this great event.

The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.






Last week in Sweden, our Turkish journalist delegation had the chance to meet and talk to TeliaSonera CEO Lars Nyberg.

The company is a telecommunications giant. The countries where they have a majority-owned telecom service provider include Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Spain, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Moldova and Nepal. The countries where they have an associated company are Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Turkey.

These are very hard countries for any type of business to operate in, let alone in a strategic industry such as telecommunications.

When I asked Nyberg how they were able to conduct business in these regions, he calmly answered that they follow whatever the rules are in any given market, adding that they had had the experience of running businesses sticking to ethical rules for years. He also said they had perfected the art of being very open to the public in how they manage. Nyberg commented that, being partly owned by the Swedish and Finnish governments, they had to ensure that they were absolutely never involved in any wrongdoings.

TeliaSonera is listed on the NASDAQ OMX Stockholm and the NASDAQ OMX Helsinki stock exchanges. TeliaSonera has only one type of shares. Each share of TeliaSonera represents one vote at the general meeting of shareholders. The number of shareholders decreased during 2009 from 651,816 to 635,799. Ownership by the Swedish government as a percentage of outstanding shares was 37.3 percent and the ownership by the Finnish government was 13.7 percent. Holdings outside of Sweden and Finland decreased from 15.6 percent to 13.8 percent.

Nyberg talked about the upcoming Turkcell board meeting in April in a very cautious manner. He said he was not a board member and therefore had no direct vote on how things were going to turn out. Nyberg only said that for Turkcell to focus on how to expand its business instead of fighting over the ownership problems, there should be two neutral board members.

In the short run, this is what they had agreed upon with Altimo, the Russian investment company who also has shares in Turkcell, he said.

I asked him if they would be willing to buy shares in Altimo after the board meeting, but he did not comment, but did say they had to make sure that Turkcell became an international success – after that, anything is possible.

When asked about how things had become to be so complicated, he said we should ask Mehmet Emin Karamehmet.

Nyberg explained the situation with a short example. "Just think that I have a car and I agree to sell it to you and collect your money. Later I change my mind and say that I will sell it to someone else and I collect money from the other party too. Than, all of a sudden I say that I will drive the car myself and don't give any money back. This is exactly what Karamehmet did," Nyberg said.

Asked what Recep Tayyip Erdoğan thought about two neutral board members, he said he could not speak on behalf of the prime minister, but added that in several meetings, they had emphasized that Turkcell would remain Turkish in all aspects.

As a rule, TeliaSonera does not try to intervene with local businesses and local executives, he said, adding that they were only interested in better business results.

After the meeting I had the impression that Nyberg really meant what he said and even though there was some frustration about past incidents, he was looking forward to establishing an atmosphere where business would be the number-one priority. We will see how things unfold.







Just as jihadist talk has been absent from the turbulent city squares of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Lebanon these days, so imperialism is getting no mention, except possibly in the inaudible mutterings of the more paranoid. The word seems to have vanished from the activist vocabulary. Granted, in all four countries there is talk about manipulative outside forces that stand to gain or lose from the uprisings, but is anyone citing imperialism? It looks as if not only a word, but a political premise, has gone out of style.

Up until not long ago, "imperialist" was a peg upon which any explanation of global injustice could be hung. Imperialism was a dark capitalist force, battling against the decent humanist efforts of scientific socialism. It was imperative for right-minded people to have a clear Manichean vision: the forces of pure evil lined up against the forces of good.

The word "imperialist" took on a damning ideological sting only after late-19th-century Western thinkers began to contemplate and document the ruin the colonial powers had made in Africa. Then in the 20th century, due first to Karl Marx's 17 years in the reading room of the British Museum, and then to the efforts of Leon Trotsky and Soviet polemicists, the idea of imperialism began to gain a much wider currency among right-thinking Westerners, who would remain ignorant of such details as the state-sponsored starvation in Ukraine. From the mid-1950s and onward until about 1995, "imperialism" continued to be a fairly stout rebuke to anyone who suggested that poverty and backward economies might in some good part be the fault of the locals. But already by 1985, that rebuke had been muted by Chairman Deng Xiaoping's policy switch toward state capitalism. And now, even among late-middle-aged condemners of the West, the word "imperialist" tends to be used only with a half-embarrassed shrug.

Imperialism as a concept was a falsely modern discovery, so obviously unoriginal that those who coined it might as well have claimed that they had discovered gravity. But as communism claimed its place in the world, an anti-capitalist species label was needed, and the term caught on. It isn't that "imperialism" has now become irrelevant because we've forgotten the context in which it was framed. It was always a false label because there was never anything new about imperialism. The wish of one human group to master another, usually its neighbor, goes back to the start of civilization. The impulse of collective domination is probably as securely wired into our instincts as its seeming opposite number, cooperation.

No economically or militarily strong nation in history has ever been content to stay inside its original territorial boundaries. Fifteenth-century China's exception to this rule is technical, because its fleets had gone all the way to the east coast of Africa before the Ming dynasty decided that its clear superiority made any further excursions unnecessary. Long before this, Old Kingdom Egypt had raided and occupied Nubia, Akkad had expanded outward to rule and penetrate the cultures of the rest of the Mesopotamian city-states, and the Hittite Empire had gone to Cyprus.

The first empire of real geographic breadth, the first exponent of "imperialism" in the more global 20th century sense, was the Persian of the 6th to 4th centuries B.C. The Persians put their military and cultural stamp on everything from the borders of Afghanistan to today's Romania. The Greeks and the Macedonians, who serially brought down the Persians, applied their own imperialism – in West Asia one can still find medallions struck with the image of Alexander.

Well before Alexander's brief empire and the Hellenistic kingdoms that followed it, a people that had given him his hardest fight, the Phoenicians, had built their own maritime empire from a string of linked cities along the coast of North Africa. The imperialism of the Phoenicians encompassed an active trade in slaves taken from West Africa. Soon enough the expansionist energies of the Phoenicians (later Carthage) took them to Sicily and a collision with the then militarily-junior Roman Republic. We all know how, despite Hannibal's generalship, the Punic Wars ended, producing the emergence of a prototypal imperialism, a Roman Empire that would last in two locations for 1,000 years, and that in the stamp of its hegemony would bequeath to the world a mother language, a system of law, and a spectrum of culture that continues to expand today.

After the fall of Italian Rome and the onset of the Dark Ages in Europe, what label other than imperialist would one apply to the Norse Vikings, ancestors of the green-eyed Berbers of today's North Africa; to the Ummayad Arabs, whose 800 years in the Iberian Peninsula gave us Granada and the Alhambra in Spain; to the Danes who founded Jarvik, now York, in England; to the French Crusaders, who established the Kingdom of Edessa on the site of today's Urfa; to the Ottomans, who turned the South Slavs into the Muslims who hold forth in today's Bosnia, Kosovo, and Albania; to the Portuguese, who took their tongue south across the Atlantic and made it the language of the most populous nation in Latin America; or to the Spanish, who permanently replaced brutal native empires in Mexico and Peru with the cold brutality of their own Christian ways?

From all the evidence, then, imperialism is a built-in trait which is activated as soon as human groups sense that their own power is sufficient to subdue others. It's a trait that may for a time be dormant but will never be extinguished, not as long as nature governs behavior. Attempts to wish it away in the name of benign universalisms will end in disappointment. In today's world, the Chinese will inevitably bump up against the Japanese, the Vietnamese, the Filipinos, and others as they take steps to assert their natural dominion over islands in the South China Sea. The Russians will go on exploring the renewal of their rightful dominance among the Black Sea and Caucasus/Central Asian nations. The Americans will widen their ties with conveniently dictatorial petrol states around the world.

Seen from a cool remove, the cultural, scientific, and the technical products of imperialism have, after all, been a main force in putting the world where it is today – which is not a wholly terrible place. We can no longer buy and sell human beings. The inhabitants of the planet are, for the most part, better nourished than they have ever been. We live 25 years longer than we did three generations ago. Without the turmoil and cross-pollination of imperialism, things would hardly be this way. All in all, not a bad score for a force of evil.






If you pass through Berlin anytime soon, you can visit Die Tanzerin (the Dancer) in the sculpture hall of the Neues Museum. Die Tanzerin holds her dancing stance as gracefully as the day she was created by Marg Moll in 1930, although she shows clear signs of aging and is scarred significantly due to the 70 years she spent buried under ground. She is one of 11 sculptures accidentally uncovered during the excavation of a government building in Berlin in 2010.

Die Tanzerin is one of the many works of art that were considered to be degenerate, distasteful and freakish by the Nazis. In 1937, thousands of artworks were collected from museums all over Germany by Nazi officials, and were banned because they were considered to be "un-German," "Jewish-Bolshevist in nature" or simply deemed unfit for the "high-German-culture." Some 650 of these pieces were picked for a special exhibition, entitled "Entartate Kunst" (Degenerate Art), which was designed to publicly disgrace, even mock, these art-works and their creators. The works were displayed in a chaotic manner and were accompanied by disturbing slogans. The idea was to create a negative public opinion of modern art and artists. Indeed, most of these artists were designated as enemies of the state, and their art a threat to German culture.

Die Tanzerin and 10 other sculptures have miraculously survived to today, though many works by artists now considered to be masters of modern art such as Wassily Kandinsky are lost forever due to the artistic policies of the Nazi regime.

If you pass through Kars anytime soon, you will see the unfinished İnsanlık Anıtı (Monument to Humanity) silently watching over the town. This monumental sculpture, 35 meters tall, depicts two standing figures, facing each other, with a teary-eye between them. The sculptor, Mehmet Aksoy, explains that he tried to show the incompleteness in each and every one of us and that one is only complete with another. The eye, he says, symbolizes the pain and suffering that people endured. The monument is strategically placed on a high hill and is intended to be seen from afar, even from across the Turkish-Armenian border. All aesthetic discussions aside, it is perhaps one of the strongest messages of peace that has been formulated in that particular geography of pain.

