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Friday, February 18, 2011

EDITORIAL 18.02.11

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month February 18, edition 000758, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





  2. GAME ON






















































  2. JAPAN AS NO. 3














It was a kidnapping waiting to happen. And it happened on Wednesday when armed cadre of the outlawed CPI(Maoist) took an IAS officer hostage in Odisha's Malkangiri district. Thirty-year-old RV Krishna is by all accounts a dedicated officer who took his job as District Collector seriously, travelling deep into tribal areas and places known to be infested with Maoists. That's the way it should be: Administration cannot come to a standstill just because armed thugs mouthing Maoist slogans and leading a 'revolution' that serves to finance what is now one of the largest organised crime syndicates in this country want governance to cease and the state to wither away. But it is surprising, to say the least, that Mr Krishna should have ventured forth on an inspection tour without armed escorts, which is supposed to be the standard procedure in disturbed areas and conflict zones. Or are we missing out on something here? Has the Government of Odisha devised its own set of rules that disallow officials to move around with armed escorts, that too in a district like Malkangiri where security forces are fighting pitched battles with Maoist insurgents? This cannot be entirely ruled out for two reasons. First, Mr Naveen Patnaik has demonstrated extraordinary inability to grasp the nature and extent of the threat posed by Maoists — among all the States affected by Maoist terror, Odisha's response has been the clumsiest and most inadequate. If Central security forces have joined the battle with Maoists, it despite the lack of enthusiasm on part of the State's Chief Minister. Second, politicians tend to believe that personal security provided by armed escorts is a privilege that should be accorded only to those who belong to their tribe; officials are not worthy of such privilege. Of course, it may be equally possible that Mr Krishna chose not to have armed escorts as many young officers believe that a security shield cuts them off from the people. If true, he has knowingly invited trouble.

That said, it would be in order to comment on the State Government's response to the kidnapping of Mr Krishna. It is astounding that the main demand of the Maoists — all counter-insurgency operations must be halted immediately — has been conceded so promptly and unthinkingly. The momentum that had been gained by the security forces fighting Maoists in Odisha's jungles has been lost. It should not surprise us if Mr Patnaik were now to accept the other demand of the Maoists and free their fellow comrades-in-crime who are currently being held in various prisons in the State. That may fetch freedom for Mr Krishna, but the war on Red terror would suffer incalculable damage. Soft states cannot fight terrorism — Maoism is terrorism by another name — and this is a truism that does not merit elaboration. It's a war that is raging out there in the forests of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. And there's nothing called a pretty war. There are bound to be collateral damages: Security forces will suffer casualties; district administration officials will lose their lives; and, politicians courageous enough to dare the Maoists will be killed. It is nobody's case that efforts should not be made to secure the release of Mr Krishna — on the contrary, no efforts should be spared. But capitulation is not the right response. It is self-defeating and a blow to the state's authority.







Inspired by events in Egypt and Tunisia, protesters across West Asia have now taken to the streets from Bahrain to Libya and Iraq to demand better governance, more jobs and increased political participation while their Kings, Emirs and Presidents, caught unawares, have resorted to time-tested tactics of crushing dissent with violent force while making vacuous promises of reform. This was particularly evident in Bahrain — the first country in the Persian Gulf region to witness protest marches — where riot police on Thursday cracked down on demonstrators in downtown Manama. The pre-dawn assault on protesters, many of whom were still asleep, claimed the lives of at least four persons and injured several others and was followed by an Army takeover of the capital city. The backlash came two days after protesters gathered in Manama's Pearl Square, which had since begun to resemble Cairo's Tahrir Square, with its carnival-like atmosphere, protesters' tents and deliveries from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Shia Muslims, who form the majority of Bahrain's population, came together to protest against the Sunni royal family's ever tightening grip on the country and demand greater participation in civil life. Shias in Bahrain have long complained of discrimination as far as jobs, housing and even basic civil rights are concerned, and are particularly displeased with the ruling Al Khalifa family's ploy to grant citizenship to Sunni Muslims from the region. However, after the police launched a violent crackdown, enraged protesters wanted no part of the ruling Al Khalifa family

The situation is somewhat similar in poverty-stricken Libya where Africa's longest ruling dictator, Col Muammar Gaddafi, also resorted to violence to squash largely peaceful demonstrations across the country. At least 14 people died in Libya on Thursday's 'Day of Rage' as clashes ensued between the protesters and Col Gaddafi's supporters. Like Bahrain, the protests in Libya started small, triggered by demands for the release of an anti-Government activist, who was taken into custody but was let off soon after. However, by then emboldened Libyans had already set a security building in Benghazi on fire and had obviously set out on a path of no return, for even Col Gaddaffi's decision to double the wages of Government workers and release political prisoners has failed to appease them. Similar demonstrations took place at Basra in Iraq where hundreds gathered to demand the ouster of an ineffective local Governor, while angry Iraqis in Nasir stormed a provincial building and set it on fire. Such demonstrations are not uncommon as Iraqis enjoy political freedom but continue to suffer from bad governance and economic deprivation. Clearly, each of these countries has its unique set of concerns, but for now, all seem to be bound by a shared sense of tyrannical power that is the hallmark of most Arab countries.









The possible future trials and tribulations that await the people of Egypt cannot be minimised. For the moment, it's celebration time.

It was time for Mr Hosni Mubarak to go. His stubborn attempts to still the waves of massive public protest eventually gave way to tired resignation, as the surging tide of people's power brought Egypt's economic life to a grinding halt. American nervousness mounted by the hour and the European Union, obeying the movements of the conductor's baton in Washington, DC, kept faith with the score. Like all theatre it required audiences across the world to maintain a willing suspension of disbelief.

The first act ended somewhat abruptly with Mr Mubarak downing the tools of office and departing for his Red Sea retreat at Sharm el-Sheikh. The Mubaraks had done well in their years of preferment and power; the family vaults reportedly richer by anything between $40 billion and $70 billion, according to insiders in international graft and bribery and all manner of perquisites. The 82-year-old fallen star has enough in his coffers to bid for the death mask of the boy Pharaoh Tutankhamun, facts being more exotic than fiction.

Whether the Egyptian uprising distills into true revolution is in the gift of time. True power has long been confined to the military, whose ascendancy was signalled by the Nasserite coup of 1952, which overthrew the sybarite King Farouk, who was content thereafter to sun his royal substance on Capri. The Higher Council of the Egyptian military has promised free and unfettered elections, the suspension of the present Constitution and an eventual return to civilian rule.

But there's many a slip betwixt cup and lip, hence we must wait patiently upon events. For the present, Mr Mubarak's Emergency law, which underpinned his police state, remains firmly in place. The burden of Egypt's Mamluk and Ottoman past; of secretive, self-perpetuating cliques, supreme practioners of the black arts of intrigue and manipulation and unaccountable authority, will not easily be lifted.

In one of the great pieces of 19th century historical writing — "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte" — Karl Marx said: "Men make their own history, but not of their own free will; not under circumstances they themselves have chosen but under the given and inherited circumstances with which they are confronted. The traditions of the dead generations weigh like a nightmare on the minds of the living. And, just when they appear to be engaged in the revolutionary transformation of themselves and their surroundings, in the creation of something that does not yet exist, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they timidly conjure up the spirits of the past to help them borrow their names, slogans and costumes so as to stage the new world-historical scene in this venerable disguise and borrowed language ... the beginner who has learned a new language always retranslates it into his mother tongue; he can only be said to have appropriated the spirit of the new language and to be able to express himself in it freely when he can manipulate it without reference to the old, and when he forgets his original language while using the new one."

So much for possible future pitfalls and tribulations. The present, meanwhile, is taking care of itself. Facebookand Twitter, social networking websites, have come into their own against censorship and officially enjoined silence. This facilitated the Egyptian upheaval but its role should not become a metaphor for Oriental hyperbole. It is a small minority in the country that owns computers and mobile phones; nevertheless the word spread through a variety of channels and young and old were duly energised. The exhilaration of the first moments of freedom after the long silence of dictatorship are moments to be treasured; it is rebirth and renewal.

Here in Britain the media is in overdrive. Now that the old order in Egypt is laid to rest the boons of liberty and individual choice are proclaimed with joyous intensity from every newspaper rooftop, including Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, in whose Augean Stables the co-habiting Times and Sun trim the day's news.

For 30 dark years, Mr Mubarak enjoyed star status on the pages of most broadsheets and tabloids; a Muslim 'moderate', no less, as valuable as gold dust or cut diamonds to Pentagon and US State Department aficionados and kindred folk in the British Foreign Office down the road. The more things change the more they remain the same, is an old Gallic saying.

But the occasional mea culpa can be read and heard. Christopher Meyer, Britain's former Ambassador in Washington, is a refreshingly forthright voice on radio and television and the printed page. Writing in the Tory Daily Mail, he made this honest admission: "But the harsh truth is that we in the West know very little of what makes this huge and complex country (Egypt) tick. For example, we do not appear to know much about what is happening in Egypt outside Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and the larger cities... Most observers agree the Army is key. But this triggers further questions... So, the uncertainties could not be greater or the stakes higher — for Egyptians, the Middle East and Egypt's friends in the West. If ever there was a moment to weigh words carefully, it has been this week... So, what is to be done? This is what the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr Sergei Lavrov, is quoted as saying on his London Embassy's website: Russia wants to see a prosperous, stable and democratic Egypt, but the solution lies in the hands of Egyptian politicians and the Egyptian people."

Having commended these words. Mr Meyer, remembering its Russian origin, turned sour. Britain, he prclaimed loftily, needed no lessons "from (Prime Minister) Putin's authoritarian Russia." You can't win always.

Surveying the scene in Egypt and its neighbourhood, and the shenanigans in Pakistan over an imprisoned American citizen facing murder charges but claiming diplomatic immunity, reminds me of someone who, having witnessed a tragedy, whispers "There for the grace of god go I." At such moments my admiration for Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Mrs Indira Gandhi, like VS Naipaul's, is sky-bound. They kept India free and sovereign, eschewing the short-cuts that would have reduced their country to a liveried banana republic or a coolie state. Let us count our blessings.

-- The visual that appears with this article is a poster desgined and hosted by to mark the Lotus Revolution in Egypt.








What more does the Government of India need to punish Ajmal Kasab who was caught red-handed causing mayhem in Mumbai on November 26, 2008? More so at a time when Governments across the world have adopted a 'zero tolerance' policy towards terrorism.

Look at what the Sri Lankan Government did to the LTTE which had earned the reputation of being the most dangerous terrorist organisation in the world: It was uprooted in a matter of months. Here, first we allow Kasab and nine others to reach the shores of our country; we also allow them to mercilessly take innocent lives and destroy valuable property; we manage to kill nine of them, finally catch one of them, and then keep him under guard for 646 days without any punishment for reasons that fail any sane mind. For the record, Kasab's trial 'officially' began on the April 15, 2009 and the High Court's verdict is tentatively slated to be announced on February 21, 2011— a total of 646 days.

What is most insane is that unlike many countries, where in similar cases no one bothers about witnesses or evidences and verdicts are passed with no consideration whatsoever, in our case not only do we have enough evidence, including closed circuit TV footage that caught Kasab in action and footage of the Mumbai attack telecast live by all news channels, but Kasab himself has accepted all the charges brought against him. Yet the Government chose to make him stand trial instead of hanging him straight away.

Like every Indian, I ask: For what has he been kept alive? Is it to make his defence lawyer the most sought-after criminal lawyer of India? Or is it to create a poster boy image out of Kasab? If this is the intention of the Government, then one must admit that it has been fairly successful. Otherwise, where else does a terrorist who was part of a full-fledged terror attack against India in which at least 166 people were killed not only go unpunished for so many days but is also served mutton biryani, is given access to newspapers and is provided with his choice of clothing?

All this is provided to Kasab by the same Government, which serves other prisoners sub-standard food, two sets of black-and-white striped uniforms and dumps them in the middle of the most inhumane conditions, that too often on account of petty crimes.

Honestly, keeping Kasab alive speaks volumes about the indecisive and spineless attitude of our Government. And it is not that our Government has proven this just to its own citizens. The message has, more dangerously, been conveyed to various terrorist outfits which, by now, know very well that the Government of India does not have a spine. What is worse is that by keeping Kasab alive, the Government has potentially increased the probability of another 26/11, or another IC-814 horror.

It was owing to the let-go attitude of the Government that the Indian Airlines flight en route to Indira Gandhi International Airport from Tribhuvan International Airport on December 24, 1999, was hijacked to Kandahar with 178 people on board. That hijacking led to the release of terrorists like Maulana Masood Azhar (who played an active role in the 2001 attack on Parliament House and later was part of the 26/11 plot), Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh (who went on to murder Daniel Pearl) and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar (who has been recruiting and training terrorists in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) to secure the freedom of the hostages.

Contrast this to what happened during the Moscow theatre hostage crisis, also known as the 2002 Nord-Ost siege. And the way the Russian Government's unbending attitude towards terrorist demands set an example in front of its people. Moscow had responded in a similar manner to the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis.

It is needless to state that when it comes to national security, nothing else can be a priority for any Government. But in the Kasab episode, it is intriguing to analyse the economics of keeping him alive for so long.

It is estimated that the Maharashtra Government has spent a whopping Rs 31 crore in the first year of Kasab's arrest. From creating a bullet-proof cell in the JJ Hospital premises (which was never used) to visits by 24 doctors to attend to his various ailments in just one year, the Maharashtra Government has done it all. As if this were not enough, this celebrity-terrorist was provided with an imported van costing Rs 6 crore — which was stolen as soon as it reached India.

Above all, Mumbaikars, who faced the brunt of the 26/11 carnage, have had to bear the delay in the laying of new water pipes near Arthur Road Jail which has cost the BMC another Rs 12 crore while the re-routing of the monorail has dented the Government's coffers by another Rs 44 crore — all this on account of 'security reasons'. A back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that the Government has spent around Rs 100 crore in just one year on Kasab who, along with his fellow terrorists, destroyed public property worth Rs 41.72 crore. In short, Kasab has made our Government spend more than what he destroyed.

This entire saga has proven again that our Government is at best good at condemning assailants, felicitating martyrs, compensating victims, addressing the nation with a false hope and — if by chance a terrorist is arrested — holding terrorists alive till another negotiation takes place.

A swift verdict to hang Kasab is the least we can do for those who lost their lives during the attack which began on 26/11. On February 21 the verdict must be "Hang Kasab till death". And it must be implemented fast without wasting time.

The writer is a management guru and Editor, The Sunday Indian.








The Supreme Court has recently urged the Government, as it has been doing for many years, to move towards adopting a uniform civil code. Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Jsutice AK Ganguly made the pronouncement while hearing petitions, filed by National Commission for Women and Delhi Commission for Women, seeking clarity on the definition of a minor girl.

The confusion arises because of different views on the issue, given in diverse laws such as Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code; Indian Divorce Act, 1869; Juvenile Justice Act, 2000; Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 and Muslim Personal Law. Interestingly, Additional Solicitor-General Indira Jaisingh postulated that while there could be no uniform age for marriage, other laws, including the Hindu Marriage Act, could be amended to conform to the age of marriage, as stated in Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. The 2006 Act conforms to the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, instituted by the British, which defined girls under 18 and boys under 21 as minors. However, she made no reference to the marriage of minor girls under Muslim Personal Law.

Noting that Hindu personal laws had been amended as Hindus were tolerant of such "statutory interventions", the judges observed that laws of minority communities were not overhauled. This was a reflection on the Government's secular credentials. The observation is very pertinent as laws and customs, governing Hindus, have undergone radical changes since the days of the British Raj.

A brief recap will suffice to prove the point. Monogamy was made the rule for adult Hindu males; child marriage and sati were banned; divorce and widow remarriage were made legal; former spouses have to provide alimony to women; daughters have been accorded coparcenary rights along with sons to father's self-acquired property and more recently, ancestral property; and dowry and female infanticide have been made cognisable offences. Caste taboos and untouchability were also banned. Sikhs, Jains and Buddhist, though free to observe their customs, came within the ambit of Hindu law.

The Congress, which took over the reins of power from the British, ignored the constitutional directive to introduce a Uniform Civil Code. Along with its Left and socialist allies, it treated Muslims as a special constituency, governed by bigoted priests and theologians. This resulted in the politics of minorityism. Men were allowed to exercise the right to have four wives, and could also divorce by pronouncing the word talaq, or relaying it in a letter or telegram or over the phone thrice. This was talaq-ul-bidat, irregular divorce. Wives could also obtain divorce through the right of khula , but it was hardly ever invoked. Before marriage, the groom was required to fix mehr, a security amount that would accrue to the woman if he divorced her. But mehr was often withheld. Though clerics never approved attempts to reform harsh anti-women provisions, demanding and receiving dowry, an alien custom, was allowed, as too the accompanying harassment.

In 1986, the Rajiv Gandhi Government went so far as to revoke a Supreme Court order to grant the 70-year-old Shah Bano maintenance by her husband after he divorced her. This was because Muslim Personal Law did not provide for maintenance for a former wife. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 undid the apex court's laudable attempt to ensure justice for divorced Muslim women by bringing them under the ambit of secular law. But many Islamic countries have embraced reforms. Turkey has adopted a modern civil code. Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Jordon, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Iran have modified their laws. Polygamy has been banned in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and is strictly monitored in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The Constitution contains some conflicting provisos, according to jurists. Articles 14 and 15 guarantee equality and lack of discrimination, and Articles 25-28 promise religious freedom and cultural plurality. They feel that the Supreme Court's periodic urging to adopt a uniform civil code needs to be considered in the light of these constitutional assurances. However, such an approach actually serves to counter any move to standardise laws relating to marriage, divorce, inheritance, possession of property, adoption and other aspects of social life. It is one of the factors that have allowed policy-makers to flout the constitutional directive in this regard with Muslim Personal Law provisos in respect of wives' conjugal rights going against the idea of gender equality. In contrast, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians are permitted one wife under the law, and divorce proceedings are routed through the existing courts that conform largely to modern secular jurisprudence.

Article 44 in the section titled 'Directive Principles of State Policy' states, "The state shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of the union." Over six decades after the Constitution was adopted, the situation remains the same. While some political parties and citizens repeatedly demand a Uniform Civil Code, the Congress and the Left continue to ignore it.







The Congress hopes to win the coming Assembly election in Assam by leveraging the Union Government's peace talks with ULFA. That would fetch the party its third consecutive victory

It must have been a unique experience for the eight top ULFA leaders to enter North Block last week to have talks with the Union Government after spending three decades in jungles and prisons as hunted terrorists.

Although the meeting between ULFA leaders and the Union Government began on a cordial note in New Delhi, but still a question mark looms over the resolution of Assam insurgency. Tough and sensitive negotiations are ahead and neither side is in a hurry.

The doubts arise because the ULFA remains divided over 'unconditional' talks. On the one side, there is a pro-talks group, on the other there is ULFA Commander-in-chief Paresh Barua, who is said to be hiding in the jungles of Burma. He has rejected the talks, while others are waiting for him to come around. The decision to hold peace talks was taken at ULFA's executive committee and general council meetings, but Paresh Barua dismissed the decision as 'un-constitutional' and 'immoral'.


So while the ULFA is still a banned group and its members outlawed, why are they ready for talks with the Centre? ULFA, which has been waging insurgency in Assam for the last three decades, suffered a severe blow when its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and other top leaders were arrested by the police in Bangladesh and were handed over to Indian authorities.

The Bangladesh Government deserves to be applauded for making it difficult for the ULFA leaders to operate from its soil. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena reversed her predecessor's policy of providing safe havens to the insurgents from North-East, forcing the ULFA to accept New Delhi's offer for talks.

It is quite clear that nothing concrete can be expected before the April-May Assembly election in the State. The ULFA has declared that it will not participate in the election. Its cadres will stay in designated camps in Assam like NSCN-IM in neighbouring Nagaland. The ULFA is also expected to declare a ceasefire before the next round of talks and the Union Government may lift the ban on the organisation in return.

However, there is hope on both sides because the Congress-led UPA Government and the Congress-ruled State Government have done much of the preparatory work before the top ULFA leaders landed in Delhi. The outlawed leaders have agreed to hold talks because they have realised that their movement is losing steam and time is running out. Further, the leaders in hiding are feeling frustrated as they are getting older. Above all, the atmosphere seems to be conducive for such talks. This is perhaps the main reason for the ULFA agreeing to talks without any pre-conditions.

The first round of Delhi talks raised hope as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram had cordial meetings with the ULFA leaders. The fact that Mr Singh met them shows that he has enough confidence on the interlocutors.

Stakes are high for the Congress as it is keen to win the State Assembly election for the third time in a row. The Centre is keen to bring the ULFA around so that it can show the peace card during the Assembly poll campaign. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has been helpful in convincing the ULFA to come to the negotiating table. However, despite Centre's eagerness that ULFA leaders participate in the election, they have so far not shown any interest. The strategists believe if the ULFA returns to the mainstream, it will boost the Congress's chances of winning.

The most important task that Mr Gogoi has in hand is to conduct peaceful Assembly polls. If the ULFA abstains from violence, that itself will be a big step towards peace. Assam experienced enough poll violence in the past two decades because insurgent groups like ULFA and NDFB called to boycott elections.

In 1985 Assembly election, the ULFA helped the Asom Gana Parishad, but soon they fell out as AGP chief Prafulla Kumar Mahanta began to contain the ULFA. In 1991, the ULFA supported Congress leader Hiteswar Saikia to come to power because it not only wanted to remove the AGP from power but also save its leaders from the Army crackdown. There were rumours of some secret deal between Mr Saikia and the ULFA leadership, but soon the relationship got strained. The ULFA again started wooing the AGP during the 1996 polls but the understanding was short-lived as Mr Mahanta wanted to wipe the ULFA out. Hence, during the 2001 polls, the ULFA unleashed violence and targeted the BJP and AGP. In contrast, the 2006 Assembly election was more or less peaceful.

The roadmap ahead has been chalked out. The Joint Secretary in the Home Ministry has been designated to hold talks with the ULFA leaders on designated camps, surrender policy, deposit of arms and other issues. These are ticklish issues and needs careful handling.

Whether the Congress comes back to power in Assam or not, the Centre should go ahead with peace talks as ending insurgency in the strife-torn State is important, irrespective of the party ruling the State. The negotiating team should better keep in mind the interest of the people of Assam rather than any narrow short-term gains. Only then peace will return.

The pro-talk group is unlikely to interfere if Government launches operations against those members indulging in violence.







A section of the educated and articulate urban middle-class has come to believe, quite erroneously, that the ills of political system can be eradicated by judicial interventions. It deserves to be clearly stated that political process cannot be reformed and its evils cannot be checked only be legalistic and technical interpretations of law by the judiciary. It is because neither by training nor by their exposure to the complexities of democratic process, judges are equipped to deal with the growing malaise in the actual functioning of political system. Therefore, the activist champions of judicial intervention are encouraging the judiciary to intervene in areas of governance, which are clearly earmarked for elected legislature and political executive of the country.

It is solely for the political executive and democratically-elected legislature to identify organisations or groups which pose a serious threat to the system of democratic governance. This is the reason why political parties have reacted strongly against the Supreme Court judgment of February 4, 2011, where it observed that "membership of a banned organisation will not make a person a criminal unless he resorts to violence".

True, a democratic political system cannot allow any party to crush its political opponents and dissident groups. This is the reason why democracies do not give unlimited power to political executive to impose 'ban' on every non-conformist groups. Hence, it is no one's case that the Government should have a blanket right to declare any group illegal and ban its activities because the party in power can thus target its opponents to remain challenged.

However, the moot question is whether a country, which is the target of gun-wielding terrorist groups, should have a legal arrangement for 'banning' the practitioners of violence against democracy. The recent ruling regarding executive's power to 'ban' violent organisations has highlighted the dangers that are inherent in an over-active judicial system. It is clear that the phenomenon of 'judicial activism and interventionism' cannot be legitimised in blindly because judges can also cross the boundaries laid down by the Constitution of India.

It was not a partisan issue when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed out recently, "while the power of judicial review must be used to enforce accountability, it must never be used to erode the legitimate role assigned to other branches of the Government". He further stated, "this is vitally necessary to preserve the integrity and sanctity of the constitutional scheme premised on the diffusion of sovereign power."

If executive and legislative branches are tempted to extend their jurisdiction beyond the limits laid down by the Constitution, it is for the judiciary to 'control' them and remind them of their limited powers. However, we are witnessing a strange phenomenon where judiciary is enjoying public acclaim by pronouncing judgements on areas of governance where it is not expected to sit as an adjudicator.

The Central Vigilance Commissioner PJ Thomas, under review by the Supreme Court, hit the nail on the head when he said that continuing prosecution of a case does not mean that the 'guilt' has been established because in that case, 153 MPs out of 543 members of the Lok Sabha would have been 'disqualified'. His statement reflects the crucial issue of delay in pronouncing judgements.

Indian judiciary, including the Supreme Court, is known for delaying the dispensation of justice. More than 3 lakh cases are still pending before the Supreme Court. It makes people lose confidence in the judicial system of the country because justice delayed is justice denied. The priority for the Bar and the Bench should be to restore the credibility of the judicial process, not getting involved in issues that would bring them into the limelight.

Judges forget that they need to be respected for their judgments and not for their lengthy moralistic pronouncements.

The former Chief Justice of India PN Bhagwati innovated the system of 'Public Interest Litigation' and the educated elite applauded it as an opportunity to make the political executive more accountable. However, PIL has become quite attractive for publicity-hunting individuals and judges had to limit the admission of PILs by making a distinction between genuine and frivolous PILs.

It is another telling example of judiciary being overburdened by entertaining PILs and not concentrating on the disposal of millions of cases pending for years.

If political executive is losing its legitimacy in the eyes of voters for committing serious acts of omission and commission, then the credibility of judiciary as a dispenser of quick and fair judgement has also been eroded.

The test of a healthy judicial system is that an ordinary and faceless citizen can approach the court for quick justice with minimum expenditure.










With scams dominating the news and opposition political parties demanding accountability, Manmohan Singh's interaction with the media on Wednesday was significant. The prime minister signalled his readiness to appear before any investigative committee, including a JPC. In the last few weeks there has been considerable traction on the 2G spectrum scam probe, now being monitored by a bench of the Supreme Court. Several key telecom officials, including former minister A Raja, continue to be interrogated by the CBI to determine the details of the case. Parliament's Public Accounts Committee is carrying out its own probe into the scam. With the Supreme Court watching, it will not be possible simply to manipulate the results of these probes.

There have been important steps in other areas as well. The Adarsh scandal forced the resignation of Congress chief minister
Ashok Chavan in Maharashtra. The allotment of S-band spectrum by Isro to Devas has been cancelled. The opposition has done well to force the government's hand on corruption. The latter has even expressed readiness to concede to a JPC probe into the 2G scam. While the opposition should continue to hold the government accountable, and press for more progress in uncovering corruption and prosecuting the guilty, this must not be made an excuse to hold up governance itself.

It's time to end the boycott of Parliament and ensure a productive budget session, not least because of the pressing economic problems confronting the nation. Continued disruptions will mar the investment climate and the country's economic health. Eventually the opposition is going to be blamed for being disruptionist and holding up the business of the nation. There are grounds to find fault with the coalition dharma that the PM spoke of, but the opposition cannot adopt non-cooperation as its dharma either.

A host of important policy decisions remain on the table. The Goods and Services Tax, which will create a unified market in the country, awaits rollout. Rising food prices demand a closer look at agricultural reforms to mitigate supply-side deficiencies. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, the Public Interest Disclosure Bill for the protection of whistleblowers and the Lokpal Bill are important legislations hanging fire in Parliament. They need to be pushed through quickly to combat institutional corruption and ensure probity in governance. This cannot be done if the opposition, especially the BJP, sticks to an intransigent position and adopts a scorched earth policy towards anything the government says. The parliamentary boycott has achieved its purpose, it's now past its sell-by date.







For cricket fanatics in the subcontinent - and in these parts, who isn't - the greatest show on earth has kicked off. For the next month and a half, the cricket World Cup will be omnipresent. And as many experts have pointed out, this is India's best chance to take home the trophy in a long while. In the years since its dismal performance in the 2007 World Cup, it has successfully achieved what few teams manage - a gradual, careful renewal, bringing in new faces, striking the right balance between precocious talent and experience. Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yusuf Pathan, Suresh Raina - they are new fixtures in the ODI line-up, all. The bowling remains a weakness, with excessive reliance on Zaheer Khan. But if the warm-up games are anything to go by, home conditions could mitigate this.

From a broader, less parochial point of view as well, this World Cup is vital. The last edition in 2007 was bloated and insipid. And in the interval T20 has come along and seized an important share of the market. The continued relevance of one-day cricket - squeezed between the purity of Test matches and the instant gratification of T20 - has been questioned. This is the best chance to suss out some answers and determine if the format is still viable in the long term. It's a World Cup hosted in a region where cricket has the most followers - and whose market, therefore, is the economic engine of the sport. But for the Indian fan, none of these might be as important as one other consideration. This is probably Sachin Tendulkar's last opportunity to hold aloft the trophy.








With India playing exceedingly well in the warm-up games, the expectation from the team has peaked. M S Dhoni and his boys certainly go into the World Cup as one of the favourites. Fans, who till recently had expressed apprehensions, have now started to feel otherwise. A more than healthy crowd at Chepauk in the second warm-up game against New Zealand is testi-mony to growing support for Team India's Cup campaign.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) too appears reasonably satisfied. It could not have found a better place to host the 2011 World Cup than the subcontinent, with India playing host to the bulk of the matches. Herein lies the apprehension as well. Just as the Indian team is under the scanner, so also are Indian crowds, key to India cementing its position as the nerve centre of world cricket.

It is a given that the India matches will be played to packed stadiums. The real challenge is to fill up stadiums for the non-India matches. Only if there are sizeable crowds for these games can we claim to have matured as a cricket-watching nation. It is cricket's biggest stage and hyper-nationalism, central to Indian cricket-watching, cannot continue to be the sport's only selling point in India. Take the FIFA World Cup: not only were matches involving South Africa well-attended, but most matches were played to sizeable crowds across the country in June-July 2010.

Unless India's public embraces the Cup in totality, filling venues across the spectrum, it is difficult for us to push home the argument that India is world cricket's true centre of gravity. Certainly it is the hub of cricket finance and also perhaps of new age innovation as in the IPL. But a mature cricket-viewing public, as we find in Australia or England, is still to be a reality in India.

A caveat must be introduced here. Not for once is it expected of the Indian cricket fan that he should spend thousands to watch Canada play Kenya or Ireland play Netherlands. This is a problem with the sport's health that fans can't help remedy. Unlike in World Cup football where most matches are closely contested, the first month of the cricket World Cup will see many no-contests. Games that don't last the distance will inevitably result in fans losing interest. While this lack of balance is something for the ICC to remedy, for the marquee non-India clashes like England versus South Africa or Australia versus New Zealand it is important that cricket fans in India throng the stadiums. Unless this happens, the event can hardly be labelled a successful spectacle and India as cricket's true home.

Interestingly, Indian cricket fans are faced with stiff competition from their Bangladeshi counterparts. Once tournament tickets went on sale in Bangladesh on January 2, the entire nation went into a tizzy to buy up passes. Within 48 hours the entire inventory of tickets was sold out, indication enough of the cricket craze across the border.

In India, on the other hand, organisers have found it difficult to sell inventories of non-India games and have resorted to innovative ways of filling up stadiums. The most obvious of these techniques is to hand out free tickets to schoolchildren, a practice that has almost become a norm at the VCA stadium in Nagpur, one of the country's best cricket venues. Even when India played South Africa in a much-awaited Test series in February 2010, VCA officials were forced to distribute free tickets in schools to ensure the stadium was at least a third full. This was because during the first two days of the match there were no more than 1,000 spectators in a stadium of 55,000 capacity.

It is in this context that the Eden Gardens fiasco sticks out like a thorn in the flesh. In its own interest, perhaps the ICC needed to be flexible. Eden Gardens was surely its best bet to ensure even non-India matches were played to packed stands. If the India-England match was returned to Kolkata after pulling up the organisers for their laxity, the kind of hype it would have generated would have gone a long way in ensuring the World Cup got off to the start it so badly needs.

It is not being suggested that the ICC should have eased pressure on the Cricket Association of Bengal. At every step the officials should have been made to realise that their failure to get the stadium ready on time had cost them dear. But keeping the World Cup in mind, the interest of Kolkata's cricket-loving public and, finally, the commercial bonanza Eden Gardens could offer, the ICC may have thought of revoking its earlier decision, giving back Kolkata the match that it was looking forward to watching. Such a gesture would surely have struck an emotional chord with cricket fans, and the remaining three matches to be played at the Eden Gardens would surely have seen tremendous spectator interest.

ICC is no FIFA, cricket is in half the health that football is and the fickle Indian market is the game's only lifeline. In such a situation, it is in the ICC's interest to provide spectators with every possible incentive to make the World Cup a successful event.

The writer is senior research fellow, University of Central Lancashire.








How would you compare Dhobi Ghat with other major 'Mumbai' films?

From what I've seen, most films on Mumbai capture life in a certain milieu of the city, say the underworld or the middle class. What I was trying to do was to portray different circles or worlds within the city, or look at how so many different 'Mumbais' coexist and are interdependent in one Mumbai. Also rather than have a dramatic plot - or 'crisis' - I wanted the film to be more an experience, making a collage of the city through video, photographs, painting and the sounds of the city, while looking at the little dramas in everyday life.

The relatively new faces added enormously to the feeling of almost docu-like authenticity. Do you in hindsight feel that perhaps not casting Aamir would have further enhanced the mood of realism?

I suppose having an unknown face in Aamir's role may have heightened the realism. A star always carries the cross of over-familiarity. But I am happy with the kind of realness the film has. I realise that a star's influence is a perception the audience carries into the film, but I feel that if the film is any good, then after the first few scenes the audience forgets the star and gets lost in the character.

The texture, sound, plot and even shot divisions in Dhobi Ghat were very European. How influenced are you by European cinema?

My real connect with cinema happened when I did my Masters in Mass Communication at Jamia Millia University. The films we watched there were by masters like Tarkovsky and Bresson. A lot of us certainly left there with the word 'auteur' ringing in our ears! I suppose I've imbibed some of that cinematic language, but it wasn't a conscious decision to make a film in the European style. In fact I am probably more influenced by photography, music (particularly Hindustani classical music), painting and poetry.

Do you think you could've marketed the film so effectively without Aamir by your side?

Marketing and handling audience expectations would have been far easier if Aamir hadn't been acting in it. This is a fairly niche film. So having Aamir posed a serious challenge, because he attracts a much bigger audience than an art-house film. Our marketing strategy therefore had to revolve largely around preparing people for a very different genre of film, and qualifying that it's not an 'Aamir Khan film', even at the risk of underselling it.

As a woman filmmaker how different do you think your perspective is compared to men's?

Women have a different experience of life in many ways. And that experience would find its way especially into this kind of more personal filmmaking. I find the male gaze which dominates our industry has led to a less nuanced, sometimes downright offensive, representation of women. With more women writers and directors entering the fray I hope it will balance out.

Dhobi Ghat got you extremely positive reviews. What will you direct next?

Yes, there have been some very positive reviews, which were so heart warming, this being my first film. For my next there's a story that's been brewing in my head for a while. It began with being the story of a turn-of-the-century nautch girl, but has abstracted into a piece on music, performance and women. In truth, I'll never really know what my next is till I've written it.






Forget your BAs, MAs and PhDs - Bribery is the criterion of qualification.


I'm a totally uneducated and useless fellow. And chances are that if you've nothing better to do with your time than to read this, you're pretty uneducated and useless too. Why? Because i know that i'm not a BP, let alone an MB, or a PhB. And i've a pretty good hunch that, like me, you're none of these things either. A BP is a degree, or qualification, equivalent to the old BA (Bachelor of Arts) or BSc (Bachelor of Science) or BCom (Bachelor of Commerce). Similarly, an MB is today's equivalent of an MA (Master of Arts) or MSc (Master of Science) or MCom (Master of Commerce). And a PhB - you've guessed it - is the equivalent of the old PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy. What does the B stand for in BP, MB and PhB? That you have to ask shows how useless you are, along with me.


The B in BP, MB and PhB stands for Bribery. People used to put BA, or BSc, or BCom after their names to indicate that they were graduates in the Arts, Sciences, or Commerce. Today, the only degree that matters is the one issued not by a university of education but by the universality of corruption. What counts is not whether you're a BA, or an MA, or a PhD, but whether you're a BP, a Bribery Pass, an MB, a Master of Bribery, or a PhB, a Philosopher of Bribery, which is the highest rung on the ladder of graft.


In days gone by, if you sported a BA, or an MSc or a PhD, people knew that you were qualified in a particular academic discipline and evaluated your worth to society accordingly. A BA would look down on a mere Matric-pass, an MA look down on both, and a PhD look down on the whole jing-bang lot. Today, it's the turn of the BPs, the MBs and the PhBs to look down on the non-BPs, the non-MBs and the non-PhBs. The acid test today is: are you qualified enough ever to have received a bribe? If not, you're a total failure in the school of corruption, which is another word for the school of life in 21st century India.


Receipt of a bribe - no matter how small - indicates that someone, somewhere, has deemed you to be important enough to be given a ghoos in return for a favour or service which is in your power to render to the briber. Once you've passed the bribe test (i.e., been considered useful enough or important enough to deserve a bribe) you become a BP, a Bribery Pass. After which, you can go on to higher educational pursuits, such as becoming a Master of Bribery or even a PhB, a Philosopher of Bribery, a veritable raja of the kingdom of graft.


And that's where I've turned out to be a total loss, an uneducated and useless nikamma. Very like you. Because I've never been considered useful and/or important enough for anyone to offer me a bribe. And I fear that you're in the same pitiable state of disqualification. Everyone else seems to have unlimited access to the ghoos that lays the golden eggs: politicians, babus, defence personnel, judges, even the cop on the beat receiving his regular hafta from truck drivers and roadside chaiwallas. Everyone except me. And you.


Once I thought I'd made it at last, finally got my BP, my Bribery Pass. I held a mall door open for a large sethani who slipped me a two-rupee coin. My first bribe! Then I realised that it wasn't a bribe, but a tip: I'd been mistaken for the gatekeeper employed by the mall to hold doors open for customers.


Desperate situations call for desperate remedies. I'm willing to scratch your back - or rather, your bribe - if you'll scratch mine. You send me 10 bucks by money order and I'll send you the same amount. Then both of us can claim to be genuine, fully paid-up BPs and claim our rightful place in society. I'll post you your tenner, as soon as you post mine. Forget BPs; at this rate we can become instant MBAs: Masters of Bribery Acceptance. Done deal?







India seems determined to resume a dialogue with Pakistan almost irrelevant of context or content. This sense is so strong that many Indians see the hand of Washington behind it. It is certainly the case that the driving force is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his oft-stated belief that the Pakistan impasse is one of a handful of barriers that stand between India and greatness.

Mr Singh's case for a dialogue seems to be a simple cost-benefit calculation. The consequences of failed talks are largely symbolic: some humiliation, some expenditure of political capital and a small loss of face. The consequences of successful talks are enormous, going well beyond the tangible gains in security and trade. They would open the door for Indian civil society to help stabilise its beleaguered Pakistani counterpart and remove the blinkers that confine India's strategic horizon to the subcontinent.

The renewed Thimphu process is noticeable for its seeming surrender of the Indian demand for a genuine act of atonement by Pakistan for the 26/11 terrorist attack. This a price that India could consider paying if there was a relatively good chance of success when it came to the dialogue. So far, this evidence has been hard to find.

Nonetheless, New Delhi has persevered. Mr Singh's hopes have been kept alive by the memory of the remarkable strides taken by both sides during the backdoor negotiations held with President Pervez Musharraf. If these serve as the basis for a renewed dialogue, then there is more than ample reason to push for talks. However, the past two attempts at dialogue have gone down in flames for various reasons.

And a core reason has been a seeming ambivalence towards dialogue by the head of the Pakistani military, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The recent removal of the Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, has only strengthened public doubts about the latest move.

The India-Pakistan peace process at present has less the elements of cautious diplomacy and more the character of a risky financial venture. But given the reserves of economic and political strength India has earned the past decade in contrast to Pakistan, it is a venture that may be worth the risk.

The dialogue is a high-risk, high-return investment and one that, in the final analysis, India can afford to take. New Delhi believes the Pakistani military will be supportive this time. So another roll of the dice may be worth taking, so long as the potential jackpot is kept in mind.





From tomorrow, when the 2011 cricket World Cup kicks off in Dhaka, till April 2, when we get to know which country is the world champion, the 14 contesting teams will also be honing their off-the-field tactics and strategy to win one match at a time.

Call it discipline or superstition, there will be some coaches who will insist that their players concentrate fully on the job at hand: winning games and moving ahead for the ultimate glory. One standard decree in such big ticket tournaments has been keeping one's mind off amorous thoughts and activities.

So there will be reminders in dressing rooms and beyond of staying away from wives and girlfriends. Once the relatively tame league games are over and the men are separated from the boys, women who don't fall under the categories of wives and girlfriends will probably be out of bounds for players. Can the colourful lot handle such enforced brahmacharya-hood for more than a month and a half?

If former Pakistan off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq's latest revelations are to be taken note of, the chances of cricketing monkhood looks slim. Mushtaq has 'confessed' that he had to hide his wife inside a hotel cupboard the night before the final against Australia in the 1999 World Cup in England to avoid disciplinary action.

Mushtaq mentioned that when he was 'chatting' with his wife in his room, the Pakistan team manager had come knocking. In the panic that ensued, Mrs Mushtaq was bundled into a cupboard that her hubby locked from outside.

It doesn't, however, take a Doctor Freud to figure out that with Australia ultimately going on to beat the Pakistanis in the final — and remember, in this match the hormones-friendly Shane Warne took four wickets for 33 runs to claim the man of the match — abstinence may not have been a winning strategy.

But then there will be some punters who will insist that because Mushtaq 'chatted' with his wife the night before, the star spinner managed only one wicket in his four overs and handed Australia an eight-wicket victory on the platter.








In a recent security conference in Washington, a Chinese delegate caused an awkward silence among the congenial group at a post-event drinks session when he stated that India was "an undisciplined country where the plague and leprosy still exist. How a big, dirty country like that can rise so quickly amazed us".

It is this Chinese sentiment of disdain and also grudging admiration that explains much of Beijing's attitude towards New Delhi. Indeed, one needs to go beyond strategic and military competition to understand the depth of rivalry between Asia's two rising giants.

China shares land borders with 14 countries. Over the past 30 years, it has made concerted attempts to improve relationships with all of them by settling border disputes. In the case of Russia, China granted significant concessions in order to improve its relationship with Moscow. But the one exception is India.

Outstanding disputes such as the one over the Switzerland-sized area of Arunachal Pradesh continue to bedevil relations. China's militarisation of the Tibetan plateau — including placing a third of its nuclear arsenal in that region — is a direct challenge to Indian sensibilities. Indeed, India is the only country not formally covered by China's 'no first use' nuclear policy.

Add to these the growing naval rivalry in the Indian Ocean that is driven by resource competition and insecurity and we have what Chinese leaders openly admit to be a "very difficult relationship" with India. These factors point to the persistence of the India-China rivalry.

But they do not fully explain why Beijing has made little effort to work towards settlement of these disputes with New Delhi, as it has with its other land-based neighbours. A more complete explanation needs to take into account the non-material factors behind China's strategic rivalry with India.

The first factor is one of shock and surprise at India's continued rise. Until the late 1990s, people at the highest levels in China were dismissing India's prospects. It was only early this century that China abandoned viewing India through the lens of the 1962 war when Indian forces were decimated and New Delhi humiliated.

Because Indian national scars and weaknesses are there for all to see, little is hidden or explained away. China met India's re-emergence initially with disbelief, then with disdain, and now with wariness. Beijing does not react calmly to strategic surprises and its gruff response to Indian ambitions in Asia is evidence that Beijing is yet to determine a grand strategic response to India's re-emergence.

Second, Chinese leaders view the region in hierarchical terms. And the hierarchy is not just based on economic and military benchmarks but also on culture and history. The Chinese see the idea of Asia as having a Chinese core with a number of cultures and polities in the periphery. They call themselves the 'Middle Kingdom' for a reason.

Hence, they see little room for another culture and civilisation with equally big historical claims in their concept of Asia. In East and Southeast Asia, Indian culture and civilisation plays second fiddle to Chinese culture and civilisation. But in south and central Asia, Indian cultural influence and 'soft power' far exceeds China's.

As the other great foundational civilisation in Asia, India presents a unique challenge to China that other big Asian powers such as Japan do not. Hence, just as China demands 'respect' from the West, Beijing will have grave difficulty accepting that there is another big country also driven by a sense of its enduring civilisation on its doorstep.

Third, as much as both countries will seek to deny it, there is an ideological contest taking place between the rise of authoritarian China and democratic India. The traditional Chinese response to Western expectations that it pursue political reform is to point out that democratic politics would derail the economic progress of such a big, developing country. India is a direct contradiction of this reasoning.

Moreover, democratic India enjoys advantages that authoritarian China does not. For example, China silently fumed at the ease with which the United States was able to embrace India as a legitimate nuclear power after decades of diplomatic hostility. The rapid improvement in military-to-military relationships between India and countries such as America, Japan and Indonesia exceed the progress of such relationships with China — despite 15 years of a Chinese 'charm offensive'.

As Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, himself not a noted democrat, has observed, few countries in East and Southeast Asia fear India's rise even as they remain wary of China's.

Finally, as far as the Chinese are concerned, India has something which few other democracies in Asia have: a preparedness to go to war. This immeasurable national and political characteristic is highly respected by the Chinese. That such a potentially big country like India has it greatly concerns Beijing.

In a sense, these are compelling reasons why China should want to construct a better relationship with India. Its strategists know this. But fundamentally accepting the legitimacy of India's rise — and therefore its ambitions — is the harder task for Beijing.

**John Lee is a research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, Sydney, and the Hudson Institute, Washington DC.

**The views expressed by the author are personal.





As the tenth International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup kicks off in Dhaka, all that talk about the 50-over format of the game being in the ICU has vanished. Even with the chirpier Twenty20 format of the game proving to be a runaway success, the one-day international (ODI) generates enough passion in a tournament like the World Cup.

And here's the irony: one-day cricket itself came about as a populariser of cricket at a time when interest in Tests was plummeting. Test cricket today is doing well, and we now have a 20-over format in addition to the ODI. Instead of a Darwinian survival of the 'quickest', we have a happy cohabitation of three types of cricket, feeding spectator enthusiasm off each other.

One-day cricket started rolling in England in 1963 in the form of the Gillette Cup. The first ODI was played on the fifth day of a rain-washed-out Test match between England and Australia in Melbourne in 1971. The 40-over match (with eight balls per over) was a crowd-pleaser, filling the time available after the abandoned Test match.

In any case, interest in Test and county cricket in England had been dipping from the 1950s. The very edifice on which county cricket stood was about to collapse, with county cricket coffers almost empty.

The seeds of one-day cricket was sown after the recommendations of a committee appointed by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 1956. This committee suggested remedial measures to arrest the falling interests in the game. The Gillette Cup competition ensued and was an instant success.

The aftermath was even more successful, leading to the introduction of the John Player Special League in 1969 and the Benson & Hedges Cup in 1972. In 1972, the Prudential Trophy (three 55-over games) between Australia and England was organised.

Limited-over cricket opened the floodgates of sporting entertainment. Australian TV tycoon Kerry Packer was the first to realise its vast potential and put a fortune into the venture. Initially, the returns were far from pleasing. But soon, 'instant cricket' became a hit.

The first limited-over cricket World Cup competition — the Prudential Cup — was organised with great interest in 1975. But this wasn't before other cricketing countries had also tested the one-day format with success.

Since then the ICC Cricket World Cup has been held regularly every four years. Although the competition has witnessed changes both in form and format, the basic ingredients of entertainment and excitement still remain at its core.

*Ravi Chaturvedi is a cricket commentator and author of World Cup Cricket: A Compendium.

**The views expressed by the author are personal.





First of a special series on this year's Best Picture nominations leading up to the Oscar Awards ceremony on February 27

Peter Bradshaw on his favourite Best Film Oscar nomination

Fantastically deranged at all times, Darren Aronofsky's ballet psychomelodrama is a glittering, crackling, outrageously pickable scab of a film. At its centre is young ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman). She is beautiful, vulnerable, sexually naïve and susceptible to mental illness. To play the role of a lifetime, Nina must delve deep into her own dark side. As her hallucinations and anxiety attacks escalate in tandem with her progress in rehearsal, artistic breakthrough fuses with nervous breakdown.

This is a movie about fear of penetration, fear of your body, fear of being supplanted in the affections of a powerful man, love of perfection, love of dance, and perhaps most importantly of all, passionate and overwhelming hatred of your mother.

We join the story as the ballet company is about to dispense with its bitter has-been star (and wrecked gamine) Beth Macintyre: the casting of Winona Ryder is sadistically judged. The company's exacting director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) is looking for someone new to play the lead in Swan Lake. His hooded eye settles on tremulous Nina.

But he warns her that the biggest challenge will be playing the character's evil twin, the `Black Swan'. She has to find the darker, more sensual side of herself.

Thomas invites Nina back to his apartment for intimate drinks. To develop the role, he instructs her to go home and touch herself. Touching Thomas also appears to be on the agenda.









The UPA government needs to move on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in the coming budget. This has long been delayed because of the slow progress needed to arrive at a consensus. The fact that India has a federal structure should be its strength and not its weakness as has become in the case of GST, over which discussions in the empowered committee have been continuing for many years now. Today, there are few champions of GST and the Centre must fill this gap by taking the leadership. At the same time, it is important for the opposition to play a constructive role. The idea of the GST was mooted under the BJP-led NDA government. The BJP, as the largest party in opposition and one that has governments in so many states, needs to break out of the all-round negativity that locked down the winter session.

Today, when reforms have almost come to a halt, the GST will be a big step forward. The reform is part of the overall objective to build a modern tax system in which individuals and firms should have to pay only three taxes: property tax, income tax and GST. The record-keeping, tax form filling and corruption associated with the multiplicity of levies would thereby be eliminated. In particular, a key benefit will be that of building India as a common market, where goods and services move freely across state boundaries. Finally, the GST will make possible the full elimination of customs duties. These are all features that will raise productivity, reduce distortions and increase the rate of GDP growth.

The first step the finance ministry needs to take is the launch of a "Central GST", which combines the CENVAT and the Central Service Tax into a single IT system on the lines of the Tax Information Network (TIN) which has worked very well for income tax. This new IT system would be a model for a countrywide GST. While difficulties can be expected with many state administrations trying to fight for turf in the collection of GST, the Central government must take the lead and push for an efficient administration. Each business should have to deal with a single administration and a single IT front end for GST, rather than many tax administrations and many forms. The Centre must create a roadmap for this. Even if the BJP continues to play spoilsport, the Centre can move ahead on a common market for states willing to join. It would test the reformist credentials of other state governments, the BJP's included.







Much as India needs all-round, large-scale and rapid efforts at developing infrastructure, the discourse and action on infrastructure cannot stop at just getting roads built, railway routes inaugurated and airports modernised. It has to move on also to an understanding of the potential of public spaces and to their utilisation for public convenience, generation of jobs and growth. The Punjab government's ambitious plans to modernise bus stands in the state, as reported in The Financial Express on Thursday, should therefore be welcomed and studied for replication in other states.On the face of it, this may look like a cosmetic feel-good project for Punjab's stumbling economy. However, the fact that Punjab needs to urgently tackle challen-ges on several fronts doesn't negate the utility and example of its bus stands. After privately run buses began taking people away from the relics run by the Punjab Roadways, crowded and ill-maintained bus stands are also about to disappear. Work is on in Mohali, where a 10-storeyed commercial complex is planned over the bus terminal — shopping complex, multiplex, food courts, hotel, banks, ATMs and even a helipad — on 7.02 acres leased to a construction firm. While bus stands at Amritsar, Jalandhar and Ludhiana were upgraded under the build-operate-transfer scheme, all expenses in the Mohali model will be borne by private players, costing the government nothing.

Charges of land misuse, disproportionate benefits to private players and "irrelevance" are standard in such cases and tend to be opportunistic or luddite. Nevertheless, it should be ensured that the contracts are absolutely transparent. Besides, later rent-seeking should be precluded.






The social justice and empowerment minister has written a letter to the prime minister, reminding him of the UPA's commitment to expand opportunity for SC/ST youth, and detailing ways in which corporate India has failed to live up to the big talk about affirmative action. An outright quota in the private sector is unworkable. However, there needs to be a definite movement towards expanding employability and keeping the larger egalitarian mission in mind.

In order for them to make better hiring decisions, companies need a large pool of diverse candidates to choose from. That would involve addressing the skills deficit that India is reeling under, one that disproportionately impacts the disprivileged, SC/ST youth among them. For all the promises about the private sector training these under-served parts of the population, and moulding a work-force to fit their needs, there is just not enough evidence of that happening. As the minister observes, the actual numbers of SC/ ST youth trained are terribly meagre. But the government cannot merely cluck at the companies for their lack of enthusiasm, if they haven't enabled this process. It's the government's responsibility to extend ladders of opportunity, they need to ensure that SC/ST candidates are prepped for the job market, directed by a particular sector's needs. Industry-led skills training is a staple in most countries, and much needed for our own labour force. Incentives like tax deductions for apprenticeship stipends would certainly help, and could be geared to address caste-based disadvantage.

Corporate India should be better encouraged to create more equal opportunity workplaces. Such action is not just a moral and democratic imperative, it makes hard business sense to devote energy and resources to

India's skills deficit, and focus on those who have been left out of corporate India's runaway success. It would not just redress historical disadvantage, it would make life easier for India Inc in the long run, by enlarging the numbers of those who have a stake in its future.










An Inter-Ministerial Task Force has been set up under Nandan Nilekani for conditional cash transfers (CCT), with a focus on kerosene, LPG and fertilisers. We will have a plan in the next four months, pilots by end of the calendar year and full-fledged transition in the 2012-13 budget. Or so we would like to believe. It is curious we should use an expression like task force. Task forces originated with the army. In targeting subsidies, we don't have a military or technology kind of problem. The task is obvious, since we don't need more studies to establish inefficiencies in the present subsidy system. But do we have the force in targeting them?

Let's take unique identity and Aadhaar first. Is this mandatory or optional? "Aadhaar would also be a foundation for the effective enforcement of individual rights. A clear registration and recognition of the individual's identity with the state is necessary to implement their rights — to employment, education, food, etc. The number, by ensuring such registration and recognition of individuals, would help the state deliver these rights." That quote comes from UIDAI's website and leaves it implicit. Aadhaar is a powerful tool. But a lot depends on what use is being made of it. Unless we figure that out, all it achieves is reduction in duplicate (or multiple) ghost identities. While this is important, it only goes part of the way.

Originally, the idea behind Aadhaar came from a security point of view. At that time, under the NDA, identity numbers were to be given to Indian citizens, not residents. The subsidy angle came later. But because the UPA wished to duck security and immigration, we switched focus to subsidy-targeting and from citizens to residents. Given excess information (beyond name, age, residence, biometry) that is now being collected, there are serious issues about privacy of data and profiling. Indeed, some people from UIDAI have tacitly suggested data collected can be auctioned to generate revenue for UIDAI. Other than photographs, functioning of biometry machines also seems to be sub-optimal. But let's leave that aside. In Davos, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission stated, "We will simply make it compulsory for those benefiting from government programmes to register for the UID number." We should therefore stop beating around the bush. Aadhaar is mandatory for obtaining subsidies and the Nilekani task force has to develop plan and pilots for CCT on that basis.

But let's take another problem that no task force can resolve. It has to be resolved by the government and the UPA hasn't been successful in handling it. CCT is contingent on that too. Subsidy entitlements are for those who are BPL (below the poverty line). We have a problem because those who should have been issued BPL cards haven't been issued one (exclusion issue) and because those who shouldn't have been issued BPL cards have been issued one (inclusion issue). If we have studies that show the PDS is being diverted to non-BPL, we should be careful. Some of that may be leaked to those who should have been given BPL cards, but haven't.

What have we done on poverty numbers? We have tinkered with poverty lines, using NSS, 61st round, 2004-05 data and have generated different numbers of the poor. We will do the same when NSS, 66th round 2009-10, surfaces. This doesn't get anywhere, more so because NSS is a survey, not a census. Since the Ninth Plan, we have talked about decentralised and participatory identification of BPL and indicators have evolved during the Tenth Plan.

Let us have another quote, this time from paragraph 32 of the president's address to Parliament in June 2009: "Targeted identification cards would subsume and replace omnibus Below Poverty Line (BPL) list... Identification of beneficiaries for other programmes which currently use the omnibus BPL list would improve identification based on programme objectives with the common underlying principle that all identification of beneficiaries will be done through gram sabhas and urban local bodies and the list placed in the public domain to be open to challenge." Lest we forget, that paragraph 32 was supposed to be implemented in the first 100 days of UPA 2. Had the CTT task force had force, and not just a task, this would have been implemented by now. And food subsidies, not just petroleum products and fertilisers, would have been included in the

list of items.

Exclusion of food means the government can't handle BPL identification and the National Advisory Council. As an equally important issue, have we implemented market-based price determination of petroleum products after the administered price mechanism (APM) was scrapped in 2002? That's indeed the party line. But retail prices of petroleum products are not quite market-determined. Apart from indirect taxes, import parity principle is hardly transparent. Therefore, there will be lack of clarity about how retail prices of kerosene and LPG, and consequent subsidy calculations, are worked out. LPG will be described as an urban middle-class consumption item. Others will rightly point out that NSS data show this is no longer the case. Kerosene will be described as a poor person's consumption item. Food has been excluded. For slightly different reasons, petroleum products will also be excluded. That leaves fertilisers, where we have already accepted nutrient-based and direct transfers.

This doesn't mean CCTs are a bad idea. Far from it, and several countries, including developing ones in Asia and Latin America, have successfully experimented with CCTs. Especially in education, there are also experiments with education vouchers in more than one state. However, what is the Nandan Nilekani task force going to examine? Is it a cash transfer or is it a voucher? From the nomenclature of the task force, we are talking about a cash transfer. But let's think of a voucher first. A voucher offers choice, competition and efficiency. However, exercise of vouchers requires existence of choice on the supply-side. One can't use food stamps if there is only one PDS shop within a radius of 10 km. Yes, supply-side responses occur, but they don't occur instantly.

Moving on to cash transfers, if they are conditional, they are de facto not that different from vouchers and there will be universal resistance (on several counts) if we move on to unconditional cash transfers. On CCTs, shouldn't we learn from what is now acknowledged to be a mistake, making NREGA payments mandatory through banks and post office accounts? That required a level of financial inclusion we don't have. If we wish to successfully introduce CCTs, those pilots should be in so-called elitist and urban areas, where delivery is less of a problem.

The writer is a Delhi-based economist







Agriculture is in the news for more than one reason: food inflation, stagnating production, rising demand for high-value crops, farmer distress, a policy thrust as part of the inclusive growth agenda, and corporate interest in the sector, including in FDI in food retail. Agricultural markets are changing dramatically in terms of products, players, processes and the mechanics with which farmers interface with markets. It is in this context that the prime minister highlighted the need for reform in agricultural markets at a recent global policy consultation in New Delhi.

Given that Indian agriculture relies on smallholders, redesign or reform of agricultural markets should take into account their concerns, to leverage markets for more inclusive agricultural development. Small producers face production and marketing risks which make them vulnerable to poverty. There are many policy and market instruments to reduce risk in India: crop/ weather insurance, minimum support price for some crops, futures markets and warehouse receipt systems. But implementation of these has been weak.

Despite MSP, the prices that small farmers — who often have the highest yields — receive are lower than those obtained by larger farmers, due to their weak bargaining power and holding capacity. Fewer than 5 per cent of smallholders are covered by crop insurance. State schemes for better farmer interface with markets are few, and are bereft of the provisions for small producers. Providing incentives irrespective of the size of the contract grower defeats the purpose; it is small and marginal farmers who need to be brought into such arrangements.

When it comes to the private corporate sector, smallholders are almost completely excluded from modern market arrangements like contract farming or retail chain linkage. It is not incidental that most of the contract farming projects are in more agriculturally advanced states — Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu — and not in states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Himachal, West Bengal or those of the Northeast which have the highest concentration of smallholders.

While it is often argued that vegetable crops are more suitable for smallholders, because they are labour-intensive and provide a regular income, even here buyers do not seem to favour smallholders. So, the noise made about smallholders benefiting from retail chain linkage is exaggerated, and the "smallholders will benefit" rationale for FDI in food retail does not hold. Further, the experience of domestic players in this sector shows that if it is not paying, they do not invest in cold chain infrastructure — or withdraw as quickly as they invest, as has happened in high agri-growth rate Gujarat, where only one retail chain is left in the market.

Much reform of agricultural markets in the age of value chains assumes that state-level agricultural produce market committees, run by the APMC Act, are the culprits. Bihar has completely abolished the act. The assumption is that APMCs need to be done away with, or made to compete with private markets and contract farming. Yet despite the fact that most states have now amended the APMC Act to allow the setting up of private markets, how many private players have come forward, and where?

APMCs continue to be important for small farmers, serving as competitors to contract and "contact" farming practice. But the need is to bring more, ever more, perishable produce markets under regulation, ensure open auctions, buyer competition and better facilities for buyers and sellers. Even primary agricultural credit societies, common in villages, can be involved in marketing agricultural produce over and above providing credit and agricultural input services.

Market linkages with corporate agencies need to reduce the production and market risk smallholders face. To this end, contract farming needs to be encouraged. It helps by making production more market-oriented and cost-effective through input supply and extension. It is costlier, though, so it needs provision for group contracts — perhaps through special credit schemes for such groups. In storable commodities, like potato, producers end up making net losses while traders make substantial profits from the same crop a few weeks or months later. It is here that a warehouse receipt system can come in handy, and needs to be promoted among farmers.

The net effect of integrated markets on small farmers depends on the nature of the commodity and its market, as well as the ability of small farmers to coordinate marketing activities. For this, market-oriented farmer collectivities like producer companies need to be supported. There are already 150 producer companies in India, and a private wholesaler has organised many of them in Punjab; but they suffer from a shortage of policy support, as banks and funding agencies do not recognise them as cooperatives.

For making value chains inclusive, there is a need for a pro-smallholder policy and practice, as well as allowing for smallholder collectives to create better bargaining power. That will lead to lower-cost, better-quality inputs, and more cost-effective produce.

The writer is with the Centre for Management in Agriculture at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad








We should be grateful that the World Cup will finally be upon us this weekend, if only because it would signal that the 2007 event has finally ended. Remember how, once India and Pakistan had been shipped back home after the group stage, after shock defeats to Bangladesh and Ireland respectively, the competition dissolved into serial crises? And aside from the personalised, and mostly unfair, posers put to the two teams, cricket appeared to gather together its latest anxieties.

Could the game really sustain its television audience-led commerce without the presence of India? Could it retain its geographical empire, let alone think of expanding it, when the Caribbean's shiny new stadia were so obviously struggling to fill up the stands? Where was the new generation of rum-soaked composers of calypso? Had the island party really abandoned the game? Could we really work up some enthusiasm for the mis-matches that this deviation from the script yielded? After all, could even the most heartless among us enjoy Australia's savagery in reaching the target Ireland set them in just 12.2 overs? And would the distance between Australia and the rest ever be narrowed so that suspense could be returned to world championships?

It's little wonder that the final of the 2007 World Cup ended, literally, in darkness.

Four years later cricket is changed, and in all this time a background hum of worrying has never left it. After a few months of riveting Test cricket (India-South Africa, Australia-England) it's already difficult to recall the fatalism that gripped the game's observers two years ago when the five-day game was seen to be in its last days. But despair they did, flailing for radical suggestions to keep alive a beautiful thing — limit Test-playing status to the very best, rustle up controversies to keep the viewer interested, move the broadcast to the Net and out of the exacting grip of numbers-dictated TV channels.

Those worries have now settled on the one-day format. In the current rash of curtain-raisers, there can be detected a protectiveness of one-days, cricket's new endangered entity. Folks who just the other day groaned about the spectacle of pajama cricket are now appreciative of its subtle drama. For, a few months after the 2007 World Cup, a global competition began rather quietly in South Africa, but by the time India and Pakistan had dispatched their demons by meeting in the Twenty20 final, cricket had another 1983 moment. Success had again stolen over India unexpectedly, but immediately the consequences were clear. The country embraced the further abbreviated game, cricket's centre of gravity was now ever more firmly situated in the subcontinent. Different stakeholders reacted differently. The International Cricket Council had sought to limit T20 internationals, obviously fearful of the format's conquering potential. The BCCI midwifed a domestic league to mop up the possibilities, signalling its tight control by seeking bids in sealed cover from franchisees, but drumming up the theatre of an open auction for transactions between franchisees and players.

Nothing's been the same again. And by the time the World Cup ends sometime in April, be sure readings will be taken about the future of the one-day international, about its capacity to survive as a viable format between the purism of Tests and the diffused loyalties of T20s.

Ever since the first World Cup got under way in England in 1975, the competition has served as the standard by which to announce a team's claims to supremacy in cricket. It is, for instance, neither triteness nor irrational nationalism when someone desires the World Cup for India if only to ensure that Sachin Tendulkar gets to lift the trophy. It's all that's seen to be missing on his record.

(Incidentally, India need not fear a repeat of 2007. The organisers have ensured that a surprise upset or two need not knock out a team, certainly not India. Cricket has a lovely way of coming full circle in response to its latest troubles. The knockout stage was advanced after the experience of 1996 when Australia and the West Indies could afford to forfeit matches and still advance in the Cup.)

Now look. It's not just that T20 has demonstrated its portability for multi-sport competitions at last year's Asian Games. India chose not to field a women's or men's team at Guangzhou; the romance of Afghanistan reaching the final to meet eventual gold medallists Bangladesh, in a fray that included Sri Lanka and Pakistan, may not signal a new cricketing order; and China's enthusiasm to have cricket included in the Olympics need not, just yet, send tremors through Test-playing nations. But the gauntlet has been thrown down. While the one-day-centric World Cup is stretched ever more in duration, and not just to Kevin Pietersen's dismay, T20 may soon be imported at the big — and time-sensitive — multi-nation events. How long can countries like India resist the allure of a medal, and by extension, validation through the T20 route?

If the Asian Games' T20 experience is an indicator of ways in which cricket may induct more participants, it's also the format that's deepening cricket's reach in existing territories and the IPL may not be an isolated development.

Of course, even if cricket's best were to cease to be chosen through one-day competition — and by extension the World Cup — that would not mean an end of one-days. But as the competition unfolds these coming weeks, it will be interesting to reassess the skills that keep it apart. It's seen, for instance, that both Tests and T20s cannot afford one-day's tolerance for bits-and-pieces players. For all the primacy T20 is said to afford to flat-track bullies, its very brevity is a caution against a part-time bowler whose expensive spell could take the game away from his team. In contrast, John Wright founded a winning one-day Indian squad on the theory that one could so cram the team with batsmen that their combined potential would more than offset the excesses of a part-time bowler or wicket-keeper. He wouldn't try that in T20.

One-days may well survive — and honestly, for all the overstated defence of Fifty50 cricket, they should. But it will have to be for more than the contention that they are a mean between T20s and Tests. These six weeks will be a good time to work out what separates them amidst a new golden age of Tests and the ascendance of T20.







If at all you buy a Nokia device in 2012, it is going to very different from what you see in the market right now. It will be a device from Nokia, but it will be running a Windows Mobile operating system. The Nokia Ovi Store, where you can download applications from, will be no more: it will be integrated into the Microsoft Marketplace. The search function on that phone will be powered by Microsoft's Bing.

Following an exclusive tie-up announcement last week, Nokia is expected to ship its first Windows Mobile device in 2012. The Nokia phone that you have now runs a Symbian operating system, as do almost all Nokia devices: even the cheapest handsets from Nokia run the Symbian Series 40 operating system. By next year, all these devices will be redundant, because Nokia has announced plans to phase out Symbian handsets, and focus primarily on one operating system — Windows Mobile. This is the end of Nokia as we've known it.

The device, assuming you buy it, will not be too dissimilar from other devices running Windows Mobile — those from HTC, Samsung, Dell and LG. What is difficult to understand about this deal — and it does appear to be a terrible deal for Nokia — is that not only is it reneging on its individuality by taking on board the Windows Mobile handset, but as the largest handset OEM (original equipment manufacturer) in the world, it is putting its weight behind Microsoft, and yet paying for licensing the handset.

As someone who has almost always owned a Nokia handset (apart from a brief fling with Motorola), what angers me is that instead of partnering with Microsoft to build "The Third Ecosystem" for Microsoft, Nokia didn't try hard enough to build its own, and compete with Google's Android platform and Apple's trendsetting iOS for iPhone. Nokia has lost its individuality, and for the first time, it is dependent on another to lay down the ground rules. Now Nokia will not have a public face — the operating system is what defines your interface — how you connect to your mobile network and make calls, which applications and services you use.

By signing this deal, Nokia has also virtually told its substantial developer community that there is no point building mobile applications for its Symbian operating system. Nokia might ship 150 million Symbian devices, but that is where it will end. Knowing that there will be no further development, users like me will not buy Nokia phones running Symbian, and developers will not develop for them. The developers who invested money in building for Symbian have been sold out.

The problem is that Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia, doesn't appear to have faith in the company's own abilities. It is true that Nokia has been floundering over the past few years. The iPhone and the Android juggernaut changed the rules of the game. Nokia has just been too bureaucratic in its structuring and rollout. It has been unable to move quickly enough to adapt to a changing environment, and the time taken to launch a handset is much too long. That said, Nokia did get unlucky in some cases: its acquisition of NAVTEQ for $8.1 billion came to naught as Android began shipping with Google Maps on mobile for free. Nokia acquired several small businesses for its own Ovi portfolio of services, which came undone because its user experience was terrible. In comparison, at the lower end of the market, Chinese manufacturers started pushing low-cost handsets with features and apps. Apple created a new market paradigm around applications on a brilliant user-friendly interface, thus creating its ecosystem. Android tied up with multiple handsets with the sole purpose of pushing Google services. While Nokia mulled over complicated services to sell handsets, others focused on changing existing industry dynamics: they were quicker and nimbler. Typically, that is how disruption takes place, and Nokia was disrupted.

What should Nokia have done? Perhaps fought on its own terms. A website called suggests firing Elop, reversing bureaucratic R&D practices, hiring young industry talent to work on software, and choosing MeeGo, an open-source operating system that Nokia was piloting with Intel as its primary smart-phone platform. Elop's now famous "Burning Platform" memo suggested that Nokia might have to jump off the burning platform into cold water, because it's the only feasible option. All I can say is, Microsoft is no life jacket.

The writer is founder of the digital and mobile blog MediaNama







After Mubarak

Hyderabad's leading daily Siasat writes in an editorial on February 13: "President Hosni Mubarak's resignation and the power passing on to the people of Egypt, according to their wishes, in a peaceful and dignified manner, are indeed a victory for the people... Now, achieving that long-cherished democracy will depend on how the next ruling class chooses to govern. If those clamouring for power fail to fill the political vacuum created after this pro-democracy movement in Egypt, this vacuum will take on enormous proportions. Only time will tell what other historical role the situation in Egypt will play for the Arab world."

Interestingly, the paper says: "It will be the responsibility of the coming leadership to keep alive the spirit of modern Egypt conceived by Gamal Abdel Nasser, the founder of contemporary Egypt... Opposition parties, particularly Ikhwan-ul-Muslemeen (Muslim Brotherhood), should make proper and just use of the strength and support gained from the people's revolution."

Another leading Hyderabad daily, Munsif, writes in its editorial on February 14 that the Arab world's "individual and dynastic rulers are worried as to what extent the people are affected by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt... Irrespective of how power is transferred in Egypt, if the rulers of other Arab countries voluntarily initiate changes in their governance, it will enhance their prestige and integrity, and their countries will not suffer chaos and disruption." The paper adds: "The awakening of the Arab people and the peaceful revolution of Egypt are significant for other emerging democracies (apart from the Arab countries), where, in the name of democracy, those in power and other representatives of the people consider it their right to loot their country's wealth. Unfortunately, our country is also part of such democracies."

The Jamaat-e-Islami's Daawat on February 10 wonders if the developments in the Muslim countries are caused by popular discontent or by an Islamic awakening. The paper writes that much of the world, and Western media, views these events from the angle of economic hardship and authoritarianism. "Yet, a section of the people describes the popular awakening as an Islamic renaissance (Islami nishaat-e-saania)." The paper approvingly refers to the Iranian foreign ministry's view of the unrest in the Arab world being "an Islamic renaissance, that is a very big thing".

Census alert

Newspapers and Muslim community leaders have been alerting people to the significance of Census 2011. Hyderabad-based daily Munsif writes in its February 10 editorial: "In today's situation, ignoring the importance of the census would be harmful for the entire community and the nation... Governmental benefits being given to any community/ caste depends on its population and if we are careless at the time of census, our numbers (in the national register) will be reduced, because of which our share in the fruits of government schemes will be less, and later on, we will only regret this." The paper advises Muslims to verify entries for religion and language in the census form. It suggests that at least one person take responsibility for monitoring the enumeration in every mohalla or locality.

Organisations like the Jamiat Ulema and even the minority cell of the Congress have appealed to Muslims to be vigilant and avoid inaccuracies in the columns of "religion" and "language" (mother tongue), reports the Delhi-based daily, Hamara Samaj (February 8).

Chasing Azhar

"The Congress MP from Moradabad, Mohammad Azharuddin, has disappeared. Anybody giving information about him would be given a reward of Rs 500." A poster carrying this text was seen pasted on a bus of the Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation, according to a report in Munsif (February 8). The poster was issued by Bharat Raksha Sena workers, the report says.

Daily dole

According to a report in Hyderabad-based Rahnuma-e-Deccan (February 2), during the cricket World Cup "the Bangladesh government, in an effort to avoid any inconvenience to visiting foreigners and presenting a better image of the country, has planned to remove the beggars from the streets. The government will pay daily allowances to hundreds of beggars and request them not to show up on the streets".

According to Manzoor Alam, the mayor of Chittagong, at least 300 disabled beggars will be paid a daily allowance of 150 takas. The report points to a survey conducted in 2005, which estimated that there were more than seven lakh beggars in Bangladesh.






The gleaming banking centre 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 in the Bahrain capital, it used deadly force to clear the throngs of pro-democracy protesters who had turned Pearl Square in the centre 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 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 emphasised 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 favour "people power" in Iran, we should favour 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 offences. 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 hospitalisation (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 cosy 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.







Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set the cat among the pigeons when he hinted that one of the reasons for the BJP's opposition to the Goods and Service Tax (GST) was the action taken by the central government by arresting Amit Shah in Gujarat. While the BJP has denied any such link, there is little doubt the issue has been politicised. Rajasthan, for instance, was opposed to GST while it was ruled by the BJP but became pro-GST once the Congress came to power; Karnataka was pro-GST as long as it was ruled by the Congress but became anti-GST when the BJP came to power.

That said, it is equally true many states have had a problem with the GST and if some of this opposition has died down, it is because the central government has changed its stance on many issues because of the opposition from various states. One of the biggest problems states have had has been the proposed GST Council, which will decide on tax rates on various goods and services (the current rates doing the rounds are 12% for special goods, 16% for services and 20% for goods; and after two years, the rate for goods will also be brought down to 16%). Since the GST Council will decide on what the rates will be, the states were quite upset with the union finance ministry's proposal that the FM would head the council and also have veto power. The veto power clause has now been dropped. While states have been arguing they will lose large revenues once GST comes into being, since they will no longer have the flexibility to raise or lower tax rates, the Centre has been blowing hot and cold. Thirteenth Finance Commission chief Vijay Kelkar suggested a Rs 50,000-crore compensation fund, but that doesn't seem to be on the table any more. There is a general understanding that states will be compensated for their losses for a few years, but states point to a similar promise when VAT was introduced and that their demands for past years have still not been fully compensated. There is also the issue, which NIPFP professor Kavita Rao raises, of how revenue-neutral rates are different for each state (so there will be losers) and how some compensation for a few years won't fix the structural issue.

That said, there are obvious gains to be made from a common

Indian market that GST will result in, though the gains are likely to be a lot less than the 2% of GDP that the 13th Finance Commission estimated, since the taxation levels being talked of now are significantly higher than that envisaged by the Commission. But moving to get that gain requires the Centre to also show maturity (as it finally did on the veto issue) and some give and take. From all concerned.





The corporate affairs ministry's reported endorsement of multiple layers of subsidiaries is a bad idea. It doesn't seem to appreciate that complex cobwebs of legal structures help owners hide debts and surreptitious transactions in such a way that it becomes nearly impossible to find out the true health of companies—one of the big issues that came up in the case of the global financial crisis when no one seemed to know what the true health of financial sector firms were like. Indeed, when corporate frauds are busted, diversion of funds and tax evasion facilitated by layered subsidiaries almost invariably come to the fore. The Enforcement Directorate's probe into the Satyam scam, for instance, has laid bare the fact that a multitude of layered subsidiaries helped the promoter siphon off funds from the firm's core business activity. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the stock market scam had also blamed the complexity of corporate structures for the incident.