The recent discourse that revolves around the Monument to Humanity and its creator bears uncanny resemblance to the utterances around the works included in the Entartate Kunst/Degenerate Arts in Germany in the 1940s. The Turkish prime minister, for instance, said the following during his visit to Kars a few weeks ago: "Here, right next to his highness Hasan Harakani, they have placed a freak, something hideous. One cannot think of placing something right next to these works of art of the pious foundations, these artful monuments." In other words, Mehmet Aksoy's sculpture was deemed "unfit" to be presented next to a higher, that is Islamic, art. The prime minister continued his speech with a promise that he will have this "freak" (ucube) demolished. And he stood by his offensive words during the past weeks, despite significant public opposition. He even thwarted an apologetic attempt by Ertuğrul Günay, the Turkish minister of culture, who tried to save the prime minister from public embarrassment. Mr. Günay had said, "The prime minister did not call that sculpture a freak … he was referring to the squatter houses." Mr. Erdoğan, however, corrected his minister, and made a public statement the next day, underlining that he did "call that sculpture a freak" and that he would do what was necessary to remove it.

Another abstract sculpture by the same artist, "Periler Ülkesinde" (In the Land of Fairies), also came under attack a few years ago. Addressing this piece of abstract sculpture, Melih Gökçek, the metropolitan mayor of Ankara, said he would "spit on this art, what they call art is promiscuity." His words remind me one of the slogans written next to an abstract sculpture in the Entartate Kunst Exhibit in 1937: "Nature as seen by sick minds."

What then unites the tiny image of Die Tanzerin and the monumental shadow of the İnsanlık Anıtı, works of art created in different countries and almost a century apart?

In both cases we are reminded that art is eternal. In both cases, we are reminded that art, like life, is fragile and can suffer imminent destruction if not protected and cared for. 

And in both cases, I wonder if any one of us is safe when art is so blatantly under threat?

* Tuğba Tanyeri-Erdemir is director of the Science and Technology Museum and a lecturer in the Graduate Program in Architectural History at the Middle East Technical University.






President Abdullah Gül has completed his four-day official visit to Iran.

When looked at from the outside it looks more like a protocol-like visit. Important decisions were made but beneath all communication lay Turkey's constantly increasing over the years demands.

Ankara has serious expectations from Tehran.

Recently I participated in a colloquium with university students.

I was telling them about Turkey's Iran politics and sharing its reasoning behind it. One of them raised his hand and asked a stunning question:

"You are telling us that Turkey supports Iran despite serious reactions. You say Washington may, just because of this attitude, decide to accept the Armenian genocide bill. This means that there is a serious congestion in international relations and Turkey makes vital sacrifices. So, I'd like to ask you this: While we are assuming such an attitude what does Iran do for us?"

Everyone in the room applauded.

And this is exactly what our Iranian friends need to be aware of.

The public is asking important questions regarding what Iran is doing for Turkey.

Tehran's attitude is growingly noticed in public, especially in the field of economic relations.

The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government is struggling.

But Iran doesn't care.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry and the economic sector are complaining about the following: A Turkish company wins a tender but is still rejected. Customs causes trouble. Turkey is buying more goods from Iran and selling more in an attempt to keep the balance but Tehran does not move a muscle.

As a matter of fact, during the meeting between Gül and Ahmadinejad this subject was discussed – I don't know how many times it has been discussed by now – however, it was said that they were still working on it.

So, what's the outcome?

We have been waiting for years and it seems we will keep waiting for quite some time in the future.

But there is some benefit in knowing that patience in public is gradually diminishing.

Let's hope that the latest official visit has turned a new page in Turkish-Iranian relations. 

Bravo Çeker

One stunning statement among yesterday's news came from Professor Orhan Çeker, the head of religious studies at Selçuk University.

I first couldn't believe it and read it over again.

I also read other papers to discover that all said the same thing.

Çeker implied that it is quite normal for women wearing decollete outfit to be raped, for they are seducing men.

Can we accept something like this coming from a professor?

Professor Çeker explained in detail why he spoke those words.

But it still does not justify his shameful words.

What do you expect of students taught by such educators?

If tomorrow women wearing decollete outfit are attacked, what would he say? Is there any justification for such an approach?

I am very curious about that.

Professor Süleyman Okudan, president of Selçuk University, joined private channel CNN Türk's live broadcast to apologize to all women.

Moreover, while Professor Çeker was live on air, the president said, "Çeker's views are only binding for him."

He further said that the president of the Higher Education Board, or YÖK, called him thinking Professor Çeker was the school's dean and said, "What's with your dean, Süleyman, talk to him."

We understand from this conversation that an investigation has already started.

Let's see what the outcome will be.

Wonder if Professor Çeker will be able to keep his job despite everything.

What a shame that in 2011 minds like him still exist.

I don't even want to assume in which countries these minds live.

Dealing with people's outfits does not glorify Turkey; it only takes us back in time.







AS far as we know, there were no reports of airborne swine around the nation yesterday but a politician did concede an error. The Australian and others had criticised opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison for uncharitable remarks about the funeral arrangements of the Christmas Island boat disaster victims on the very day of the burials. Yesterday, Mr Morrison conceded his comments were insensitive, and he should have shown more compassion. We agree with his self-assessment, and admire the wisdom of his mea culpa.

The Coalition has sustained a strong and effective critique against the government on border protection policies, and a range of other issues, and has no need to resort to the base populism of the One Nation playbook. On the contrary, the opposition would do well to remember that political success in this country cannot be achieved without winning the middle ground. The conservative side can be steered off course by pandering to the far Right, just as the progressive side loses its way when it becomes distracted by the causes championed by the progressive Left. Mr Morrison has demonstrated that self-correction in politics is possible, and we believe it would be desirable to see it more often. For the government, border protection policy would be a good place to start.

Labor came to power promising it could make our border protection regime more compassionate but keep our borders secure. Despite warnings its changes would weaken the disincentives, and thereby attract more unauthorised boat arrivals, Labor proceeded to dismantle aspects of John Howard's Pacific Solution. Subsequent events confirm that was a mistake. From 2002 to 2004, Australia had one unauthorised boat arrival each year and in the following four years there were never more than seven boats in a year. Then in 2009, 61 boats arrived, followed by 135 in 2010. Despite December's Christmas Island tragedy, and cyclone season, three boats have arrived this year. In total, since the spring of 2008 when Labor weakened the border protection regime, 206 boats have arrived with 10,149 people.

As opposition immigration spokeswoman in 2003, Julia Gillard said any boat arrival was a policy failure. By her own criteria, the Prime Minister must consider her policy has failed. The Gillard government should admit its error and tackle this difficult policy issue. Having now embraced the notion of offshore processing, Ms Gillard should abandon the pipedream of the East Timor processing centre and take up Nauru's offer to reactivate its facility. Nauru has already declared it will sign up to the UN's Refugee Convention to allay any of Labor's concerns. The only obstacle seems to be Labor's petty political reluctance to admit Mr Howard was right.

The Australian reveals today that extremely high percentages (up to 96 per cent) of asylum-seekers from Afghanistan have been classified as refugees. We also have reported previously that even assessed on Nauru under the Pacific Solution, 70 per cent of asylum-seekers won the right to settle in Australia. This underscores that the dilemma cannot be resolved by assessments; rather, the aim of our policy should be to stop the boats. Now that the Pacific Solution has been unpicked, that won't be an easy task.

The starting point of any disincentive to boat arrivals is to undermine the people-smugglers' product. They now market to their potential customers the promise of almost certain permanent residency in Australia, so long as they can get their boats into the hands of our authorities. Anything that creates uncertainty about that result diminishes the people-smugglers' marketing and stymies their trade. Offshore processing and perhaps new temporary visa classes can do that.

Every refugee who arrives by boat takes a place that would have been filled by another refugee waiting in a camp in Afghanistan, Sudan or the like. The refugees in the camps wait longer because they play by the rules, or can't afford to pay a people-smuggler, or refuse to jeopardise their family's lives on shonky vessels. The compassion that is missing in this debate is compassion for those who are forced to wait, or have to choose between waiting and taking a risky voyage.

The Australian supports a larger humanitarian intake and would welcome a doubling of the current 13,000, if we do not allow the people-smugglers to fill it. If Australia can stop the boats, we can offer places to the most needy, put the people-smugglers out of business and prevent people risking their lives. For those reasons, it would be compassionate, and it would reduce the chance of another Christmas Island tragedy.






AWU national secretary Paul Howes was still in nappies when the Hawke government and then-ACTU secretary Bill Kelty created the Prices and Incomes Accord that made workers partners in prosperity and heralded an end to class warfare in Australian politics. Almost 30 years later, Mr Howes has yet to catch up on the significance of that event, judging by the venom he unleashed against one of Australia's most productive companies at the AWU's 125th anniversary conference. Threats to "take on" Rio Tinto or any other sound business have no place in 21st-century Australia. Mr Howes's class warfare rhetoric is a throwback to the "them and us" era of 40 years ago, when unions were run by militant ex-communists such as Laurie Carmichael and John Halfpenny and the idea of workers building wealth through shares and superannuation was unimaginable.

It remains to be seen whether this retro-recalcitrance helps the AWU lift its revenue base by poaching a few Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union members. But the 86 per cent of private sector workers who have chosen not to be in a union will be unimpressed. Mr Howes's rhetoric about Rio Tinto as "sucking out the blood, sweat and tears of blue-collar workers" is unlikely to gain traction with labourers earning $100,000 in the Pilbara, tradesmen earning upwards of $150,000 and train drivers on $200,000. They will be more interested in the dividend and share buyback flowing from yesterday's 71.5 per cent jump in half-yearly profit posted by BHP and how it could boost their superannuation savings. In a tight labour market, mining companies look after their workers, who are free to join or not join a union.