The Companies Bill introduced in Parliament in 2003 by the NDA government had rightly proposed a ban on pyramiding. "No company which is a subsidiary of another shall become a holding company," the Bill said. However, the JJ Irani Committee set up by the UPA-1 government came out with a set of arguments favouring the pyramid structure and subsequently the UPA's version of the Companies Bill retained the promoters' freedom to have any number of layers of subsidiaries. The Irani committee had proposed improved corporate governance—greater disclosure norms coupled with a focus on self-regulation—as an alternative to curbs on the structuring of corporate entities. The new corporate affairs minister Murli Deora has now opted to toe the Irani panel's line—the parliamentary standing committee on finance headed by former finance minister Yashwant Sinha was of the view that one level of subsidiaries was acceptable but not more.

From the promoters' perspective, pyramiding indeed has certain merits. It helps to accumulate value at the holding company level, helps in tax planning, raising capital and more. However, these benefits have to be weighed against the potential threat to shareholder rights from pyramid structures.





Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did betray a sense of helplessness when he spoke at a televised press meeting about the corruption charges engulfing the UPA. While admitting that his government had made mistakes, he was at pains to explain that excessive talk of corruption could undermine the confidence of the people. Too much gloom could create negative sentiment for the economy. Manmohan Singh is a strong believer in John Maynard Keynes's well known theory that 'animal spirits' among the economic agents play a key role in driving growth and creating prosperity.

The Prime Minister perhaps suspects that the Keynesian 'animal spirits', which kept India afloat after the global financial meltdown, may be somewhat ebbing for domestic political reasons. Corruption, high inflation, falling stock markets and a perception of governance deficit have combined to heighten the feeling that the overall sentiment could turn negative.

In reality, the UPA still has a big opportunity to retrieve the situation. The Prime Minister did well to assure the nation that the ongoing investigation by the CBI on the spectrum scam monitored by the Supreme Court will not spare anyone, no matter who they are. The Supreme Court-supervised investigation has, indeed, brought back confidence among the people that an impartial probe is under way.

In fact, one was a bit surprised that the Prime Minister did not take credit for the fact that the UPA had dropped A Raja, Ashok Chavan and Suresh Kalmadi from the important positions they were holding. On this score the BJP is on a rather weak ground with the Karnataka chief minister still holding on to his post after being badly exposed in a land scam.

Perhaps Manmohan Singh refrained from attacking the BJP because the Congress is trying to salvage the Budget session of Parliament by getting the Opposition to cooperate. At one level, this makes sense because too much confrontation with the main opposition party will block many key reforms that are badly needed to keep the growth momentum going.

The decision to set up a JPC probe into the spectrum scam is a welcome development as it will create the much-needed thaw between the UPA and the main opposition parties. Pranab Mukherjee can use the Union Budget statement to send out a comprehensive message of political and economic reforms. The Budget should announce a special mechanism and allocation for state funding for elections, which is at the root of much of corruption.

The Congress party should seize this opportunity to implement much-needed systemic reforms that will need the support of the Opposition-ruled states. In fact, the UPA must spend the next three years creating an atmosphere in which some major institutional reforms are implemented in areas like agriculture, land use, mining policy and implementation of goods and services tax (GST), all of which would need the support of state governments.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee must institutionalise quarterly meetings with chief ministers to sort out issues with the state governments. The goods and services tax will not only revolutionise the indirect tax system, but it will also act as the biggest anti-inflation reform. GST has the potential to make goods and services cheaper across the board, as it would result in the total incidence of indirect tax falling significantly.

The GST will solve another big problem the Opposition leader LK Advani is talking about these days. The BJP wants black money in India and abroad to be brought back into the system.

Advani is talking about some $500 billion of black money stashed abroad by rich Indians. While every effort must be made to track such funds, the bigger elephant in the room is domestic black money.

In fact, the consensus view seems to be that black money generated by the ever-inflating real estate sector could be much bigger than what Indians have kept abroad. The BJP chief ministers must support GST precisely because it will attack black money by bringing the real estate sector within the GST regime. It could increase the overall tax base by about Rs 10 lakh crore. The BJP, therefore, must prevail upon its chief ministers to rise above partisan politics and support the GST reform.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee could use the Union Budget statement to send a strong political message that the Congress wants to do comprehensive reform and is willing to sit with the BJP to discuss all the federal issues that arise in dealing with the state governments on a continuous basis.

The Congress may appear to be under siege today, but things change rapidly in politics. Remember, the Vajpayee-led government was also under a similar cloud for several months when scam after scam exploded on them. The NDA survived those moments and completed its term.

The Congress-led UPA can also survive the current crisis of confidence with some deft political moves that create ground for both political and economic transformation. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has committed to come up with a new legislative framework for state-led funding of elections. Home minister P Chidambaram and other senior Cabinet ministers are said to be working on it. If implemented well, this could be as big as the Right to Information Act, in bringing transparency in our evolving democracy. The idea is not to go back to doing things as before. The "India rising story" cannot be managed by the same old institutional structures. What we need is change.





Has the Prime Minister done a world of good to the efforts to introduce a countrywide Goods and Services Tax (GST) by spilling the beans on what has held it back? Since Manmohan Singh never speaks without departing from the script, one can be absolutely sure, the quip blaming the BJP was discussed threadbare with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, the shrewdest political mind in this Cabinet.

Mukherjee and Singh had concluded, the only way to break the logjam was to talk about it. Note, the question that led to Singh speaking about how the BJP was asking for a quid pro quo to allow the GST to sail through, was broader. Singh used the occasion to dive into the revelation.

Singh's government has obviously concluded that dialogue with the recalcitrant states has reached a dead end. The problem is with the solution he and Mukherjee seem to have in mind. If Wednesday's comments are credible, the Prime Minister feels the heat will now be on the BJP to let the states run by it to okay GST for adoption by April 2012. Both of them feel the Centre has done as much as it could offer to bring the states (10 of whom are still holding out, as per a finance ministry release) to accept the switch to the new regime.

Just days earlier, Mukherjee told a meeting of the state finance ministers that since the GST plan has won the approval of the necessary two-thirds of state governments, moving a constitutional amendment was now his right. He did use the word "right", instead of noting a broad-based support. Moving the amendment, according to him, to quote a ministry release, was the "prerogative of the Executive, in this case, the Government of India". He went on to say it is also Parliament's prerogative to either decide in favour of its approval or its rejection. The rejection could well happen as the UPA government does not have a majority in Rajya Sabha. We are obviously far away from a nationwide consensus for this key reform measure.

This means Mukherjee could very well miss the April 2012 deadline he has committed himself to roll out the tax. The delay will also disappoint industry, which has projected the introduction of the tax along with the Direct Taxes Code (DTC) as the biggest fiscal reform measure that India will undertake for a long time to come. Major companies planning their investment programmes have done so on the presumption that GST along with DTC will be in place by next year. Of course, the rates will not be the grand bargain plan the 13th Finance Commission had suggested. Instead, the combined central and state rates of tax for goods will be 20% and for service at 16%.

Missing the deadline, however, seems to be a big possibility now. The Centre has just this year to steer the constitutional amendment through Parliament that will change the structure of taxation rights between the Centre and states.

Then the amendments will have to travel through the state legislatures with two-thirds of them approving it. While Mukherjee is right that 16 states are on board, and so hopefully will clear the Bill through their legislatures, it takes time. But if major industrial states like Gujarat and Karnataka stay away from GST, the impact of the reform will be shattered. In the initial years, states like UP and even Tamil Nadu stayed away from VAT to join later, but a GST regime just cannot run unless the leading states are all on board.

The opposition by the 10 states, most of them ruled by the BJP, is based on surrender of their fiscal sovereignty. They have a valid concern. Non-tax revenue for them is controlled by the Centre. With GST, more of their fiscal autonomy (up to 70% of the own tax revenue of the states is accounted for by excise now) will slip out of their domain. Meanwhile, the finance ministry concedes that compensation for phase-out of central sales tax, even for 2008-09, has not been paid in full to the state governments. For fiscal 2010-11, the compensation paid so far is ad hoc. Niggling issues like a pan-national IT structure that can handle each state's tax administration can of course be corrected soon. But overall, is the finance ministry at the Centre taking on far more than it can handle and is it good for the country?






It is official. Measured in terms of nominal GDP converted to dollars at official exchange rates, China has, in 2010, overtaken Japan as the world's second largest economy. Figures from Japan released this week showed that Japan's nominal gross domestic product was worth $5,474 billion in 2010 compared with China's $5,879 billion. This is indeed a significant milestone. For many years before that China had been ahead of Japan only when GDP was measured in purchasing power parity terms. PPP is an indicator that takes into account relative prices and therefore the command over goods that a dollar of income provides. Since with lower wages and prices, a dollar in China when converted to RMB delivers more purchasing power, Chinese GDP measured in PPP dollars is significantly higher than at official exchange rates. Hence, becoming the world's second largest economy at official exchange rates does mark an important transition. There are only two features that seem to discount this achievement. The first is that while having overtaken Japan, China is far behind the U.S., with less than two-fifths of its GDP in nominal terms. The second is that with a population of more than 1.3 billion, compared with Japan's 128 million and the United States' 307 million, China's per capita nominal GDP in 2009 was less than a tenth that in both Japan and the U.S.

Yet China's rise does seem to evoke fear. One reason is its export success, with exports of goods and services estimated at close to two-fifths of GDP before the 2008 crisis broke. But that figure has come down since and is likely to remain low as China seeks to redirect growth and rely more on home demand. Yet the fear of the socialist giant is unlikely to subside. This is because its low per capita income and large population makes its rise more ominous in the eyes of its global rivals. Being low on the per capita league table allows China to aspire to high growth rates for decades to come. When growth occurs at that level of per capita income, the demands it generates tend to be more intensive in manufactures, energy, and mineral resources. Add to this the fact that the size of the population that will benefit from that potential growth is immense and the pressure this puts on the world's resources, besides its environment, is likely to be huge. The threat this poses to countries that rose to dominance in a context of cheap and ample resources and raw materials should be obvious. Rising India has nothing to fear from its big neighbour assuming that bilateral relations will continue to be handled soundly on both sides. For one thing, China is one of India's top trading partners and bilateral trade, which amounted to $61.7 billion in 2010, is well on course to meet the target of $100 billion by 2015.





The stand-off between the United States and Pakistan over the arrest of an American national for killing two Pakistanis in Lahore underlines the perils of the peculiar "strategic partnership" between the two countries. The man, identified by Pakistani authorities as Raymond Davis, shot the two men when they drew up on a motorcycle alongside his vehicle at a traffic signal on a busy road. The U.S. has demanded that Mr. Davis, who was arrested on the spot, be handed over to its officials as he is an employee of its embassy in Pakistan and has diplomatic immunity. The Pakistan government seems unsure of what to do next. It is caught, on the one side, by the anti-American anger on the streets, now focussed on the demand that Mr. Davis be tried and punished — in Pakistan — for the killings; and, on the other, by the Pakistan state's own client-like relationship with the U.S. Washington has reacted with unusual annoyance this time, putting on hold all bilateral engagements. Extraordinarily, President Barack Obama has also waded in with the demand that Pakistan should hand him back. The incident has had a political fall-out too, with former Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi claiming that he was dropped for a principled refusal to bow to U.S. pressure. The government has left it to the courts to decide on the immunity question.

Much of the public fury in Pakistan against the U.S. is over covert American operations from its territory and the perceived craven attitude of the government in not standing up for the country's sovereignty. The Davis incident goes to the heart of this anger, with questions over his true identity and the nature of his assignment. It is known that he once served in the military. The Pakistan government gave him a visa on a U.S. diplomatic passport; he is listed as a member of the technical and administrative staff of the embassy in Pakistan. It is possible he was an undercover spy. It is routine for countries to post intelligence operatives to diplomatic missions in other roles. Most times, the host country is aware of their true identity. Pakistan hosts one of the biggest overseas operations of the Central Intelligence Agency; its own Inter-Services Intelligence is a close collaborator of the U.S. agency. But it baulks at admitting this to its people. The Pakistan Army has a lot of answering to do on the nature of the country's relations with the superpower. It is truly unfortunate that Pakistan's civilian government should be in the dock for this.








The anatomy of revolutions can be deceptive. Vladimir Lenin composed his famous April Theses within weeks of the February Revolution in 1917 and pointed out: "The specific feature of the present situation in Russia is that the country is passing from the first stage of the revolution … to its second stage" — something with which, with the benefit of history, we'd readily agree today. Yet, when he presented his Theses, Lenin was booed by the Mensheviks and Boris Bogdanov called them "the ravings of a madman." Among the Bolsheviks, only Alexandra Kollontai initially supported the Theses (which became their manifesto later).

The Egyptian uprising, too, is highly deceptive. The seductive air cannot fudge the possibility of the revolution taking protean forms. There is hardly any precedent of a military acting as the arbiter of a democracy project. Indeed, the January 25 uprising caught the international community by surprise. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei couldn't have put it better: "This miraculous event … has taken away the breath of two worlds: the West and the Islamic world." Thus, all major protagonists — internal and external — including the Military Council in Cairo are hastily adjusting to an emergent situation rather than following a script.

However, the paradox is that there was also an inevitability about the uprising — in a historical context as well as in terms of Egypt's specific circumstances — which seems to provide the best guarantee that the country cannot simply lapse back to the pre-revolutionary times. The so-called 1922 Middle East settlement that the erstwhile colonial powers Britain and France hastily put together on the debris of the Ottoman Empire and against the backdrop of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia has, by far, outlived its lifespan. Essentially, a regional order artificially created for the perpetuation of the western dominance (political, economic and cultural) over the region has crumbled. The "pro-West" elites, who were conceived from thin air as the ruling oligarchies, never represented the people and they incrementally became anachronisms in a regional environment that underwent rapid transformation in the recent decades. The disconnect between the authoritarian regimes and the people has become impossible to bridge through patchwork. Therefore, the odds are that unlike the abortive revolutions of the past in Egypt, this one probably has a "fighting chance" of survival. The surgical intervention by the military to set aside Hosni Mubarak can be compared to cauterisation of a poisonous wound, which isn't a substitute for cure. Hopefully, the military leadership is savvy enough to realise it.

Can the revolution survive?

Of course, revolutions have been betrayed. Where Egypt will go from here significantly depends on external factors. First, can Egypt's revolution survive in a regional vacuum? To be sure, the Arab oligarchies will strive to goad the Egyptian military leaders to cap the democratisation project. They feel greatly threatened by the Egyptian uprising. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has taken a virulently reactionary stance. The Egyptian generals, with covert Saudi and Israeli backing, may feel tempted to conclude that once order and normalcy is restored, people will forget. That is to say, only if a "revolutionary climate" prevails in the region as a whole and the Arab oligarchies resign themselves to the writing on the wall of history can we say with some degree of confidence that the Egyptian revolution has become irreversible. Second, much depends on the stance of the Barack Obama administration. Ironically, the two success stories of "colour revolution" — in Georgia and Ukraine — are to be attributed to the George W. Bush era, whereas Mr. Obama's record is pathetic, although he's been high on rhetoric. Now comes the crunch time. What happened in Egypt is in complete harmony with what Mr. Obama said in his evocative speech in Cairo in 2009. He is now obliged to the Muslim world that the U.S. doesn't become party to a "counter-revolution." Thus, Egypt becomes a litmus test of not only Mr. Obama's presidency but also his place in history as a statesman. It is going to be a difficult test since his professed beliefs as a humanist and his audacious intellectuality grate against his gut instincts as a successful politician.

Mr. Obama's principal dilemma is that although there was no overt "anti-Americanism" in the Egyptian uprising, the massive groundswell of public opinion is arrayed against the country's unholy alliance with the U.S.-Israeli combine. Egyptians want to come out of their national humiliation and surge to the forefront of the Arab world to reclaim their historical place. The likelihood of a democratically elected government in Cairo perpetuating the kind of security alliance Mr. Mubarak had with Israel is unthinkable. This means several things. One, Egypt can no longer collaborate as a watchdog for Israel in the Philadelphi Corridor, which is the vital lifeline for the Palestinians in Gaza, and without such collaboration, the Israeli blockade of Palestinians cannot work. Two, sharing of "intelligence" with Israel may slow down. Three, Egypt will not only resume championing the Palestinian cause but also stop manipulating Hamas. With Mahmoud Abbas' reputation already under a cloud following the WikiLeaks disclosures of his dealings with Washington and Tel Aviv, Hamas has gained in stature as the voice of resistance. In short, Israel's isolation in the region will become total if democratisation indeed gains traction in Egypt. As Illan Peppe, the well-known Israeli "new historian" pointed out, "In the eyes of large sections of western civil society, the democratic image of Israel has long ago vanished … And even if the [U.S.-Israeli] special relationship preserves for a while, it is now based on even shakier foundations … But trust the Israelis … to interfere clandestinely and destructively to undermine any transition to democracy [in Egypt] … and they would elevate the Islamophobic campaign to new and unprecedented heights."

Tel Aviv's traditional ploy has been to distract attention away from the Arab-Israeli problem and the Palestinian issue by beating the drum on the Iran nuclear issue but it may not work any more. The entire U.S.-Israeli game plan to create a phalanx of "pro-West" Arab regimes pitted against Iran is unravelling, which in turn may lethally damage Washington's "containment" strategy toward Tehran and make Iran's rise as a regional power virtually unstoppable.

All in all, therefore, can Mr. Obama preside over the unleashing of historical forces that may leave him no choice but to prevail upon Israel to get into a path of negotiation and peace with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbours? This is where the audacity of the hope that Mr. Obama held out to the Egyptian people (and the Muslim world at large) will be put to the test. The fact of the matter is that the Israeli lobby in the U.S. can create nuisance for American politicians. Mr. Obama is expected to know which side his bread is buttered in the tough re-election campaign that lies ahead.

U.S. petrified

Equally, what needs to be factored in is that the tensions in the Middle East have worked to the advantage of the U.S. military-industrial complex to develop the region as a highly lucrative market for arms exports. Recently, the U.S. signed a whopping $60-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia alone. The U.S. is petrified that the Arab uprisings may spread to the other "pro-West" countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and would have ideally liked a "colour revolution" in Tehran. There is some evidence that an orchestrated effort is under way to whip up the opposition in Iran. But the Egyptian uprising has fired up Arab imagination and the awakening is a veritable reality. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle. The educated Arabs who are at the forefront of this awakening cannot be branded "Islamists" or "anti-western." Nor are they likely to be distracted by the U.S. shadow play over Iran. Their only claim is that they want democracy and an equitable, accountable, and fair system of governance. There were no takers for the Israeli narrative that the Egyptian uprising was an Iranian-like revolution and there isn't going to be any if the Arab world as a whole gets shaken up.

In sum, there are admittedly many imponderables. What happened in Egypt since January 25 has come as a surprise and it is foolhardy to predict what will come next. However, huge aspirations have been unleashed. The Israelis, the Americans and the Arab oligarchies are pushing to contain the aspirations. And many contenders are there to claim a leadership role in Cairo and the privileges of power. Nonetheless, there is cause for optimism. During a conversation between those two iconic figures of journalism, Mohamed Heikal told Robert Fisk of Independent: "In revolutions, there is no pattern. People want a change from the present to a future. Every revolution is conditioned by where it starts and where it is moving. But this event showed a huge Egyptian mass of people that it is possible to defy the terror of the state. I think this will revolutionise the Arab world."

(The writer is a former diplomat.)






Only hours after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said he was taking a "serious view" of the arrest of fishermen from Tamil Nadu who were at work close to the Sri Lankan shores, another batch of 24 fishermen was taken into custody in the same area.

Dr. Singh said at his meeting with television channel editors in New Delhi on Wednesday: "Yes, fishermen have been taken into custody. We're taking up the matter with the Sri Lankan government. We take a serious view of this." He was responding to a question on the detention of 112 fishermen in Sri Lankan waters.

Meanwhile, the message from Colombo was clear: Sri Lanka will assert the right to safeguard its territorial waters, and its sovereignty is non-negotiable.

Bilateral 2008 agreement

India is still holding on to the bilateral October 2008 agreement as the preferred dispute redress mechanism; it has tried to solve the problems arising from the detention of its fishermen based on this.

The joint declaration issued at the end of the recent visit of Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was also anchored on the October 2008 agreement.

But for Sri Lanka, that agreement is part of another era, and it wants to rework it substantially. In 2008 it had made political sense for Sri Lanka to sign that agreement; and it makes political sense now to demand its revision in tune with the ground realities post-May 2009, after the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

India has had a different opinion on this, and hence has not responded to the new Sri Lankan need. Indian fishermen, mainly those from Tamil Nadu, have been fishing in Sri Lankan waters for a long time. Some of them have also been smuggling clothes, utensils and consumer goods to Sri Lanka, and alcohol to India. These fishermen always come in large groups, and hence are usually not threatened by the local fishermen. Moreover, the Indians' boats are faster than those of the Sri Lankans.

Turning point

The killing of an Indian fisherman in January 2011, in the first such incident in two years, was a turning point. For once, the Indian government was able to offer the proof that Sri Lanka demanded: Ms Rao handed over to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa the autopsy report of the fisherman and the results of the ballistic tests done on the boat involved. The conclusion was that the bullets were the Sri Lankan Navy's standard issue.

After the subsequent joint statement, the story took another turn: Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen were "arresting" Indian fishermen off the coast. The Indians, with their bigger and faster boats, do not usually attempt to flee when they see the Sri Lankan fishermen at a distance. But there was no escape as the Sri Lankan Navy choreographed this particular show. The incident that took place on the evening of February 16, too, saw a similar drama unfold, according to Indian officials. Sri Lankan fishermen "arrested" the Indian fishermen.

The Sri Lankan government and its officials have maintained that in such instances local fishermen are protesting against the presence of Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters. The Indian side has tended to dismiss this argument, contending that the Sri Lankan fishermen in the northern parts, who have not been involved in fishing for over three decades, do not have the wherewithal to engage in as much fishing as the Indians can.

The other Sri Lankan argument is that fishermen are always territorial and have traditionally not allowed 'outsiders' to fish within what they consider their waters. There have been instances of Tamil and Kerala fishermen fighting each other in the Arabian Sea; there have also been instances of Tamil Nadu fishermen "crossing over" to waters off Andhra Pradesh and engaging in fisticuffs in the Bay.

When this is how fishermen react even within a country, Sri Lanka cannot sit back and watch when there are routine transgressions of the International Maritime Border Line. There certainly cannot be a case made out for Indians to be allowed to fish in the Sri Lankan waters, let alone near the Sri Lankan coastline — however rich in fishery resources these may happen to be. Also, for Mr. Rajapaksa, domestic political compulsions do not allow for any leeway being given to India on this issue at a time when the local body polls are nearing.

Tamil Nadu also will go to the polls in just over two months, and leaders cutting across political parties are baffled at the sudden Sri Lankan posturing. The fact that the Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen "arrested" their counterparts from Tamil Nadu is conveniently missing from the rhetoric of most politicians: they blame the heavy-handed "Sinhala" state for the atrocities.

The elections to the Lok Sabha in 2009 — held just as the last of the Tigers were being captured or killed in the Sri Lankan north — showed that the Sri Lankan question is not really uppermost in the minds of the people of Tamil Nadu. But this time round, the captured and the killed are not citizens from another country with only a linguistic affinity to the people of Tamil Nadu; they are fishermen from Tamil Nadu. And this can make the difference between victory and defeat along the coastal constituencies across five districts in Tamil Nadu.






Halfway around the world from Tahrir Square in Cairo, an aging American intellectual shuffles about his cluttered brick row house in a working-class neighbourhood in Boston, U.S. His name is Gene Sharp. Stoop-shouldered and white-haired at 83, he grows orchids, has yet to master the Internet and hardly seems like a dangerous man.

But for the world's despots, his ideas can be fatal.

Few Americans have heard of Mr. Sharp. But for decades, his practical writings on non-violent revolution — most notably " From Dictatorship to Democracy," a 93-page guide to toppling autocrats, available for download in 24 languages — have inspired dissidents around the world, including in Burma, Bosnia, Estonia and Zimbabwe, and now Tunisia and Egypt.

When Egypt's April 6 Youth Movement was struggling to recover from a failed effort in 2005, its leaders tossed around "crazy ideas" about bringing down the government, said Ahmed Maher, a leading strategist. They stumbled on Mr. Sharp while examining the Serbian movement Otpor, which he had influenced.

When the non-partisan International Center on Non-violent Conflict, which trains democracy activists, slipped into Cairo several years ago to conduct a workshop, among the papers it distributed was Mr. Sharp's " 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action," a list of tactics that range from hunger strikes to "protest disrobing" to "disclosing identities of secret agents."

Dalia Ziada, an Egyptian blogger and activist who attended the workshop and later organised similar sessions on her own, said trainees were active in both the Tunisia and Egypt revolts. She said that some activists translated excerpts of Mr. Sharp's work into Arabic, and that his message of "attacking weaknesses of dictators" stuck with them.

Peter Ackerman, a one-time student of Mr. Sharp who founded the non-violence centre and ran the Cairo workshop, cites his former mentor as proof that "ideas have power."

More a thinker

Mr. Sharp, hard-nosed yet exceedingly shy, is careful not to take credit. He is more thinker than revolutionary, though as a young man he participated in lunch-counter sit-ins and spent nine months in a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., as a conscientious objector during the Korean War. He has had no contact with the Egyptian protesters, he said, although he recently learned that the Muslim Brotherhood had " From Dictatorship to Democracy" posted on its Web site.

While seeing the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak as a sign of "encouragement," Mr. Sharp said, "The people of Egypt did that — not me."

He has been watching events in Cairo unfold on CNN from his modest house in East Boston, which he bought in 1968 for $150 plus back taxes.

It doubles as the headquarters of the Albert Einstein Institution, an organisation Mr. Sharp founded in 1983 while running seminars at Harvard and teaching political science at what is now the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. It consists of him; his assistant, Jamila Raquib, whose family fled Soviet oppression in Afghanistan when she was five; a part-time office manager and a Golden Retriever mix named Sally. Their office wall sports a bumper sticker that reads " Gotov Je!" — Serbian for "He is finished!"

In this era of Twitter revolutionaries, the Internet holds little allure for Mr. Sharp. He is not on Facebook and does not venture onto the Einstein Web site. ("I should," he said apologetically.) If he must send e-mail, he consults a handwritten note Ms Raquib has taped to the doorjamb near his state-of-the-art Macintosh computer in a study overflowing with books and papers. "To open a blank e-mail," it reads, "click once on icon that says 'new' at top of window."

Some people suspect Mr. Sharp of being a closet peacenik and a lefty — in the 1950s, he wrote for a publication called " Peace News" and he once worked as personal secretary to A.J. Muste, a noted labour union activist and pacifist — but he insists that he outgrew his own early pacifism and describes himself as "trans-partisan."

Based on studies of revolutionaries like Gandhi[ji], non-violent uprisings, civil rights struggles, economic boycotts and the like, he has concluded that advancing freedom takes careful strategy and meticulous planning, advice that Ms Ziada said resonated among youth leaders in Egypt. Peaceful protest is best, he says — not for any moral reason, but because violence provokes autocrats to crack down. "If you fight with violence," Mr. Sharp said, "you are fighting with your enemy's best weapon, and you may be a brave but dead hero."

Father of strategic non-violence

Autocrats abhor Mr. Sharp. In 2007, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela denounced him, and officials in Myanmar, according to diplomatic cables obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, accused him of being part of a conspiracy to set off demonstrations intended "to bring down the government." (A year earlier, a cable from the United States Embassy in Damascus noted that Syrian dissidents had trained in non-violence by reading Mr. Sharp's writings.)

In 2008, Iran featured Mr. Sharp, along with Senator John McCain of Arizona and the Democratic financier George Soros, in an animated propaganda video that accused Mr. Sharp of being the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent "in charge of America's infiltration into other countries," an assertion his fellow scholars find ludicrous.

"He is generally considered the father of the whole field of the study of strategic non-violent action," said Stephen Zunes, an expert in that field at the University of San Francisco. "Some of these exaggerated stories of him going around the world and starting revolutions and leading mobs, what a joke. He's much more into doing the research and the theoretical work than he is in disseminating it."

That is not to say Mr. Sharp has not seen any action. In 1989, he flew to China to witness the uprising in Tiananmen Square. In the early 1990s, he sneaked into a rebel camp in Myanmar at the invitation of Robert L. Helvey, a retired Army colonel who advised the opposition there. They met when Colonel Helvey was on a fellowship at Harvard; the military man thought the professor had ideas that could avoid war. "Here we were in this jungle, reading Gene Sharp's work by candlelight," Colonel Helvey recalled. "This guy has tremendous insight into society and the dynamics of social power."

Not everyone is so impressed. As'ad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese political scientist and founder of the Angry Arab News Service blog, was outraged by a passing mention of Mr. Sharp in The New York Times on February 14. He complained that Western journalists were looking for a "Lawrence of Arabia" to explain Egyptians' success, in a colonialist attempt to deny credit to Egyptians.

Still, just as Mr. Sharp's profile seems to be expanding, his institute is contracting.

Mr. Ackerman, who became wealthy as an investment banker after studying under Mr. Sharp, contributed millions of dollars and kept it afloat for years. But about a decade ago, Mr. Ackerman wanted to disseminate Mr. Sharp's ideas more aggressively, as well as his own. He put his money into his own centre, which also produces movies and even a video game to train dissidents. An annuity he purchased still helps pay Mr. Sharp's salary.

In the twilight of his career, Mr. Sharp, is slowing down. His voice trembles and his blue eyes grow watery when he is tired; he gave up driving after a recent accident. He does his own grocery shopping; his assistant, Ms Raquib, tries to follow him when it is icy. He does not like it.

New work

He says his work is far from done. He has just submitted a manuscript for a new book, " Sharp's Dictionary of Power and Struggle: Terminology of Civil Resistance in Conflicts," to be published this fall by Oxford University Press. He would like readers to know he did not pick the title. "It's a little immodest," he said. He has another manuscript in the works about Einstein, whose own concerns about totalitarianism prompted Mr. Sharp to adopt the scientist's name for his institution. (Einstein wrote the foreword to Mr. Sharp's first book, about Gandhi[ji].)

In the meantime, he is keeping a close eye on the Middle East. He was struck by the Egyptian protesters' discipline in remaining peaceful, and especially by their lack of fear. "That is straight out of Gandhi[ji]," Mr. Sharp said. "If people are not afraid of the dictatorship, that dictatorship is in big trouble." ( Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting from New York, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.)— © New York Times News Service





The President emerged through the sunroof with two raised thumbs and a smile of content.

He was gazing out at thousands of his supporters crammed on the football field. His image was printed on their shirts, caps and umbrellas. On one poster held aloft, Yoweri Museveni's head had been pasted on to the naked torso of a gun-toting Rambo, which might have pleased the President, given his ascent to power in Uganda as a guerilla fighter 25 years ago. The mood was boisterous — there had been squabbles over freebie T-shirts and water — but when he reached the rostrum, the President adopted a serious tone.

"Don't think elections are a mere joke," he told the crowd, on the outskirts of Kampala. "Politics is linked to your life and your future." Replace "politics" with "Museveni" and the statement might have been more apposite. In Friday's presidential and parliamentary elections (February 18), the only leader many Ugandans have ever known is standing for a fourth term. And that is by no means the limit of his ambition, as his campaign slogan " pakalast" — "until the end" — suggests.

As in 2001 and 2006, Museveni's main challenge will come from the opposition candidate he despises most: Kizza Besigye, his former personal physician during the guerilla war. Despite widespread intimidation and ballot rigging, Besigye helped cut Museveni's share of the vote from 75 per cent in 1996 to 59 per cent last time round, a trend that could point to an even closer race this time. Besigye, who heads the Inter-Party Coalition, comprising four opposition groups, has warned that if the election is fraudulent his supporters could mount street protests.

The large police presence around the country suggests Museveni, 66, and his ruling National Resistance Movement, are taking that threat seriously. But he is banking that his strategy of spending mind-boggling sums of money — tens of millions of dollars in State funds, according to critics — on advertising, posters, T-shirts, bussing people to rallies and giving them cash payments, will ensure the opposition does not close in enough to be able to claim victory was stolen.

Indeed, so great is the mismatch of resources — one former newspaper editor said the Besigye faced "a vertical cliff rather than an level playing field" — that few people believe Museveni will lose the vote. Or, in the unlikely event that he did, that he would step aside.

President for life?

Having declared shortly after taking power that African leaders who refused to leave office represented one of the continent's greatest problems, Museveni increasingly looks like Uganda's President for life. No successor has been groomed, no leaving date discussed.

To some analysts, such as Andrew Mwenda, a prominent media commentator in Uganda, Museveni now has a sense of his own indispensability. "He has a messianic vision of himself, someone sent from providence to save Uganda from tyranny and poverty and lead it towards development," Mwenda said. "He won't leave power — he can't be a nobody." Museveni constantly reminds people of his biggest achievement: the peace and stability that Uganda has enjoyed — the now-dormant war with the Lord's Resistance Army in the north aside — since he assumed power in 1986. Such was the turmoil before, particularly under Idi Amin, that this remains a powerful selling point, especially in rural areas, where most Ugandans still live, and among older voters.

"Since this man took the seat we have had no problems," said Jacob Waibi, a 67-year-old truck driver, at the President's rally. "But if somebody else comes in tomorrow he could punch us." But Museveni is also a consummate politician, adept at deflecting criticism and relying on the "bad people around me" defence.

Addressing his supporters, Museveni blamed the scarcity of jobs and electricity on the opposition, which he said had been blocking his ambitious development plans. Poor service delivery was the fault of local officials, a few of whom he called on to a stage and lambasted, to the delight of the crowd. He then promised to give away 20,000 day-old chickens to local people after the election.

Increasing levels of patronage have become a hallmark in recent years, with Museveni handing out cash to everyone from MPs — who each recently received 20m shillings to "monitor government programmes", or to spend on their campaigns, depending on who you believe — to villagers who clamour for the President's famous "brown envelopes". It is a situation that infuriates critics such as Amanya Mushega, who fought alongside Museveni in the bush war and served in his government before joining the opposition.

"It's not a sign of dignity that the first thing people ask you for in Uganda is money," he said. You have ministers begging, bishops begging. We have become a nation of beggars, and have lost our dignity." Discontent with Museveni is certainly significant. At the President's rally Kenneth Muwooya, 23, said he was only there to "waste time, because I'm idle". "We don't have jobs. We need change." But the extent of opposition support is hard to assess. Apathy among opposition voters may count against Besigye, 54, whose arrest on trumped-up rape charges before the 2006 election won him a lot of sympathy votes. One recent poll suggested Museveni's support could reach around 65 per cent, but since many Ugandans fear talking openly about politics with strangers, this may not be accurate.

What is certain is that public services, especially health and education, are in a very poor state, while high-level corruption is a big problem. Addressing large crowds while campaigning in the rolling hills of Ntungamo district, in south-western Uganda, Besigye claimed that "Museveni and Family Limited" were bleeding the country dry — a reference to the President's relatives who enjoy senior State positions, including his wife, brother and a son and daughter.

"If you want no jobs — pakalast. Bad roads — pakalast. To die giving birth — pakalast," Besigye said.

His supporters roared with laughter.

The President may well laugh last.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011





A Marxist during his student days, Yoweri Museveni fought in the war that ousted Idi Amin from power in 1979. He formed a political party to contest the 1981 elections, which were rigged by the former President Milton Obote. Though Museveni's party was not the biggest victim of the fraud, he launched a rebellion, finally seizing power in early 1986.

Early in his leadership Museveni was widely praised. Uganda's shattered economy began to recover, and it took the lead among African countries in addressing the Aids epidemic. But by the late 1990s, his reputation was declining. The war with the Lord's Resistance Army had cost thousands of lives. Troops he sent into the Democratic Republic of the Congo killed and pillaged. His opponents' fears that he was morphing into a "Big Man" were realised when he amended the constitution to remove the two-term presidential limit before the 2006 election.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






It is a wise and necessary practical step on the part of the government on Thursday to scrap the 2005 agreement between Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), and Devas Multimedia Pvt. Ltd, the Bengaluru-based firm which appears to have strong American and German interests and on whose board sit former senior officials of Isro. The contract, whose money value is placed at about `2 lakh crore rupees, appeared prima facie dubious as it was arrived at without a process of competitive bidding. Had it gone through, it would have been the scam to beat all scams, tainting the Prime Minister, above all. At his interaction with editors of television news channels on Wednesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had taken pains to note that the contract "was not operational in any practical sense", indicating that no payments had been made to the private party in this highly unconscionable arrangement. At least this point would not be controverted, and that is fortunate. Otherwise the government would be faced with the accusation of corruption in the Department of Space which comes under the direct administrative charge of the PM. At the televised media conference the PM had strongly hinted that the controversy-begging agreement would be ended by the government when he said there was no question of diluting in any way the recommendations of the Space Commission which last July called for terminating the contract.

As it happens, the government has moved in double-quick time with the Cabinet Committee on Security convening on Thursday to end the agreement. Announcing the termination, law minister Veerappa Moily said the government had taken a "sovereign" decision to end the deal. It is not fortuitous that the decision was reached at a meeting of the CCS. Elaborating the security dimension of the case, Mr Moily recalled that the rare S-band spectrum, to which Devas would have been given access if the deal was actuated, was for the use of our defence systems, the paramilitary, and entities such as the railways. He noted that such a commodity had to be outside the view of commercial transaction.

The question would be asked why this was not appreciated by those concerned in good time, and how any contract, leave alone one with such extraordinarily high financial values attaching to it, could pass muster when competitive bids were not called even if the PM himself did not come into the picture. To seek answers to these leading questions, it is not enough to annul the agreement with Devas. It is no less necessary to probe how this curious deal could be even thought of in the highly sensitive area of space, who were involved, and what was driving the process that appears suspicious even to a lay person. It appears the process was germinated back in 2003. It is poor advertisement for our governance methods that questions began to be asked only about the middle of 2009, and the decision to end the funny business dragged out another year and a half. These issues are bound to be raised in Parliament and the government needs to make a quick internal inquiry and vet its systems and processes before that. It bears mentioning that Isro is an entity that was under sanctions by the Americans at the time the deal was struck. It is surprising then that commercial US interests should be on its bandwagon. In short, the whole affair is regrettable in the extreme and calls for investigation by an impartial authority. Only that would retrieve Isro's fair name. Devas has threatened it would take recourse to legal processes to protect its interests. So be it. Mr Moily asserts that the government's decision is legally sound. When "sovereign" interests are invoked, the government is likely to get an extra layer of legal protection.






The recent convulsions in the Arab world — starting with Tunisia and Egypt, and seemingly at risk of spreading to Yemen and Algeria, though both have iron-willed military establishments which may be more effective at dealing with them — have raised questions about the economic implications for the region, especially at a time of recession. And those, in turn, may have further political consequences.