As Trade Minister Craig Emerson pointed out yesterday, Rio Tinto's chief executive Tom Albanese will hardly be "weeping into (his) weeties" over Mr Howes's limp jibe that "monkeys could do a better job". Even so, Australian and overseas investors will be unsettled by the intemperate tone of the leader of the nation's most powerful trade union, which has traditionally been pragmatic and sometimes constructive. Ideally, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan, an AWU member for 29 years, should speak out strongly against Mr Howes's outburst, reassuring investors and the rest of the world, including mineral customers, that Australia will remain a pro-business economy with stable, harmonious workplace relations. But unfortunately for our economic reputation, the Prime Minister and Treasurer have been paying homage to the AWU leadership, who played a key role in ousting Kevin Rudd last year. Nor was it helpful that Mr Swan seized upon record profits posted by Rio and BHP as justification for the mineral resources rent tax, an approach that smacked slightly of "them and us". The Australian has endorsed the revised MRRT as efficient tax reform, but it is not a tool for curbing the profits of strongly performing companies, the backbone of the superannuation and investment portfolios of many mum and dad investors and vital for our economic health.

After three decades of economic reform driven by Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard and Peter Costello, the Gillard government and the trade union movement need to recognise that the politics of envy espoused by Mr Howes are out of step with the times. They are the antithesis of the rational, reforming path that modern Labor has followed federally since 1983. Rather than despising wealth, today's working families aspire to it, and are steadily acquiring it.

Mr Howes regards himself as one of the bright young men of the Labor movement, but if he is to have any future in public life, he should read up on history, shake off the shackles of mid-20th century industrial confrontation and think about a constructive role for unions in advocating policies to reward those who work hard. Until he does so, Ms Gillard and Mr Swan have a serious responsibility to reassure industry and the community that no return to the militant unionism of the 1970s will be tolerated. Mr Howes could do worse than begin his excursion into history with the words of Winston Churchill: "The gospel of envy and its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery".







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.






BHP BILLITON'S record half-year profit should be a cause for national celebration, a signal of our enormous good fortune to be the chief source of supply to the booming Chinese economy. Instead it serves as a painful reminder of the lost opportunity to capture a greater share of the mining boom for this and future generations of taxpayers. It reinforces the need for the federal government, at the very least, to hold the line on its minerals resource rent tax, or better still, to push for a better deal for taxpayers.

BHP's half-yearly results show that even as it was warning of imminent disaster should a resource tax be imposed, the world's biggest miner was busy amassing a dazzling $10.5 billion profit, up 71 per cent. Despite crying poor and threatening to cancel investments, BHP will invest $80 billion - yes, billion - over five years to expand its operations and cash in on high commodity prices.

Meanwhile, Treasury estimates the Rudd-Gillard government's backdown on its original mining tax will end up costing the public purse $60 billion over 10 years. It is not even clear the revenue raised will be enough to cover the costs of promises to cut company taxes and increase superannuation made as part of the mining tax proposal. For the miners it is a substantial return on their $22 million investment in lobbying against the mining tax.

Taxpayers have a right to ask: where is my cut? It is true that most Australians benefit from higher mining profits through their superannuation. But as ultimate owners of the underlying resources - the precious rocks that are so valuable at present - they deserve more. It is reasonable for mining companies to turn a profit for their toil, but every Australian should benefit when the resources they jointly own become more valuable. A higher tax take would enable more money to be either injected into parts of the economy that suffer the side effects of a higher Australian dollar or simply to be set aside for future generations.

Considerable work remains to be done to bed down details of the minerals tax. A stoush looms as mining companies insist they be reimbursed for any future increase in state mining royalties.

If Julia Gillard gives in, she risks in effect writing a blank cheque to the states to increase taxes.

The mining tax issue has already claimed the scalp of one prime minister. It should not be allowed to claim another. 





THE former premier Bob Carr has been busy with his mobile, phoning and texting his former colleagues in the NSW Labor Party urging them to give Eddie Obeid the shove sooner rather than later. Carr is alarmed that Obeid is delaying his much mooted resignation well into the election campaign, and even seeking to shape the frontbench of Labor in the next parliament.

All this is starting to look theoretical anyway.

If the vote on March 26 follows the Herald/Nielsen opinion poll published yesterday, Labor would be hard put to have a division between front- and backbench, with only 13 members in the lower house. But Carr is right that the party can no longer dilly-dally on plucking the toxic elements out of its ranks.

Will it listen? The machine's appointment of Eric Roozendaal to the top of Labor's upper house slate suggests not. The Treasurer is a laughing stock, both to the Right for the botched electricity sell-off that will yield minimal returns and to the Left for selling public assets at all. Does he seriously hope to help rebuild Labor from its looming debacle, or just notch up the extra year he needs to secure his parliamentary super?

The listing suggests the party notables are still jostling for personal advan-

tage ahead of the party's interest, as the ship goes down beneath them. When will the message of the poll sink in? With the machine's mincing of policies and premiers over the past four years, support on a two-party-preferred basis has sunk by 18 percentage points, creating a gap unprecedented in the poll's 39-year history. No party, at state or federal level, has done so badly. Not even Kristina Keneally's good performance against Barry O'Farrell and her ''soft'' campaign launch seems to have made much of an impact. O'Farrell - an amiable, if bland, sort of character - has finally come out well ahead of the Premier, in whom Labor had invested much in an effort to improve its image.

From his launch on Saturday O'Farrell will have no excuse if he sticks to a small-target strategy. Winners and losers will identify themselves in the Coalition's platform; some of its lead could be pegged back. Still, Keneally is likely to be one of Labor's few survivors, positioned by her age and ability to start a journey back from the wilderness, as Labor did in Queensland from its nadir in the Bjelke-Petersen years.

The strong showing for Labor among younger voters suggests where to start. Keneally has said Labor has been ''too focused on ourselves''. She and the party must end the selfishness, as Carr suggests.





THE taxpayers of Australia will ultimately be told the cost of the government's decision to fly asylum seekers to Sydney to attend funerals of victims of December's boat tragedy off Christmas Island. Whatever the bill, it was worth it.

The fact that federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and his immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, have queried the decision brings discredit on themselves and their party. On Tuesday, the day of the funerals, Mr Abbott said he was curious about ''why rellies are being flown around the country''. Let us try to explain.

Human beings are entitled to be treated with dignity at all times, and with compassion in times of grief. People who seek asylum, and are prepared to put themselves at risk in search for a better life for their families, share that entitlement. All the more so for these particular asylum seekers, who have been through the unthinkable trauma of seeing relatives drown at sea. Acceding to the survivors' wishes that the funerals be held in Sydney rather than on Christmas Island, and paying for them to fly over, was the least a prosperous and humane nation could do.

It is disingenuous for Mr Abbott and Mr Morrison to seek to portray their comments as little more than a request for proper accounting for the use of public money. Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey seemed to grasp the point that the comments could play to prejudices in the Australian community that deserve no succour. ''No matter what the colour of your skin, no matter what the nature of your faith, if your child has died or a father has died, you want to be there for the ceremony to say goodbye,'' he said.

Mr Hockey harbours leadership ambitions. Some of his colleagues privately question his credentials, but his willingness in these circumstances to reaffirm the primacy of compassion over potential political advantage speaks of a fundamental decency.

This week's funerals have also served as a reminder that the government's claim to a more humane approach to asylum seekers faces an immediate test. It is more than four months since Labor announced that children and most families would be allowed to live in the community while their claims to refugee status were assessed. Yet the families of many who perished in the December tragedy, including three orphans, are still being held in detention.

Compassion is measured by actions as well as words. It is past time the government made good on this reform.






BHP Billiton boss Marius Kloppers must feel so relieved. In May last year, when the then Rudd government unveiled its 40 per cent resource super-profits tax, Mr Kloppers prophesied that the tax would ''limit investment in the long run and decrease prosperity''.

So alarmed was he by the prospect of having to share a little more of the mining boom's surging profits with ordinary citizens that Mr Kloppers and other mining industry executives combined to mount a $27 million advertising blitz against the proposal. And they were extraordinarily successful, not only in forcing a substantial dilution of the tax but in eroding support for Kevin Rudd.

It was Mr Rudd's successor, Julia Gillard, who with Treasurer Wayne Swan negotiated the revised tax with BHP and the other two largest miners, Rio Tinto and Xstrata. Phew! Disaster had been averted for Australia's iconic industry, spun the publicists, and there was now no danger that miners would depart for countries with less onerous tax regimes.

Except there never was going to be a disaster, even if the resources tax had been imposed in the original form recommended by the Henry review of taxation. Yesterday, BHP Billiton posted a half-year net profit of $10.524 billion, the largest interim profit recorded by an Australian company. BHP, whose market value of $247.5 billion accounts for almost a fifth of the ASX200 share index of Australia's top companies, is in very good shape.

So is the mining industry, as it was when Mr Rudd announced the first version of the resources tax. That is cause for all Australians to rejoice. But it is also cause to ask why the government wilted in the face of a publicity war waged against a just tax that could have been used to invest proceeds of the mining boom for future generations.

The watered-down version, the mineral resource rent tax, appears less and less likely to do that. While Mr Kloppers was yesterday basking in the glow of his company's performance, Mr Swan was confirming reports that the revised tax will collect $60.5 billion less in the decade after it begins in 2012-13 than the original tax would have done. Despite government avowals to the contrary, the shortfall puts in doubt whether the tax will generate enough revenue to pay for the reforms that it was supposed to make possible: increased superannuation and a reduction in company tax.

On BHP's profit, Mr Swan said without apparent embarrassment that it demonstrated why Australia needs a resource rent tax and why the government had fought hard for it.

If the effort put in to counter the misinformation peddled in the miners' campaign counts as fighting hard, other sectional interests seeking concessions from the government can probably assume that they, too, will get what they want. Not only did the big three miners win a reduction in the tax rate and in the calculation of liability, but commodities other than coal and iron ore were excluded.

In consequence, BHP's huge uranium, gold and copper deposits at Olympic Dam - a target of the original tax - will not generate the tens of billions of dollars in tax revenue that had been expected.

BHP is the world's biggest miner: its profits exceed the GDP of many countries and in some respects it behaves more like a state than a corporation. As The Age reported this week, US diplomatic cables obtained by the WikiLeaks website reveal Mr Kloppers' concerns about commercial espionage by China and his willingness to trade secrets with the US.

Describing himself as ''only nominally Australian'', he told US consul-general Michael Thurston BHP had ''taken steps to derail'' a Chinese bid to invest in its rival Rio Tinto. The next day Rio announced that it would not accept the bid.

It is not surprising, or in itself improper, that companies like BHP should seek to influence the conduct of business and politics. That the elected government should allow them to wield influence so easily, however, saps the vigour of Australian democracy.







In the care of the National Trust today, £11m must now be raised to safeguard the structure of this compelling folly

"I wish I had t'wit t'woo you." So Edwin Lutyens began an after-dinner talk to the high-minded, high-society Owl Club in Cape Town a century ago. Funny or not, Lutyens, who often looked like a startled if kindly owl, now has need to woo people of a much later generation – and closer to home. He may well have been the finest British architect of his generation – late Victorian, Edwardian, New Georgian – and possibly the best since Wren, yet Castle Drogo remains his achilles heel. A pediment, as it were, split too far. A 20th-century castle built for Julius Drewe, a self-made grocery millionaire, Castle Drogo broods, owl-like, over Dartmoor's Teign Gorge. Yet from the day of its completion in 1930 it has leaked. Whether Drewe or Lutyens had insisted on Castle Drogo's flat roofs is a matter of debate; what is not at issue is that asphalt, the curse of so many 1960s housing estates, ruled the roofs. In the care of the National Trust today, £11m must now be raised to safeguard the structure of this compelling folly. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Castle Drogo is the dream of the Englishman's home as his castle realised on a heroic scale in adventurous design. It is the stuff of epic poetry. It would make a wondrous film set for stories of dungeons and dragons tales. Every great architect should be allowed one folly, even one mistake. Within a decade, if the money is found, Castle Drogo should be waterproof; then its quixotic architecture and unlikely wit should be allowed to woo us once and for all.






Referendums are a constitutional novelty in Britain. They do not come encrusted with obscure practice. So it is important that the first UK-wide one for more than 30 years is properly managed, all the more so when it looks as if such votes are to become a more regular feature of political life. Keeping democratic politics clean means making it hard to do it dirty. A political culture that, while avoiding witch-hunts, refuses to tolerate corruption is an important part of the equation. So is a legislative framework that makes the right thing the easy thing. There is one point on which campaigners both for and against voting reform agree: the law that will govern the referendum is inadequate.

The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, enacted in 2000, was meant to sanitise a system that had begun to smell. It was not that it was ruinously corrupt, but it was definitely capable of corruption. So rules were introduced demanding regular reporting of donors and donations. For the first time, individual donors had to be entitled to vote in British elections, and companies had to be registered in the UK. Regular declarations of donations are required. It is not perfect, and it is under review by Sir Christopher Kelly's committee on standards in public life, but it was an improvement. Yet referendum regulations are much less demanding than those that the act introduced for parliamentary elections. There is no requirement for transparency about donors during the campaign. Major donors and their donations – anything over £250,000 – will remain secret until up to six months after polling day. The AV referendum campaign, which is all about the new politics, is to be conducted under rules that owe more to the old.

The yes campaign acknowledges that the £2m it has raised so far comes almost entirely from two major donors, the Electoral Reform Society and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Meanwhile, at its launch on Tuesday, the no campaign refused to reveal anything about its funding, even though its director Matthew Elliott is an eager advocate of transparency and has told the standards committee inquiry that single large donors, on whom his campaign might rely, can be problematic.

One answer is for the campaigns to do what they say they believe the law ought to require them to do, and be transparent. Unfortunately, even expressions of support for the yes campaign from some reform-minded charities have prompted the no campaign to question whether they are breaking charities law. Unilateral transparency can be a dangerous thing. It is a standoff. But unless it ends, there is an uncomfortable feeling that the more things change, the more they stay the same.








"The British people have not repelled the extraneous power of the papacy in spiritual matters, and the pretensions of royal power in temporal, in order to subject themselves to unchallengeable rulings by unelected judges." Amen to that, freeborn fellow citizens. But which latterday Hampden wrote these stirring words? The answer is the late Lord Bingham, the greatest of modern judges, writing in his book The Rule of Law. As he made clear, parliament can even infringe the rule of law if it chooses, though fortunately it rarely does so. The judges cannot strike down its laws even so. But the courts must review the laws that parliament passes. As Lord Phillips, the president of the supreme court, put it last week: "When we review administrative action we do not substitute our decisions for those of the executive. We check that the executive has acted in accordance with the law, as laid down by parliament."

To read some newspapers and to listen to some politicians in recent days, it would be easy to form a quite different impression. Parliament, you might imagine, is being relentlessly and systematically relegated to the margins of law-making by capricious and megalomaniac courts. Last week the spotlight was on the judges of the European court of human rights – "Europe's unelected dictators", as the Sun dubbed them – on the issue of prisoners' voting. This week Lord Phillips's own court finds itself in the dock for having ruled that sex offenders can seek to have their names removed from the register set up by parliament in 2003. After the government had carefully leaked its version of the story to the press yesterday, David Cameron pronounced himself appalled at the court. The home secretary, Theresa May, said the same thing when she announced that ministers would do the minimum possible to comply. You would search long and hard to find many MPs with the temerity to disagree.

Look, though, at Lord Phillips's ruling before jumping to the conclusion that Britain's mad judges want to set paedophiles loose on the streets to terrorise the nation's children. Not surprisingly, since the judges are not in fact insane, the court said no such thing. While recognising that being on the register interfered with the right to privacy, the court pronounced the restriction on sex offenders lawful and in accordance not just with the prevention of crime but with the protection of others. The only question in its ruling was whether someone on the register who no longer poses a risk might have the right not to be dropped from the register, but to a review of their continued inclusion on it. The court said yes, in appropriate circumstances. For all yesterday's ministerial bluster, the government has now sensibly complied. It has also – probably to cover itself against hostile press and backbench reaction – restated its coalition pledge to examine the possibility of a "British" bill of rights. But it has done so without drawing attention to the coalition agreement that this British bill would "incorporate and build on" the European convention on human rights, which would continue to be enshrined in British law.

Current complaints of judicial overreach or of human rights mission creep are wide of the mark. If they were true, the objectors should make clear, as Lord Bingham's book challenges them to do, which of the rights against which they rage they would discard, and whether they would prefer to live in a country in which rights were not protected by law. The reality is that, partly through the common law, partly through treaty and partly through statute, modern Britain is slowly moving, over time, from being a country in which rights were conceded to those deemed worthy, often based on property or gender, to becoming a country where rights are deemed inherent to the individual and can be enforced in independent courts. This is a process of which we should be proud and for which more politicians must stand up.






Nippon Steel Corp., Japan's biggest steel maker, and Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd., the nation's third-ranked steel maker, announced Feb. 3 a plan to merge in October 2012. The merger, if it materializes, will bring about the world's No. 2 steel maker after Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal, which produces about 10 percent of the world's crude steel.

The merger follows two major consolidations in Japan's steel industry — the 1970 merger of Yawata Iron and Steel and Fuji Iron and Steel into Nippon Steel and the 2002 merger of Kawasaki Steel and NKK into JFE Holdings, now Japan's No. 2 steel maker.

The merger plan represents the two firms' attempt to survive in the global steel market where Japanese steel makers' influence has been declining. In terms of global crude steel production, Nippon Steel, once the No. 1, was ranked sixth and JFE ninth in 2009. Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Industries together produce only about 3 percent of global crude steel.

The planned merger will enhance their bargaining power against raw materials producers at a time when iron ore and coking coal prices are rising. Brazil and Australia account for 60 percent of global iron ore exports and three major firms control the world market. Recent coking coal prices are reported to be about 60 percent higher than in the previous year.

It is unrealistic for domestic steel makers to expect demand to expand inside Japan. Nippon and Sumitomo will try to avoid overlapping of investment and decrease production cost. It will be important for them to meet the expanding demand in emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil and Russia, especially demand from the auto industry.

Steel makers from China and South Korea have successfully marketed low-priced, low-to-middle grade steel in Asian markets. Nippon and Sumitomo may consider moving production near such markets. They will have to compete on prices, but they should not forget the importance of developing state-of-the-art products. Such products will be an important weapon in securing a stronghold in crucial markets.






In a Feb. 11 meeting in Moscow, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and his Russian counterpart, Mr. Sergei Lavrov, failed to make any progress on a decades-old sovereignty dispute over the four islands off Hokkaido held by Russia. Bilateral ties are at their lowest ebb in many years. It is all the more important for Japan to seek every chance to open and keep channels of communication with Russia so that mutually trustful ties will be attained.

Regrettably, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Kunashiri Island, one of the four islands, on Nov. 1, heralding a series of visits since then by high-ranking Russian officials to what Japan calls the Northern Territories. On Feb. 7, the Northern Territories Day, Prime Minister Naoto Kan denounced Mr. Medvedev's Kunashiri visit as an "unforgivable outrage." Since Japan has no direct means to end Russia's effective control over the islands, this was diplomatically a thoughtless remark.