Egypt, whose political troubles clearly owed a great deal to the country's economic woes as well as to other factors, is an instructive case. It does export modest amounts of oil (but much more of gas) but it has seen its revenues fall significantly during the global economic crisis of the last couple of years. Egypt is also dependent on the outside world for two major sources of revenue — from the Suez Canal, which has seen less use as a recessionary economic climate reduced global shipping, and tourism, which is the sort of discretionary spending that is usually the first thing to be cut when political unrest erupts onto the street. Whatever the new government in Cairo may do politically, it is going to confront serious economic challenges which may yet generate fresh waves of protest.

The Arab world is, of course, divided between those countries which do not have oil resources, and whose challenges of poverty and under-development will therefore be accentuated in the short term by the present crisis, and those whose oil resources give them a significant protective buffer even though prices have been volatile in recent months. Saudi Arabia, for instance, says confidently that any shocks produced by the current global economic crisis will be offset by the country's substantial reserves and continuing oil revenues. You can expect the Saudi government to continue spending lavishly, which will keep liquidity flowing within their economy like a good lubricant. Saudi banks announced excellent third-quarter results this fiscal year; they have no sub-prime exposure and there is no reason why their stocks should go down, except for the irrationality that makes downward pressure in one country translate into downward pressure on all countries in our globalised world.

Nonetheless project financing is bound to go down in Saudi Arabia as well as in the other countries of the region, because projects everywhere are still largely financed by the same international financial institutions whose capacity to extend credit has been severely hit by the crisis. When mega-projects go down, ordinary individual consumers could also have less spending money in their pockets. The Saudi government, conscious of this, took an interesting step when it made a 10 billion riyal ($2.7 billion) deposit into the Saudi credit bank, to be loaned interest-free to lower-income Saudis.

The Arab Gulf countries had largely been expected to emerge unscathed from the global financial crisis, but the reality has been sobering. Many Gulf banks, notably Kuwait's, were revealed to have much more exposure to derivatives than had been imagined, and their losses had a negative effect on confidence in the banking systems of the region. How can the Gulf countries sustain their massive spending and high economic growth rates at a time of falling oil prices and wobbly banking systems? They all have a bit of an oil cushion built up in the good years, but that may not be enough. Kuwait, for instance, has a less diversified economy than Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and it guarantees its citizens a cradle-to-grave social security net; no wonder Kuwaiti stockbrokers marched en masse to the Prime Minister's palace asking for more government intervention!
Many UAE watchers who saw property prices shoot up year after year (and even month after month) are not surprised that the balloon has clearly been pricked. There is a noticeable drop in the prices of properties yet to be built in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which also suggests that foreign investors are pulling a lot of their money from the region. But the UAE government has been aggressively injecting liquidity into the economy and cutting interest rates. There is now modest talk of a recovery even in Dubai, though real estate is, as always, likely to be the last to recover. There is no sign of political unrest in any of the Arab monarchies, since — with the possible exception of Jordan — they appear much more stable than the civilian authoritarians who have come under siege recently.

But there's no room for complacency. The Arab region's economic growth in recent years has largely been driven by oil revenue, real estate investments (some of which have been really speculative), a housing boom, tourism and, in some countries, foreign aid and foreign direct investment. Very little of this has gone towards building a significant industrial infrastructure, through of course Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries have been an exception. Further, surplus oil revenues will be difficult to rely upon, and that means less money available to everyone — to governments, to the sovereign wealth funds, and to the middle class consumers who drive economic growth in every society.

In short, there is a genuine risk of greater instability and conflict throughout the Arab world, not just because of the political factors that propelled protestors in Tunisia and Egypt, but because of the difficulties that have come in the wake of the global economic crisis. If the amount of money coming into the region from abroad — whether from trade, foreign direct investment or even remittances, which may go down as economic growth slows everywhere — decreases, unemployment is bound to increase. When people do not have regular employment and a steady income, social and political unrest is likely to follow; and in turn, this serves as a further disincentive to foreign investors, which creates a vicious cycle. With a demographic boom that gives the Arab world a huge army of unemployed young men, the spread of information across borders in the Internet era and the economic consequences of the global recession, the prospects for more political unrest in the months to come appear very high indeed.

Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency






The Egyptian revolution, perhaps, would be to the Islamic world what the French Revolution was to the Christian world.

The Western intellectual predilection that the Islamic world is trapped in feudal Islamic dictatorships is likely to be disproved with this revolution.

In fact, Western thinkers forget that the Christian Europe had also suffered brutal monarchies and feudal dictatorships for several centuries. While Christianity evolved definite ideas on political systems and the rights of human beings both in relation to each other as well as to the state, Islamic civil societies had evolved their own method.

They were always conscious of their independent socio-political cultural constructions than, for example, Hindu civil society.

The Egyptian revolution has a unique tone and tenor. It is likely to change the political discourse of the world in terms of democracy vs dictatorship and may also lead to the establishment of altogether different mode of democracy harmonious with the Islamic world's experience with politics and human rights.

History teaches us that when European Christianity was divided into Catholic and Protestant churches, it was the Protestant ethic that produced a political revolution in Europe while Catholicism was willing to co-exist with monarchies and dictatorships.

The Western world forgetting its own past is being judgmental about the Islamic world's stagnation and conservatism.
What the West conveniently forgets is that Islamic political culture is 600 years younger and was born in more backward lands. It naturally took its own time to handle its historical evolution.

There is also a view that Shia and Sunni divisions coupled with their tribal moorings in the Islamic world would not allow such political revolutions. Therefore, the West felt it had the right to export its model of democracy to West Asia as it did to some of the colonies.

But Egypt is really evolving its own culture of conducting a transformative revolutionary battle with mass prayer of millions of people at Cairo's Liberation Square.

Britain killed its king in the 1649 revolution and France did the same during its revolution in 1789. But the Egyptian revolution, it appears, would achieve its aims with least bloodshed. Quite surprisingly the Egyptian revolutionaries are using very, very secular slogans.

We should note that this democratic revolution is taking place in the backdrop of 9/11 attacks and the "export democracy" to West Asia formula of the former US President, George W. Bush, plus the Iraqi experiment based on that formula.

Within the Islamic world also this is the first revolution of its kind and very different from the Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution of Iran and also the democratic experiments of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Egypt also carries the historical burden of having rulers who enslaved Israelites. It took Moses to save them from bondage. This was also the land that gave safe shelter to Joseph and Mary when baby Jesus was facing the wrath of Herod, the king of Israel.

Its people are now undoing another chapter in the oppressive history of its rulers. Interestingly, they are doing it when Barack Hussein Obama, who has both Christian and Islamic heritage, is ruling the United States, which is seen as an oppressor.
They will have to work out a democratic Egypt where all people will have a life of dignity. Though all this might sound like a West Asian utopia, the determination of the Egyptian masses at the Liberation Square and their disciplined revolution would set new record of the world.

It may be a strange coincidence, but Mr Obama gave a call for revolution of this kind in the Islamic world in his famous Cairo speech of June 4, 2009.

He said "As a student of history, I also know civilisation's debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar University — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paying way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovations in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass, tools of navigation, our mastery of pens and printing..."

Egyptian scholars preserved even the books of Plato and Aristotle and got them translated and put them on global knowledge systems. That Egypt is now re-locating itself to change the world.
Through the Egyptian revolution, the Islamic world has also shown an intellectual resilience to rediscover itself. It is proving that they do not need somebody's armies to export democracy to their countries. They are very likely to prove that the Iraq experiment Americans is an insult to their cultural history.
India, which constantly looks at Pakistan and Afghanistan as uncivilised states must also take heed of the new changes.
It is better for India to deal with them as potential friends from whom there is a lot to learn than dismiss them as rogue states and underdeveloped civil societies. The Egyptian revolution is a pointer to that potential.

Kancha Ilaiah is director for the study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. Contact at






Most experts will tell you that once a merchant ship is hijacked by pirates, it is almost impossible to mount a rescue operation because the lives of hostages are at stake. In most cases (similar to aircraft hijacking), quick on-scene decisions are not taken. Local authorities usually await instructions from the concerned government. But recently, the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard (ICG) jointly succeeded in neutralising two Somali pirate threats in the Indian exclusive economic zone (EEZ) without any "back seat driving" from South Block.
Piracy off the Somalian coast has been ongoing since 2005. Increasing pressure from about a dozen warships (including Indian) in the Gulf of Aden, where piracy attacks reduced by 50 per cent in 2010, has forced the Somali pirates to look elsewhere for booty.

The pirates seize slow-speed, long-range fishing trawlers and use them as "mother ships" to sail on international sea routes and, on sighting a merchant ship, launch small high-speed boats (skiffs) carrying armed pirates who intercept and board the victim ship, sail it to Somalia, and later release the captured ship and hostages in return for millions of dollars.

On April 10, 2010, Somali pirates seized three Thai trawlers — Prantalay-11, Prantalaya-12 and Prantalaya-14 — with their crewmen. On December 4, INS Krishna and ICGS Samrat intercepted a hijacked Bangladeshi merchant ship off the Lakshadweep and Minicoy (L&M) islands, but had to allow the ship to sail to Somalia (where it joined 31 hijacked ships with 700 hostage sailors), when the pirates threatened to execute the Bangladeshi crew. Emboldened by this success, the Somali pirates continued their illegal activities in the waters near the L&M islands. Sixty thousand ships with goods worth over a trillion US dollars pass through the Indian Ocean annually.

To check increased pirate activity, on December 13, 2010, the Indian Navy and ICG launched a combined operation, "Island Watch", involving ships and aircraft on surveillance missions, in the seas off the L&M islands.

At 10.30 am on January 28, 2011, an ICG Dornier aircraft operating from Kochi noticed two white high-speed pirate skiffs closing in on the slow-moving 73,000-ton Bahamas registered container ship MV CMA CGM Verdi, about 220 nm west of Kochi. The unarmed ICG Dornier aircraft made four low-level passes which caused the two skiffs to panic and abort their attack and return to mother ship Prantalay-14, which was also spotted by the Dornier. Two Indian Navy ships (Cankarso and Kalpeni) and two ICG ships (Sankalp and Samar) operating in the area were ordered to intercept the Prantalaya-14. INS Cankarso was the first to arrive the same evening, at 5 pm. Ignoring INS Cankarso's repeated calls to stop, the Prantalaya-14 attempted to escape, forcing the Cankarso to fire a single 30 mm warning shot a few hundred metres ahead (traditionally known as "firing across the bows") of the pirate ship. The pirate ship responded with gunfire, which forced the Cankarso to fire a single shot in self defence from its 30-mm gun. This shot hit the petrol tank of one of the embarked skiffs and a fire quickly devoured the wooden hulled Prantalaya-14. Twenty hostage fishermen and 15 pirates managed to jump in the water from the burning trawler.

The INS Cankarso rescued 20 Thai and Burmese fishermen and transported them to Kochi. Before departing, it left 15 pirates at sea, in naval life rafts, due to shortage of space. These 15 pirates were subsequently embarked on ICGS Sankalp and handed over to the Mumbai police on January 31, 2011. (Admiralty courts dealing with cases of piracy or maritime incidents and crimes are located in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.) Interrogation revealed that the pirate mother ship Prantalaya-14 had sunk with 10 pirates, two hostage fishermen, 23 AK-47 rifles, two rocket launchers and seven grenades.

ON FEBRUARY 5, 2011, the ICG Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) at Mumbai received information that a Greece-registered oil tanker MT Chios had managed to escape a pirate skiff attack off the L&M islands. An IN Dornier aircraft from Kochi searched the area, while INS Tir and ICGS Samar were directed to intercept the pirates. ICGS Samar detected a suspicious contact on radar (later identified as Prantalay-11), about 100 nm from Kavaratti island and 300 nm west of Kochi. On reaching the area, at about 4.30 am, the Samar had to open fire to chase away a pirate skiff which, in the darkness, had mistaken Samar for a merchant ship. At about 5.45 am, an ICG Dornier aircraft from Kochi (armed with medium machine guns) also arrived and identified Prantalay-11. The Indian Navy and ICG units then closed to within a mile of the trawler.

The Prantalay-11 and its sleepy pirates were taken by surprise and had no reaction time to threaten their hostages, and, after a brief exchange of fire, surrendered with no loss of life (three pirates were injured). A total of 28 Somali pirates and 24 hostage Thai fishermen were then embarked on ICGS Samar for passage to Mumbai, arriving on February 9, along with Prantalay-11, which was also towed by ICGS Samar.
While the Indian Navy and ICG deserve a pat on the back for these operations, it must be remembered that Prantalay-12 has not yet been neutralised and there may be other pirate mother ships around. On February 8, the Italian oil tanker Savina Caylyn (crew included 17 Indians and five Italians) was hijacked by Somali pirates (using a skiff and "mother ship") some 450 nm from India's west coast and 700 nm from Somalia.
Piracy has spread to the Arabian Sea and needs to be eliminated ruthlessly before the pirates join hands with sea-borne terrorists. Hopefully, the proposed Indian Navy and ICG coastal stations in the Andaman & Nicobar islands, as also the L&M islands, along with coastal radar stations will become operational soon. More importantly, given the problems of co-ordination between multiple maritime agencies (Indian Navy, ICG, Customs, Marine police, port authorities, offshore rigs, lighthouses, fishermen associations, police etc), Indian Parliament needs to replace the 2009 government directive post 26/11 (with respect to coastal security) with a more comprehensive legislation which unambiguously indicates single-point command, control and accountability, and also empowers that single-point authority (and the Indian Navy and ICG personnel at sea) to deal with the complex task of neutralising emerging threats in our waters and ports.

Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command,








Is incest fairly common in India?" asked my friend Yoav Masiach, who is in Delhi to pursue a doctorate in humanities.


Shocked at both the question and way it was worded nonchalantly over a cup of coffee at Khan Market, I asked him whatever gave him the idea.


"That's all I get to hear from the way people talk. Nobody seems to talk without liberal doses of bhen*#$d, madar*#$d or even beti*#$d," he pointed out.


After telling him not to generalise and mumbling some explanation, I switched the topic and forgot all about that biting cold January afternoon exchange till a week ago.


Aboard a relatively empty local train (one of the perks of working on weekends), I'd barely settled down to reading at the prized window seat, when two stations later a duo got in.


More than their perfume cloud and the very visible costly brands they flaunted, it was their loud conversation and the gaalis that got the attention of nearly the entire compartment.


"Bhen*#$d, if this Dhoni & Co keep doing such g^^#d masti then our chances at the World Cup will go phut," one of them called out loudly to his friend from the door to his friend, who had decided to sit down. His friend laughed and replied back with more references to genitals of female relatives.


I am still not going to concede to what Yoav had observed. What then, was my problem? Why was I getting riled with this random exchange?


A senior colleague in office who uses the Marathi version of motherf%$#@r as some sort of endearment brushed this off as a "nonsensical thing only convent-educated types like you will be bothered about".


To make it worse, he added, "You guys think it's so cool to swear in English but anyone who does the same in Hindi or any regional language is looked down upon."


I began thinking if this discomfort with swearing was a class construct of my mind and was transported back to a classroom at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, nearly two decades ago, where a workshop on Gender & Language had seen a panel discussion on profanities.


Irrespective of the language or culture, most bad-words target a woman and her sexuality. "The man who hits out at another man for giving him gaalis is not so angry about the gaalis, but about the questions raised on the character and sexuality of the women at home who they treat as property," Dr Laxmi Lingam of the Women's Studies Unit had said.


Last Sunday, when I went early to the Goregaon fish market, the catch was still being loaded on the stalls and the fiery Koli fisherwomen were supervising.


"Lai madar*#$d zhaalet! Paisa paaije pan kaam nako!" ("They've become such motherf%$#@rs. They want money but shirk work!") one of them was loudly telling the other.


It is tragic that despite being a matriarchal community where most wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of the women, the Koli women take the cues from male role models when it comes to asserting that power.







Travelling in Mumbai's local trains can prove to be quite an insightful sojourn for the simple reason that you not only come across all specimens of mankind but also get a glimpse of human nature.


The other day I was travelling back home in a Virar-bound (yeah, the dreaded one) local with music plugged into my ears, smelly armpits shoving their way into my nose and the ugly mangroves and nullah at Bandra treating my eyes.


Just when I was about to deport myself to a world of serene siesta, I was hauled back into the crowded compartment by a shrill voice hurling cuss words at another woman.


I got up to watch two 20-something girls clawing and tugging at the hair of a middle-aged co-passenger.


The woman had apparently asked the girls not to push her, and in retaliation, the girls were abusing her and trying to push her off the train. Spitting a string of vulgar abuses, they tore at her clothes and beat her black and blue.


The woman fought back with defiance, blood oozing from her face and her hair strewn while others were trying to hold the girls back in vain.


To my horror, I realised that the woman was being trampled upon and almost killed till the train halted and an RPF personnel came to her rescue.


For something that could have been ignored or resolved verbally, I fail to see why the girls had to resort to this show of power and brutality.


Was it an outlet to their frustrations, or an overbearing desire to prove their potency over people who were weaker than them?


What is it with human psychology that vices like brutality and cruelty come so easily to people? Has the human conscience plummeted so low that compassion and altruism are on the verge of extinction?


If minds as young as 20-year-olds can display such savage brutality, then humanity is surely on the way to its decline.


The recent spate of attacks on women — a Dalit girl in Fatehpur, Uttar Pradesh, having her limbs chopped off for resisting rape; a Lucknow girl being shot dead for refusing a friendship proposal and, more recently, a Mumbai girl being attacked with a knife for not parting with her cellphone number — makes you sit back and wonder if the human race is really civilised, or is it just a notch higher than our ancestors.


Or may be, just may be… we are reverting to the Middle Ages, when barbarism ruled with an iron fist and 'eye-for-an-eye' was the rule of law.










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)







A View Point

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





While the issue of corruption dominated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's interaction with TV journalists on Wednesday, price rise and economic reforms too figured in the discussion but not prominently. Since a government-Opposition patch-up to break the Parliament logjam appears likely, there is a possibility of the government resuming the reform process. "I sincerely hope in the Budget session we will see a clearer picture of the reforms' agenda", he said. As a conciliatory gesture he even offered to appear before "any committee, including a JPC".


Admitting that inflation hurts the poor the most since they spend 60 per cent of their earnings on food alone, Dr Manmohan Singh mentioned two steps the government had taken to help the rural poor: Guaranteed employment for 100 days at inflation-linked wages and subsidised food supplied through the public distribution system. The need for agricultural reforms has been emphasised time and again and the Prime Minister hinted at reforming the marketing of farm produce. Farmers are forced to sell their produce at mandis often at minimum support prices as middlemen manipulate the market and bring down prices at the time of fresh arrivals and jack up later on, thus making hefty profits at the cost of the consumer.


There is also a strong case for encouraging a network of cold storages and food processing facilities. Besides, a lot of food goes waste for want of adequate scientific storage. The government mishandling of food grains had attracted criticism from the Supreme Court last year. The Prime Minister also let it be known how the BJP was delaying the rollout of the goods and services tax (GST). The BJP did not extend support to the government in carrying out this significant tax reform because of "a decision against a person who was a minister in Gujarat". Opposition to reforms comes not only from the BJP but also from some of the allies and from within the Congress. Dr Manmohan Singh will have to take along the party president as well as the coalition allies in the pursuit of reforms.









The Karnataka High Court has given a new interpretation to the anti-defection law under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution by upholding the disqualification of five Independents by Assembly Speaker K.G. Bopaiah. In a 192-page order which is expected to provide stability to the beleaguered B.S. Yeddyurappa government, a three-member Bench dismissed petitions challenging the disqualifications and ruled that the Speaker's October 10, 2010 order was not in violation of the constitutional mandate nor was there any infirmity based on malafides or perversity. Significantly, the Bench relied on the 1993 Kihoto Hollohan judgement 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 Assembly Speaker would be confined only to "jurisdictional errors such as infirmities based on violation of the constitutional mandate, malafides, non-compliance with rules of justice and perversity".


The High Court ruling holds out important lessons for defectors, especially Independents. It maintained that as the five Independents in question joined the Yeddyurappa government as ministers, they not only lost their independent status and became a part and parcel of the ruling party but also were bound by the party whip and discipline. Interestingly, the court ruled that when an Independent member became a part of the government led by a single party, he/she will essentially have to implement the policies of that political party. Moreover, the five Independents had attended meetings of the BJP legislature party, participated in the rallies organised by the BJP under the party flag and symbol, all of which were reasons to believe that they were no longer Independents. Another interesting observation in the judgement is the court upholding the supremacy of the electorate. It lauded the voters' petitions to the Speaker against the Independents' defection and said that "every voter of the constituency should have an opportunity to oppose the illegal defection by bringing it to the Speaker's notice".


The High Court had earlier upheld the disqualification of 11 BJP MLAs by the Speaker. The latest ruling gives a breather to the BJP government. However, the Supreme Court has recently concluded hearings and will soon adjudicate on petitions challenging the disqualification of 11 MLAs. With the five Independents having decided to appeal against the High Court order, the Yeddyurappa government's stability will depend upon the apex court's adjudication in both cases.
















Punjab is home to a large number of deserted brides. This has been known for long. Incidents involving women abandoned by their NRI husbands have come to light far too often and created much consternation. However, what is more shocking is that despite media attention and right noises made by authorities concerned, the numbers have been steadily rising. Even though the government has been planning strict laws to bring succour to wives left in the lurch, a composite law to address the concerns of NRI brides is still awaited.


Not surprisingly, the need for a separate law was reiterated at a seminar organised by the National Commission for Women (NCW) in New Delhi. In fact, the NCW which set up a special NRI cell in 2009 and has been receiving complaints of desertion, has been demanding a separate law to cover NRI affairs, particularly with regard to matrimonial disputes, maintenance of women and children, ex-party divorce and alimony, for quite some time. The Ministry of Women and Child Development had also mooted the idea of a second passport for NRI wives which would at least enable them to return home. The recent initiative of the passport office in Jalandhar to impound passports of NRIs accused of sham marriages too is in the fitness of things.


However, it must be understood that the problems of NRI wives, which have been driven home time and again both at seminars and through individual efforts of men like Lok Bhalai Party Chief Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, has a social angle too. In Punjab where obsession for migrating to foreign lands often borders on mania, parents too must own up responsibility. While the conduct of NRI men who trap unsuspecting women in fraudulent marriages cannot be condoned, parents too must check the antecedents of prospective NRI grooms thoroughly and must not show undue haste in marrying off their daughters without proper verification. To ameliorate the lot of women taken for a ride by their unscrupulous husbands, legal action has to be combined with awareness drives and affirmative action on the part of the family. 









NOW that Mr Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's deservedly hated autocrat who ruled the Arab world's largest country for three decades, has gone, the question naturally is what next? It is noteworthy that the dictator transferred power not to the newly appointed Vice-President but to the country's Army Council consisting of a Field Marshal and a number of generals and brigadiers. All of them were an integral part of the Mubarak regime.


No wonder, there is widespread apprehension that the Army may try to rule on its own, with a façade of a civilian government. Some say that Egypt might thus go the way of Pakistan, but then a parallel between the two countries is not on all fours even though the Egyptian Officer Corps, like its Pakistani counterpart, appropriates for itself a large part of national economy. Yet the Egyptian Army was sensible enough to stay neutral between the people demanding the ouster of Mr Mubarak and the disgraced President. It has witnessed the power of the monumental democracy movement that remained nonviolent and embraced all sections of the Egyptian population. Nearly 300 people did lose their lives and many more were injured. But this was the handiwork of the despicable thugs constituting Mr Mubarak's police and the secret police until the Army later controlled them.


It is, therefore, reasonable to expect that the Army would perhaps not renege on its promise to hold free and fair elections within six months, and transfer power to those elected. Parliament, elected only recently in a palpably rigged poll, has already been dissolved, and the Army has iterated its support to all the demands of the people who made the Tahrir Square their home for 19 days. A proof of the Army's earnestness would be an early abolition of the emergency rule.


In any case, unless the Egyptian Army leadership consists entirely of morons, it must have noticed that the events in Cairo have sent a shock wave across the entire West Asian and North African region. The Jasmine revolution might have begun in Tunisia but Egypt is the traditional leader and pacesetter of the region. What happened there from January 25 to February 11 will have profound repercussions and ramifications across the entire region. Fear in Israel and Saudi Arabia is manifest. This might explain also the unhappy reaction to the Egyptian revolutionary movement in even distant countries that are authoritarian, such as China and even Russia. Against this backdrop, it is had to believe that the Egyptian Army can hope to remain entrenched in power simply by modifying slightly the present dictatorial system.


Another major source of apprehension is the likely role in post-Mubarak Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood, unquestionably the best-organised political force in the country even though in elections it gets no more than 20 per cent of the votes. In view of the sway Islamic extremism and jihadi terrorism have from the Ravi to the Oxus and beyond, these concerns are understandable. But should we jump to conclusions and pre-judge issues? In any case, the Brotherhood consists not of clerics alone but includes a high proportion of professionals, most of them avowedly secular. At the Tharir Square both Muslims and Christian Copts agitated and prayed together. Is this unity transitory?


President Obama of the United States is right in saying that Egypt can never remain what it was before the tumultuous events of the last two weeks and a half. But his responsibility does not end with saying the right thing. He has to see to it that the right thing is also done. Throwing politeness to the winds, it must be said that American policy is at the root of the problems of West Asia. US actions are completely at variance with its overblown rhetoric about the virtues of democracy and rule of law.


It is inconceivable that West Asian dictators and despots could have survived without consistent and persistent American support to them during seven presidencies. Mr Mubarak oppressed his people for 30 long years only because the US backed him to the hilt and he did its bidding at a price of one and a half billion dollars a year. The story of Mr Hosni Mubarak is not an aberration or an isolated instance by any means. America's love for dictators has been endemic and enduring. In 1959, for instance, Batista of Cuba (overthrown that year by Fidel Castro) was America's darling, as were numerous autocrats in Latin and Southern America and other parts of the world. For the US, Iran, under the Shah's ruthless rule, was an "island of stability" until 1979 when Washington refused even to give refuge to the ailing former "King of Kings". Seven years later people's power in the Philippines overthrew the monster named Ferdinand Marcos. George Bush Sr., as Vice-President, had told him: "We love your adherence to democratic principles and democratic processes." The list is far too long. Suffice to say that according to an American author, there have been no fewer than 36 "embarrassing allies" of the United States.


Although this subject is vast and, therefore, needs to be discussed at some length separately, let it be said briefly that, apart from the importance of oil and gas of the region, the motive behind America's misguided policy in West Asia is its determination to preserve and promote its special ally Israel's arrogance, aggressiveness and occupation of Palestine. Israel has had no difficulty in making a mockery of the so-called peace process. Because the Arab street was enraged against this, the US found it expedient to bolster pliable Arab dictators and monarchs. In the changing circumstances, this hugely flawed policy would no longer be viable.


India also needs to have a close second look at its West Asia policy. For a painfully long time New Delhi has chosen to be silent on West Asia, if not neglectful of it. Friendly relations with Israel are understandable, indeed necessary. But this in no way justifies our virtual abandonment of our traditional support to the Palestinian cause. A working group, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister's principal secretary, is supposed to be "monitoring" the developments in crucially important West Asia. If so, it has done a poor job of it. For when the democratic sentiment erupted in all its majesty at the Tahrir Square, South Block took a vow of silence for several days. Even when it declared that Mr Mubarak must step down, it was not outspoken enough. Indeed, its support to the upsurge for democracy was inadequate.








The district town of Rewari in Haryana with its broad roads and rows of flats is fast emerging from the shadows of its rural past to catch up with its neighbouring cousin Gurgaon. A function organised by the NHRC and Janata Kalyan Samiti the other day to discuss the problems of senior citizens was a first of its kind event there.

It was a function meant to advise the young and not so young about protecting the rights of the old and very old. Chaaya Devi, aged 102, led a troup of folk singers to sing the theme song:

"Ram budhapa mat dena (Oh God, don't give old age)


Je budhapa dena chaho (If old age is a must)


Veer mard ka sath diyo (Give company of a brave man)


Shravan jaisa lal diyo (a son like Shravan)


Muthi mein dhan diyo (Money in hand)


Gode mei jaan diyo (Strength in the knees)


Swarg lok mein baas diyo (abode in heaven)


Some experts on health care and medicine gave impressive presentations to this audience. Government representatives spoke about the virtues of the new legislation, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, old age schemes and the NGOs dwelt on their own activities and programmes for the senior citizens. The young DC, SP and the pretty lady ADC talked about what the District Administration could do for them. But Chayya Devi's rondo of native wisdom rendered in her birdlike tone epitomised all that the State and society need to do for the elderly persons.


All the elderly persons with faces wizened with age but chiselled in shape sitting unbent, men with their heads swathed in turbans formed an assembly of an age receding into the past and contrasting with the generation called modern.


Their life stories speak of a different social milieu. Simple lifestyles in large joint families and abiding social bonds they never tire of recounting. The strength of their bodies was bread of millet, milk and ghee, and the spice of their life the 'addas' and 'hukkas' under well-shaded trees. Never would they imagine a generation different from theirs that would need ponderous exhortations and legislation to make the present generation to look after them.


Raj Rani, 103 years old, happy to be in the midst of her age group, though, not knowing all that we spoke in a lingo which was not hers, sat all through. She had her own lesson in longevity to impart: happy life in the midst of her progeny and regular diet of milk, ghee and lassi. Small in height, with a cheerful disposition, Raj Rani rose to welcome me with a shawl. It was my delight to put the shawl back on her shoulders.


Energy and freshness of the youth can make a world of difference to the world of the elderly. A caring society and a welfare state can give them an 'abode of heaven', here on this earth itself which Chayya Devi longed for in her song. Their experience is a treasure and their wisdom a guide. Saying nothing more than this I took leave of this rare assembly wishing them a long, healthy and happy life.










On Army Day last month, Chief of the Army Staff made a welcome statement for the large number of war-disabled personnel of the army who till now have been a neglected lot. "The Indian Army," he said, "will observe 2011 as the year of the disabled soldier, to honour soldiers who suffered injuries or were disabled in operations. While we have been giving respect to martyred soldiers, the time has come to give due honour to soldiers who have been disabled in operations". He also stated that the government had sanctioned Rs 1 crore for rehabilitation, training and basic amenities to disabled soldiers this year.


The parsimony of the government towards the war-disabled is amply illustrated by the earmarking of just Rs 1 crore for an entire year for nearly 25,000 war disabled personnel, which translates to a token amount of a mere Rs. 400 per person. What a shame! However, it at least acknowledges the need to assist the war-disabled. So far, they have been a forgotten group.


Theoretically the Ministry of Social Welfare looks after disabled personnel. But it refuses to entertain the war-disabled on the ground that it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. The Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare (ESW), set up six years ago, was till recently not engaged with the war-disabled even though the issue fell squarely in its ambit. Hence, the war-disabled were nobody's baby! Now that cognizance has been taken of this major lacuna, at least by the army, it is hoped that implementation action would follow rapidly by the army and the ESW department. There are many areas that need to be addressed.


There are broadly two categories of war-disabled personnel. Some opt to continue serving in the army after their disablement, while others decide to go home to engage other pursuits. The problems of both categories are the same, but those retained in service are denied many of the benefits. This attitude of the bureaucrats, both civilian and military, stems from a perception that a great favour is being done by retaining them in service although no concessions are offered to them as they compete with their able-bodied peers in all respects, including professional advancement. An attitudinal change therefore, is the first action needed so that there is no discrimination between those continuing in service and those who go home.


The second action needed is to treat war-disabled personnel at par or nearly at par with those who lay down their lives in battle. The plight of the war-disabled and their families is no less than those who have lost their husband or son - their bread-winner and their security. In addition, war-disabled persons have to cope with the trauma and adverse psychological impact of losing parts of their body. Their physical capacity to earn is also permanently impaired and substantially reduced. Yet, financial compensation for them is meager and their next of kin (NOK) do not get any other facility, like a house, an agency, or a job. Those who sacrifice their lives in war must be and are treated with great respect and their NOK adequately compensated. However, the war-disabled find themselves completely left out from such considerations. This unfortunately does not inspire confidence in the government. This situation needs to change so that potential soldiers do not hesitate to join the armed forces in future on account of a perception that the war-disabled are being callously ignored.


The third action relates to the ex-gratia grant to the war-disabled. At present, it is only Rs 1 lakh for those sent home and nothing for those retained in service. The grant needs to be substantially increased and those continuing in service must also be brought in the ambit of such grants. This differentiation is purely a meaningless bureaucratic formulation, but the damage it has done is colossal, as it has hurt the very psyche of the war-disabled who are today a disillusioned group.


The fourth action relates to the preparation of a comprehensive data bank of all war-disabled personnel. Unlike gallantry award winners and widows of martyrs, for whom up to date records exist, no detailed records are maintained by the army or the ESW department for the war-disabled. Consequently, no one really knows how many war-disabled personnel exist, how many are still serving, how many have been boarded out and how many are still alive. Due to lack of details, the war-disabled are generally forgotten and usually left out of consideration when concessions, grants or awards are made. Even during many military and non-military functions, while war widows and gallantry award winners are honoured, no such courtesies are extended to the war-disabled. Without comprehensive data, neither can any planning take place nor can a dialogue be established with the war-disabled.


The fifth action needed is to fully take on board the two existing NGO's exclusively dealing with the war-disabled. The government needs to encourage them, instead of viewing them as interfering irritants or competitors, as seems to be the case at present. The NGO's exist for the sole purpose of assisting the war-disabled and would like to work closely with the government and the army. After considerable effort, a dialogue has now been established with the army, but the ESW department is yet to change its attitude! These NGO's are the only organisations interacting with the war-disabled on a regular basis and are au fait with their problems and aspirations. There is certainly a need for regular dialogue between the ESW department, army headquarters and the NGO's. Getting them on board will result in a two-way passage of information between the authorities and the war-disabled. Both NGO's exist on donations that are meager, but their request for funds has been summarily dismissed by the ESW department!


Over the last few decades, the war-disabled as a group have been gradually fading away from the radar screens of service headquarters as well as the government, despite the fact that their number is increasing practically on a daily basis on account of casualties incurred in counter-insurgency operations. The plight of war-disabled soldiers, especially in rural areas needs to be appreciated and actions need to be taken to ameliorate their multifarious problems. This situation of apathy to the war-disabled must be corrected lest it leads to grave adverse repercussions in the long term.


The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army and President of the War Wounded Foundation








Relationship between the society on one hand and one of its most powerful institution, the armed forces, on the other, is a subject that needs to be understood in very clear terms. Collectively, almost a quarter of the world's GNP is spent on armed forces. Why does a state consistently spend up to a quarter of its budget and resources on its armed forces? Why have there been over 170 wars in the world in the last 70 years? Why are nearly 50 countries being ruled by the military? Finally, why is the job to destroy mankind given to the army even when the authority to decide on the actual destruction is left on two others, invariably the politicians? Another question which is most intriguing is why has India, a peace loving country, fought five wars in fifty years and continues to be embattled in a prolonged proxy war. None of these basic questions can be satisfactorily addressed without a comprehensive background knowledge of the relationship between the army and the society.

In colonial India, the British seriously undertook combat effectiveness and welfare of soldiers. Indian soldiers have never been found wanting, certainly not in the post-1947 independent republic. The 1962 Sino-Indian conflict was not a military but a political and diplomatic debacle. The army has done the nation proud by defending the country's vast inhospitable borders as well as by fighting militancy and terrorism. Living in metropolitan cities and blessed with salubrious ambience, one is likely to overlook the relevance of the army and that is precisely what is happening in New Delhi.


It is only when media showcases the role, bravery and sacrifices of the army that its indispensability is momentarily understood. Seeing the role of the NSG in the 26/11 Mumbai attack, the society must have realised the requirement of the army in protecting the life of ordinary, peace-loving people as well. In the recent cloudburst at Leh, the army also bore the brunt of the calamity, yet it rallied around the local population to help them rebuild their homes. Sufferings and contributions of the army during natural disasters are well known and documented.


But the army has not been rewarded for its services. The nation has seldom shown inclination to adequately understand the relationship between the army and the society and articulate it dispassionately in a way that the strength of the nation is maintained and grievances of the soldiers addressed with alacrity and concern. The attempt to carry out a caste census in the armed forces, repealing the AFSPA and deinduction from the Valley seem to be attempts to further damage the institution.


The armed forces have many a times expressed concern over the decline in morale and its increasing involvement in internal security duties. A large number of officers and men have been killed and wounded in such operations. Many times their activities go beyond military action to encompass civil administration, medical aid, education, welfare and rehabilitation of displaced persons. At times, perhaps, moderating the ideological ethos of society or a group are also roles thrust upon the army. Yet it is targeted many times for various ills to cover up administrative failings by the ruling elite.


A study by the College of Defence Management, Secundrabad, revealed that the satisfaction and motivation level within the armed forces are definitely at an unacceptable level. The high level of dissatisfaction is on account of lowering of the overall image and status of the army in the eyes of the nation and the perception of merely being tolerated as an expensive, unnecessary and pampered burden on the nation.


Armed forces are the backbone of the nation and hence a distinctive institution. The army's role in the development of border areas is a source of inspiration for the society. The army provides livelihood to large sections of the society directly and indirectly. Unfortunately, we are damaging the institution ourselves, and that too when security and sovereignty are at stake with China, Pakistan and naxalites posing serious challenges. It is a sad day when the nation does not uphold the dignity and prestige of the armed forces.


The demand of one rank-one pension is since long pending with the government. Issues like levy of VAT on canteen items in J&K when it is exempted in neighboring states reflects the apathy of state governments towards soldiers who are guarding its boundaries and fighting terrorism. Veterans are justified in agitating against discrimination and the callous attitude of the establishment towards soldiers and security issues.


Genuine grievances of the veterans need to be heard passionately. Similar sentiments have been expressed by the Apex Court which quoted Chanakya's advice to King Chandragupt that the day soldiers are forced to fight for their salaries, it would be a sad day for the country. 




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A new chairperson takes charge of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) today. Mr U K Sinha comes to Sebi in challenging times, when "governance deficit" is the new buzz word both in corporate India and in the field of regulation. He also collects the baton from a predecessor who has left behind a mixed track record of good governance and avoidable controversy. The world has changed and so has Sebi in the past two decades. Today, Indian markets have matured and are more integrated with world markets. This demands greater alertness to events and trends and increased finesse as well as sensitivity on Sebi's part in dealing with emerging issues. Sebi must be able to display this in its regulatory actions, in its dealings with another regulator and in resolving a dispute between two regulated entities. Though a regulator is not required to win a popularity contest nor will its actions ever satisfy all, it is equally true that efforts should be made not to keep critical issues on the boil for a long time, so that resolvable issues do not turn into intractable ones, which necessitate settlement only in the courts. In the current context, regulatory coordination has become more important than before and it will remain so henceforth. There is no fun in always going to the court to resolve regulatory disputes. Coordination, rather than confrontation, always yields sustainable benefits. It enhances the image of a regulator.