Two days later, Mr. Medvedev said that the islands are integral part of Russia and that Moscow will make every effort to strengthen its armed forces there. The Russian military said that it will soon station two French-made Mistral-class amphibious assault ships in the Russian Far East, partly to defend the islands.

Mr. Kan's remark gave Mr. Lavrov an excuse to say that if Japan takes an "extreme position" over the islands issue, there will be no hope for talks toward a peace treaty. But he said that Russia is ready to establish a comprehensive partnership with Japan in such fields as trade, investment and international affairs. Mr. Kan and other Japanese leaders must refrain from making careless remarks and carefully watch for cracks in Russia's behavior and statements that can be used for meaningful dialogue.

Mr. Maehara and Mr. Lavrov agreed to set up a high-level task force to study Japan's possible participation in economic development of the islands. Japan should tackle the task of solving related legal problems while preventing other countries like China and South Korea from establishing business strongholds there to the disadvantage of Japan.






LONDON — The number of Japanese studying at top universities abroad has been declining while the number of outstanding Chinese students has been increasing. Numbers are not everything, but it is disturbing to see reports that Japanese students are less willing than Chinese to participate actively in discussions and are less articulate in English.

The young men of the Meiji Restoration, like Ito Hirobumi, Inoue Kaoru, Togo Heihachiro and many others, had been through dangers and hardships before they left Japan. They relished the adventures and challenges that faced them overseas. In the Meiji Era, families were often large and there was often intense rivalry between siblings. Most families were also poor and had to struggle to survive. Youngsters had to be over-achievers if they were to get on.

Communications in those days were slow and difficult and many Japanese youngsters had to spend many years abroad without seeing their families while mastering foreign languages and then pursuing their studies often of complex scientific and technical matters. A number died while they were studying abroad. Many were lonely. Some found wives in foreign countries. Others succumbed to diseases physical and mental, but the majority returned to Japan determined to contribute to the modernization of Japan and its emergence as a major power. They were ready to speak up for the New Japan.

Now where few families have more than two children, parents can afford to be indulgent and the education mothers (kyoiku-mama) push their children hard to get into the best schools do not encourage them to leave the nest and become independent, which means separate accommodation, which is expensive.

Cost is a factor in the decline in the number of Japan's overseas students, but for Japan in early Meiji the cost was much greater. The generally high standard of comfort in Japan, especially for young people living at home, is another factor for youngsters today. Students may find it hard to live in a foreign country with different food and customs, but these problems were much greater for their Meiji forbears.

Why do so many Japanese youngsters today apparently lack the spirit of Meiji? There is no simple answer and it is of course unwise to generalize about the people of any nation. Young Japanese are not, of course, all the same, but certain qualities are inevitably encouraged by cultural, sociological and historical factors.

One factor in the success of Japan's economy has been the importance traditionally attached to consensus. The British tradition of politics and of law is of confrontation and fierce debate. A greater emphasis on trying to achieve a consensus could be beneficial for us.

But there are real dangers in putting consensus above other considerations. To use mathematical terms, the outcome of consensus building is often the lowest common denominator rather than the highest common factor.

The egalitarian ethos in education also deters individuals from rising above their classmates. Teachers give priority to fostering self-esteem and fear that competition and rewards for individual achievement will mean losers as well as winners. As a result the competitive spirit is often discouraged in schools.

This has been a problem in Britain also, but the new British coalition government is less wedded to "political correctness" than the previous Labour government and competition in sport is part of our ethos.

One other factor is the way in which foreign languages are taught in Japan. More emphasis needs to be placed on oral expression, but Japanese need to be encouraged to speak even if their linguistic abilities are limited. They must learn that they will only make progress if they practice and must cease to worry about making mistakes,

Japanese frequently cite as a guiding principle of the consensus society the proverb "deru kui wa utareru," which may be translated as "the protruding nail will be hammered down." In all societies an element of conformism is essential for every individual if he wants a quiet life. But societies need some protruding nails, if reforms and improvements are to be made. Not so many years ago there seemed to be a realization in Japan that schools should do more to develop individual personalities, but there were then complaints that loosening the basic curriculum and allowing greater time for individual pursuits was leading to a fall in standards. Indeed Japanese standards in basic subjects have not apparently kept up with rising standards in, for instance, South Korean schools,

When in the past I used to give speeches in Japanese to Japanese audiences, I always tried to be, even if only slightly, provocative. I was disappointed by the lack of response. Very few were prepared to ask questions, let alone to challenge what I had said. Perhaps this was the deference that in Japan is given to older people or persons in authority. You will not find much of this sort of respect in Britain.

In schools and universities in Britain debating societies are encouraged. Oxford Union debates are sometimes even reported in the press. When I visited Japanese universities I would often ask about debating societies, but was usually disappointed by the negative response which I received. Debating is not a Japanese tradition, as is apparent from the way in which proceedings are conducted in the Japanese Diet largely through interpellations which are carefully prepared in advance. This inevitably leads to many boring exchanges.

Nihonjinron, which emphasizes Japanese uniqueness, is a mistaken theory. All peoples and individuals have their unique qualities, but uniqueness does not mean superiority. Nihonjinron leads to inward-looking attitudes and a reluctant approach to internationalization and globalization.

Japan's future lies crucially in the willingness of young people in Japan to develop individual personalities, to be ready to speak out and debate with others, but above all to think in international terms.

Hugh Cortazzi served as Britain's ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.







HONG KONG — China, which has been obsessed with political stability ever since it called out its army to crush a massive albeit peaceful protest in Beijing 22 years ago, is likely to step up repressive tactics against its population in the wake of the toppling of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of demonstrations.

In 1989, the uprising in Tiananmen Square and around the country went on for seven weeks while the Chinese government refused to accept petitions from the student leaders and ended with a military crackdown that saw hundreds if not thousands of deaths and a manhunt that went on for years for those who had taken part in the protests.

Even today, those who managed to escape the country are not allowed to return on pain of imprisonment.

Of course, Arab protesters were able to make use of technology that the 1989 activists could not dream of — the Internet and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

But China has also developed technological expertise and has shown that it is able to control the Internet and, if necessary, shut it down as it did in Xinjiang for 10 months after riots in July 2009.

Throughout the Egyptian protests, the Chinese government was careful to control information available to the public. Independent reports were forbidden and the media was told to only use reports by the official news agency, Xinhua.

And Xinhua, in its dispatches, emphasized not the democratic aspirations of the protesters but rather warned against the country falling into chaos.

Ironically, the United States, which welcomed Mubarak's departure, has more to lose from instability in Egypt than China. After all, Egypt has been one of America's most important partners in the Mideast and Washington's quest for a peaceful solution between the Arabs and the Israelis.

However, the U.S. evidently decided that supporting the popular demand for democracy was the right thing to do, even at the risk of accepting a degree of destabilization.

China, however, which also has good relations with Egypt, clearly preferred Mubarak to stay, identifying its interests with those of the Egyptian leader, who was beset by demonstrators demanding his resignation. At a time when the U.S. and other countries were calling on Mubarak to heed the voices of his people and step down for the good of the country, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman expressed understanding and support for "Egypt's efforts to maintain social stability and restore normal order" and insisted that "the affairs of Egypt should be decided by itself independently without intervention from the outside."

After the Mubarak resignation, the spokesman emphasized the early restoration of "national stability and social order," without any mention of the Egyptian people's desire for democracy. Ding Gang, a senior editor with the official People's Daily newspaper, wrote a commentary in which he said that while the Western media focused on democracy and free elections, the country's main problem was the economy and "Western supporters of the Egyptian protests have no ability to find jobs for Egyptians and Tunisians." He concluded: "If the Egyptians and Tunisians establish a democracy but do not get more job skills and more competitiveness, I am afraid that anyone can guess what the outcome will be."

These comments are not necessarily misguided. The economy is certainly important. But democracy is not the cause of a country's economic backwardness, as too many Chinese commentators try to suggest. On the eve of Mubarak's resignation, a Xinhua dispatch emphasized the "crucial" role of the military. It quoted the Supreme Council of Egypt's armed forces as saying in a statement that the council would consider "what procedures and measures that may be taken to protect the nation and aspirations of Egyptian people."

Such an independent position for the military is unimaginable in China, where the People's Liberation Army is directly under the Communist Party and is not part of the government. The recent events in Egypt mean that Chinese leaders are unlikely to heed calls for greater normalization of the country by making the military part of the government rather than a component of the party. After 61 years in power, it seems that China's Communist Party is still so insecure and so distrustful of its people that it insists on keeping an iron grip on the armed forces in order to cow its own people.

Frank Ching is a journalist and commentator.








Special to The Japan Times

"Please hit hard at the faceoff and then go with the flow.''

"Will do!! I'll put up a little resistance to make it look good.''

— Text messages exchanged by wrestlers Kiyoseumi and Kasuganishiki (May 10, 2010)

In the film "Back to the Future," a scientist invents time travel, which leads the character played by Michael J. Fox to prevent his parents from meeting, thus imperiling his own existence. It is a fine and funny film — and a cautionary tale for sumo, which is now facing its most serious crisis ever.

The match-fixing documented in text messages and acknowledged by several wrestlers raises serious questions about the future of Japan's national sport (kokugi). If sumo is to survive, it cannot pretend to "reform" by clinging to its dysfunctional "traditions," as it has routinely done in the past. If sumo keeps going back to the future, the end result will be self destruction.

I have followed sumo since I first came to Japan in 1984. The matches are small volcanoes of violence, and the rikishi are impossibly powerful, flexible and fat. If a television is near, it is hard not to watch.

I also am intrigued by sumo's hybrid nature: part martial art, part sport, part theater. Like karate and kendo, sumo has many ritual elements, a strong emphasis on tradition, and a hierarchical structure. Unlike other martial arts, promotion and demotion are supposed to depend solely on performance in tournaments, with each elite wrestler competing once a day for the 15 days of each of the six tournaments each year. The crucial question is one's record, and there is a world of difference between finishing with eight wins as opposed to seven. Statistical studies suggest that many wrestlers near that threshold throw matches to achieve the coveted outcome.

Depending on status, there is also a world of difference in how wrestlers are paid and treated. To make it into the highest divisions, where revelations of match-fixing are concentrated, is to be guaranteed an income of more than ¥1 million per month and the services of one or more "assistants" (tsukebito) to help perform such arduous tasks as the pulling on of socks and the wiping of the buttocks.

It's not a bad lifestyle — if you can make it into the juryo or makuuchi ranks, which employ 70 of Japan's 900 pro wrestlers.

In principle, achieving that elite status is based solely on one's record, not (as in karate or kendo) on how perfectly one has mastered "form" (kata). But the reality of match-fixing suggests that this principle is pretension. For an activity supposedly premised on merit and governed by norms of fair play, the match-fixing (yaocho) scandal is sumo's worst nightmare — a direct hit to the heart of Japan's national sport. It is also a massive betrayal of trust.

Sumo will change or die. The illusion of reform — press conferences, bows, apologies, promises — is not enough. And for real reform to occur, it cannot be entrusted to the 105 elders (toshiyori) in the Japan Sumo Association who govern the sport and who have tolerated, condoned and caused the problems that have long plagued this pastime. Allegations of match-fixing have nagged sumo for decades, tainting the reputations of many elite wrestlers, including some yokozuna (grand champions). The JSA has dismissed all allegations as lies or as the misperceptions of ignoramuses until now — digital evidence cannot be denied.

After the telltale text messages were made public, Hanaregoma, the chairman of the JSA, performed the predictable bows and apologies and then insisted — repeatedly — that "this kind of thing has never happened in the past."

His claims are contradicted by what many rikishi have confessed. "Match-fixing was kind of a matter of fact among the wrestlers," former komusubi Keisuke Itai told a magazine in 1999. "The fixing used to be much worse than it is now" and "none of us felt any guilt at all." Itai's career as a wrestler, which ended in 1991, overlapped with that of Hanaregoma.

Besides denouncing whistle-blowers, the JSA is willing to sue to see its truth claims prevail. Some observers believe sumo elders and their agents are also willing to use extra-legal means in order to enforce their version of reality.

In 1996, after a former wrestler and his supporter went public with allegations of match-rigging, drug use, tax evasion and close connections to the yakuza, both died in the same hospital, hours apart, of "respiratory illness." No proof of poisoning was ever found, so the deaths cannot be called homicides, but causes of death are often misdiagnosed in Japan. In a country where the clearance rate for homicide is 95 percent, these deaths remain two of the most mysterious in postwar history.

Since the deaths of those two whistle-blowers, a series of scandals has exposed many of the JSA's assertions as self-serving nonsense. Wrestlers do not consort with gangsters, we have been assured, nor do they engage in illicit gambling. And that bar that was all broken up? Sorry about that, but our boys have big bodies, and one of them slipped and fell.

But facts are stubborn realities. Last summer the JSA was forced to dismiss an ozeki and a stable master for betting on baseball in a ring run by gangsters. Other culpable wrestlers and elders could have been fired or indicted, but meaningful accountability and reform were not pursued. The scandal was put to sleep with the demotion of two more stable masters, the banning of 18 wrestlers for one tournament and displays of bowing.

The JSA also administered a "survey" to its wrestlers, asking if they had ever gambled or been encouraged to do so. Those who said yes were punished. How's that for an incentive to tell the truth?

Last month, the gambling scandal was reawakened with the arrest of three former wrestlers — again for betting on baseball. This led to the smoking cell phones.

Gambling on baseball is a crime, and so is gambling on sumo. It is reasonable to wonder whether one motivation for fixing sumo matches is the desire to guarantee gambling payoffs for self, family, friends and mob affiliates. It is also reasonable to suppose that the text messages discovered so far are from the whole shebang.

Rigged matches and illegal gambling are one part of a much larger pattern of bad behavior and customs in the insular world of sumo. Connecting the dots is a precondition for meaningful conversations about reform.

There have been numerous revelations of illicit drug use among wrestlers, and there would be more if the JSA required testing for the use of performance enhancing drugs. In an age when pills and injections can markedly increase power and decrease recovery time, and in a sport where those qualities are cherished, the failure to test for PEDs reflects the depth of the JSA's "see no evil" philosophy.

Violence outside the ring is a persistent problem. There has been a steady stream of churlish and brutal behavior by sumo wrestlers partying in bars, restaurants and clubs, occasionally with consequences as when Asashoryu was forced to retire after one tantrum too many. Usually the thuggery is covered up and glossed over by sumo elders and their adoring friends and fans — as it was at least once during the January tournament in Tokyo.

Violence permeates life inside the country's 51 sumo stables. Extreme "hazing" is common, ostensibly to "toughen up" young wrestlers and to teach them to respect their elders. Some stable masters have used wooden swords and baseball bats to drive their messages home.

In 2007, a teenage trainee named Takashi Saito died after his stable master (Junichi Yamamoto) beat him with a beer bottle and a bat and then ordered senior wrestlers to continue this pedagogy of the body on their own. At first the cause of death was falsely reported as heart failure; the real cause was revealed only when the victims' father insisted on an autopsy. Yamamoto and three of his wrestlers denied wrongdoing, but all were eventually arrested and convicted. Yamamoto has been sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter; the others received suspended sentences.

Nonviolent but premature death is a fact of life for most retired wrestlers. Sumo is the only sport in the world where the rate of morbid obesity approaches 100 percent. The stress of lugging around scores or hundreds of extra pounds results in chronic health problems, from high blood pressure and diabetes to heart attacks and arthritis. Retired wrestlers have a life expectancy of 60 to 65 years, compared to almost 80 for the average Japanese male.

Sumo also fails to respect norms of equality. Women are excluded from many competitions and ceremonies. They are not even permitted to touch the "sacred" ring lest they pollute it with their two X chromosomes. When Osaka Gov. Fusae Ohta was asked to present a prize to the champion of the annual Kansai tournament, she was required to make the exchange on a walkway next to the ring or to send a male representative. She repeatedly asked to perform this role inside the ring, as her male counterparts do, but her requests were rejected because, the elders insisted that to change this tradition would dishonor their predecessors who had observed it.

This kind of specious reasoning is common in sumo's echo chamber — as it is with respect to foreigners' participation in the sport. Sumo's top ranks are now dominated by foreign wrestlers, and many elders regard this as a crisis. Last year, the JSA responded by announcing that it would limit sumo stables to one foreign wrestler each — a reduction from the two gaijin rule it established in the late 1990s. The same reform defined "foreign" as "foreign-born," which means that naturalized Japanese citizens are now counted as "foreign." That's back to the future with a vengeance. It may also be illegal.

The fan in me would like to see sumo survive. Another part of me recognizes that its problems are so severe and so pervasive that perhaps this dinosaur does not even deserve treatment. For sumo to endure in a form that is worth caring about, fundamental reform is essential. That won't be easy, but one thing is clear: The JSA has proven itself incapable of modernizing the sport on its own.

Meaningful reform will have to be pressed upon it from the outside, by those agents of government charged with overseeing the country's national sport, by the media, which have long been too cozy with the sport to call it properly to account, and by people like you and me, who must decide whether to watch something that, in its present form, is more farce than competition. Sumo has imperiled its own existence. It will take more than the familiar script to save it from extinction.

David T. Johnson is professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii.








A Trade Union of teachers has come down hard on the decision to make English compulsory for university entrance from this year. Emphasis on Union because nobody knows what teachers in general, as parents, prefer. English has become a perennial problem in our society -so much so that it has now evolved into a symbol of the elite, a symbol of sword (kaduwa), which is used as weapon of social advancement rather than a tool of knowledge.

Another colonial toxic legacy.

People who travel would say that English is English only within the Anglosphere- not outside. That is about 1bn of the toal world population of 7 bn.

There are many other worlds; the Spanish, the French, the Chinese and of course the Russian and the Japanese. In these parts of the world people do not care a hoot about speaking English nor is it a symbol of the elite. In fact in certain parts of Europe, still natives scorn upon those who speak English. The Japanese, the Chinese and several other nations have done leaps and bounds in all spheres of knowledge without English.

So the logic holds that English would not be the end to all our educational or unemployment ills. But education is.

Unfortunately both issues-English language and education- remain highly politicized and highly charged topics in the country making it impossible for anybody to do anything with them for good or otherwise. 

This is where the iron fisted ruler –the philosopher king- may be very much needed.

Since the introduction of Swabasha system the country has seen only the decline in the standards of education as well as the quality of English, hence becoming the first victim of the third world number game called democracy.

Education apart, there are two important aspects to the issue now. One is the fact that English is not important to make real progress eg. Japan, China, Germany. And that now even countries like France, China and Japan increasingly find it difficult to move in a highly integrated, highly interconnected and highly globalized world, where English still rules. The French bowed out a few years ago losing the battle in computer science-it couldn't find currency to the French word equivalent of email!

Sri Lanka should have kept the momentum of teaching English from the colonial times, something many regret now.

It is true that rural schools in particular suffer immensely due to the lack of facilities for learning English, the Union has pointed out. This was more or less the same reason why the country switched to Swabasha. Sadly since then we have produced more literacy numbers.

Although English language learning was important, it was not justifiable in curbing students from entering high education based solely on fluency in English. Many University academics (Rare and Serious ones) agree that punishing a student based on the command of English makes it a political issue (Not party politics) than an education issue.  But that is only possible in technical studies like Engineering and Science but out of the question when it comes to serious humanities.

But what makes the issue political is that the Union says it is an attempt towards privatizing universities.

Blocking the move may only deny the children of the majority who can't afford marketable and quality education that some of the urban children get now, which lands them in high profile jobs.