In the absence of a viable domestic institutional investor class, the Indian securities market has been totally driven by foreign institutional investors (FIIs). This is far from healthy. A mature stock market should have multiple classes of investors with varied preferences. Domestic mutual funds are in the doldrums. In the interest of the Indian securities market, Sebi must help revive the industry and infuse life into it. Even as Sebi makes investor protection its catechism, it must demonstrate its sensitivity to the needs of industry. In the past, Sebi has been able to implement critical reforms in the securities market with ease only because it was able to carry the market along with it.


The fate of the report of the committee on takeover regulations, which included the recommendation on the 100 per cent takeover offer, announced with much fanfare is not yet known. The Sebi board had postponed the decision twice. This paper had welcomed the report's recommendations, but had cautioned that its implementation may not be easy. Similarly, no action could be taken on the Bimal Jalan Committee report. It is an important report and the Sebi board should deliberate on this quickly. Reports often lose their validity and contemporaneity if kept on the back burner for a long time.

Sebi has introduced a system of consent orders. It is a useful system that helps Sebi take relatively quick action and reduce the backlog of actionable cases. But it is important to maintain uniformity in consent orders. For similar offences, the penalty must be uniform. For this, the people who are entrusted with dispensing the orders must be well equipped with the knowledge of the securities market and jurisprudence. The regulatory role of stock exchanges in a demutualised scenario is not clear, nor is the purpose of preserving all 20 stock exchanges. Corporate governance is critical for the market. But it is not always apparent if Sebi or stock exchanges have demonstrable measures for the improvement of governance standards of listed companies. Equally, Sebi must always ensure that governance is working well within Sebi and that the Sebi board has the depth of expertise and diversity of experience and functions like an effective board.








Even as everyone is celebrating the bounce in the economy with a return to 8.5 per cent growth, the jury is out on the accuracy of the agricultural output numbers. The impressive 5.4 per cent agricultural growth rate number is suspect if one looks at recent trends in farm productivity and output. The agriculture ministry anticipates foodgrain output to grow by 6.4 per cent to 232 million tonnes in 2010-11. But this growth rate is over the low figures for 2009-10, when grain output dropped by 6.98 per cent to 218 million tonnes owing to severe drought. In real terms, therefore, the output does not seem to have recovered to the pre-drought level of 234.4 million tonnes in 2008-09. Moreover, though the agriculture ministry has boasted of achieving new highs in the production of crops like wheat, pulses and cotton, in most of these cases, barring cotton, the advances are just marginal over their previous peaks. Among the food crops, the biggest year-on-year jump of over 13 per cent is in pulses but their projected output of 16.5 million tonnes is just 1.5 million tonnes higher than the 15 million tonnes produced way back in 1998-99. A noteworthy aspect, which the farm ministry, predictably, has opted to underplay, is the anticipated 5 million-tonne drop in rice production to 94 million tonnes from record 99 million tonnes in 2008-09. Besides, the output of oilseeds, another key component of the essential food commodities basket, has remained almost static, with this year's projected level of 27.85 million tonnes being little different form 27.72 million tonnes bagged in 2008-09. So is the case with sugarcane — it is yet to rebound to the peak touched in 2006-07. Cotton, undeniably, is the real growth story as its harvest has steadily risen since 2003. The credit for this should go to the bold step of allowing the cultivation of transgenic pest-protected Bt-cotton hybrids in 2002-03, which are now used in nearly 90 per cent of cotton area.

It would appear the agriculture ministry has really no reason for patting itself on the back. Nor can it afford to sit back, considering food inflation remains high and there is limited scope for taming it through imports, given commodity trends. It is important to understand why crop production is not responding to demand and high prices despite several positive investment-related factors. These include, among others, the phenomenal increase in the flow of institutional credit to agriculture, at least on paper; record annual hikes in minimum support prices (MSPs) of crops; and positive growth in gross capital formation in agriculture which had remained in the negative domain till the mid-2000s. Clearly, there is something wrong with either production statistics or the market mechanism in agriculture.







The US Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission's (FCIC's) report on the financial sector meltdown of 2008 was submitted at the end of January 2011. The FCIC, which was established on the lines of the 9/11 Commission, comprised six members with Democratic and four with Republican sympathies. The Democratic majority's views in this voluminous 662-page report and the two separate dissenting notes of the Republicans were on expected lines.

According to the majority view of the six Democratic FCIC members, the crisis of 2008 was avoidable and the principal causal reasons were: (a) Thirty years of steady deregulation; (b) excessive leverage; and (c) failure of credit rating agencies. The first dissenting note of three Republican members claimed that the crisis was caused by: (a) cheap credit which came from China and oil-exporting capital surplus countries; (b) non-traditional mortgages, securitisation and credit rating agencies; and (c) leverage. The second dissenting note from the fourth Republican member begins with a broadside that since the Congress had already passed the Dodd-Frank Act, it was too late to investigate what caused the financial crisis. According to this lone dissenter, from the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, the crisis was caused by: (a) low interest rates and inflow of funds from abroad; and (b) US government policies which encouraged risky housing loans. The point to note is that these disagreements on causality will be used by the finance industry to discredit the report and resist change.


In the UK, the Independent Commission on Banking (ICB), which is headed by John Vickers, is scheduled to submit its findings in September 2011. The ICB's recommendations will be aimed at "reducing the probability and impact of systemic financial crises in the future to maintain the efficient flow of credit to the real economy". Vickers spoke at London Business School on January 22 and his speech has attracted more attention than the FCIC report.

According to Vickers: (a) the rise in bank leverage leading to the crisis was "explosive"; (b) tax systems in developed Western countries favour corporate and personal debt compared to equity; (c) concern about consequences of making senior debt holders absorb losses led governments to "jump the queue" and fund bailouts; and (d) banks need more risk capital than what has been prescribed under Basel III.

Vickers was non-committal about contingent capital bonds (CoCos). Under the CoCo proposal, banks would issue bonds to raise debt capital which would convert automatically to equity if pre-agreed conditions of stress are triggered. This is a poor idea since it would be impossible to price such bonds correctly. Lead managers of CoCo bonds are likely to under-price the embedded option in these bonds. For instance, it was reported in the Financial Times of February 15 that Credit Suisse is planning a $6.2 billion CoCo issue. The debt- to-equity conversion would be triggered if Credit Suisse's Tier I common equity ratio under Basel III falls below 7 per cent. If the trigger event were to happen, even at the envisaged coupon of 9 per cent for this CoCo bond, investors would probably find that they were not compensated adequately for the options they had implicitly sold to Credit Suisse.

Vickers does not seem convinced about segregating narrow/utility banking from casino/investment banking. Irrespective of individual opinions, lending volumes and efficiency in credit intermediation need to be promoted without engendering systemic risk. In this regard, many proposals have been aired such as the Volcker Rule and the reimposition of the Glass-Steagall Act. Another idea that is doing the rounds is to separate limited purpose banking, which would be funded 100 per cent by equity, from all other types of banking. This type of no-leverage banking has been advocated by Professor Lawrence Kotlikoff who seems to be exasperated with the steps taken till now to make a clean break with practices that lead to the breakdown in 2008. To quote Kotlikoff, "We've seen the Dodd-Frank Act, which left the current system's terrible dangers largely in place. Wall Street has done it again."

Risk taking could be severely restricted by allowing only limited purpose banks to be granted the limited liability company (LLC) status. As Kotlikoff has remarked, "Brilliant titans of Wall Street who produced the financial debacle would not have done so had their homes, villas, yachts, Austin Martins been on the line." On balance, my sense is that the finance industry's voracious tendency to gorge itself on leverage would be tempered if banks were to be eligible for the LLC status only if their debt-equity ratios were below prescribed ceilings.

There are continuing sharp differences of opinion between the finance industry and policy makers on compensation packages and bonuses. For example, on February 9, Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat UK Treasury spokesman, resigned because he disagreed with the government's decision to allow the heads of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Lloyds to receive generous bonuses. After government bailouts, RBS and Lloyds are currently 84 per cent and 41 per cent owned by taxpayers. Oakeshott is reported to have remarked: "I have pinched myself in recent weeks and asked who is really running the country — the banks or the elected government?" I guess no prizes were offered for answering that question.

The FCIC report, ICB's work and controversies about compensation are of limited relevance in India. At the same time, the extent to which any financial firm is leveraged is a dominant factor in determining its exposure to risk. Therefore, as India's linkages with international markets increase, we should not allow financial firms to raise their leverage to self-serving levels. Indian policy makers could examine what should be the debt-equity levels above which LLC status should be diluted or even withdrawn. Further, let us not mimic practices in external financial markets just because those jurisdictions have higher per capita incomes. For instance, there have been press reports about State Bank of India (SBI's) teaser housing loans. In fairness to SBI, these loans were probably not quite the kind of teaser interest rate loans offered in the US at the height of the housing boom mania. There is little available in the public domain about whether the exposures from SBI's teaser loans could prove to be material.

Press coverage was more about SBI thumbing its nose at the Reserve bank of India. Maybe we could improve the quality of the discussion on risk exposures and be more mindful of what is relevant and what is not.

The author is India's Ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg

The views expressed are personal





Reflecting on the market reaction to the Egyptian revolution, if it can be called that, I found it rather surprising that gold, which usually reacts dramatically to any geopolitical action, has been so subdued. It did spike by around $25 after the first weekend of protests, but on February 8, nearly two weeks after the protestors first came out on the streets of Cairo, gold remains around $1,350, about the level it was at the start of the protests and 5 per cent below its highs at the start of the year.

Given that (a) Arabs (and us other less sophisticated emerging economy types) love gold and (b) in times of crisis/uncertainty/terror even our sophisticated cousins from developed economies start buying gold, this calm suggests that something unusual is up.


One possibility is that the market believes that the worst of the crisis is over; that the domino effect that started in Tunisia will be contained; and that all will return to manageable geopolitical stability. This seems a bit far-fetched; whatever the new political contours of the Middle East, it is hard to believe they will not be substantively different than they had been for the past few decades, and even harder to believe that this will not involve frequent blasts of instability, or at least uncertainty, over the next few years.

A second possibility – and one that I am more attracted to – is that market believes that the gold price is already too high. Now, I know this flies in the face of a lot of current analyses, but much of these analyses are driven by the fact that there are gold bugs hidden under every rock in the market — and many of them have taken strength and gained stridency from the long period of dollar weakness. On the other hand, there are very few people (with the exception of my old friend, Andy Smith) who are intrinsically gold bears. Which may explain why you never hear that side of the story.

Now, I am not a full-time gold bear — although I do have a marriageable daughter, which means I am short gold, by definition. So, while I may inadvertently be talking about my own position, I feel that the fact of no gold spike during/after what has to be a major world-changing event in the West Asia is something worth listening to.

Indeed, gold has been acting strangely for a few months now. Normally, gold and the dollar have a strong inverse correlation — often as high as 85 per cent; this means that whenever the dollar strengthens, gold weakens and vice versa. However, since the start of the Irish wave of the European sovereign debt crisis in November last year, this inverse correlation began to break down. While the dollar rose almost 6 per cent by early December, gold also put on a kick, rising 4.5 per cent to a high of $1,422 an ounce. Clearly, traders who were selling euros out of concern about the future of the eurozone, were buying both dollars and gold in sufficient volumes to break the normal historic correlation.

This would suggest that the spike above $1,400 was driven by euro weakness, which should be reversed when the euro recovered. Sure enough, as Germany put its considerable weight behind the single currency in early January, the euro strengthened back to $1.38 and gold fell sharply to $1,312, as long-gold-short-euro positions were unwound.

Full circle to the Egypt crisis and gold is back to its apparent current steady sate of $1,350.

So, where do we go from here?

Well, the dollar is already showing a wee bit of strength, and we need to note that 10-year US treasury yields, which had been poised for a rise, shot higher after the US employment report, even though the non-farm payrolls were not particularly positive. At 3.65 per cent, it is currently at the highest level it has been since May 2010.

Clearly, the bond market, in definitive disagreement with Mr Bernanke, believes that US growth is getting better and/or that the long period of free money is sure to create some inflationary pressures, despite the still yawning output gap in the US. Since the bond market is usually right, I believe we will find – sooner rather than later – that the Fed will have to back away from its grotesquely aggressive QE2 (or quantitative easing two) programme.

This will be good news for the rest of the world, since it will curtail the tidal wave of money that is pushing up inflation in many countries. The dollar will strengthen and gold — well, my wallet tells me that anything above $1,250 is much too high.







Jennifer Colosimo, Chief Learning Officer of Franklin Covey Publishing, has an interesting story to share. A couple of years ago, she interviewed Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, at a leadership event in front of several thousand people. The next week, she received a handwritten note from him expressing his pleasure in meeting her and thanking her for the experience.

Colosimo says she has no doubt that Welch has an extensive network and didn't need anything from her. He was just doing what he has always done to build connections in his career.


Such experiences have prompted Colosimo to co-author a book titled Great Work Great Career along with management guru Stephen R Covey. The 156-page book, released in the US this month, seeks to overturn the ordinary ways people seek and acquire jobs. Like the authors of a diet book, they ask you to make healthy choices to shape your work's waistline.

The authors encourage the reader to define what a "great career" means to him or her — to reflect on the level of loyalty, trust, and contribution one currently experiences in the workplace. They cite some profound examples of individuals who have achieved an obvious level of greatness.

Some of the advice in the book is conventional wisdom: Learn to create your own career opportunities; build relationships with key support people; improve your resume writing; and never suffer through a job interview again. But Covey and Colosimo's brand of storytelling draws the reader in and makes the message more relatable and interesting.

One of the most interesting insights is when the authors advise you to "Build Your Own Village." This is important given that one of the most common bits of advice for a job seeker is to "network". But in some respects, networking is a relic of the Industrial Age. Too often, networking comes down to having a lot of contacts on your iPhone or Blackberry — a big list of names you will never know what to do with. Or you have a drawer full of business cards from people you can't even place any more.

Great Work ... says this won't work anymore in the Knowledge Age when "authentic" relationships with co-workers, customers and suppliers are becoming essential. A Gallup study has found that one of the top indicators of great performance in the workplace is having a best friend at work. So the best networkers from a Knowledge Age mindset are building a village of people who value one another for more than just what they can do for one another.

Covey and Colosimo give four suggestions on how to build your village: 1) identify the members of your village, 2) create an Emotional Bank Account with each member of your village, 3) carve out your own space on the Internet, and 4) practise synergy.

The best way to start is to list the people you serve and support, and those who serve and support you. They might be a major client, boss, co-worker, an agent, or even an old school friend. There is no ideal number of people who belong to your village — it may be just 10 or even 10,000 depending on the job you are in.

An Emotional Bank Account (EBA), however, is the most important thing. You know what a financial bank account is. You make deposits into it and build up a reserve from which you can make withdrawals when you need to. An EBA is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust and confidence in a relationship. This is important since it helps avoid investing in relationships only when you need them and that may backfire big time.

Here's how to build your EBA with people. When you plan your time, deliberately schedule activities to build your relationship with the members of your village. You'll have lunch; you'll send thank-you messages; you will write blog entries celebrating them; you will set aside time to help with their project; or you'll forward an article you read that will help them with their work.

That's what makes you a trusted colleague who is valued by the ecosystem you work in. The last two suggestions are essentially the familiar steps in 21st century networking by addressing the need for individuals to create professional blogs, participate in online social networking, and to carve out one's space on the Internet. The bottom line is that in the age of social media, "building your own village" helps you establish and control your own personal brand across the world. It does your career little good to have a unique ability to contribute if no one knows about it beyond those you meet face to face.

If you're tired of the patterns in your professional path, Covey and Colosimo's new career-seeking terminology might be just the jolt you need.








Management institutes across the country are up in arms over recent guidelines issued by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) governing the post graduate diploma in management. The Education Promotion Society of India (EPSI) and Association of Indian Management Schools have approached the Supreme Court seeking reprieve from the current guidelines. H Chaturvedi, director of Noida-based Birla Institute of Management and Technology and EPSI president, tells Kalpana Pathak that in the name of revamping management education, AICTE is harassing the better B-schools and letting the non-performing ones off scot-free. Excerpts:

AICTE argues these guidelines are designed to improve management education. But you have gone to court. Wasn't there a middle way over this?

When we met Kapil Sibal two years ago, he told us that whatever our prime minister did for the Indian economy, he will do for the education sector. But it's disappointing to see what his ministry is doing. These new guidelines will take management education back to the year 1992 when India introduced postgraduate diploma in management (PGDM) programmes. The success of Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) was responsible for this. In the age of liberalisation, we seem to be going backward. There can't be a diktat on admissions and fees and curricula. Our view is that AICTE has not followed proper procedure in drafting these guidelines. It has not consulted the stakeholders before framing the guidelines. We have proof that these notifications were not properly drafted. When we raised this point with the AICTE chairman, he did not respond. Now we will produce the proof in the court.


 But why can't B-schools follow a common admission date as AICTE has suggested?

Over a decade ago, the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) approved five tests for management institutes: the common admission test (CAT) conducted by the IIMs; the management aptitude test (MAT); the joint management entrance test conducted by the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) for admission to their management schools; the AIMS test for management admission (ATMA) and the Xavier Admission Test (XAT) conducted by Jamshedpur-based Xavier Labour Relations Institute. All these exams follow a different schedule. AICTE says admissions to the programmes should not start before March 31 of the academic year. It has ignored the fact that most universities have their final examination in April. CAT is conducted around October and the results are declared in January. We are of the view that group discussion (GD) and personal interviews (PIs) should be conducted by February.

AICTE has also said the GD and PI should be conducted by the state governments. Delegating admissions to the state governments, which will certainly find this idea attractive, will breed corruption. We already have so much corruption at the national level. If you want to reform a sector you look at how to make it better, not worse. AICTE is changing the guidelines and norms every week. You can speak to engineering colleges for which AICTE has changed the norms three times in the last three years.

AICTE argues that a common admission date will ensure that seats at B-schools do not go vacant.
The problem with AICTE is that it does not do its homework. It has created excess supply without paying attention to demand. For instance, in 2008, it created 100,000 new management seats when there was no need. Last year, around 60,000 seats, or 30 per cent of the available 200,000 management seats, went vacant. This year 80,000 new seats have been created. Though the economy is booming and the job market is positive, many seats will go vacant again. We expect no takers for over 70,000 seats this year. These vacancies occur because students do not want to risk their career if they do not get admission in a good B-school.

Also, while giving out licences, AICTE does not pay attention to the location of the institute. B-schools can't flourish in the countryside or where there are no industries. But you will find them in every possible location. In the last 20 years, AICTE has increased the number of B-schools from 1,500 to 3,000.

You mean institutes at locations other than the major cities are not performing well?

I will explain it like this. If an IIM is set up in places like Ranchi or Rohtak, and operates without faculty members, no one questions that. But had it been one among us, we would have been issued a warning letter about penalties. This is a ridiculous way of functioning. If you look at the quality of the MBA that the universities and their affiliated colleges in our country offer, you will be surprised by the lack of infrastructure. But the University Grants Commission (UGC) is not monitoring them. Many of them are ill-run. No one bothers to review B-schools at universities where students do not even find a decent job.

But AICTE says B-schools involved in malpractices are behind the court case.

We are not criminals. We are serving the country by creating educated manpower working across the world. The B-schools involved here include reputed names like SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Xavier Labour Relations Institute, Institute of Management Technology, Management Development Institute and so on. These are reputed institutes not only in India but also abroad where they have set up international campuses. We are not disputing the fact that there are some institutions that are not of good quality. But they have flourished under AICTE's rule. Why does AICTE not close them down? Besides, the government may soon allow foreign universities and B-schools in the country, shouldn't it ensure a level-playing field? If you will grant international B-schools autonomy and allow them to fix their own fees, admissions and curricula why can't you allow Indian B-schools to do the same? There are at least 50 B-schools in the country that can be helped to become world class. But no one is paying attention to that issue. AICTE has not discussed this with any industry body. They cannot punish good institutes in order to crack down on the erring ones. They are no one to decide the future of management education.

Would a court case not impact admissions this year?

So far there has been no effect on the admissions. We have received reports that there is 70 to 85 per cent turnout in good schools for GD/PI. Students do not go by what AICTE says. They always look for quality.

What if the AICTE's stance is upheld by the court?

We will not do anything that will go against the law. We are keeping our options open. After the Supreme Court's verdict, the B-schools will sit together and decide the future course of action.









At least 600 years old, the word 'commonwealth' evolved from the phrase 'common weal', from the pre-12th century Middle English 'wele' and Old English 'wel', for well-being, and literally means a shared well-being. Often, it is used interchangeably with 'republic', from the Latin res publica for public affairs. Republics are governments of laws, not men; decisions, for the common good, are made on law, not the whims of individuals or groups.


William Sydney Porter, better known to a certain generation of schoolchildren as the short story writer O Henry, coined another, now familiar, phrase. Porter's stories had trademark unexpected twists (famously, The Gift of the Magi). Porter had other jobs too, and in one of those occupations he found himself on the wrong side of the law. Accused of embezzlement in connection with his bank job, Porter/Henry fled to the Honduras where, in Cabbages and Kings, he coined a phrase to describe an unstable, despotic tropical Latin American nation: a banana republic.


India's cartwheeling approach to law and governance demands its own definition. It is increasingly a plutocracy, ruled by the wealthy; certainly an oligarchy, power being held by a small bunch distinguished only by their subservience to a single dynastic family; and often a combination of the two, a plutarchy.
    There is a fourth form of government used to describe a nation ruled by sycophants psychotic in varying degrees and all living in some gagaland where no amount of corruption or illegality exposed is the slightest cause of concern, accountability is entirely unknown and the law and the courts are merely irritants. This can only be called a psychofantocracy, and that term deserves immediate inclusion in every dictionary.


Pyschofantus Indicus: native to the Indian sub-continent, swarms are found in cities, usually clothed in white, evolving from the larval stage of grovelling political wannabe to a still white but significantly more corpulent dimension, acquiring along the way an impenetrable hide of arrogance and indifference to law and the common weal. Infestations are pronounced in Delhi, Mumbai, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and pretty much everywhere else. Its behaviour ranges from the epic (the latest nG-scam, where 'n' is a random number) to the banal (cops spitting and riding motorcycles without helmets).


A week ago, this newspaper mounted a public campaign against the illegal banners and hoardings of politicians plastered across the city. Then it named the biggest offenders. That very day, outside the walls of the city's guardian minister's splendid bungalow, appeared a rash of posters all bearing his unlovely visage. These, it was said, were put up by the Hon'ble Minister's 'followers', a sub-species known as psychofantus indicus minimus. The day after the news report, they miraculously vanished.


The hideousness of the posters should be reason enough to ban them. They are also illegal, and that is reason enough to ban them. Activists like Anahita Pandole fight long, lonely and dispiriting battles to save our city from them. Flora Fountain was transformed when, thanks to her, advertising hoardings disappeared off some buildings in the area. The courts say political banners are illegal. Yet, like poisonous mushrooms, they keep coming up.

The Great Indian Tragedy is not in the constant re-appearance of these hoardings or their ugliness, but because each one represents an emasculation of the law. These are put up by people who aim to be the leaders of tomorrow, in honour of the leaders of today — all people charged with the duty of upholding the law; and the law is apparently unable to help a citizen protect the boundaries of his own property. These hoardings are put up on or hooked to the property of citizens; people who have not allowed them and are not bound to allow them. No municipal commissioner can permit any politician to tie a poster of his face to our walls. Every such poster is illegal, possibly trespass.


A system where the law does not work to allow a citizen to protect and defend what is his — whether it is land or software and copyright — is no government of law, no republic, no commonwealth, and we are too big to be a banana republic. Thanks to the likes of Mr Raja, what we are is a plantain republic — of pyschofants. And we will be that until one of our lawmaking lawbreakers gets his comeuppance.








The Prime Minister told the media that he was reluctant to use strong anti-inflationary measures that might hit economic growth. The world over, central banks focus on core inflation, since food and energy prices are volatile and largely immune to monetary policy. Today, all commodity prices have shot up, and not even export curbs can insulate India from global trends. Besides, the rise of real rural wages has increased the structural demand for superior foods — dairy products, eggs and meat, sugar and fat — which can be met only with a time lag as farmers switch production patterns to catch up with demand. Such inflation hurts urban consumers but boosts farm incomes hugely, and rural wages seem to be rising faster than inflation. So, Bharat is gaining over India, and that cannot be called a disaster.


Money supply growth is less than 17%, almost on par with nominal GDP growth, and that does not look inflationary. China has a similar rate of monetary expansion but its inflation rate is half India's, partly because commodities there constitute a much smaller portion of consumption. Indian commercial bank credit has shot up nearly 23% but that is largely because companies have borrowed from banks to pay for 3G spectrum, and the sum is parked in the government's account with the RBI. This has put the RBI in the embarrassing position of having to inject liquidity into the financial market even while declaring war on inflation. This drives home the point that monetary policy is not the main culprit. Fiscal policy is arguably too loose. Yet, the government seems unlikely to take indirect taxes back to the levels prevailing before the fiscal stimulus of 2008-09. It is also reluctant to pass on higher oil import prices to consumers, although countries that have done so have much less inflation than India does. This cost-plus approach to inflation is plain wrong. Oil prices should be deregulated, and the poor can be given free solar lanterns to compensate for abolition of the kerosene subsidy. Fiscal policy needs tightening more than monetary policy. Ever-rising subsidies are not the way to tackle inflation. Cutting subsidies and reducing the fiscal deficit will help.






Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphasised, in the course of a televised interview on Wednesday, the importance of a well-developed corporate bond market to finance infrastructure, and hoped the Budget would unveil new steps to boost this market. It would be naïve, however, to expect the Budget by itself to achieve the task. The reality is much more complex. For a variety of reasons, neither issuers nor investors have shown much interest in corporate bonds. For corporate issuers, the prevailing cash credit system of banks (that operates like a loan in perpetuity) is more convenient and imposes less financial discipline than bond financing where the amount has to be returned on a specific date. The former is also cheaper as there is no issuance cost or mandatory credit rating. As far as retail investors are concerned, corporate bonds compare poorly with bank fixed deposits in an environment where there is little contractual sanctity and legal channels of redressal are most unsatisfactory. Banks could potentially invest in bonds. But here the regulatory regime under the earlier Basel norms was not encouraging. Unlike loans that attract a capital charge only on account of credit risk, bonds attract a capital charge for both credit as well as market risk. The net result is that despite consistent policy focus, the bond market has remained moribund.

Two suggestions often made in this context, allowing banks to guarantee bonds and raising the limit for overseas investment in bonds, are both risky. The first might make bonds more attractive but would foil the underlying objective of de-risking bank balance sheets and hamper price discovery for credit risk. The second could expose the economy to volatile capital flows, as the experience of markets like Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey has shown. There is no alternative to time-honoured principles that underlie opening up of debt markets to foreign investment: sustained convergence of nominal and real interest rates, low ratios of public debt and fiscal deficit to GDP . It would be a mistake, therefore, to expect any quick-fix solutions in the Budget.








It is India's most insidious enemy, sneaking into places and picking off people with the precision of a sniper, in practically every corner of the country, no matter what security nets are in place. Worse still, it breeds rapidly and outnumbers us considerably even though we are a billion and more. It is public enemy number one. Little wonder then that the heroic scientists at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) laboratories have put in so much time and effort into finding a weapon to combat it — even before its much-awaited Tejas light commercial aircraft and souped-up main battle tank Arjun-II. Clearly, DRDO feels for the a a m a a d m i. More so since this killer is indiscriminate in the choice of victims. With civilians such as the foreign minister eloquently articulating India's geopolitical concerns internationally, dealing with the enemy within seems a far more urgent and legitimate occupation for our defence establishment. Besides, the whole world surely agrees with India on the need for a final solution — to the mosquito problem.

The DRDO going in for an a h i m s a(non-violent) option, however, instead of a killer app to neutralise the bug that has cost the nation dear in terms of dengue, chikungunya and malaria fatalities may mark a watershed in the war against our natural enemies. The Devas-Antrix controversy has shown that visionary scientists can sense the needs of the market before many others, and the DRDO can already count ready-to-eat food and nutritious high-altitude juices as commercial spin-offs from defence concerns. By developing a repellent rather than an exterminant to deal with an implacable foe (one with lucrative civilian use potential), the DRDO shows the way forward for those focused solely on weapons of mass destruction.






The world economy has, since the turn of the new millennium, been moving along different tracks. Growth in the North continued on its long slowdown, even as financial innovation increased exponentially. In contrast, growth accelerated in the South, led by key emerging economies, China and India, and accompanied by rising South-South trade and investment flows. More encouraging still, the least-developed countries (LDCs) saw annual average growth accelerate to over 7% over 2000-09, outpacing growth in the advanced countries even in per capita terms. The resulting global convergence and drop in poverty rates have been widely heralded. On some accounts, the emerging economies can even pull the world economy on to a new sustainable growth path. This is unlikely. Not only does it ignore the huge domestic challenges facing the emerging economies, but their economic cycles remain strongly synchronised with, and vulnerable to, developments in the North.
The real (and realistic) challenge for the developing world is to ensure that the recent rapid expansion of South-South trade and investment flows is extended and turned in to lasting developmental gains, particularly for LDCs. This will call for an expanded South-South cooperation agenda.

Despite the LDCs' recent upturn, their income gap vis-àvis other developing countries has continued to widen. Since the first UN Conference on LDCs in 1980, average real GDP per capita in LDCs has declined from more than onethird of that in other developing countries to one-quarter today. Moreover, research by Unctad has shown that even as growth has picked up, the LDCs have been unable to diversify away from their dependence on a small number of commodities, many have faced rising trade deficits and continuing high levels of indebtedness, despite debt relief initiatives, and many remain heavily aid-dependent. The larger developing economies have certainly played a prominent, but varied, role in supporting the growth recovery in LDCs. Unctad research suggests that growth in China has had a strongly positive impact on growth in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), with 33 LDCs, and with some positive feedback on China`s own growth. In the case of Indian growth, the short and long-term impact on SSA has been much weaker. Recently, India has offered duty-free and quota-free market access to LDCs. Within a short period, exports from benefitting LDCs have grown by 70%. Investment flows to LDCs have also been growing, linked in some cases, as in Africa, to a vibrant diaspora community. over 100 Indian multinationals are currently operating in Africa.

It is not just how much, but what is traded and invested that matters for longer-term development prospects. In this respect, India's trade and investment relations with SSA offer some real grounds for encouragement. India's imports from SSA ($7.8 billion in 2009) are almost equal to its exports to SSA ($8 billion in 2009). India is exporting products like pharmaceutical items, vehicles, electrical machinery and equipments, and importing fruits and nuts, inorganic chemicals, wood and articles of wood, in addition to minerals and fuels.
But more has to be done to ensure inclusive and sustainable gains from these South-South economic links. For example, the clothing and textile sector in South Asia could become much more competitive if it was built around stronger regional supply chains, including LDCs such as Bangladesh.


Nevertheless, financing remains a binding constraint. The onus is on rich countries to fill the significant gaps in development financing. However, South-South financial flows, have so far, been on a very small scale. On some estimates, China, for example, is already lending more to developing countries than the World Bank, though the scale is still small relative to what it is lending to advanced countries. Recycling the massive payments surpluses for development purposes is amajor collective challenge for South-South cooperation.
It should be clear that unlocking the potential of South-South economic relations requires more than passive reliance on market forces and private initiative. Creating policy space for government action and regional policy coordination will be essential. The failure of most structural adjustment programmes to achieve their stated aims over three decades, particularly in LDCs, serves as a reminder that the state needs to play a more hands-on developmental role in tailoring policies to meet local constraints and imperatives.

Many emerging economies have acquired considerable policy experience, which can be shared with policy-makers in LDCs. South-South partnerships supporting development programmes in LDCs have already begun to emerge, among them the India-Africa Summit. This area of South-South cooperation needs scaling-up and Unctad is aiming to establish an institutional portal through which LDCs and other developing countries can approach each other for policy advice and assistance and to exchange experiences.

Enhanced South-South cooperation is needed to begin to turn things around. The meeting this week organised by the government of India to harness South-South cooperation for LDCs is an important step. However, it can only be part of alarger rebalancing agenda in support of development-led globalisation. India, as a prominent member of both the G77 and the G20, can play a pivotal role in shaping that agenda and helping to build a more inclusive and sustainable global economic order.













Two essential preconditions for the success of the talks are: one, the Ulfa has genuinely come to the conclusion that continuation of violence will no longer serve its purpose, and two, it as well as the government are serious about the talks and not entering into them for their short-term objectives. If the insurgents' main aim is to buy time to arm and regroup and the state government is only interested in deluding the electorate on the eve of the state assembly elections, then the current talks would also end the same way as the previous ones.
Last time too, driven out of the Bhutan forests, Ulfa cadres wanted a breathing space to recover and regroup. The much-publicised talks through some well-known and wellintentioned interlocutors came to nothing and we later saw a wave of fresh violence in Assam. This time, too, the timing of the talks and trumpeting them as a great achievement of the Gogoi government raise doubts about their sincerity. It would be a pity if the government were to squander this opportunity that has come primarily because of close cooperation of the Bangladesh government which hitherto was providing open sanctuary to Ulfa leaders there.
The Ulfa leadership is under great stress and the ground situation in Assam has greatly improved. The outfit has lost much of its sheen and no longer enjoys much public support. It is finding it difficult to get fresh recruits. There is strong desire for peace and great public revulsion against extortion by Ulfa cadres in the state. But there also the negative side: there are reports of renewed Chinese interest in India's northeast and its promised support to Ulfa. Pakistan's ISI is also active in this region. The government should not read too much into the present lull. The situation could deteriorate in the foreseeable future. These talks are important and the government should not see them through the prism of partisan politics. A successful end to Ulfa and Naga insurgencies could play a major role in defeating the other hundred-odd insurgencies that are raging in the north-east.



One must realise that the failure or sabotaging of such talks at an opportune moment, with the public in Assam keen for a resolution of the conflict, especially in a strategically sensitive region, is bound to have costly consequences for the country. The climate is now favourable as never before. The General Council of Ulfa had decided overwhelmingly in favour of peace, and for the moment the few dissidents who did not attend have no power to weaken their resolve. The moot point is whether the government has the wisdom and political will to listen and make more than cosmetic changes in the status of Assam. The Ulfa leadership is now ready to give up the demand for sovereignty provided in return the people of Assam are empowered to shape their own future in accordance with their needs and aspirations.

The Centre has earned in the last 60 years a lot more from the resources of Assam than it has cared to invest here, and the pattern of development too has not deviated much from that of colonial times. Pouring money in through thoughtless 'packages' only encourages plunder and loot by the privileged few. A thorough structural reform is the need of the hour. The people of Assam are raising that demand, and they must be heard. Some critics point to ethnic differences, but those are partly the result of skimpy handouts from the Centre that the Assamese elite were loath to share, and now that ethnic groups are awake and Ulfa leaders are sensitive to their rights, an equitable solution is possible.

The SJA is preparing the framework, broadly covering different aspects and the Ulfa leadership is ready to listen to expert advice. In spite of provocations and temptations, the leadership has kept aloof from the ongoing electoral adjustments and manipulations and has not identified with any political group. P C Haldar, the interlocutor appointed by the government, has so far done everything in his power to remove bottlenecks on the road to a dialogue. Therefore, there isn't any reason to be pessimistic about the talks. But the decision-makers must put the good of the country above narrow sectional interests and goals.








The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance has proposed mandatory corporate social responsibility (CSR) by companies as part of changes to the Companies Bill, 2009.

It says every company having a net worth of . 500 crore or more, or a turnover of . 1,000 crore or more, or a net profit of . 5 crore or more, during a year shall be required to spend every year at least 2% of the company's average net profit during the three immediately-preceding financial years, on CSR activities of the company's choosing.

If a company does not have adequate profit or is not in a position to spend the prescribed amount on CSR, the directors of such company are required to make a disclosure and give suitable reasons in their annual report, with a view to checking non-compliance.

The recommendations do not detail what constitutes spending on CSR. While this by itself will hinder implementation of a mandatory CSR policy, it is also recognition that there can't be a universally-prescribed regulatory regime for CSR.

The classical view is that the purpose of corporations is to make money. Corporate profits belong to the shareholders and requiring managers to pursue socially-responsible objectives means managers are spending money that belongs to others. In contrast, the liberal view prescribes that a business should be sensitive to potential harms of its actions on various stakeholders, consider the interest of all parties affected and use its vast resources for social good. In the middle lies the trusteeship model: businesses should manage their enterprises as a trust held in the interest of the community. Starting with mid-1990s, as corporate profits soared, businesses realised that they had certain societal roles to fulfil. This led to the evolution of the stakeholder model wherein companies measure their performance using the 'triple bottomline' approach, taking into account their ecological and social performance in addition to the financial, evaluating actions in terms of People, Planet and Profit.

The World Business Council defines CSR as "the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large". Accordingly, corporate responsibility involves a commitment by a company to "manage its role in society as a producer, employer, marketer, customer and a citizen in a responsible and suitable manner". Rationally, these commitments should not be prescribed by law. It is most practical for corporates to adopt a strategy embedded in their day-today business operations and integrated with their core business objectives. Examples include Dabur's efforts towards sustainable cultivated sources for herbal ingredients, reducing the strain on natural herbal habitats, and the BPO facilities set up by the JSW Foundation at JSW's remote locations to provide an alternate livelihood to the local population. There are few examples across the globe of a legallymandated CSR obligation. In 2009, the ministry of corporate affairs had issued voluntary CSR guidelines for Indian corporates, indicating some core elements for Indian businesses to focus on. These guidelines attempted to clarify that charity and philanthropy are not CSR and acknowledged that "CSR activities are purely voluntary" and include "what companies will like to do beyond any statutory requirement or obligation". What has changed in the last year for the shift from voluntary guidelines to mandatory legislation? Also, is a mandatory spend on CSR not an indirect form of taxing corporate profit? In such circumstances, the opposition by industry chambers to a mandatory spend appears justified. The expectation that companies receive incentives for their CSR spend is also reasonable. But doesn't this negate the whole idea of social responsibility?

The ambiguity on what constitutes spending on CSR, the manner in which the amounts should be deployed and whether corporations can give their mandatory spend to a trust or foundation run by the business itself can, in fact, lead Indian businesses ending up spending less than what they currently do on CSR.