The government must or should be having some cause for concern and disquiet about the state of political play. The most significant challenge is the rapid escalation of prices of essential goods and thereby hitting the general public in their economic well being. The President himself has stated the politically obvious that with the war over, there is no whipping boy to blame economic woes on. The impending fuel price hike after the local government elections will only greatly exacerbate matters.

With the capacity for recruitment into the security services and exhausted after reaching a near half million men and women in uniform including auxiliaries, reserves, para militaries and police, making Sri Lanka the most militarized state in South and South East Asia, there is the phenomenon of jobless growth or economic growth driven by foreign funded, foreign staffed and foreign constructed mega infrastructure projects that nonetheless have not dented the unemployment problem. The regime should in its self interest be hoping or working towards and no doubt aided by the floods and a deeply divided opposition UNP, for voter apathy and a low turnout at the local government polls. Otherwise it runs the risk of a demonstration of a possible drop in popular support. Anyway it would be difficult to defend its near record 70% public support garnered at the last general elections. But anything much less than 60% of the popular vote would create a swing of over 20% in favour of the opposition and create the impression of a trend against the government, which consequently weakens it.

Harder to find enemies

The other problem the government possibly faces is that it is a victim of its own success. Having so comprehensively defeated the LTTE, it needs a new political ideology than the barely concealed ethno nationalism it communicates as its rationale for existence. Now President Rajapaksa undoubtedly realizes this and hoped for economic populism and prosperity. When Prabakaran and the LTTE were around and fighting, it was easy to whip up domestic and international disgust and dislike against the LTTE and by extension to generate sympathy, with a state fighting this most ruthless of terror groups. However with the absence of the LTTE, whipping up majoritarian ethno nationalism against the Parliamentary TNA and its genial leader Sampanthan, a gentleman of the old school, is a much harder task for the government and not a strategy that generates much support amongst moderate sections of the polity who are floating voters.

Marginalize the Diaspora Groups

 There is of course then the rump LTTE represented in various Diaspora groups, defanged militarily but striving to take on the Sri Lankan State in the international legal and diplomacy arena. It is in that context that a deal with the TNA becomes crucial and in the interest of Sri Lanka and all Sri Lankans. For, there is no better foil to an extreme Tamil Diaspora than a moderate and empowered Tamil domestic polity. Conversely if the TNA fails in its engagement with the government, the leadership of the Tamil community now resting predominantly with the TNA will shift, not to the government's in house ex-LTTErs of Karuna and KP but rather to the overseas Diaspora. The marginalization of the TNA's predecessor, the TULF resulted in the Tamil leadership shifting to the LTTE with disastrous consequences for three decades. We owe it to ourselves to avoid a repetition of the same.

(The writer served as Presidential Spokesman from 2001-2005)





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). 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 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 programs.

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. 

Hindustan Times






There are certain misconceptions regarding the evolution of the Sri Lankan issue at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva during the last war.

There was a highly critical draft EU resolution on Sri Lanka on the HRC agenda from 2006, precisely during that tenure and a good year before I was deployed by the President to the Geneva 'frontline'.

 When I assumed duties as Ambassador/Permanent Representative on June 1st 2007, the awesome nature of professional achievement immediately prior to my arrival was to have persuaded the initiators of the draft resolution to continue the  postponement of the resolution to the next session, the first one that I would attend having assumed duties in June 2007.

By the end of 2007, in my first six months, I had succeeded in removing that draft from the agenda without making the slightest concession on the outstanding demand of stationing a full-fledged presence of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka.

When I accepted President Rajapaksa's invitation to take up the post of Sri Lanka's PR in Geneva as our war of liberation and national reunification was entering its decisive period, I was instructed also by the then Foreign Secretary that one of the tasks I had to expeditiously undertake was to attend to a deviation from our stance at the Conference on Disarmament; a deviation which had generated a shocked inquiry-cum-protest at the highest political level from one of Sri Lanka's most consistent friends, allies and military suppliers - and I might add, SAARC neighbours.

Indeed the Special session of late May was a Plan B, a fallback. Plan A was a UNHRC resolution (which was to be backed by an EU resolution), invoking an elasticized version of the doctrine of R2P calling for a halt to the Sri Lankan offensive operation and due on May 14th, 2009. As Prof Rajiva Wijesinha placed on the record already on May 18th 2009, that plan failed because of our successful resistance in Geneva which prevented the requisite signatures from being obtained until the Sri Lankan armed forces had destroyed the Tigers and their leadership. ('How the West was Sidelined- For the Moment', Rajiva Wijesinha, Human Rights Watch website,, July 24, 2009).

As for the Special Session on Sri Lanka at the UN HRC, even the most amateurish (let alone a seasoned diplomatic professional) reader of the Wikileaks would confirm that the political officer of the US Embassy in London reported to the US Secretary of State that electoral compulsions motivated the former UK Foreign Secretary into a diplomatic drive on Sri Lanka; a drive, which the cable noted, included the May 2009 Special Session at the UN HRC. This is amply confirmed by an 80-page research study on the Lankan conflict and the (then) Labour government's foreign policy on Sri Lanka authored by three commissioned specialists and deposited in July 2009 in the library of the UK Parliament.

The merest Google search of the foreign news coverage of the Special Session (May 2009), and then again on the first anniversary (May 2010) of our military victory, reveals that sources from the Washington Post, The Times (UK) and The Economist through the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International ruefully point to that Geneva vote as a considerable diplomatic achievement by Sri Lanka and its friends in the face of great pressure and momentum. Those reports reveal that elements at the time hostile to Sri Lanka hoped to secure a UN mandate for an investigation of some sort into  the conduct of our armed forces in (at the least) the last stages of the war; and that given the veto exercised by Sri Lanka's friends in the UN Security Council and the sheer arithmetical majority in the General assembly, it was thought that the UN HRC Geneva would be the best bet in securing such a mandate, modelled on the Goldstone inquiry which obtained its UN mandate from the HRC.

It is typical that even those critical of Sri Lankas military victory admit that the Geneva vote of May 2009 was an unexpected defeat for their cause and a resounding achievement for our country.

 The Geneva vote was won at a time when Sri Lanka had been unseated from the UN HRC by a General assembly vote in 2008 in New York; a venue from which I was 'banned' from attending by the former Foreign Minister, reversing a standing procedure of at least 25 years (and against the written objections of two successive Sri Lankan Perm reps there).

When I left my post in Geneva, I did not leave my successor a draft resolution on the agenda against my country. I left behind an unambiguous and decisive result in our favour.

If one may anticipate the argument that a built-in Third world or Afro-Asian majority rendered the vote in Sri Lanka's favour axiomatic-- one that could have been achieved on auto-pilot as it were-- I would draw the readers' attention to two facts: though backed by a Security Council member, Sudan lost a vote in the UN HRC a few weeks after we won ours, and a compromise arrived at the UN HRC Geneva just a year or two before was a factor that led to peacekeeping forces in Sudan and a peace deal. (If I may be permitted a digression, the recent peaceful secession of Southern Sudan through a referendum -- Rudrakumaran's model and strategy-- could arguably have been the eventual outcome of the professionally negotiated PTOMS, if not for Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Supreme Court, the JVP, Sri Lankan public opinion and the Rajapaksa electoral victory).

 I am confident that the multi-continental breadth of the Geneva Consensus of May 27-28th 2009, the international legitimacy it confirmed, and the politico-diplomatic and strategic space for post-war Sri Lanka that it symbolised, remain safely intact and indeed ably enhanced in the hands of the professionals in situ. How could matters conceivably be otherwise?






Mr Harim Pieris, a former advisor to former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, has recently opined that 'Presidents Ben Ali, President Mubarak and President Rajapaksa' comprise a 'trilogy', and that 'the Rajapaksa Presidency has distressing similarities with early days of Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes'.

His article is quite unexceptionable in its critical interest in developments in the Arab Middle East and its sympathy for the mass democratic upsurge against the entrenched regimes.'

What is exceptionable however is the parallel he seeks to draw with Sri Lanka today. These parallels are undermined by his own accurate itemization of the characteristic features of the Arab regimes that are under popular siege.

As he notes "The Ben A regime in Tunisia, the Mubarak regime in Egypt and indeed many of the other North African Arab regimes have many features in common.

The first is that they had long serving rulers, who had consequently built up significant and powerful elite constituencies in support of the status quo. Nonetheless, their regimes faced sudden and complete collapse."

Now the term nonetheless comes as a bit of a surprise, since most commentators have correctly noted that it is precisely the prolonged duration of the regimes that has caused the popular upsurge, in the presence of certain new catalytic factors. These in short are ancient regimes, of 25-30 years duration.

This basic and central feature of those Arab regimes should blow Harim Peiris' Sri Lankan analogy out of the water. President Rajapaksa has been in office for less than a fifth of the duration that the Arab leaders in question have. Harim himself notes that he was elected and re-elected at freely fought out elections. This alone makes the Sri Lankan regime type, entirely different from that which has been targeted by the peaceful demonstrators in the Arab world.

The irony of Harim's argument is this: if there is an entrenched ancient regime in Sri Lankan politics today, it is not that of President Rajapaksa but that of the opposition, whose leader has been in office for 17 years, which is arithmetically far closer to the incumbencies of the Arab world, than is Mahinda Rajapaksa's six years as leader! Perhaps it is the followers of the Opposition who will have to learn from Egypt and rise up against their immovable, decades long leadership, and perhaps it is that leadership, rather than President Rajapaksa's that should take immediate cognisance of developments in the Arab world!

Harim says of the Arab regimes that "They also had token opposition parties that were no serious political threat to the regime". While this may be true, what has this to do with Mahinda Rajapaksa? If there is a 'token opposition' in Sri Lanka how is that Mahinda Rajapaksa's fault? Did he force the Opposition to commit electoral suicide by appeasing the separatist terrorist LTTE, or to retain a leadership that is indelibly associated in the public mind with such pusillanimity?