What is, instead, needed is greater advocacy relating to what constitutes CSR, how it can be implemented and a form of regulatory mechanism that ensures commitment from the top management. Eventually, the commitment has to come from within. A dialogue on social responsibility cannot be enforced with an iron hand since it can potentially deter corporations from doing the social good that they may otherwise undertake voluntarily.
(The author is an advocate

and corporate counsel)







Recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the scams involving his government as "aberrations" — a deviation from the proper expected course — as, of course, they are, to put it mildly. But then he also went on to state that this was due to an "ethical deficit" on the part of the people involved. What are we to understand by this? One of the main characteristics of, say, corruption is that it's a culpable offence if established. That is, the perpetrator(s) can come under judicial scrutiny which can result in penalties or even incarceration because it represents a substantial social crime, a felony punishable by the rules framed by society. An ethical deficit on the other hand appears to transcend human laws. Joseph Fritzl, who held his daughter prisoner in a basement for 24 years and fathered seven children with her, is undoubtedly a kidnapper and rapist guilty of incest, enslavement and negligent homicide — all crimes punishable in law for which he's now imprisoned for life. At the same time, he has also been called 'morally bankrupt'. And once again, that term somehow precedes human decrees. Ethical deficit and moral bankruptcy are at best grave misdemeanours or gross character flaws but no one goes to jail for that unless it results in actions that break laws. But by that we also mean that they are answerable to a greater principle or higher law-making authority. Was the PM suggesting that such people would get their just desserts not among the living but elsewhere?






Thanks to the correction, equity market valuations have gone from being extremely demanding to more realistic now.

It has caused a little pain but the 10 per cent fall in India's bellwether stock indices in the first two months of 2011 is no cause for worry. Market conditions just before this decline were beginning to resemble the euphoric days of 2008, with a certain smug complacency about the India story, frothy market valuations and exuberant action in small-cap stocks. Some of that froth has been blown away, ensuring better long-term returns for retail investors who choose to join the bull market at this juncture.

Thanks to this correction, market valuations have gone from being extremely demanding to realistic. The Sensex price-earnings ratio has moved from a high 24 in December 2010 to 19, and close to its long-term average of 18. Meeting the growth expectations embedded in the December valuation would have been quite a tall order for India Inc. While any PE multiple can be justified in a growing economy through fancy profit projections, the truth is that volatile commodity prices, a fluid global scenario and whimsical government policies make for limited predictability in India Inc's earnings beyond a year or two. That risks to profits can crop up from unexpected quarters is borne out by the recent upward spiral in global prices of commodity inputs from crude oil to packaging material. Stubbornly high inflation, which is pressuring the RBI to let go of its easy money policy, too poses a risk to sectors such as infrastructure, capital goods and realty that have large capital requirements. Topping this off is recent economic data showing a moderation in manufacturing output. While these risks may merit a downgrade of earnings estimates, stock prices in several sectors seem to have corrected to account for that.

The one disturbing aspect of this market decline is the exceptional volatility that accompanied it — a reflection of poor market depth. Intra-day swings of 6-7 per cent in index stocks and the 30-40 per cent declines in quality mid-cap stocks over a month indicate the extent to which the Indian market relies on Foreign Institutional Investors, not only for direction but also for liquidity. Net FII pullouts of a mere Rs 7,100 crore over a month are not a big deal; yet they wiped out Rs 7 lakh crore of investor wealth! The market regulator may have a role to play here. If domestic institutions have been missing in action for almost two years now and not been the counterpoise, it is largely because inflows into mutual funds and market-linked insurance plans have dwindled sharply. This, in turn, is because their agent force has dwindled after the regulatory crack-down on commissions on these products. Disciplining intermediaries is necessary for investor protection. However, SEBI must now ensure that retail investors who have the risk appetite to make long-term investments in equities are not denied access simply because the distribution industry is in disarray.






EU is pushing India to relax controls on capital flows and conditions on investment, such as export obligation and local content requirement.

Since 2007, India and the European Union have been negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) — covering trade in goods and services, intellectual property rights and government procurement – that is fraught with problems. The agreement is expected to be finalised by mid-2011.

One of the contentious issues came to light on January 20, 2011, when the European Commission (EC) sought an expansive mandate from the European Council to negotiate on investment issues with India.

The EC has put forward a wider definition of investment. It includes foreign direct investment, shares, debentures, loans, interests, business concessions, movable and immovable property, intellectual property rights, technical processes and know-how.

An unduly wide definition of investment is one of the main reasons for the widespread critique of Chapter 11 of NAFTA and the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investment negotiations at the OECD. India's existing bilateral agreements contain a rather limited definition of investment.


The EC has proposed national treatment (NT) and most favoured nation (MFN) status. The principle of national treatment (treating foreign and local investors equally) is highly contentious, because most countries refrain from giving national treatment to foreign investors without substantial qualifications.

It is well recognised that unlike trade, foreign investment is a economically and politically sensitive issue, since it essentially means exercising control over ownership of national assets and resources.

Despite opening up of India's economy since 1991, foreign investment is still prohibited in some sectors such as multi-brand retail, legal services and Railways (train operations). India still maintains pre-admission and post-admission restrictions, in addition to sectoral equity limits on foreign investment in banking, insurance, telecommunications, media and aviation.

Not just in India, even within Europe (particularly in France and Germany), policymakers are concerned about the recent acquisitions of their domestic assets and resources by sovereign wealth funds from West Asia and Southeast Asia.


The EC would like to "impose disciplines on performance requirements" under the FTA. Performance requirements are conditions imposed on foreign investors, such as local content requirements, export obligations, preference to local people in employment, location of an industry in a 'backward' region, and mandatory technology transfer.

In many policy circles, performance requirements are often viewed as inefficient and harmful, thereby hampering foreign investment and economic growth. But evidence points to the opposite result: performance requirements such as local content and technology transfer help to establish industrial linkages upstream (for instance, with suppliers) and downstream (for instance, with buyers) and contribute significantly towards the host country's economic development. In the absence of local content requirements, a foreign corporation is likely to source many inputs from outside the country, which could impede the development of local clusters in the host countries.

India had extensively imposed performance requirements in the form of export obligations on foreign companies to ensure that they earned enough foreign exchange to balance foreign exchange outgo via repatriation of profits, royalty, and other payments.


Another problematic issue pertains to the removal of restrictions on capital transfers. The EC would like all transfers (including profits, dividends, capital gains, royalties and fees) related to investment between India and Europe to be made freely. Such provisions could restrict the ability of both trading partners to deploy capital controls and other restrictions in order to prevent and mitigate financial crises.

Just a few months ago, a number of developing countries (from South Korea to Brazil to Indonesia) imposed restrictions on hot money flows which could pose a threat to their economies and financial systems. Post-crisis, even the IMF endorses the use of capital controls to prevent and mitigate financial crises.

It would be a grave mistake for India to surrender the ability to deploy capital controls in return for more favourable market access in EU.

India protected itself from the contagion unleashed by the South East Asian financial crisis of 1997 because of a restricted capital account. Given the overriding presence of short-term volatile capital flows in its forex reserves, India remains vulnerable to a sudden reversal of capital inflows. Therefore, New Delhi should reject legally binding provisions on capital transfers and maintain the policy space to deploy appropriate forms of capital regulations.


The EC has specifically proposed investor-to-state dispute settlement provisions (in addition to state-to-state) under the FTA. This mechanism would allow investors to bring claims against Governments of both trading partners before a panel of arbitrators with hardly any public participation or accountability. This is modelled on the controversial Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Private corporations from NAFTA member-countries have exploited the provisions of the agreement to challenge a wider range of regulatory measures on health, environment and public safety that infringe on their expansive investment rights. Investors have used provisions under Chapter 11 to sue Governments and demand cash compensation for Government policies and regulations which affect their investment rights. The Canadian Government has paid over $150 million in damages to investors for the alleged breaches of Chapter 11.

Not long ago, India had opposed the inclusion of investment issues under the WTO framework on similar grounds. The global financial crisis has underscored the need for greater regulation and supervision of private capital flows.

Several countries are tightening existing investment rules or enacting new rules to protect "strategic sectors" from foreign investors. Therefore, it would unwise for New Delhi to accept such provisions that would legally bind it to serve the private interests of investors, while constricting the policy space to intervene in the public interest.

(The author works with Madhyam, New Delhi.









Instead of assuming that agricultural growth cannot exceed 4 per cent, the Centre should adopt a pro-active approach on farm sector reforms.

One tends to listen intently to those in power, more so to those whose voices carry conviction. Hence, when the Union Home Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, participated in the panel discussion on NDTV's Big Fight programme from the picturesque Swiss town of Davos, one listened to him with rapt attention.

But he made a remarkably pessimistic observation that the farm sector cannot grow by more than 4 per cent, whereas the industry and services sector can record even a 12 per cent growth. Ms Chanda Kochar, the CEO of ICICI Bank, talked in the same vein when she said that the only way to correct the massive skew in the distribution of the GDP pie — farm sector accounting for only 20 per cent of it even while 60 per cent of the population worked in it — was by educating people in rural areas so they could be employed in rural BPOs.

Is Indian farming in such a hopeless state? To be sure, Indian farm productivity is among the lowest in the world, thanks to years of neglect of the farm sector by successive governments which have naively believed that farm output is a function of nature's munificence.

The persistent rise of food inflation is linked to the fact that prosperity has bypassed rural India. Food inflation cannot be tackled merely by monetary policies because the malaise lies elsewhere — in the crisis of productivity and supply.


To be sure, imports are arranged to make up for the shortfall but that is at best a quick fix. The MGNREGA, by Mr Chidambaram's admission, has helped reduce rural hunger, but not poverty. If rural poverty and food inflation are to be tamed, we have to take expedient steps to increase our agricultural production.

The late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi spurned the US PL 480 offer of supplying India wheat free of cost after reading the fine-print and after comprehending its true implications.

No country should allow itself to be subjugated and remain vulnerable to blackmail when it comes to something basic like food. While India can never become a rogue state like Iraq, what happened to Iraq at the height of its war with the US — it couldn't import baby-food — cannot be lost on anyone.

Even the latest fad-buying land in Africa and other places for growing pulses---may not be a safe and sensible food security option, given the dubious record of many of these nations in controlling food riots. Xenophobia can erupt with a vengeance when an outsider is perceived to be producing not for local consumption but for others.

Rural unemployment, disguised unemployment and food shortage cannot be tackled effectively unless we increase our agricultural production and productivity.

Rural BPOs are a long haul. At any rate, Asian countries like Vietnam and Philippines are snapping at our heels, as a result of which our homegrown BPOs like Wipro are setting up shops there.

Furthermore, BPOs catering to the Western world are founded on arbitrage, which dissipates sooner or later. Mr. Chidambaram's fascination with China for engineering a large-scale migration of rural population into industrial employment will not work for India.

India has already yielded place to countries like China in the manufacturing sector; besides, any tectonic migration of the rural population would exacerbate our food problem.


We are, unlike China, a predominately vegetarian population and our reliance on cereals and pulses is always going to be more than China's.

It is amazing that the government hasn't yet come out with a vastly improved agricultural policy, though food inflation has been raging for over two years now, with its roots in supply-side constraints.

To be sure, the Central Government cannot do much, agriculture being a state subject, but that does not mean we cannot have a coordinated plan of action.

The Centre can play a pivotal role in formulating a model law encompassing corporate farming, fertiliser use and pricing and irrigation, besides egging the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to play a more proactive role in adoption of healthy farming practices such as crop rotation, reduction of soil thirst and proper mix of soil nutrients.

Genetically modified crops could play a vital role in reducing crop wastage, pesticides consumption and increasing yield and the government should address the issue dispassionately without being swayed by emotional outbursts from vested interests.

In short, for India a sui generis solution should be found that at once addresses the problem of rural unemployment, food shortage and wastage that goes on unabated in the absence of adequate cold chains and storages.

Food processing industry and cold chains can considerably improve the lot of the rural folks, besides minimising the colossal wastage through decay.

(The author is a New Delhi-based chartered accountant.)




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



It is a wise and necessary practical step on the part of the government on Thursday to scrap the 2005 agreement between Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), and Devas Multimedia Pvt. Ltd, the Bengaluru-based firm which appears to have strong American and German interests and on whose board sit former senior officials of Isro. The contract, whose money value is placed at about `2 lakh crore rupees, appeared prima facie dubious as it was arrived at without a process of competitive bidding. Had it gone through, it would have been the scam to beat all scams, tainting the Prime Minister, above all. At his interaction with the media on Wednesday, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had taken pains to note that the contract "was not operational in any practical sense", indicating that no payments had been made to the private party in this unconscionable arrangement. At least this point would not be controverted, and that is fortunate. At the televised conference the PM had strongly hinted that the controversy-begging agreement would be ended by the government when he said there was no question of diluting in any way the recommendations of the Space Commission which last July called for terminating the contract. As it happens, the government has moved in double-quick time with the Cabinet Committee on Security convening on Thursday to end the agreement. Announcing the termination, the law minister, Mr Veerappa Moily, said the government had taken a "sovereign" decision to end the deal. Ellaborating on the security dimension of the case, Mr Moily recalled that the rare S-band spectrum, to which Devas would have been given access to was the use of our defence systems, the paramilitary, and entities such as the railways. He noted that such a commodity had to be outside the view of commercial transaction. The question would be asked why this was not appreciated by those concerned in good time, and how any contract, leave alone one with such extraordinarily high financial values attaching to it, could pass muster when competitive bids were not called even if the PM himself did not come into the picture. To seek answers to these leading questions, it is not enough to annul the agreement with Devas. It is no less necessary to probe how this deal could be even thought of in the highly sensitive area of space, who were involved, and what was driving the process. It appears the process was germinated back in 2003. It is poor advertisement for our governance methods that questions began to be asked only about the middle of 2009, and the decision to end the funny business dragged out another year and a half. These issues are bound to be raised in Parliament and the government needs to make a quick internal inquiry and vet its systems and processes before that. It bears mentioning that Isro is an entity that was under sanctions by the Americans at the time the deal was struck. In short, the whole affair is regrettable in the extreme and calls for investigation by an impartial authority. Only that would retrieve Isro's fair name.






The recent convulsions in the Arab world — starting with Tunisia and Egypt, and seemingly at risk of spreading to Yemen and Algeria, though both have iron-willed military establishments which may be more effective at dealing with them — have raised questions about the economic implications for the region, especially at a time of recession. And those, in turn, may have further political consequences.

Egypt, whose political troubles clearly owed a great deal to the country's economic woes as well as to other factors, is an instructive case. It does export modest amounts of oil (but much more of gas) but it has seen its revenues fall significantly during the global economic crisis of the last couple of years. Egypt is also dependent on the outside world for two major sources of revenue — from the Suez Canal, which has seen less use as a recessionary economic climate reduced global shipping, and tourism, which is the sort of discretionary spending that is usually the first thing to be cut when political unrest erupts onto the street. Whatever the new government in Cairo may do politically, it is going to confront serious economic challenges which may yet generate fresh waves of protest.

The Arab world is, of course, divided between those countries which do not have oil resources, and whose challenges of poverty and under-development will therefore be accentuated in the short term by the present crisis, and those whose oil resources give them a significant protective buffer even though prices have been volatile in recent months. Saudi Arabia, for instance, says confidently that any shocks produced by the current global economic crisis will be offset by the country's substantial reserves and continuing oil revenues. You can expect the Saudi government to continue spending lavishly, which will keep liquidity flowing within their economy like a good lubricant. Saudi banks announced excellent third-quarter results this fiscal year; they have no sub-prime exposure and there is no reason why their stocks should go down, except for the irrationality that makes downward pressure in one country translate into downward pressure on all countries in our globalised world.

Nonetheless project financing is bound to go down in Saudi Arabia as well as in the other countries of the region, because projects everywhere are still largely financed by the same international financial institutions whose capacity to extend credit has been severely hit by the crisis. When mega-projects go down, ordinary individual consumers could also have less spending money in their pockets. The Saudi government, conscious of this, took an interesting step when it made a 10 billion riyal ($2.7 billion) deposit into the Saudi credit bank, to be loaned interest-free to lower-income Saudis.

The Arab Gulf countries had largely been expected to emerge unscathed from the global financial crisis, but the reality has been sobering. Many Gulf banks, notably Kuwait's, were revealed to have much more exposure to derivatives than had been imagined, and their losses had a negative effect on confidence in the banking systems of the region. How can the Gulf countries sustain their massive spending and high economic growth rates at a time of falling oil prices and wobbly banking systems? They all have a bit of an oil cushion built up in the good years, but that may not be enough. Kuwait, for instance, has a less diversified economy than Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and it guarantees its citizens a cradle-to-grave social security net; no wonder Kuwaiti stockbrokers marched en masse to the Prime Minister's palace asking for more government intervention!

Many UAE watchers who saw property prices shoot up year after year (and even month after month) are not surprised that the balloon has clearly been pricked. There is a noticeable drop in the prices of properties yet to be built in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which also suggests that foreign investors are pulling a lot of their money from the region. But the UAE government has been aggressively injecting liquidity into the economy and cutting interest rates. There is now modest talk of a recovery even in Dubai, though real estate is, as always, likely to be the last to recover. There is no sign of political unrest in any of the Arab monarchies, since — with the possible exception of Jordan — they appear much more stable than the civilian authoritarians who have come under siege recently.

But there's no room for complacency. The Arab region's economic growth in recent years has largely been driven by oil revenue, real estate investments (some of which have been really speculative), a housing boom, tourism and, in some countries, foreign aid and foreign direct investment. Very little of this has gone towards building a significant industrial infrastructure, through of course Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries have been an exception. Further, surplus oil revenues will be difficult to rely upon, and that means less money available to everyone — to governments, to the sovereign wealth funds, and to the middle class consumers who drive economic growth in every society.

In short, there is a genuine risk of greater instability and conflict throughout the Arab world, not just because of the political factors that propelled protestors in Tunisia and Egypt, but because of the difficulties that have come in the wake of the global economic crisis. If the amount of money coming into the region from abroad — whether from trade, foreign direct investment or even remittances, which may go down as economic growth slows everywhere — decreases, unemployment is bound to increase. When people do not have regular employment and a steady income, social and political unrest is likely to follow; and in turn, this serves as a further disincentive to foreign investors, which creates a vicious cycle. With a demographic boom that gives the Arab world a huge army of unemployed young men, the spread of information across borders in the Internet era and the economic consequences of the global recession, the prospects for more political unrest in the months to come appear very high indeed.

* Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency






The gleaming banking centre 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 West Asia 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 February 17 here in the Bahrain capital, it used deadly force to clear the throngs of pro-democracy protesters who had turned Pearl Square in the centre 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 February 17 morning, King Hamad underscored his vulnerability and his moral bankruptcy.

All of this puts the US 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 February 16, 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 emphasised 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 Shia country ruled by a Sunni royal family. That's one reason Bahrain's upheavals are sending a tremor through other gulf autocracies that oppress Shias, 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 favour "people power" in Iran, we should favour 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 hospitalisation, 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.







The Egyptian revolution, perhaps, would be to the Islamic world what the French Revolution was to the Christian world. The Western intellectual predilection that the Islamic world is trapped in feudal Islamic dictatorships is likely to be disproved with this revolution.

In fact, Western thinkers forget that the Christian Europe had also suffered brutal monarchies and feudal dictatorships for several centuries. While Christianity evolved definite ideas on political systems and the rights of human beings both in relation to each other as well as to the state, Islamic civil societies had evolved their own method.

They were always conscious of their independent socio-political cultural constructions than, for example, Hindu civil society. The Egyptian revolution has a unique tone and tenor. It is likely to change the political discourse of the world in terms of democracy vs dictatorship and may also lead to the establishment of altogether different mode of democracy harmonious with the Islamic world's experience with politics and human rights.

History teaches us that when European Christianity was divided into Catholic and Protestant churches, it was the Protestant ethic that produced a political revolution in Europe while Catholicism was willing to co-exist with monarchies and dictatorships.

The Western world forgetting its own past is being judgmental about the Islamic world's stagnation and conservatism.

What the West conveniently forgets is that Islamic political culture is 600 years younger and was born in more backward lands. It naturally took its own time to handle its historical evolution.

There is also a view that Shia and Sunni divisions coupled with their tribal moorings in the Islamic world would not allow such political revolutions. Therefore, the West felt it had the right to export its model of democracy to West Asia as it did to some of the colonies. But Egypt is really evolving its own culture of conducting a transformative revolutionary battle with mass prayer of millions of people at Cairo's Liberation Square.

Britain killed its king in the 1649 revolution and France did the same during its revolution in 1789. But the Egyptian revolution, it appears, would achieve its aims with least bloodshed. Quite surprisingly the Egyptian revolutionaries are using very, very secular slogans.

We should note that this democratic revolution is taking place in the backdrop of 9/11 attacks and the "export democracy" to West Asia formula of the former US President, George W. Bush, plus the Iraqi experiment based on that formula.

Within the Islamic world also this is the first revolution of its kind and very different from the Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution of Iran and also the democratic experiments of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Egypt also carries the historical burden of having rulers who enslaved Israelites. It took Moses to save them from bondage. This was also the land that gave safe shelter to Joseph and Mary when baby Jesus was facing the wrath of Herod, the king of Israel.

Its people are now undoing another chapter in the oppressive history of its rulers. Interestingly, they are doing it when Barack Hussein Obama, who has both Christian and Islamic heritage, is ruling the United States, which is seen as an oppressor. They will have to work out a democratic Egypt where all people will have a life of dignity. Though all this might sound like a West Asian utopia, the determination of the Egyptian masses at the Liberation Square and their disciplined revolution would set new record of the world.

It may be a strange coincidence, but Mr Obama gave a call for revolution of this kind in the Islamic world in his famous Cairo speech of June 4, 2009. He said, "As a student of history, I also know civilisation's debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar University — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paying way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovations in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass, tools of navigation, our mastery of pens and printing..."

Egyptian scholars preserved even the books of Plato and Aristotle and got them translated and put them on global knowledge systems. That Egypt is now re-locating itself to change the world. Through the Egyptian revolution, the Islamic world has also shown an intellectual resilience to rediscover itself. It is proving that they do not need somebody's armies to export democracy to their countries. They are very likely to prove that the Iraq experiment Americans is an insult to their cultural history.

India, which constantly looks at Pakistan and Afghanistan as uncivilised states must also take heed of the new changes. It is better for India to deal with them as potential friends from whom there is a lot to learn than dismiss them as rogue states and underdeveloped civil societies. The Egyptian revolution is a pointer to that potential.

* Kancha Ilaiah is director for the study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. Contact at [1]








China has pipped Japan to the post. Monday's affirmation that it is now the world's second largest economy ~ with a GDP of $5.9 trillion ~ suggests that Japan has surrendered its firmly established rank of 42 years. Tokyo's slide can largely be ascribed to the country's shrinking economy towards the end of 2010, the outcome of a decline in consumer spending and a fall in the GDP. The fact that Japan has been overtaken by China mirrors her declining political and economic might. To the extent that the government in Tokyo conceded on Monday that its prospects are now dependant on Beijing, once its arch enemy.

  However, to serve its economic self-interest, Japan may no longer find it possible to be China's rival. As much is apparent from the decidedly pragmatic reaction of Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano: "The important issue for Japan is how to incorporate and benefit from China's growth." Gracious no less has been the response of Japan's fiscal policy minister, Kaoru Yasano: "Beijing's rapid advance can be a foundation for the benefit of the regional economy."

Despite the slide, however, Japan can still boast a major asset, pre-eminently the fact that its per capita wealth is still ten times that of China. The appellation, "second largest", doesn't ipso facto mean "second wealthiest". Beyond the chic environs of Beijing and Shanghai,  millions languish in poverty in the rural  areas. Further, the country's rapid economic growth has taken its toll on civil liberties, infrastructure and most crucially on environmental pollution. Small wonder that China has been accorded a key role in climate change negotiations. This is not to undermine the profound development, only to dwell on the flip side of economic growth. To have attained the second slot in the world's economy is a historic moment of triumph for China. Even the West acknowledges that it has done more than any other country to pull the world out of recession. It has now emerged as one of the few nerve-centres or engines of global growth, an investment destination for the rich countries. Were this prosperity to also entail greater liberalism, and lesser belligerence, China might actually become a true global leader.





TRULY welcome is the decision of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan to extend its fee-waiver scheme to the wards of all military and paramilitary personnel killed in action. Earlier the Central schools exempted from fees only children of personnel who laid down their lives or were disabled in specific operations: 1962, 1965, 1971, 1999, the IPKF mission in Sri Lanka and the ongoing action in Siachen. Precisely how many children will benefit is yet to be ascertained ~ it is now necessary for the security forces to enlighten their extended family ~ but in future the waiver should serve to boost the morale of personnel deployed on a host of duties that do not fall in the war or "war like" categories. Reports suggest that the proposal to widen the waiver was mooted by the defence and home ministries, and the Board of Governors of the KV Sangathan accepted it unanimously. The Kendriya Vidyalayas have long proved a boon for the children of security forces personnel who are frequently transferred from one part of the country to another, they have now elevated themselves further.
Yet the "bigger picture" covers a canvas far wider than the schools ~ what the defence and home ministries have done, rightly, is to initiate a process to erase some of the inane, insensitive regulations that actually distinguish between one death and another. For several years has the uniformed community been extremely sore over the varying levels of compensation or relief: after all, is there much difference between getting killed in a full-fledged war or being gunned down by an extremist or terrorist? Maybe the martyr is unable to feel the pain, his family does, and the "discrimination" disgusts. When compensation was substantially raised for Kargil heroes, soldiers deployed to the west of Zoji La were envious (for want of a better word) and wished they had been sent to Kargil so that in death they could provide their families more than they could when alive. Such negative thinking erodes morale, but it is inevitable. Having taken a small step forward, the two ministries must move on to a de novo approach to compensation, relief etc. The existing regulations are complex, cumbersome and generally applied with a miserly mindset. Both Antony and Chidambaram have a duty to perform ~ the fee waiver must not remain a mere token.




Last Sunday's indubitably massive rally of the CPI-M turned out to be an occasion when the Pollution Control Board and the police retreated in the face of the onslaught of the Maidan. Much as Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wants to discipline his cadres, he has been muted in his response to the flagrant violation of the Calcutta High Court order, one that was followed up with Mr Biman Bose's advisory. Both were flouted and flouted with impunity. The collapse of discipline is symptomatic. Chiefly, the judicial and the party's advisory were violated on three counts. The first was the standing ban on cooking within three kilometres of the Victoria Memorial to prevent damage to the marble. As it turned out, the Maidan was reduced to a vast picnic spot, open-air kitchens dotting the greenery and complete with LPG cylinders. The other was the parking on the greens. More than 1000 buses, that conveyed the cadres, were parked in the periphery of the Brigade Parade Ground. Yet another was the sound pollution which far exceeded the PCB's decibel limit. The CPI-M state secretary's word of caution had specifically covered littering with food leftovers, plastic cups, packets and banana skin. The party had also barred the parking of vehicles around the Brigade Parade Ground, Fort William and near the statues. For all the caveats to the comrades in attendance, the damage to the environment was almost willful and complete.

The Bengal Area of the Eastern Command had conducted a video-photography of the Maidan prior to the rally. A similar exercise now will zoom in on the party-sponsored environmental degradation. Mr Bose's advisory, couched in unusually firm words of caution, has been trashed to irrelevance. Well may the Chief Minister tactically abjure the word "industry"; but the party's footsoldiers have ensured an outrageous degree of carbon emission. Trust Kolkata to defy the resolutions at Cancun. The Maidan will have to suffer a similar outrage should Mamata Banerjee's scheduled swearing-in materialise. One can almost hear the soldier pleading, "Not here, Ma'am !"








ONE vividly remembers that Sunday ~ 23 November 1997. It was the "annual family day" of the navy and ships had sailed with officers, men, their families and some selected guests. The lead/flag ship was the aircraft carrier, INS Viraat (R-22) and there were both Kashin class destroyers and a Leander class frigate. Vice Admiral AR Tandon (the then Flag Officer Commanding in Chief Western Naval Command, Mumbai); Rear Admiral Y Prasad (the Western Fleet Commander) and the present naval chief, Nirmal Verma, who was then the Captain of INS Viraat were on board. It was a festive occasion for the guests, but it was serious professional business for those responsible for operations. The occasion was marked by firing and sharp manoeuvres, vertical/short take-off landings by Harriers and sorties of helicopters. Things moved with clinical efficiency and clockwork precision.

How dramatically different things look today! It took six years for the sixth and the last Leander frigate, Vindhyagiri ~ with 60 per cent indigenous component ~ to be built at Mazagon Docks, Mumbai. It took less than 16 hours for her to sink in the shallow channel of Mumbai harbour on Monday, 31 January, claims of a possible retrieval thereof notwithstanding. Commissioned on  8 July 1981, the 3039 (full load) ton Vindhyagiri's sinking during peace time in broad daylight, after a collision with a foreign mercantile vessel falling under the jurisdiction of Mumbai Port Trust, once again raises serious questions about the safety and security of all types of ships, both combat and commercial, in and around this port.

Indeed, no navy can afford to accept or tolerate such freak mishaps in peace time. The ship collided while carrying families of naval personnel on an official picnic-voyage between dawn and dusk. Here, if one remembers right, the last major peace time accident leading to the loss of an Indian naval frigate took place on 22 August 1990, 150 miles from Vizag when the 1100-ton Soviet "Petya II" class, INS Andaman (P-74) sank on a routine exercise in rough weather ~ under (the then) FOC-in-C Eastern Command Vice Admiral L Ramdas.

Since any peace-time loss of a fighting ship is bound to be viewed seriously by the naval brass, it would be highly unlikely and surprising if the Captain and the fleet operations officer or the fleet commander would go unpunished owing to this avoidable accident. Having seen the simulated graphic of the mishap on television, it appears, however, that Vindhyagiri was "deliberately" hit by the mercantile vessel on the starboard quarter (lower right rear). And going by the depiction of the ship's design, shape, size and positioning of various armaments and combat hardware from Jane's Fighting Ships 2010-2011, the Vindhyagiri was "rubbed hard" by the foreign cargo vessel somewhere near anti-submarine "triple torpedo tube hold". Also at the rear is located the Sea King Mark 42 helicopter platform.

The Vindhyagiri carries  "six  324 mm ILAS 3 (2 triple) torpedo tubes (on each side: starboard and port); Whitehead A244S or Indian NST 58 version; anti-submarine; active/passive homing to 7 kilometre (3.8 nautical miles) at 33 knot with each warhead at 33 kilogram." Any ramming by a heavier object with higher velocity can be inflammable. Did the Cyprus-flagged container ship MV Nordlake do things with a motive? Investigations will show. But several questions need to be answered on the functioning of Mumbai port and the mercantile marine's professionalism around the busiest ports ~ Nhava Sheva and Mumbai.

Why are the ports of Mumbai in the news for the wrong reasons? Is it because both military and mercantile marine movements are on the upswing? If so, can it be said that Mumbai is one of the top five busy ports of the world? If so, one needs to know whether the other top ports, which rank above Mumbai, also are facing the same type of collision/accident/sinking problems? What corrective actions have the Mumbai port administration taken so far since the last mishaps? If the situation is so grave and serious owing to the increased volume of traffic, why doesn't the government make a clear division between Mumbai and Nhava Sheva ports? Let the original Mumbai port, which is reportedly "no match" to the state-of-art Nhava Sheva, across the original Mumbai harbour channel, be given to the navy and the new port to the merchants of the sea?
One would also like to know whether there was any mala fide mens rea on the part of the foreign captain of MV Nordlake. Did he know or have any inkling that the ship on the starboard (right) was an Indian navy frigate, packed with sailors and their families, friends and retired naval officials? How does one justify the sudden swerving on the right by the merchant vessel? Indeed it is time for action and the responsibility devolves on the mercantile marine as well. Mumbai police's decision to book the foreign captain on three counts, including "rash navigation" is perfectly justified.

As regards the navy, any peace time collision or loss of warship is a matter of shame and shock. Hence, the sinking of Vindhyagiri has understandably cast a pall of gloom over all ranks ~ from the Admiral to the sailors. The commanding officer of the sunken ship is bound to be stripped of his command and tried for "dereliction of duty" or "supervision/command failure" etc. Such is the rule of the soldiers's/sailor's "failure".
Certain facts and failures about Vindhyagiri would make a non-military citizen aware about the asset which India has lost, despite the navy's claim of retrieval of the ship from under the water. Though almost 30 years' old, the vessel was perfectly seaworthy and had been upgraded from time to time. Thus, it was "modified with UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) control stations above the hangar in order to operate Heron II UAV's". With a range of 4500 nautical miles at 12 knots and 300 personnel, Vindhyagiri's armament consists of 2 Vickers, 4.5 inch anti-surface and anti-aircraft guns; 4 30mm and 2 Oerlikon 20mm guns. Also, there are anti-submarine torpedoes and anti-surface/ship mortars. All in all, therefore, the peace time sinking of Vindhyagiri is undoubtedly a blow to the navy.

The writer is a practising advocate, alumnus of the National Defence College of India and a member of International Institute for Strategic Studies, London






The department of health and family welfare of the West Bengal government recently observed a kala-azar fortnight to detect kala-azar or black fever (visceral leishmaniasis) and administer cure in 11 districts. Though the programme has been in place since 2004, kala-azar still poses a serious threat. In 2008, 1,256 kala-azar cases with three deaths had been reported. In the mid 1990s, nine Bengal districts were affected and by 2010, the number swelled to 11. What is more alarming, currently, about 47 million people are at risk of contracting kala-azar in 11 districts of West Bengal. In 2000, kala-azar invaded Kolkata, shattering the belief that the city was free from it, alarming health officials. No doubt, this questions the efficacy of the measures so far taken to prevent this fatal disease.

Kala-azar makes news frequently in Bihar and West Bengal. Although the disease had nearly disappeared in India by the mid-1960s, ostensibly owing to organised public health measures, the success was short-lived. An epidemic of kala-azar in North Bihar in 1976–77 spread to West Bengal; the outbreak affected hundreds of thousands of people and caused nearly 5,000 death. Kala-azar transmission continued thereafter, resulting in more than 250,000 cases of contraction and numerous deaths.

However, it is believed that the actual impact of the disease is far greater, as cases have gone unrecorded. The burden of disease was exacerbated by an acute shortage of drugs necessary for treatment at the beginning of 1977, which was mainly a result of local firms deciding to limit their production in India. The World Health Organization played an important role during the 1977 crisis, providing emergency supplies of medicine to the region. It was also involved, along with the government of India, in convincing pharmaceutical companies to restart the manufacture of anti-kala-azar drugs, which allowed dispensaries and hospitals to provide treatment to the infected. Organised vector control programmes, based on DDT spraying campaigns, started during the pandemic of 1977 and were continued in the following years. In this context, the WHO provided technical assistance in the form of technical advisers and field personnel. The National Institute of Communicable Disease was also involved in these disease-control efforts, its officials surveyed affected districts in Bihar to compile data on epidemiological and social trends.

However, these anti-kala-azar measures were not introduced in an organised or uniform way across Indian states, which caused the disease to remain widely prevalent in Bihar and West Bengal (sporadic cases were also reported from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Tamil Nadu). The National Planning Commission considered the problem to be serious enough in 1990 to approve significant financial assistance for an expanded scheme for kala-azar control; these funds were intended to provide for the assembling of teams of workers, chemicals for anti-vector spraying and drugs for treating people struck by the disease. Unicef provided additional assistance for publicity and educational campaigns.

These developments contributed to a decline in the incidence of kala-azar in the following years, even though these successes appeared transitory; insecticide spraying and active case detection work was not, for example, carried out in Bihar from mid-1994, even though 30 districts in Bihar and nine districts in West Bengal were found to be severely affected by kala-azar during the period. Disease surveillance activities, widely seen as essential to any eradication programme, continued to be poorly organised in affected areas of India, almost nil in Bihar and rare in West Bengal. The bulk of cases are concentrated in tribal villages, which have limited access to health facilities.

Kala-azar has, for instance, been spreading rapidly in and around the tribal hamlet of Sarbamangala in South Dinajpur district in West Bengal; investigations there reveal that its inhabitants have minimal access to healthcare facilities capable of treating the disease. The local Public Health Centre is not even equipped with the pathological facilities to identify the kala-azar parasite; moreover, the health workers rarely invest time in case detection work or a spraying insecticides. Acute shortages of effective drug treatments do not help either ~ indeed, sodium antimony gluconate, which is in use for the treatment of this disease, is not currently manufactured in India. Pentamidine isethionate, a product manufactured outside India, is frequently considered too costly to import by hard-pressed state governments.

The widespread circulation of spurious drugs has created further problems for patients and health officials.  Three kala-azar patients died in October 1997 and three in April 2000 at School of Tropical Medicine, Kolkata after being administered toxic "SAG" injections. In another case, 25 kala-azar patients in Bihar died in October 1999 after being injected with the same drug.

Indian bureaucrats and administrators are also culpable, by refusing to give priority to tackling the kala-azar problem. Evidence shows that the disease generally affects the most disadvantaged sections of society. This ought to stoke more ~ rather than less ~ concerted action.

The governments (Central and state) allocate meagre funds for its prevention and eradication. Kala-azar control has been hampered by ignorance of the true extent of prevalence of the disease and underestimation of human sufferings and invalidity caused by it. In fact, disease eradication programme is in a bad shape in our country. Many communicable diseases are still widely prevalent in India. Thousands of people continue to die of tuberculosis every year in India. The Indian control strategy, DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment Short-course), has been successfully utilised by the world in controlling tuberculosis, but surprisingly India lags behind. 

Health being in the concurrent list, the state government cannot avoid its responsibility in disease management and health protection. West Bengal's achievement in this field is not laudable. More than half of its districts are kala-azar affected; 17,898 suspected cases of chikungunya fever, 1,038 dengue cases with seven deaths and 10,4757 malaria cases with 101 deaths reported in 2008. Infant and maternal mortality rates are also high. Health infrastructure seems to be too weak with chronic scarcity of primary health centres, community health centres, health workers, health assistants, laboratory technicians and doctors. Despite implementing National Rural Health Mission, many of the villages are still outside the purview of the health services network.  
The government's lackadaisical attitude towards disease control facilitates the prevalence of infectious diseases in one way or the other. If health workers can go from house to house promoting family planning, there is no good reason why health workers should not make similar efforts for tuberculosis, malaria or kala-azar.  If primary health centres are well supplied with contraceptives or delivery kits, there is no reason why they should be short of drugs for kala-azar. If the public can be bombarded with family planning messages, it should also be possible to promote widespread public understanding of communicable diseases.

 The persistent neglect of health matters in public policy is evident from the relatively low levels of expenditure on health. Investment has fallen away gradually after the second Five-Year Plan period; federal support for disease control programmes, which stood at 41 per cent in 1984/85, was reduced to 29 per cent in 1988/89 and scaled back further to 18.5 per cent in 1992/93. Health centre efficiency in several states continues to be adversely affected by insufficient facilities, medicines and staff.

There is, thus, an urgent need for radical reform. The political visibility of health issues needs to be raised, and shortcomings in health cure delivery need to analysed, debated and countered both before and after Parliamentary and local authority elections. Prevention of diseases as well as protection of health is essentially a political task to be resolved by civil society and the state. 

Health has high political visibility in Western societies, as can be seen, for instance, in the attention it receives in the electoral campaigns. Even outside of electoral campaigns, health issues are the object of a great deal of public attention and media coverage.  Public opinion frequently influences the government in taking appropriate step for promotion of health. Even Cuba and China have made impressive progress in health care. In a multi-party democracy, there is scope for influencing the agenda of the government through systematic Opposition. But India is still lagging behind in health matters. So much energy and wrath have been spent on attacking or defending issues underlying liberalisation, but tranquility prevails in the matter of health issues. There is much debate on questions such as tax concessions to be given to multi-nationals or whether Indians should drink Coca  Cola, but issues like threat of diseases and poor conditions of health care services get little room in the debate.

Health hardly receives priority in the election campaign. Even if any political party campaigns for it ahead of elections, health issues are hardly considered by the party in power after polls are over. In the election campaign of 1998, the main slogan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was "Swastha, siksha aur suraksha (health, education and security)". But when the BJP came to power, the focus on these issues waned. The governments, both at the Centre and in states, claim success in augmenting agricultural production or industrialisation, but do not emphasise on improvement of public health or health education enough. Health has been a live political issue only in Kerala and Tamil Nadu for a long time and these states have achieved success in this field. While issues such as land reform have received priority in the programme of the Left Front in Bengal, public policies concerned with health have been comparatively neglected. Correspondingly, improvement in living conditions in West Bengal has remained relatively low. Diseases such as kala-azar can only be eradicated through well-knit, integrated campaigns. It is essential to mobilise community participation in health programmes, and special attention needs to be paid to ensuring the participation of women, since they are often the primary carers of children and the elderly.

The major task ahead is to prevent and eliminate communicable diseases. Available measures for controlling kala-azar seem to have lost their punch. The ministry of health and family welfare constituted an expert committee in 2000 on kala-azar elimination from India, with the declared aim of eradicating the disease by 2012. But this important goal can only be achieved through the determined committment of all stakeholders.

The writer is Professor of History,

the University of Burdwan






The G4 nations ~ India, Brazil, Germany and Japan ~ have renewed their calls for an enlarged United Nations Security Council. The G4 issued a joint statement on 12 February, pressing for tangible results in enlarging the council before the current session of the UN General Assembly ends in September.

Given the complexity and importance of reforming the Security Council any attempt to rush through premature plans could harm the reform process. It would also run the risk of undermining the unity of UN member nations and jeopardise the interests of all parties. Mature reform plans will only be agreed on the basis of broad consensus among member countries. Thorough and in-depth consultations are necessary to pave the way for a wider consensus on all the key issues concerning the reform.

The G4 alleged in their joint statement that their proposal for enlarging the council is widely supported by UN member nations, but did not indicate how many or which countries have sided with them. Hence, it is still too early to say that there is now a broad acceptance among the 192 UN member countries on how to reform the world's supreme peace and security body.

Since 2005, the G4 nations have been pressing for expanding the current five permanent members of the UN Security Council into nine with themselves being included as new members. They also back enlarging the council's non-permanent membership. Their proposal calls for an expansion in both the permanent and non-permanent membership of the council to 26 from the current 15 members.

As each of the four countries is wielding growing economic and political clout in world and regional affairs, it is understandable that they should seek to raise their international status and shoulder greater international responsibilities. Nonetheless, reform of the council concerns the future of the world body and should proceed with prudence and patience. Due to serious differences and wide gaps on various issues among governments, nothing significant has been achieved since negotiations started in 2009.

As the largest international organisation playing a leading role in maintaining world peace and security, the UN should respond more timely and act more effectively to lead world efforts to combat a series of global challenges such as climate change, as well as some international and regional hot spot issues. Reform is the only way for the world body to play such a greater and more desirable role. The UN Security Council is an important part of international governance. There have been growing calls for improving international governance, and the UN should set an example in promoting the momentum.

UN member nations, while making efforts to accommodate the interests and concerns of all the parties, should seek a package of solutions for the reform based on broad and democratic consultation. Priority should be given to increasing the representation of developing countries. Such an arduous task will need time and patience. The attempt to set a timetable for it is not a responsible approach.

china daily/ann  







The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was set up in October, 1993. It was a landmark in the annals of human rights movement in the country. A blue-ribbon commission headed by a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was set up by the Government of India for protection and promotion of human rights in the country. The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, armed it with adequate power and authority to inquire into cases of violation of human rights and recommend corrective measures.

Vigorous investigation and interventions by the NHRC in any high-profile cases captured public imagination and received wide coverage both in the print and electronic media. Not unexpectedly, the commission was deluged with complaints of human rights violations from all over the country, including abuse and misuse of authority by police and prison officials. As the director-general of police in charge of investigation, I had to take up investigation of many cases ordered by the commission. The first chairman of the commission was Mr Justice Ranganath Mishra, former Chief Justice of India. He was also former Chief Justice of Orissa High Court. Handsome, fair-complexioned with sharp aquiline features, Mr Justice Mishra looked every inch a judge. He spoke with a soft voice and measured every word carefully. Orders passed by him were clear and crisp and revealed a practical, cogent and organised mind. When greatly provoked by errant colleagues and subordinates, he would occasionally flare up but could quickly regain his composure. He was also an excellent team leader and had the sterling capacity of carrying a heterogeneous group with him. In the meetings of the commission, sometimes sparks would fly. There were also ego hassles. However, Mr Justice Mishra knew how to apply the healing balm and successfully assuage bruised feelings. Mr Justice Mishra knew the art of empowering his officers, repose trust in them and extract the best out of them. It was a joy to work with him. His familiar refrain was work with a smile on the face. He had an excellent equation with the then Prime Minister, and this helped the Commission to overcome quickly its teething troubles and get off to a flying start.

Despite his long judicial background, he was a man in a hurry and never allowed himself to be snowed under rules and procedures. On a petition received from an inmate in Tihar prison regarding torture and maladministration, he issued a directive to call a meeting of the home secretaries and inspector-generals of prisons of different states to examine issues concerning prison administration leading to violation of human rights. NHRC's prestige at that time was at its apogee. There was immediate and overwhelming response from the states. Most of the states agreed to send their officers for this meeting convened by the NHRC. The secretary-general of the commission, Mr RV Pillai, and myself burnt midnight oil to prepare background papers and agenda for the conference. As the investigation wing was looking after human rights violations in the prisons, it was primarily my job to do the spade work. I was the prima donna. At the inaugural session, I outlined the objectives and the structure of the conference and then requested Mr Justice Mishra to deliver the key-note address. Mr Justice Mishra's address was clear and pithy. He explained the rationale behind the meeting and the overarching need for safeguarding the rights of men and women behind the prison walls. He feelingly referred to mounting incidence of deaths in jail custody and appalling and dehumanising conditions prevailing in many prisons. In the plenary session that commenced after the inauguration, I requested him or any other member of NHRC to chair the session. But to my surprise and bewilderment, he asked me to chair the session and came down from the podium with other NHRC members and sat with the participants. I was stunned by this totally unexpected development. With some trepidation, I took up the gavel and commenced the job. Some NHRC members, even the secretary-general, were not exactly happy with Mr Justice Mishra's delegation of this responsibility to me. But in view of his categorical stand, they had to toe the line. He also remained present in the conference for sometime as a gesture of encouragement to me. He was happy to note that I was able to live up to the responsibilities thrust upon me.

A decade and half has rolled by. I still vividly recollect the events of that day. It was the grand old man's unique way of encouraging and empowering junior officers. It was another way of telling me that he appreciated my work in the commission. In our seniority-bound, hierarchical administration, this kind of imaginative gesture is unbelievable. Our bosses in police and administration, vested with brief authority, strut and fret on the stage and never learn the gracious art of delegation. Only good leaders can think of such imaginative gestures to electrify the subordinates and win their undying loyalty.

The writer is Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences








Manmohan Singh is not endowed with charisma. It is futile to expect moving rhetoric from him and to hope that he will sway his audience by the power of words. Those who know him expect from him reasoned arguments. They look forward to his straightforwardness and sincerity. Mr Singh does not attempt to persuade his listeners, he tries to convince them. These are his strengths. It is unfair to criticize him for not being a rabble-rouser. Mr Singh's strengths as a prime minister and his almost palpable honesty were evident when he met members of the electronic media on Wednesday. Mr Singh explained his position and the pressures and compulsions he has to face. This may not have convinced all who were present and those who saw it on television, but there was no doubting the prime minister's forthright attitude. This served to clear the air and thus remove the many suspicions and speculations that have been rife in New Delhi, the country's rumour capital. Questions and doubts remain, but after the prime minister's interaction with a section of the media the situation has been defused.

What is equally significant is that Mr Singh chose to come out of his self-imposed silence. He is by nature a reticent man. But in public life silence is not always golden. As prime minister of India, Mr Singh needs to speak and not only to the media but also to the people. Faced with a major problem or a crisis, Mr Singh's instinctive reaction is to retreat into his introspective shell. This move is almost invariably interpreted as a defensive one. Mr Singh has no need to be defensive because his biggest asset is something that few politicians in India have: honesty. The Telegraph has said before in these columns that Mr Singh somewhat underestimates the goodwill he commands. He needs to speak his mind more often, especially when there is a shadow looming over his intentions, motives and integrity. If Mr Singh reflects on his career in politics he will discover that every time he has spoken out and taken a position, he has added to his stature. Witness the inauguration of economic reforms and then the pushing through of the Indo-US nuclear deal. Mr Singh's shyness has a certain charm but his forthrightness commands respect. The interplay between the demands of public life and Mr Singh's innate sense of privacy has to be used to better effect for the prime minister's image-building.






It may be tempting to have one's cake and eat it too, but a line must be drawn somewhere. For quite some time now, the United Kingdom has been grumbling, with very good reasons, about the way British aid for development projects in India is being steadily pilfered by unscrupulous middlemen. The massive swindling in millions of pounds earmarked for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is a case in point. So it may be a good thing for all parties concerned that the UK has finally decided to drastically slash its funds for India. Apart from corruption, there is already another no less compelling argument against the allocation of huge sums of money to a growing economy like India. The numbers indicate that India, poised on a steady growth curve, is set to overtake the UK, economically, in the next ten years or so. As an aspiring superpower in South Asia, India already spends audacious amounts of money on a space programme, has tested nuclear bombs, is planning to buy a fleet of fighter aircraft, and aspires to a permanent place at the high table of the United Nations security council. From being a supplicant a decade or so ago, hoping to be bailed out by the developed nations, India has come a long way indeed. So there is every reason to admire India's determined attempt at an image makeover. But equally, it is time for India to make a sincere effort at becoming self-reliant. For that is the only way in which India can hope to sustain, and cement, its success story, and eventually become a part of the league of developed nations.

Although India has accepted with equanimity the UK's decision to curtail funds, such a response had better be based on something more than sheer pride. All indicators of growth remaining true, India continues to be one of the poorest regions of the world as well. There is no denying that there is a disproportionate difference between the quality of life enjoyed by the rich and the poor in India. It is often claimed that India has more millionaires and billionaires than the UK. But what is lost in that boast is the equally stupendous revelation that the rate of poverty in India is steeper than that of sub-Saharan Africa. It would be immoral of India to preen on the global stage and yet refuse to become more accountable and responsible to all its citizens. India's rags-to-riches story would make no sense if the rags are hidden away under the riches.






In a compelling essay in Newsweek, the historian, Niall Ferguson, contrasted President Barack Obama's missed opportunities in the Middle East with Bismarck's success in harnessing the nascent European nationalism to the advantage of the newly-formed German state in the late-19th century.

The comparison may well strike strategic affairs pundits as both facile and arbitrary: can decision-making in a complex democracy be equated with the resolute authoritarianism of the Prussian order? In his study of Bismarck, the historian, A.J.P. Taylor — someone who deftly bridged the gap between academia and journalism — had warned that "great disasters are caused by trying to learn from history and correct past mistakes". Taylor's alternative was alluring: "It is probably better to think about the present, not the past — or the future."

It's a warning that has cut no ice. In a world where knowledge is driven by the principle of 'relevance', the temptation to see the past through the concerns of the present and profit from that experience is irresistible. William Dalrymple, to cite an example from nearer home, is presently researching a book on the now-forgotten first Afghan War (1839-42). The underlying message behind revisiting a campaign marked by initial success and subsequent disaster is obvious: Whitehall had learnt nothing from its 19th-century engagements with Afghanistan and had committed the same mistakes in the 21st century.

Indeed, the 'war on terror' launched after the 9/11 attacks has generated a body of historical literature centred on the phenomenon of Empire. Written mainly by scholars deeply distrustful of George W. Bush's foreign policy, it has been inclined to view the assault on Islamism as a cover for Empire-building and self-aggrandizement. In a war billed as being dictated by oil, the former vice-president of the United States of America, Dick Cheney, was often depicted as a latter-day personification of Robert Clive and Cecil Rhodes. Not surprisingly, the story of the East India Company's transformation from merchants to conquerors of India has formed an important part of the narrative.

The narrative has struck a chord among radicals and dissenters in an India that has hesitantly embraced globalization. The East India Company has reappeared in populist political discourse as the symbol for corporations determined to subvert democracy and the rights of indigenous peoples for the sake of profit. This shrill denunciation of global capitalism has blended in neatly with the fringe but vocal anti-globalization movements in the campuses of the West which accounts for Arundhati Roy's cult status.

For a country that has traditionally been disdainful of history, any attempt to imbibe past experiences is a welcome departure. To that extent, invoking the story of the East India Company is worthwhile. The danger lies in getting the wrong end of the stick. The Company holds out valuable lessons for contemporary India but the relevant lesson is not drawn from its creeping conquest of India — a feat that is near-impossible to replicate — but the story of how early capitalism subverted society and politics. In today's India, where prosperity and improvements in standards of living appear to coexist with cynicism, scandal and corruption, another facet of the East India Company story is worth exploring.

To many early British administrators, parachuted into India to bring order and streamlined governance, corruption often seemed a peculiarly 'native' problem. "Every native of Hindustan," Lord Cornwallis once exclaimed in exasperation, "I verily believe, is corrupt." It was a view echoed by Clive in his deposition to a select committee of Parliament investigating his 'disproportionate assets'. "From time immemorial," he explained, "it has been the custom of that Country, for an inferior never to come into the presence of a superior without a present. It begins at the Nabob and ends at the lowest man who has an inferior." Clive, in fact, claimed to have been "astonished at his own moderation" in resisting the blank cheque offered to him by Mir Jafar after Plassey.

Lest it is imagined that Clive and Cornwallis were guilty of creating 'orientalist' stereotypes to gloss over the venality of the Company's servants, it is interesting to note the first question posed to Sir Thomas Roe by the Moghul emperor, Jehangir, in 1615 upon being asked for trade and tax concessions for the Company: "He asked me what Presents we would bring him." When Roe offered him "excellent artifices in painting, carving, cutting, enamelling, figures in Brasse, Copper, or Stone, rich embroyderies, stuffes of Gold and Silver... [he] said it was very well: but that hee desired an English horse." And Jehangir was no tinpot chief overwhelmed by greed and a desire to survive.

The suggestion that transactions in India always have a covert built-in quid pro quo clause may seem offensive but, at the same time, in the age of 2G and the Commonwealth Games it does have a contemporary resonance. The annual payment of £27,000 to Clive for a jagir over which the Company already possessed rights was suspected to be a variant of the modern-day kickbacks that accompany defence deals and commercial contracts. What Warren Hastings disingenuously claimed was the "common Zeasut" or generous entertainment allowance "usually given to the visitor by the visited" would well have been construed today as bribes and sweeteners. Likewise, the endless retainers, some amounting to more than £10,000 annually, given by either the Nawab of Arcot or his rival the Raja of Tanjore, to departing Company servants for promoting their interests in both Westminster and Leadenhall Street seem to have much in common with post-retirement consultancies and directorships offered by companies to retired babus.

The organized encounter between a commercially-driven Britain and a less purposeful India resulted in hideous political, social and economic distortions in both places. To Britons, dazzled by the wealth and opulence of the East, the ease with which Indians, legatees of an admitted rich civilization, could be made suckers was puzzling. In the words of Charles Grant, a government official who returned from India in 1790, the people of India were "lamentably degenerate and base, retaining but a feeble sense of moral obligation, yet obstinate in their disregard of what they know to be right". Hastings wasn't so sanctimonious, preferring to locate the problem in the tradition of "arbitrary power". Today's anti-corruption crusaders have, ironically, also identified discretionary power as the root of corruption.

The ostentatious and vulgar 'Nabob' culture that stemmed from the interaction with India after 1757 also created widespread concern in Britain. The Company servants who returned with the huge proceeds of their 'private trade' may have bought prime properties, works of art and even seats in Parliament but they never attained respectability. Both Clive and Hastings were subjected to intense parliamentary scrutiny and were the targets of men such as Edmund Burke who sought a moral cleansing of society.

Justice never caught up with the Company Nabobs but the consequence of the fierce assaults on their ethics and integrity left a mark on Britain. By the beginning of the 19th century, the scandals of an earlier era forced it to move towards a relatively more ordered capitalism and an ideal of empire centred on justice and fair play. Although there was always a mismatch between ideal and reality, the British 'national character' did internalize this abhorrence of excess. Some of this shift was reflected in India.

The post-1991 encounter with global capitalism has produced perversions that correspond broadly to the experience of the 50 years after Plassey. If history is prone to selective re-enactment, India can possibly look forward to what happened after the dust settled on the first flush of exuberance.






The most lively, truthful and 'real' part of the prime minister's recent press conference with editors of the electronic media was the portion at the very end when the formal closure had happened — Manmohan Singh engaged without restraint! The formal orchestration was done in a manner that did not give due credit or space to the prime minister, who is perfectly capable of handling tough questions. The media advisor, who supposedly crafted the entire event — from the invitees down to the press and their legitimate questions — disappointed with his inept handling of what could have been a substantive and honest 'talk' with the media,bringing some clarity to the problems this government is grappling with. The occasion could have also provided the government with an opportunity to extend a plan of action to alter the course of the public outcry as well as the diatribes of the Opposition.

Neither was there a sophisticated, well-thought-through, intelligent 'spin' that created a sense of transparency in the proceedings, nor did the 'advisor' permit the prime minister to engage with the seniormost media honchos of India. He was very babu-like, dull and clumsy, as he attempted to control the proceedings in a liberalized democracy. The prime minister cannot be blamed.

One definite latent sense that emerged was that the men around the prime minister are not being honest with him about national projects, meetings, discussions, or about the perceptions from the ground outside the closed doors of the exclusive domain of those who determine the lives of over a billion unsuspecting people. That is a scary signal. It reveals how good and honest individuals in power, with the best intent, can be manipulated to deliver incorrect and adverse courses and paths. Telling half-truths to the boss can undermine him, particularly if the boss implicitly trusts his personal team as he should under normal circumstances.

Bad move

This modus operandi will only support a corrupt, degenerate status quo that protects those who are intellectually average and generally substandard. The prime minister desperately needs a new team comprising the best administrators rather than superficial babus. Manmohan Singh would be better off meeting the press without 'aides' so that he can hear the truth.

The responses that evoked enormous displeasure amongst the Opposition and the people trying to live honestly will be discussed and debated ad nauseam on television. But this was a missed opportunity for the prime minister. He could have turned the tables and congratulated the media for relentlessly probing areas that have been scam-infested. He could have saluted them for exposing corruption, thereby strengthening the hand of the government to enforce the cleansing of endless and veiled wrongs committed by its departments and agencies. This would have brought the first lot of brownie points.

In his introductory speech, he should have announced the need for radical bureaucratic, administrative and police reform. He could have used the moment to present the first phase of a time-bound plan of action, emphatically stating that corruption breeds within our faulty system, which nurtures wrongdoings. Therefore, the long-term solution would be an overhaul of the bureaucratized, failed management system. He should have explained his one-point agenda — pushing the rate of growth — in relation to the assault on the natural environment and all the statutory laws that protect it. There was a need to say far more about the agenda for good governance rather than the success of of the recommendations by the National Advisory Council. Such a simplistic, insubstantive 'meet the press' only aggravates the feeling of the government being adrift.


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



Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement that he is 'dead serious' about tackling corruption and "bringing to book all wrongdoers regardless of the position they may occupy" rings completely hollow. Had he in his interaction with the media on Wednesday at least conceded that the underpricing of 2G spectrum involved corruption and the government was determined to set it right, one could have hoped that he had taken the issue seriously. Sadly and shamefully, he did not. He chose to liken the underpriced sale to subsidies given for food and water. If the prime minister is unwilling to even describe a scam as a scam, what action can we expect from his government against those engaged in the brazen looting of public money? Evidently, nothing.

The Congress leaders have blamed the soft handling of Raja on the compulsions of coalition politics. This was a claim Singh reiterated on Wednesday. A fortnight ago telecom minister Kapil Sibal claimed that the government had incurred 'zero loss' from the 2G scale. The prime minister took this whitewashing further by giving the multi-crore spectrum scam the respectable gloss of a 'subsidy.' The interaction was an opportunity for the  prime minister to tell the nation that he was equally concerned with various cases of corruption and his government would take every possible step to punish the guilty. Instead, he engaged in obfuscation of the truth. He chided the media for creating the image of 'scam-driven country', conveniently ignoring that it is his indulgence of corrupt ministers that has resulted in scams on a scale not seen before. Singh is widely regarded as a clean leader. But by allowing others to loot the national exchequer, the prime minister has failed in his main responsibility of providing clean and good governance.

The prime minister clearly dented his own image by claiming that  the question of spectrum allocation "was never discussed with me." By making such a statement, if he thought he can distance himself from the scam, he is sadly mistaken. A mere Cabinet minister being allowed to take such a major decision involving huge financial implications without his knowledge, amounts to dereliction of duty cast on him as the prime minister. He can now salvage his reputation and that of his government only by prosecuting the guilty expeditiously and putting systems in place so that no individual minister or his backers can indulge in day-light robbery and get away with it.






The supreme court judgment which held that a person cannot be held guilty of criminal acts only because of his membership of a banned organisation has raised some questions which have a bearing on the fundamental rights of citizens and anti-terrorist laws and their enforcement. The court ruled that a citizen's life and liberty cannot be compromised unless he indulges in an act of violence, incites people to violence or creates public disorder. The ruling was given on a petition filed by a suspected ULFA member who had challenged the case against him under the TADA, which rested on his confession to the police. The court's observation that confessions made to the police do not make strong evidence will be accepted readily but the main part of the ruling has become contentious. The Central government has decided to file a revision petition against the ruling.

The court's strong defence of fundamental rights is commendable and is in line with many of its recent judgments on the subject and a recent ruling of the supreme court of the United States. Many people believe in ideologies that preach violence or at least do not oppose violence. It would be wrong to consider them violators of the law if their belief in violence is not translated into action and does not harm the society. But those who criticise the judgment feel that membership of a banned organisation that propagates violence and indulges in it is different from a personal or ideological faith in violence and is a criminal offence. Membership sometimes amounts to active support for and facilitation of illegal actions. But, even after accepting the moral responsibility of a person for the actions of a body he belongs to and his unstated support for them, would it be right to punish him for the illegalities committed by other members?

The lines between legality and illegality, innocence and guilt and individual rights and social responsibility become thin and difficult to distinguish in such situations. Judgment may perhaps vary from case to case. But the problem is compounded by the way the police often seek to enforce the law and incriminate people in cases in which they are not involved. Many would feel that it is better to err on the side of the citizens' rights in such situations.







The credibility of even prime minister Manmohan Singh has gone down and just the reshuffle of the cabinet will not do.

Being an open and free society with independent media, the scam-ridden India can absorb shocks and scandals. Yet this does not lessen the people's anger against the rulers, civil servants and some from corporate sectors for swindling amounts running into lakhs of crores of rupees which could have made a further dent in poverty and unemployment.

The reported offer by prime minister Manmohan Singh to appoint the much evaded Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) and his neither-here-nor-there press conference have somewhat eased the atmosphere, whatever the rhetoric of the opposition and the critics. Yet the government should not take the people for granted. If one thing which the Egyptian revolution has underlined, it is that a determined nation does not rest until it has ousted the rulers who have misgoverned.

The appointment of JPC was justified from day one. It is a process which brings out in the open what the government and its limbs may be trying to hide. The good news is that the prime minister has announced his willingness to appear before the JPC or any other committee appointed to hold an inquiry.

The 2G spectrum became like the Bofors guns which then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had brought after the reported kickbacks of Rs 64 crore he had received. Then the JPC failed because no government department cooperated with it. This may not happen this time because both the left and the right are united to get at the truth. The public is also vigilant and watching every step.

In the series of scams, another relating to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has come to light, thanks again to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. The government says that there was no deal. Then what has it scrapped after running the contract for two years? The affected firm has threatened to sue the ISRO.

The government took more or less the same line as it did in the 2G spectrum case, causing a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore. Telecommunications minister Kapil Sibal has claimed that there was no loss of revenue. The prime minister has also supported him by arguing that the loss was presumptive. But how do the two explain when even the government-controlled CBI has said that the government has lost revenue.

As far as West Asia uprising is concerned, the real point that blew up Egypt was the rulers' insensitivity. They considered one eruption here and another there as isolated examples. But it indicated the lava beneath the surface. President Hosni Mubarak had not anticipated it.

The problems in any country, if allowed to fester for decades, assume such a proportion if a solution was not sought early. This is what is happening in India too. Agitations and protests do not make much difference on New Delhi until people take to the streets.


Take the case of Kashmir. It could have been sorted out when then prime minister Sheikh Abdullah asked New Delhi to make good the letter and spirit behind Article 370 that gave Jammu and Kashmir a special status. Even if the Article were to be implemented fully today, it would fall short of the Valley's demand. The insurgency in the state has cost the lives of some 40,000 Kashmiris. The mere Article 370, they argue, does not give them even a face saving formula.

What the Gorkhas in the north of West Bengal are demanding is a state within India. They have tried the experiment of special powers within the state. But Kolkata has failed the Gorkhas. Today they are observing only hartal. Tomorrow things can go out of hand. New Delhi has to play a part to help the two sides arrive at a workable arrangement.

What India does not realise is that the problems apart from gathering moss are sucking the life out of the system. However strong the country's economy, the governance has lost the élan it had enjoyed earlier. The credibility of even Manmohan Singh has gone down and just the reshuffle of the cabinet which he has reiterated will not do.

No doubt, the falling standards of governance in the states have impaired the image of New Delhi. With no law and order in UP, no honesty in Tamil Nadu, no morality in Haryana and no shame in Chhattisgarh, where the police and terrorists come from the same basket, India can never shine or become incredible.

The exposure of industrialists and even that of the media houses through the Nira Radia tapes shows how our system can be manipulated through bribes and contacts. Values are trampled upon too often and too intentionally. Mafias have been allowed to take over.

Egypt's upheaval should awaken all the countries that the long neglect of people's basic demands can take an unexpected turn. All political parties have to correct their ways. The Maoists are not a one-day phenomenon. When lands of the tribals, who are happy in their own environment, are appropriated for industry they are bound to become desperate, however inhuman they may behave in their attitude.

I do see hope in the civil society. The manner in which it has expressed support to Dr Vinayak Sen, sentenced for life for 'sedition,' indicates that the embers of idealism are not yet cold. The functioning of stalled parliament is also a proof of MPs' faith in the consensus and democratic values. The budget session promises to be interesting.






Plans to modernise nuclear arsenals cast dark shadows over prospects for disarmament.

On Feb 5, the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) entered into force. New Start is an agreement between Russia and the United States that sets 1,550 as the limit of how many nuclear warheads each country can deploy at any given time. The treaty does not affect the number of nuclear warheads each country can possess, which is estimated at 8,500 for the US and 11,000 for Russia.

New Start has been hailed as a victory by most arms control and disarmament advocates. It should pave the way for actual reductions and will strengthen the relationship between the two major nuclear powers.

In reality, however, the treaty has stark consequences for the future of nuclear disarmament. In exchange for US senate ratification of the treaty, the Obama administration promised $185 billion for the modernisation of nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and related infrastructure over the next 20 years. Similarly, the Russian Duma adopted the treaty only on the condition that the government will invest in the development and production of new types of strategic offensive weapons and in "preserving and developing the necessary research and development base and production capabilities" of Russia's strategic nuclear forces.

Total elimination

In May 2010, all 189 states that are party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) agreed to an action plan to advance nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Action 1 of this plan commits all members "to pursue policies that are fully compatible with the treaty and the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons". In 2005 and 2010, all of the NPT-recognised nuclear weapon states espoused an 'unequivocal undertaking' to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals. The obligation to disarm is a core element of the NPT, embedded in article VI, which also mandates an end to the modernisation of and investment in nuclear weapons by obligating the nuclear weapon states to negotiate a cessation of the nuclear arms race.

Despite these legal obligations, all of the nuclear weapon states are engaged in or have plans to modernise their nuclear arsenals and related facilities over the coming decades.

In 2010, the French navy deployed a new submarine-launched ballistic missile, the M-51. It is expected that the missiles will be armed with a new warhead later this decade. The United Kingdom has postponed its plans to modernise Trident but has not scrapped the idea. China is deploying new mobile missiles and a new class of ballistic missile submarine, and reportedly is increasing its number of nuclear warheads.

As for those states not party to the NPT, new US intelligence reports indicate that Pakistan has expanded its nuclear arsenal over the last several years (to 90-110) and is building its capacity to produce more fissile material for nuclear weapons. According to NGO estimates in 2010, India is continuing to develop a triad of offensive nuclear forces and is planning to introduce several additions to its arsenal, including ballistic missiles, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, and possibly a nuclear-capable cruise missile. The plans for Israel's nuclear weapon forces are unknown.

The implications of nuclear weapon modernisation for international security and the stability of the non-proliferation regime are grave. At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the majority of states that do not possess nuclear weapons complained about the double standards of the nuclear powers, which seek to strengthen controls against proliferation while at the same time engaging in the refurbishment of their own arsenals.

While the leaders of many of the nuclear powers have by now professed their interest in seeking "a world without nuclear weapons", their budgets and policies contradict this claim, leading to frustration and cynicism among non-nuclear states and threatening the integrity of the NPT.

The western countries seeking increased restrictions on nuclear technology to prevent proliferation were unable to push through reforms largely because the majority of non-weapon states refused to accept more controls on their activities while the weapon states continue to invest in their arsenals and refuse to commit to a process and timeline for complete disarmament.

Plans to modernise nuclear arsenals cast dark shadows over prospects for disarmament in any near-term future. While some governments and a large number of civil society groups are trying to initiate negotiations of a nuclear weapons convention the nuclear weapon possessors appear far from ready to engage in multilateral disarmament talks. But if the danger of nuclear war is to be eliminated, ceasing to plan and build for an eternal nuclear threat must come early, not late, in the process.







My euphoria over cricket lasted till India won the Prudential World Cup.

"When and where is the World Cup?" We were in a crowded room which greeted my clearly not-quiet-enough question with a sudden silence. All around me, stunned and stupefied looks are now thrown in my direction. One young man is almost half out of his seat giving me a belligerent look. I look to the nearest exit out of sheer panic. As if on cue, my husband saunters in just then and announces that he's not impressed with the discussion on the television that's loudly blaring in the next room. "It's like everyone has a crystal ball as to who would win this time and nothing else is being telecast..."

Before we're shown the door, I race out of the party with a bewildered husband in tow. "We didn't even have lunch, what's the hurry?" He can't understand that I wanted to escape being lynched. I belong to that rare club that has minimal interest in cricket. The last time I watched a cricket match on TV at home with guests was when India and Pakistan were the opposing teams. The tension was unbearable. Most of my nails had been bitten off by the first few overs. My constant mutters, sighs and invocation of every God became a side show for the other viewers. In the beginning my husband and his friends gave me indulgent smiles but soon I was the target of their ferocious scowls and frowns. I was asked in not-so-polite terms to vacate my seat from the living room.

All those stories of male-bonding over cricket matches get more and more bizarre with every tournament. Whether it's placing furniture and other inanimate objects in strategic positions or holding your bladder till the last ball of the over is bowled, cricket fans act in ways that defy logic and biology.

My friends whose hormonal levels fluctuate dramatically just before the World Cup season, pour out their woes. "My husband is already walking around like a zombie all the time!" "My son who's in 10th standard is now hankering for a huge screen TV." "My father-in-law who's fanatical about his puja is now rescheduling his morning routine.

I wonder what the buzz is all about. My euphoria over cricket lasted till India won the Prudential World Cup. I was in high school then and the rush of hearing the commentator on the radio when Malcolm Marshall or Imran Khan bowled from one end was unforgettable. The sound of frenzied crowds in the background only added to the allure. I would imagine myself in the stands cheering along with the other madcap fans for the home team. While I told people I liked cricket, would love to play it myself if only I could rustle up a team, it wasn't the complete truth. I had already switched over to badminton. With Prakash Padukone eventually placing India on the world badminton map my tryst with cricket ended, in no small measure to his good looks.









How has Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's unprecedented live media roundtable with TV editors on Wednesday affected his image? The PM's effort to directly address the allegations of corruption and mismanagement against his government, while admirable, may be too little, too late.

To his credit, the Prime Minister replied to even the most provocative questions with a rare candour. Accused of being a weak or 'lame duck' leader, he replied: "Whatever some people may say, that we are a lame duck government, that I am a lame duck prime minister, we take our job very seriously. We are here to govern, and to govern effectively. Tackle the problems as they arise and get this country moving forward."

Forthright and brave words, but they must be backed by action. His government avoided big scandals during its first five years in power, following which it bucked anti-incumbency to get re-elected with an increased majority in 2009. But it has been simply snowed under by a spate of scams recently, and he has been accused of not acting decisively enough to curb corruption in the highest echelons of power.

That Mr Singh was forced to deny that he is considering handing in his resignation shows not only the gravity of the scandals, but that his government's decision-making has been practically paralysed in this second term. The last session of Parliament was scuttled by opposition protests demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) into the 2G telecom scam. In ordinary circumstances, such obstructionism by the opposition would have boosted the government's image. But in this case, the breathtaking scale of the scams and the fact that the entire opposition – from extreme left to extreme right – was solidly united has seriously dented Mr Singh's reputation. He is seen as a prime minister who could not or would not intervene to prevent the loot of the public exchequer by one of his ministers.

The PM's candid replies to the questions posed might have won him plaudits, except for the fact that he offered no new measures to crack down on corruption. Consequently, many felt that he was unconvincing in his replies.
Congress leaders have, apparently, criticised Mr Singh for being "too defensive" in his approach during the meeting. But did he really have any choice? He had only one weapon; that the Congress has taken quick action in corruption cases that involve its own party members, no matter how senior, while the opposition BJP's Karnataka Chief Minister B Yedyurappa continues in the saddle despite serious graft charges. But to go on the offensive with just that point would have seemed petty.

It is now for the party top brass to put their heads together and come up with a package of proposals to curb corruption and to try and recover money stashed away in tax havens abroad. Both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have indicated that they are in favour of these measures, but their enthusiasm does not seem to be shared by other top leaders in the party.

Speed and Justice

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court took just 90 minutes to decide the appeal of Nithari serial killer Surinder Koli. It heard arguments on both sides and delivered its confirmation of the death sentence on the same day; possibly its fastest decision in a capital punishment hearing.
So what was wrong when Judge Desmond D'Costa did exactly the same in serial killer Mahanand Naik's case? Except that since there was no evidence whatsoever, he acquitted him. Don't judges get the same justice as the rest of us?







The Lancet of 11 August 2010 reported that a bacterium resistant to all antibiotics had been identified and described the inherent dangers of such bacteria. The origin of the bug was stated to be, at least in part, in India and the opinion expressed that "NDM-1 is likely spread worldwide."

The Lancet is not a journal to be taken lightly; but the resultant uproar in this country focussed largely on the organism being named after Delhi, thereby missing the wood for the trees. The serious implications of the findings were lost in the cacophony of protests that followed; but the noise had barely died down when a new threat emerged. Researchers from Spain have tied up with SGPGI, Lucknow, to study yet another resistant organism; this time, it was salmonella (with the rmtC gene), which can cause severe diarrhoea and death. Once again the organism was found in patients, most of whom had recently travelled to India. A further complication came from a Chennai study; an organism had been identified with both the NDM1 and the armA (which is similar to the rmtC) genes; which is serious, because the organism is also resistant to all known antibiotics.
Recently, there was a spurt of upper respiratory tract infections along the west coast, including Goa, which caused an irritating dry hacking cough which lasted in some cases, for weeks. Most physicians felt it was a viral infection, though to my knowledge, no specific causative organism was identified. Yet the sale of azithromycin (an antibiotic) in one pharmacy alone doubled between mid-December and mid-January, at the peak of such cases. This incident illustrates the attitude of both patients and physicians in their approach to the use of antibiotics. Patients expect a prescription for antibiotics, and often demand the same even when there is no justification for it; and physicians are more than willing to prescribe it to "keep the customer happy." The process of identifying the cause of the infection is too time-consuming, expensive, and often inconclusive. Therefore, a best guess choice (often choices) is made by the physician. If there is no relief within a few days, either the antibiotic or the doctor is changed. Paradoxically, such overuse is often matched by under-use. If the patient feels better in a few days, treatment is stopped prematurely for financial reasons. Hence, the outburst by Abdul Ghafur in the Lancet "The overuse of antibiotics is embedded in our Indian gene. Why should we Indians worry? We can always depend on honey, yoghurt and cow's urine. At any rate, within a few years, these products may be more useful than antibiotics!"

Antibiotic resistant infections cause an estimated 100,000 deaths annually in the US alone, and are predicted to rise even further. This alarming situation has developed within a span of 60-odd years since penicillin was first introduced. How is it that after the initial advantage in the battle against infections, we are now in danger of losing the war? After all, NDM-1, rmtC, and armA will join a growing list of resistant organisms headed by MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph. aureus). In the past, resistant strains did not matter because research by pharmaceutical companies produced newer and more potent antibiotics. An estimated 200 new drugs were developed in 30 years, each more potent and toxic than the previous one.

Eventually hard economic realties hit the industry. In the period 1983-1987, 16 totally new drugs (as opposed to minor molecular variations) were approved. Since 2008, there have been only two. Only 5 of the 13 biggest pharmaceutical companies are actively engaged in antibiotic research; the rest have abandoned the field for more lucrative markets. This is certainly not because of lack of knowledge, expertise or clinical material. Deep sea exploration has turned up organisms that existed, which we never knew about.