Furthermore, when there was, presumably, a far more than 'token Opposition' at the Presidential election campaign of Dec 2009-Jan 2010, President Rajapaksa won the election handsomely.

Harim also says that "The second feature is that these rulers used Arab nationalism and the Palestinian cause to create the rationale and ideological base for their continuous and tong term rule"

This is only half the story. The other half is that the regimes under siege were identified in the public mind as collaborating with the Israelis and propped up by their patrons the US. In that sense, the Arab regimes lost out on the nationalist issue. Clearly this is hardly the ease with President Rajapaksa whose triumph over the separatist terrorist Tigers gives him far more of a successfully patriotic profile, perhaps akin to Nasser during the Suez crisis, than that of the Arab regimes today.

To his credit Harim admits that: "The Rajapaksa regime in its defence is somewhat different from the presidencies of Ben Ali in Tunisia or Mubarak in Egypt or indeed Al Basheer in Sudan. The significant difference is that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is popularly elected, twice in fact in electoral contests that were a reasonable though flawed exercise in democratic choosing of elected leaders. Sri Lanka has flawed but credible electoral exercises. The North African Arab regimes had elections that were essentially sham exercises, rather like what transpired recently in Myanmar."

This foundational or definitional difference alone should have told him that far from constituting a trilogy, the Arab regimes and that of President Rajapaksa are chalk and cheese!

But Harim then tries a sleight of hand, arguing that: "the Rajapaksa presidency shows some distressing signs and similarities, of the early days of the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes."

This simply won't do. Firstly, had the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes stick to their 'early days' they would not have been the target of popular protest of such scale. Indeed in their early days, they were not! Secondly, the Rajapaksa administration could be said to be not just similar to the early days of the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes, but the early, middle or late days of so many other, quite different types of regimes--why not Mexico, Italy or Japan, to name just three?-- which would lead to quite different outcomes. Thirdly and most importantly, Sri Lankas political system, its political culture, ethos and dynamics, are quite different from those of the Arab Middle East. As the soon to be held local government elections demonstrate, it is a highly competitive, even volatile, multiparty representative democracy.

So, to put it at its most charitable, we shall have to wait 20-25 years to see if Harim Pieris is correct, because it will take that much time for Sri Lanka to harden into anything like the ancient regimes of the Arab Middle east.

(Mano Wijeratne is a Co-ordinating Secretary to the President.)









Wherever you go around Tunis, you see people demonstrating -- at the airport, in front of the post office, schools, ministries, factories: simply everywhere. Protests and pickets are a feature of daily life. People sit in cafes chatting alongside demonstrators shouting slogans for change. Even small children have turned into political analysts, and are overheard mocking the speeches of Ben Ali, the deposed dictator. I saw one demonstration quietly split in two to allow the tram to pass by, reassembling promptly after its departure. Tunisians seem to have stumbled on the magical power of street protest, and are unwilling to relinquish it.


After three decades of silence, self-censorship and repression there is an explosion of social demands from all sectors. Even police officers have been marching to request the forming of a union that defends their rights. Tunisia's new rulers are besieged by endless demands that they can neither meet nor openly reject. The French word dégage (get out) – initially used by the crowds that encircled the interior ministry on January 14 -- is being used to brand this new era. It is brandished against all those associated with Ben Ali's rule -- political figures, directors of state and private companies, senior civil servants, top security officials -- generating a climate of perpetual tension and discontent in a society haunted by the prospect of a return to tyranny. The peaceful nature of this continuous protest movement has ensured that the country remains relatively stable in highly volatile circumstances.

Post-Ben Ali Tunisia is being shaped by two conflicting dynamics: change and containment. The first is the dynamic of the street -- fuelled by the demands of the young and the unorganized opposition. The second stems from the political establishment, who have the state bureaucracy, security apparatus and money on their side. Present-day Tunisia is defined by these two polarized logics.

Shortly after Ben Ali's demise thousands of men and women outraged by the persistence of the old system travelled for hundreds of miles from the country's marginalized south and inner cities, some on foot, in what they described as a "freedom caravan". They surrounded the office of the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, in the capital's Kasbah district and staged an open-ended picket to demand the overthrow of the interim government, which they dismissed as a remnant of Ben Ali's dictatorship. With the world's attention on Cairo, their protest -- which lasted for over a week – was brutally dispersed by the police, with many casualties. The public outcry that ensued compelled Mohamed Ghannouchi's administration to make a series of unwanted concession that began with the resignation of ministers belonging to Ben Ali's RCD party, culminating in the suspension of the party altogether.

Last week 25 governors were appointed, 19 of them RCD members -- but most were forced from office by protests that flared up in towns around the republic (including Gafsa and Gabelli in the south and Nabeul and Sousse in the north). A few days ago, parliament was hurriedly convened to grant the interim president -- who had served under both Ben Ali and his predecessor -- authority to issue edicts without consulting the legislative authority. Such moves have fuelled calls for the dissolution of the government and its replacement by a founding council to oversee the transition to democracy. This clash between a wounded old regime fighting for survival and a new order being formed painfully and arduously under popular pressure is the story of Tunisia today.

These developments serve as important indicators of what could lie ahead for Egypt, its heavyweight Arab sister, now that Mubarak has gone. The containment policy that has been pursued in Tunis is already under way in Cairo. There is a stubborn will, internal and external, to salvage a system that has failed to preserve its figurehead. That is precisely what Barack Obama means by "managed change", and what Cameron intends by "orderly transition". The U.S. is seeking to avert the mistakes of 1979 -- when it positioned itself in open confrontation with the Iranian masses -- by using unusually reserved, non-provocative language. But beyond the rhetoric, its strategy consists in emptying change of its essence and confining it instead to a rearrangement of the existing power centers.

Reality may, however, turn out to be too complex for this strategy to succeed. The US could find itself powerless to control the rhythm and direction of events on the ground. Just as Tunisia's protest movement did not end with the ousting of Ben Ali, the millions who have filled Tahrir Square for over two weeks are unlikely to consider their mission accomplished with Mubarak's departure. The forces unleashed by revolution will not fade into the background overnight – but are set to occupy the centre stage of politics in Egypt, as in Tunisia, for the foreseeable future.

The attempt to contain events in these countries hinges on the hope that they are simply transient waves of anger that will recede with the passing of Ben Ali or Mubarak. The truth, however, is that what is under way are revolutions originating from society's depths: political earthquakes that will transform the entire region. What we are witnessing is nothing short of the birth of the new Middle East.

(Source: The Guardian)

Photo: Unemployed Tunisians sit outside the headquarters of the Phosphate Gafsa Company (CPG) in hopes of employment in the local mines of Metlaoui on February 16, 2011. (Getty Images)









At the heels of the uprising in Tunisia, the successful people's revolt in Egypt will mark 2011 as a new epoch and the current upheaval will shape the Arab world politics for the remainder of the 21st century.


Last month, the US state Department rendered Egypt a stable country. An assessment followed by the Israeli president's portrayal of Mubarak "as steadfast as a rock," reminiscence of president Carter's description of Iran as an island of stability" in "a troubled region." Again, perpetuating the same, the US failed Middle East school of thought which brought us the wrath of the CIA-led coups.


A school led by the ideologically predisposed Middle Eastern "specialists" who for years have advanced a colonial-age old hypocritical hypothesis insinuating that democracy and stability in the Arab world are antithetic in nature. In fact, regime-imposed stability is a by-product of the ephemeral characteristic of dictatorship, while a truly representative governing system is perfected with the eternal progression of the democratic process, for Arabs and others.


The same American pro-Israel choir who shamed the Arab authoritarian system of government while bragging about Israel being the "only" democracy in the region have been propagating a psychology of fear hindering Obama's call for an immediate transition to democracy and warning us of another Iran in the region.


Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner warned "Israel has been seered [sic] by the experience recently of seeing democracy elect their enemies." And Israeli-centric new chairwoman of Congress' Foreign Affairs Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called for "sanitised democratic process" limited to candidates who "... recognise Egypt's peace agreement with the Jewish state of Israel".


As then, now following the dictator's demise, Western pundits are obsessed with the impact of this change on Israel, rather than on the 84 million Egyptians. This obsession is likely to shape the future and the nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and US opportunities in the Arab world.


Israel knows Egypt will not be the same after Mubarak. A new democratic Egypt will be answerable to its people and will not complement Israel's inhumane siege on Gaza.


Israel will not be able to force the same concessions on Palestinians as it would have been able to obtain during a Mubarak regime. But the chances are much better now to unite the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Mubarak and his vice-president Omar Suleiman played a role in undermining the Palestinian unity by taking sides and playing a dishonest unification broker between President Abbas and the Palestinian majority government. Egypt will be in a better position to play an honest role in bringing both factions together.


No-one can dispute the public resentment to the humiliating peace treaty with Israel. The common joke among Egyptians is that occupied Sinai was not returned to the homeland. It was rented from Israel whereby the US taxpayer advances an annual rental bill of $3 billion to Tel Aviv every year since the Camp David agreement. Sinai natural gas is sold to Israel at one-third of the market price paid by the Egyptian consumer.


For this and other reasons, peace between Israel and Egypt has been aptly described by many as "cold". Under a representative form of government, it will likely get much cooler, probably becoming the first glacial lake in the Sinai desert.


The most immediate challenge for the US will be looking beyond the ideologically motivated special interest groups when determining its interest in the Arab world. Long-term stability for real friends can be achieved through democracy and absence of any influence. Continuing to follow the same failing in America's foreign policy will more likely give birth to several Irans.




EDITORIAL from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman's, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, The New York Times, China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian, Jakarta Post, The Moscow Times, The Bottom Line and more only on EDITORIAL.




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