The explanation lies in the balance sheets. When a new antibiotic is introduced, it is patented, and restricted to difficult infections in an attempt to preserve its efficacy. Sales figures naturally remain suppressed, till the patent runs out or the physicians start overusing the drug against all rational recommendations. Further, when used judiciously, the drug is usually prescribed for short periods like a week or two. Compare that with a new anti-cancer or anti-diabetic drug; the drug is used widely as soon as it is introduced and for months, years, or the rest of the patients life. The sales returns for such drugs can be up to twenty times the sales figures for antibiotics. In short, it pays to research and introduce drugs for chronic diseases, rather than antibiotics; even though infections are more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

The conditions under which penicillin was introduced were dramatically different from the FDA restrictions of today. Vancomycin resistant enterococcus infections of the bowel and urine, is thought to affect 26,000 hospital patients annually in the US according the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. However, research was abandoned because of inadequate sample sizes and clinical material.

Yet, when there are adequate financial incentives, there is no dearth of initiative, ingenuity or talent. As a result of the anthrax scare in 2001, there was a huge spurt in research of anthrax, even though most practicing physicians have never seen a case in their entire clinical careers. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases spent $94 million in 2009, researching anthrax and plague; because they were potential agents of bioterrorism. In contrast, only $16 million was spent researching antibiotics for resistant infections. Such financial enthusiasm was feasible only because the government guaranteed purchase of any approved final product, as part of its counter-terrorism campaign.

If we are to prove Abdul Ghafur wrong, we will have to change our mind-set and implement what the BMJ terms "antibiotic stewardship programs". Our future survival depends on it because antibiotics will gradually get more expensive and have an ever decreasing spectrum of utility.

The initiative must come from both the physician as well as the patient. Prescriptions have to be more rational and evidence based. Numerous studies have established that between 20-50 per cent of antibiotic usage is inappropriate by virtue of the drug, dose, duration or redundancy. Public education programs must sell the concept that patients are doing more harm than good by demanding antibiotics, or changing doctors and/or antibiotics willy nilly. The authorities must come down more dramatically and heavily on unauthorised over the counter sales of scheduled drugs, whose unbridled usage contributes to the problem.

Finally, there must be adequate incentives provided for exploring alternative pathways for research, by the pharmaceutical companies such as tax breaks, increased patent period discretion and guaranteed sales to encourage continued research. There are newer pathways like using other organisms, just waiting to be developed.

Otherwise, we really will have to depend on cows' urine in the foreseeable future.
(The author is a member, National Executive Committee, Voluntary Health Association of India.)








Every evening, as the sun dipped below the tree line near the governor's palace, the Kevnem-Nagalli section of the Taleigao plateau used to turn into a pleasant locale for a cool, invigorating, healthy walkabout. This was 10 years ago.

There were large stretches of wilderness criss-crossed by narrow mud pathways going in all directions. The profusion of shrubs and small trees often made one lose one's way, but just look at some landmarks in the distance and one found one's bearings. Across the Mandovi is the Reis Magos fort. Towards Altinho is the TV tower. And, of course, there is always the setting sun to the west.

Every so often one walked into a small vegetable patch. Some villagers from Kevnem or Nagalli had discovered a natural spring that allowed them to grow chillies, tomatoes… maybe even some Ragi. They had no title to the land or the water source, but it did not matter.

As one walked there was music in the air; with birds returning to their nests, but not before singing praises to the setting sun. They thanked the sun for making photosynthesis possible. It grew their food and made branches on which they could build their nests. Clothing they did not need.

As the joker on Prudent Media would say, "Just Imagine!" It took a bird-brain to remind me of the most profound lesson of the Sermon on the Mount: "Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Consider the lilies of the field; how they grow; they neither toil nor spin. Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these!" Somewhere to the south, I could hear the rumble of traffic on the Dona Paula-Bambolim road, signalling the gradual encroachment of development, modernity and progress.

Then 2006 brought Dayanand Narvekar and his now infamous IT Park, all 280,000 sq metres of it. Out went the small vegetable growing plots, along with the small peasants.

A few months later, the Italian Empress of India came with her entire entourage, not to mention the ubiquitous SPG (Sonia's Praetorian Guard?). The high command took their suitcases, while the Empress did a Julius Caesar: "She came, she saw, she concurred." The die was cast.

Once Daya got her stamp of approval, no one could stop him. Up came a fancy stone perimeter wall costing Rs4 crore, to keep out the hoi-polloi and walk-abouters. Internal roads were 50 per cent wider than the main road outside! Street lighting was like the Panjim-Miramar road. Properties within were sold to real estate Mafiosi who wouldn't know the difference between a car park and an IT park; between software, hardware and underwear…

Then came a change of regime. Stop work! Suspended animation… The wilderness is now making a comeback. As the hoi-polloi takes a detour, IT has become a public toilet for workers at nearby construction sites. One sees these poor people with their 'lotas' making a beeline through a small break in the wall, to this unintended facility. You wouldn't want to be downwind of our IT Park, which is now an S-H-IT Park!

There is also a dangerous side-effect.

Robbed of 280,000 sq metres on the plateau, the real estate lobby is being placated with plots on the steep side slopes of the plateau, which are being clandestinely terraced. With plots come roads, water pipes and power lines. From the road you may see a single-level bungalow, but go inside and it is a posh split-level home that costs a bomb and gives an unrestricted vista, from Fort Aguada to the Verem Bay.

Unfortunately, the 'genius' who began all this is also the architectural guru of the gang that wants to save the state from the TCP-builder nexus. No wonder Digu-bab operates RP2021 with such impunity. He knows that he can treat the words 'Bachao' and 'Abhiyan' with absolute and utter contempt.

Rajan Narayan will have to think again about who are the Monsters and who are the Rats.









Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, labelled as the weakest chief political executive of the country that the people have seen since Independence, cannot merely express his helplessness as he negotiates the coalition dynamics and yet have the people back him just because there is an impression of honesty and integrity about him. Following the kind of interaction he has had with editors of TV channels the other day, one wonders what he is up to. Is he in command even of himself? It is not just about the lost opportunity to inform the nation of the road map that he has against the virus of corruption in the country. It is not just about the compromises reckoned inevitable in a coalition set-up. It is not just about the ''assurances'' of ''transparency'' given to him by former and disgraced Telecom Minister A Raja in the matter of allotment of second generation spectrum that would not be kept and about which the Prime Minister would be helpless. And it is definitely not about his ''assurance that wrongdoers will not escape''.

When it comes to Raja, the question is how as Prime Minister of the country he could be so ignorant of such enormity of corruption under his very nose, and if he was not ignorant then why he preferred the so-called coalition dharma to such incredibly huge loss that the nation has incurred. Is it, secondly, not ridiculous that he should admit that he had received complaints against Raja but ''I was not in a position to make up my mind if anything was seriously wrong''? Should the people of the world's largest democracy, hit by the endless tempest of corruption, remain content with such prime minister who should remain so very confused and helpless even as there were clear signs of the monstrous loot of the nation?

When it comes to the ''compulsions'' of coalition politics where certain ''compromises'' have to be made, as Dr Singh has said, one would ask him as to what kind of compromises the Congress must make in its dealings with its coalition partners so that a so-called secular government is firmly in place, and the cost those compromises entail. Or, to put it differently, why should the nation lose its resources just because such compromises are a must? What the Prime Minister is trying to say is this: ''I am helpless because I cannot let the coalition arrangement collapse. I must support the existing policy of overlooking aberrations for the sake of the sustenance of the coalition. Otherwise this government will fall.'' He has said this differently. Now the question is whether that compulsion of compromises also translates to the Prime Minister's personal compulsion — that is, whether the Prime Minister too has a compulsion to keep occupying 7, Race Course Road. Why cannot he simply quit, saying enough is enough? Given the badge of impeccable honesty and integrity he wears, why cannot he say he cannot continue because his conscience does not allow him to continue under such circumstances and somebody else should step in and maintain the dharma of coalition? Why is he clinging on to his chair? Should the people of the country be blamed if they are to infer that he too is overwhelmed by greed for power? The Prime Minister says he cannot quit because he has ''a job to do''. The nation has had enough of the ''job'' he has been doing — with the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi seemingly in full command of the UPA-II ship and major policy decisions — and would rather have a prime minister who has the guts to inform one and all, including the party chief who today calls the real shots in governance, that it is he who is the head of the government and it is he who will decide how governance should be delivered. Or let Dr Singh say this, stay on, and do his ''job'' independent — and it must seem to be so — of Sonia Gandhi and the swelling bunch of disciples about her. And let Sonia Gandhi focus on party work instead.






What Dr Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel for Economics (2009), finds objectionable is ''the presumption that the government officials have all the knowledge and locals have none''. She was on a recent NDTV's Walk the Talk programme. She was referring to the richness of indigenous knowledge that government officials would often deride or ignore. ''In terms of health knowledge, there is a lot of indigenous knowledge about herbs and how to manage illness in an effective way..,'' she said. Her take on indigenousness can be extended to include all kinds of knowledge generated by people at the grassroots level and the fact that it is they who know what is better for them in terms of governance and administration. But how often are they consulted by the government, or even if they are consulted how far are they heeded? In a sense, Dr Ostrom has dwelt on decentralization, so crucial to the success of a vast and varied democracy as ours. The Father of the Nation too had envisioned a completely decentralized form of government so that the people at the grassroots level could themselves be architects of their destinies — one of the salient features of a functioning democracy. But the power-hungry politician, given to centralization, will strongly oppose any such moves.





The three-member UN Commission of Inquiry in its report submitted in April last year indicted the Government of General Pervez Musharraf in the murder of Benazir Bhutto

Evidence and circumstance are inexorably pointing to the direct involvement of former military dictator and president of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf in several unsolved murders including that of the former iconic Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The most damaging, to date, is the list of almost hourly telephone conversations between the Head of State of Pakistan with the handpicked officer of the Rawalpindi Police Station and the Superintendent of Police, Rawalpindi within whose jurisdiction the coordinated gun-cum-explosives attack on Benazir Bhutto's motor cavalcade caused her death.

The two officers have told investigators that it was on the orders of Musharraf that a special detail of security personnel was removed from duty just before she left the venue of the public meeting. That is why his name has been included in the interim criminal chargesheet filed by the National Investigation Agency in an anti-terror Rawalpindi court. The NIA has obtained custody of the two officers to enable them to recover the cellphones on which Musharraf and four officers of the Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were in constant touch with the local police force.

The removal of the security detail either by Musharraf personally or through officials of the ISI, if proved, could put the head of the former ruler of Pakistan in the hangman's noose and widen the ambit of the conspiracy to include the current Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani who was head of the ISI at the time of the Bhutto assassination. He too, like the two Rawalpindi police officials, was handpicked by Musharraf for the job of hatchetman to the nation.

The three-member UN Commission of Inquiry instituted on the request of the Government of Pakistan in its report submitted in April last year indicted the Government of General Pervez Musharraf in the following manner: "A range of Government officials failed profoundly in their efforts first to protect Ms Bhutto and second to investigate with vigour all those responsible for her murder, not only in the execution of the attack, but also in its conception, planning and financing.

"Responsibility for Ms Bhutto's security on the day of her assassination rested with the federal Government, the Government of Punjab and the Rawalpindi District Police. None of these entities took necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh and urgent security risks that they knew she faced.

"Particularly inexcusable was the Government's failure to direct provincial authorities to provide Ms Bhutto the same stringent and specific security measures it ordered on October 22, 2007 for two other former prime ministers who belonged to the main political party supporting General Musharraf," it stated.

"This discriminatory treatment is profoundly troubling given the devastating attempt on her life only three days earlier and the specific threats against her which were being tracked by the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence agency)," it added, stressing that her assassination could have been prevented if the Rawalpindi District Police had taken adequate security measures.

Turning to the immediate aftermath of the attack, the Commission found that police actions and omissions, including the hosing down of the crime scene and failure to collect and preserve evidence, inflicted irreparable damage to the investigation.

The Commission also drew attention to the red herring the Government of Pakistan (read Musharraf) tried to pull across the trail of the conspirators by stating: "But it found that the Government was quick to blame local Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud and Al-Qaida although Ms Bhutto's foes potentially included elements from the establishment itself."

Now the NIA has informed the anti-terrorist court in Rawalpindi that the two police officers appointed by Musharraf have told investigators that the security detail was removed on the specific instructions of Musharraf. Once the cellphones are retrieved and the list and timing of calls to and from them are prepared, the final nails could well be driven into several high-ranking coffins.

On the face of it, this could well be QED for Musharraf. QED means quad erat demonstrandum — that which was to be proved has been proved. But this is the State of Pakistan which has honed terrorism into a fine art and has raised a cohort of several lakhs of terrorists to do what the Pakistan Army has never been able to achieve by bold front conventional military tactics. Will the Pakistan Army allow Musharraf to be led to the gallows is as moot as the stranglehold it maintains on the current democratic political dispensation led by President Asif Zardari, widower of the slain Benazir Bhutto.

It needs to be recalled that General Pervez Kayani, currently Chief of Army Staff, vetoed an invitation by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to send a team to Mumbai to assist in the investigation of the carnage perpetrated by Pakistan's sea-borne terrorists on 26/11. He also put the thumbs down on US requests for access to the family of Faisal Sahzad whose father was a retired Air Marshal of the Pakistan Air Force (which by itself indicates the depths of terrorism that the Pakistan armed forces have fathomed since the time the military dictator Ziaul Haq introduced the Saudi Arabian brand of Sunni Wahabbi Salafism into the Pakistan body politic).

The world will have to wait and see. (ADNI)

Cecil Victor




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



In a year when governors across the country are competing to show who's toughest, no matter what the consequences, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin stands out as the first to bring his State Capitol to a halt.

Like many governors, he wants to cut the benefits of state workers. But he also decided a budget crisis was a good time to advance an ideological goal dear to his fellow Republicans: eliminating most collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Not surprisingly, thousands of workers descended on the Capitol building, pounding on windows and blocking doors, yelling "shut it down." So many teachers called in sick that public schools in Madison and more than a dozen other districts had to be closed. On Thursday, the Democrats in the State Senate refused to show up, vowing to prevent any action until the governor drops his plan. The state police were sent to find them.

Mr. Walker has decried the chaos, but it was entirely self-inflicted. His plan to undermine the unions, which would have no direct impact on the budget, would take away nearly all of their rights to negotiate.

They would be barred from bargaining about anything except wages, and any pay increase they win would be limited by the consumer price index. Contracts would be limited to a year, and union dues could no longer be deducted from paychecks. As President Obama correctly put it on Wednesday, that "seems like an assault on unions." (The archbishop of Milwaukee and players for the Green Bay Packers have also come out in support of the workers.)

Benefits for Wisconsin's state workers are currently quite generous, but they weren't stolen. They were negotiated by elected officials and can be re-negotiated at the bargaining table if necessary.

Most pay only 6 percent of their health care premium costs and Governor Walker wants to double that. The average employee contribution to premiums around the country, public and private, is 29 percent. Most state workers contribute almost nothing to their pensions; he wants them to pay 5.8 percent, which is a little less than average for government workers around the country.

Meanwhile, the governor is refusing to accept his own share of responsibility for the state's projected $137 million shortfall. Just last month, he and the Legislature gave away $117 million in tax breaks, mostly for businesses that expand and for private health savings accounts. That was a choice lawmakers made, and had it not been for those decisions and a few others, according to the state's Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the state would have had a surplus.

Wisconsin is certainly not as bad off as California, Illinois, and several northeastern states that are making tough budgetary decisions without trying to eliminate union rights. Nonetheless, the union-busting movement is picking up steam, with lawmakers in Ohio, Indiana, and several other states. On Thursday in Washington, John Boehner, the speaker of the House, weighed in on Mr. Walker's side.

Keeping schools closed and blocking certain public services is not a strategy we support and could alienate public opinion and play into the governor's hand. Short of that, the unions should make their voices heard and push back hard against this misguided plan.





When the Supreme Court hears arguments next week, it will mark the fifth anniversary of Justice Clarence Thomas's silence during oral argument — unless he chooses to re-enter the give-and-take. We hope he will.

This milestone has stirred a wide conversation about his effectiveness as a justice following another about his ethics. They are actually related. How Justice Thomas comports himself on the bench is a matter of ethics and effectiveness, simultaneously. His authority as a justice and the court's as an institution are at issue.

Last week, 74 Democrats in Congress cited the threat to the court's authority when they asked Justice Thomas to recuse himself from an expected review of the health care reform law. This came after an announcement by his wife, Virginia, a lobbyist, who said she will provide "advocacy and assistance" as "an ambassador to the Tea Party movement," which, of course, is dedicated to the overturning of the health care law.

The representatives based their request on the "appearance of a conflict of interest," because of a conflict they see between his duty to be an impartial decision-maker and the Thomas household's financial gain from her lobbying. If Mrs. Thomas were involved as a party in the litigation about the health law, or the litigation's outcome proved central to her professional life, those classic conflicts would require him to recuse himself. The annual requirement that the justice disclose the sources of his household income is designed to address that issue.

Still, the reputations of the justice and the court — which depend on public confidence — are at issue because of Mrs. Thomas's lobbying. Justice Thomas's attendance at a political event also seemed ill advised.

The court relies on each justice individually to judge whether he or she should not hear a case because of bias or the appearance of bias. It's a bad approach, but it underscores Justice Thomas's responsibility for his comportment and for acting in ways that contribute to the court's authority.

Taking part in oral arguments would be good for the justice and the court. In a landmark article about judging, the scholar John Leubsdorf said a justice should abide by three principles: avoid basing a vote on personal considerations; avoid basing a vote on facts learned outside the case; and consider both sides' arguments. Taking part in arguments is a way for Justice Thomas to convey that he honors the third principle. By engaging with lawyers for both sides in cases and showing open-mindedness in exchanges with them, he would show his dedication to the court's impartiality and to its integrity as an institution.





The most charming moments from Watson, the I.B.M. computer that clobbered two brilliant human champions on "Jeopardy!" were when Watson wasn't certain or failed. Those moments did not come often, but virtual humanity seemed most at hand when they did. Then his/her/its wagers on the answers would turn cautious and Watson even flashed question marks of self-doubt, as if to acknowledge the lack of a brow to furrow.

The audience groaned and laughed sympathetically as the room-size computer — a discreet graphic presence on stage — showed some fallibility. Watson could not Google for forgotten minutiae like the rest of us at home. All there was was what the engineers put inside.

That was impressive enough food for human thought. Is Watson the precursor, the true ancestor, of the super-intelligence machines that futurists have long been predicting will some day be full partners, even superiors, at helping humans labor and create?

In a three-program contest, Watson was at first surprising for being only tied for the lead with one of the humans at the end of Day 1. Just when viewers thought, hey, we can handle this guy, Watson took off, adapting with ever keener competitiveness — buzzing in with the right answers at warp speed in showdown rounds.

Watson finished with the crown and a 3-to-1 advantage for quickness and correctness over the nearest rival, who scored prodigious success on past shows. Watson didn't preen; not in the programming.

It's a pity the moderator could not indulge the ultimate TV cliché and ask how it felt to win. The closest Watson could come to feeling before us was when he muffed a city question — the clue: "Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero; its second largest for a World War II battle." His two competitors answered correctly: Chicago. Watson flashed, "What is Toronto?????" as if doubt — personal doubt — lurked within.








MANAMA, Bahrain

As a reporter, you sometimes become numbed to sadness. But it is heartbreaking to be in modern, moderate Bahrain right now and watch as a critical American ally uses tanks, troops, guns and clubs to crush a peaceful democracy movement and then lie about it.

This kind of brutal repression is normally confined to remote and backward nations, but this is Bahrain. An international banking center. The home of an important American naval base, the Fifth Fleet. A wealthy and well-educated nation with a large middle class and cosmopolitan values.

To be here and see corpses of protesters with gunshot wounds, to hear an eyewitness account of an execution of a handcuffed protester, to interview paramedics who say they were beaten for trying to treat the injured — yes, all that just breaks my heart.

So here's what happened.

The pro-democracy movement has bubbled for decades in Bahrain, but it found new strength after the overthrow of the dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt. Then the Bahrain government attacked the protesters early this week with stunning brutality, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and shotgun pellets at small groups of peaceful, unarmed demonstrators. Two demonstrators were killed (one while walking in a funeral procession), and widespread public outrage gave a huge boost to the democracy movement.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa initially pulled the police back, but early on Thursday morning he sent in the riot police, who went in with guns blazing. Bahrain television has claimed that the protesters were armed with swords and threatening security. That's preposterous. I was on the roundabout earlier that night and saw many thousands of people, including large numbers of women and children, even babies. Many were asleep.

I was not there at the time of the attack, but afterward, at the main hospital (one of at least three to receive casualties), I saw the effects. More than 600 people were treated with injuries, overwhelmingly men but including small numbers of women and children.

One nurse told me that she was on the roundabout, known as Pearl Square, and saw a young man of about 24, handcuffed and then beaten by a group of police. She said she then watched as they executed him at point-blank range with a gun. The nurse told me her name, but I will not use full names of some people in this column to avoid putting them at greater risk.

I met one doctor, Sadiq al-Ekri, who was lying in a hospital bed with a broken nose and injuries to his eyes and almost his entire body. He couldn't speak to me because he was still unconscious and on oxygen after what colleagues and his family described as a savage beating by riot police who were outraged that he was treating people at the roundabout.

Dr. Ekri, a distinguished plastic surgeon, had just returned from a trip to Houston. He identified himself as a physician to the riot police, according to other doctors and family members, based partly on what Dr. Ekri, 44, told them before he lost consciousness. But then, they said, the riot police handcuffed him and began beating him with sticks and kicking him while shouting insults against Shiites. Finally, they said, the police pulled down his pants and threatened to rape him, although that idea was abandoned and an ambulance eventually was allowed to rescue him.

"He went to help people," said his father, who was at the bedside. "It's his duty to help people. And then this happened."

Three ambulance drivers or paramedics told me that they had been pulled out of their ambulances and beaten by the police. One, Jameel, whose head was bandaged and his arm was in a cast, told me that police had clubbed him and that a senior officer had then told him: "If I see you again, I'll kill you."

A fourth ambulance driver, Osama, was unhurt but said that a military officer — who he said he believed to be a Saudi, based on his accent in Arabic — held a gun to his head and warned him to drive away or be shot. (By many accounts, Saudi tanks and other military forces participated in the attack, but I can't verify that).

The hospital staff told me that ambulance service has now been frozen, with no ambulances going out on calls except with approval of the Interior Ministry.

Some of the victims, though not all, said that the riot police shouted anti-Shiite curses when they attacked the protesters, who were overwhelmingly Shiite. Sectarianism is particularly delicate in Bahrain because the Sunni royal family, the Khalifas, presides over a country that is predominately Shiite, and Shiites often complain of discrimination by the government.

Hospital corridors were also full of frantic mothers searching desperately for children who had gone missing in the attack.

In the hospital mortuary, I found three corpses with gunshot wounds. One man had much of his head blown off with what mortuary staff said was a gunshot wound. Ahmed Abutaki, a 29-year-old laborer, stood by the body of his 22-year-old brother, Mahmood, who died of a shotgun blast.

Ahmed said he blamed King Hamad, and many other protesters at the hospital were also demanding the ouster of the king. I think he has a point. When a king opens fire on his people, he no longer deserves to be ruler. That might be the only way to purge this land of ineffable heartbreak.






Jonathan Alter wrote a book about Barack Obama's first year in office called "The Promise." That's a great title because it works on so many levels. For example, over the past four years, Obama's career has been marked by a constant promise: He has continually said he is on the verge of doing something serious abut the national debt.

He started making the promise back when he was in the Senate. In "The Audacity of Hope," published in 2006, he expressed alarm at the "mountain of debt" caused by $300 billion annual budget deficits. (They're now $1.6 trillion.) During the presidential campaign, he pledged to put away childish things and tackle the tough budget issues.

During the transition, he said the time to act on the debt is now. "What we have done is kicked the can down the road," he told The Washington Post. "We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further." He said he would start a budget initiative in February 2009.

After the stimulus package passed, he and his aides said it would soon be time to turn to deficit issues. The same promise was made after health care reform. He made the pledge yet again at a press conference this week. Right now is not the time, the president always says, but tomorrow we will get serious.

But tomorrow never comes.

The biggest tease came last year when the president's debt commission announced its report. That report produced a series of great conversations. But, yet again, words do not translate into action. The message of the president's 2012 budget is: Not yet. We'll get serious tomorrow.

The budget has some fine features. I'll soon be writing a column about how many of its provisions are better than anything the Republican Party is proposing. But it is laughably inadequate compared with the fiscal problems before us.

In 2012, the only year this budget controls, the president would actually increase the deficit with more spending. Roughly two-thirds of the alleged savings would nominally kick in after 2016. The budget imagines that $328 billion in financing for transportation projects will magically appear. While ignoring tax reform, it lards up the tax code with another layer of special preferences. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget calculates that $780 billion of the proposed deficit cuts are politically dubious.

The budget gets a lot of little things right, but it squanders the opening created by the debt commission. It fails to touch the big programs or ask for any shared sacrifice from the American people.

Two explanations are commonly offered to explain why the White House decided to kick the can down the road. Some analysts say the Democrats are trying for a repeat of 1995: Do nothing on the deficit; goad the Republicans into announcing entitlement cutbacks and then savage them on the campaign trail for cutting off granny.

I don't believe this is in the president's head. It would be morally reprehensible to bankrupt the nation for the sake of a campaign theme. Obama is not that sort of person.

The other explanation is that Obama is following the model of the 1983 Social Security deal. Be patient, the president argued at his press conference this week. If I lead from the front my proposal will get stymied in the partisan circus. Better to lead from the back and have negotiations in private with Republican leaders. Then when the time is ripe, we'll cut a deal outside the glare of the scream machine.

The president and his aides may really believe in this strategy, but it is wrong. This is not like fixing Social Security in the early 1980s. The current debt problem is of an entirely different scale. It requires a rewrite of the social contract, a new way to think about how the government pays for social insurance.

The president has enormous faith in getting smart people around the table and initiating technocratic reform. But you can't renegotiate the social contract in private. You have to have public buy-in. You have to spend years out in public educating voters about the size of the problem and what will be required. You have to show voters what a solution looks like.

The New Deal wasn't passed by a president who led quietly from the back. Neither was the Great Society or the Reagan Revolution. President Obama's softly, softly approach is a rationalization, not a coherent strategy. It's the latest version of Obama's eternal promise: I'll do it tomorrow.

So the mantle of leadership has passed to Capitol Hill. While Obama asked for patience yet again, Eric Cantor announced that Republicans will put entitlements on the table. It may be politically risky, but it looks more like leadership to me.






There are three things you need to know about the current budget debate. First, it's essentially fraudulent. Second, most people posing as deficit hawks are faking it. Third, while President Obama hasn't fully avoided the fraudulence, he's less bad than his opponents — and he deserves much more credit for fiscal responsibility than he's getting.

About the fraudulence: Last month, Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center described the president as the "anti-Willie Sutton," after the holdup artist who reputedly said he robbed banks because that's where the money is. Indeed, Mr. Obama has lately been going where the money isn't, making a big deal out of a freeze on nonsecurity discretionary spending, which accounts for only 12 percent of the budget.

But that's what everyone does. House Republicans talk big about spending cuts — but focus solely on that same small budget sliver.

And by proposing sharp spending cuts right away, Republicans aren't just going where the money isn't, they're also going when the money isn't. Slashing spending while the economy is still deeply depressed is a recipe for slower economic growth, which means lower tax receipts — so any deficit reduction from G.O.P. cuts would be at least partly offset by lower revenue.

The whole budget debate, then, is a sham. House Republicans, in particular, are literally stealing food from the mouths of babes — nutritional aid to pregnant women and very young children is one of the items on their cutting block — so they can pose, falsely, as deficit hawks.

What would a serious approach to our fiscal problems involve? I can summarize it in seven words: health care, health care, health care, revenue.

Notice that I said "health care," not "entitlements." People in Washington often talk as if there were a program called Socialsecuritymedicareandmedicaid, then focus on things like raising the retirement age. But that's more anti-Willie Suttonism. Long-run projections suggest that spending on the major entitlement programs will rise sharply over the decades ahead, but the great bulk of that rise will come from the health insurance programs, not Social Security.

So anyone who is really serious about the budget should be focusing mainly on health care. And by focusing, I don't mean writing down a number and expecting someone else to make that number happen — a dodge known in the trade as a "magic asterisk." I mean getting behind specific actions to rein in costs.

By that standard, the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission, whose work is now being treated as if it were the gold standard of fiscal seriousness, was in fact deeply unserious. Its report "was one big magic asterisk," Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told The Washington Post's Ezra Klein. So is the much-hyped proposal by Paul Ryan, the G.O.P.'s supposed deep thinker du jour, to replace Medicare with vouchers whose value would systematically lag behind health care costs. What's supposed to happen when seniors find that they can't afford insurance?

What would real action on health look like? Well, it might include things like giving an independent commission the power to ensure that Medicare only pays for procedures with real medical value; rewarding health care providers for delivering quality care rather than simply paying a fixed sum for every procedure; limiting the tax deductibility of private insurance plans; and so on.

And what do these things have in common? They're all in last year's health reform bill.

That's why I say that Mr. Obama gets too little credit. He has done more to rein in long-run deficits than any previous president. And if his opponents were serious about those deficits, they'd be backing his actions and calling for more; instead, they've been screaming about death panels.

Now, even if we manage to rein in health costs, we'll still have a long-run deficit problem — a fundamental gap between the government's spending and the amount it collects in taxes. So what should be done?

This brings me to the seventh word of my summary of the real fiscal issues: if you're serious about the deficit, you should be willing to consider closing at least part of this gap with higher taxes. True, higher taxes aren't popular, but neither are cuts in government programs. So we should add to the roster of fundamentally unserious people anyone who talks about the deficit — as most of our prominent deficit scolds do — as if it were purely a spending issue.

The bottom line, then, is that while the budget is all over the news, we're not having a real debate; it's all sound, fury, and posturing, telling us a lot about the cynicism of politicians but signifying nothing in terms of actual deficit reduction. And we shouldn't indulge those politicians by pretending otherwise.







Tennessee does not have a general state income tax.

Nor should it.


The lack of such a tax can be a vital incentive in attracting both businesses and highly skilled workers to Tennessee. A number of states have imposed burdensome taxes, and have regretted it. Just last year, a Boston College study found there had been a mass exodus of wealth from New Jersey in the years after it raised a host of taxes, including income taxes. Many residents fled to lower-tax states. And those who left were more likely to be better educated, creating a "brain drain" that further harmed New Jersey.


Commendably, a measure has been introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly to amend Tennessee's Constitution specifically to prohibit a general state income tax. The constitutional amendment should be adopted.


You'll notice that we repeat the word "general" to describe the kind of income tax that Tennessee does not have. That's because although there is no Tennessee tax on income from salaries and wages, such as the federal tax code imposes, there is a Tennessee tax on dividends from stocks and interest on bonds over $1,250 a year.


It is called the "Hall income tax." It got that name from the state senator who proposed the tax, which was enacted in 1929.


The rate of the Hall income tax is 6 percent.


But could the Tennessee General Assembly someday impose a general income tax on Tennesseans' salaries and wages? After all, lawmakers have occasionally tried to do that in the past, despite multiple state Supreme Court rulings against such a tax.


Well, to be sure that no general income tax on salaries and wages might easily be imposed, state Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Republican from Germantown, proposes that the Tennessee Constitution be amended to prohibit in explicit terms a general income tax.


Amending the constitution is difficult, and was made so on purpose, to avoid spur-of-the-moment changes.


How difficult? Well, read the relevant "legalese" in the state constitution and decide for yourself.


It says: "Any amendment or amendments to this Constitution may be proposed in the Senate or House of Representatives, and if the same shall be agreed to by a majority of all the members elected to each of the two houses, such proposed amendment or amendments shall be entered on their journals with the yeas and nays thereon, and referred to the General Assembly then next to be chosen; and shall be published six months previous to the time of making such choice; and if in the General Assembly then next chosen as aforesaid, such proposed amendment or amendments shall be agreed to by two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, then it shall be the duty of the General Assembly to submit such proposed amendment or amendments to the people at the next general election in which a governor is to be chosen. And if the people shall approve and ratify such amendment or amendments by a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor, voting in their favor, such amendment or amendments shall become a part of this Constitution. When any amendment or amendments to the Constitution shall be proposed in pursuance of the foregoing provisions the same shall at each of said sessions be read three times on three several days in each house."


Adopting an amendment to explicitly block a general Tennessee income tax would clearly be difficult -- and is thus very unlikely. But on such a vital issue, it is worth the effort.







For years, there have been calls for reform of medical malpractice laws. That's because outrageously excessive jury awards in some lawsuits drive up physicians' insurance premiums and force doctors to administer costly tests that really aren't necessary, just to head off the threat of lawsuits.


All of those factors increase the cost of medical care for everyone.


So there was cause for hope when President Barack Obama began talking about supporting malpractice reform to bring costs down.


But he is unfortunately ignoring the most important aspect of real malpractice reform: capping sky-high jury awards. There should, of course, be full compensation for actual economic losses that a patient suffers if a doctor performs badly. There also should be reasonable damages for pain and suffering, in some proportion to the economic harm suffered.


But in the president's proposed 2012 budget, funding to promote malpractice reform specifically cannot be applied toward efforts to cap massive jury awards.


In other words, the thing that would go the furthest toward bringing common sense to medical malpractice and reducing the cost of medical care is the very thing that is excluded from malpractice reform.


Undoubtedly, that is because the president and other Democrats rely heavily on the campaign contributions of trial lawyers -- who have a financial stake in opposing caps on jury awards.


Genuine malpractice reform is much to be desired. It is unfortunate that the president has rejected the best way to achieve that reform.






Gun rights are practically nonexistent in England these days. In fact, anyone caught using a gun in self-defense might well face charges.


But as if that concern for criminals' welfare were not absurd enough, authorities in five villages in England now have told residents to take down wire mesh from the windows of their garden sheds -- for fear it might injure burglars.


In Kent and Surrey counties, there has been a rash of burglaries from sheds, the Daily Mail newspaper reported, prompting owners to nail tough wire mesh onto the windows of the outbuildings. But police say villagers may be sued if burglars hurt themselves while breaking in.


A Surrey resident whose shed has been repeatedly targeted told the Daily Mail he's unsure how to protect his property now.


"I mean, what are you meant to do?" Thomas Cooper asked. "Let them take your stuff? It is ridiculous that the law protects them even though they are breaking it."


We sometimes seem to live in an upside-down world, don't we?







The city of Berkeley, Calif., is synonymous with reckless liberalism. As one example, in 2008 its City Council voted 6-3 for a resolution condemning Marine recruiters stationed in Berkeley. It called the recruiters "uninvited and unwelcome intruders."


But it appears there is a limit even to Berkeley's willingness to support bizarre causes.


The same council has voted against a resolution inviting freed Guantanamo Bay detainees to take up residence in Berkeley. Perhaps that's because so many "Gitmo" detainees who have been set free have gone on to commit terrorist acts.


The vote was 4-1, though four other council members abstained.


As one opponent of bringing former Gitmo detainees to Berkeley told the council, "Just because they haven't been charged and convicted of a crime doesn't mean they're innocent. It's dangerous. Don't bring them here."


We're glad that even Berkeley was able to set its notoriously liberal political views aside when it came to protecting the safety of its residents.









I am one of those who have been targeted by, owned by journalist Soner Yalçın, and his close circles. But I don't want to say much about

We don't know clearly yet about the claims against Yalçın and why his house and office were searched by the police.

But there is one thing we know: Thousands were killed out of a desire for a coup or intervention. Clashes were instigated, mass killings were committed. And many plots seem to have been prevented. The state is not innocent at all, neither are many intellectuals and journalists.

Do you remember the brutal "operations" conducted in 20 prisons on Dec. 19, 2000, in which 28 inmates and convicts were killed and hundreds were disabled as a result of the gendarmerie's shots, poisonous gasses and inflammable materials?

The media is not innocent either. Newspapers and televisions have defended inhumane practices and a statist, nationalist and oppressive regime. Instead of reaching out to the aggrieved and making their voice heard, the media has preferred to be the voice of the oppressor.

We have not forgotten what the media did as Southeast Anatolia was burning, as the late singer Ahmet Kaya was set upon, as the slain Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was targeted, as political parties were closed down and as the brutal operations were organized in prisons. We have not forgotten the "deep collaboration" between some journalists who seem eager to topple governments and those who make coups.

The judiciary is not innocent either. Laws in this country have been interpreted ill-intentionally in order to prevent progress toward democracy. Murders by unknown perpetrators have been overlooked; guilty state officials have been protected and looked after in the name of "protecting the state." The calls of the parents who lost their children to the system have been systematically ignored.

The judiciary to keep going

I continue to criticize plenty of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, attitudes that have harmed democratization in Turkey. I do not approve the government's pro-ban attitude against the Kurdish language, nor its approach to the case on the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, nor its humiliating remarks against Turkish Cypriots, nor the prime minister's "freak" wording on art, nor the suspension of relations with Armenia. I don't like the attempts of "conservative social engineering" that preoccupy the agenda at times. It is impossible for me to support the transformation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan into a "one-man" leadership gradually with the help of his election victories.

I also do write what I see as positive. The things the government has done to stop the military from intervening in politics, the judicial changes and the liquidation of gangs within the state are proper for normalization and a state governed by rule of law, in my opinion. The selection of the majority of the members of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, by judges and prosecutors is a significant step, for instance. Changes to end the selection of the Constitutional Court members mainly by the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of the State are quite useful.

Judges and prosecutors in charge of the Ergenekon case – despite mistakes and individuals who are treated unfairly – are making contributions to a historic transformation. The Ergenekon case is a critical task to bury coups d'état in history.

Raids early in the morning

I am one of the thousands of dissidents who served time in prison because of a regime of oppression. I spent a large part of my life in prison or "at large." None of the articles of law that sent me to the prison is valid today.

However, to oppose the AKP government is Yalçın's right if it is on a legitimate ground. I don't know of his ties with Ergenekon, we'll see about this. I am against the method of his detention. He could have been called to the Prosecutor's Office in an appropriate manner for testimony.

Just like I was against journalist Mustafa Balbay's detention while facing trial, I am also against Yalçın's detention on remand. I don't believe detention on remand helps justice.

I am for Yalçın not being subjected to any unfair treatment. His right is my right, too.

* Oral Çalışlar is a columnist of daily Radikal, in which this piece first appeared. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.





Today we break from the usual format of "Straight." What follows is a transcript of a Wednesday exchange between Daily News Washington columnist İlhan Tanır and P.J. Crowley, U.S. State Department spokesman, at an agency briefing. The subject is comments made on the issue of Turkish press freedom by the U.S. ambassador in Ankara, a subject reported upon elsewhere in today's newspaper.

TANIR: I asked on Monday about the journalists who got detained. Do you have anything on that now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are watching this case very closely. I don't have a particular comment other than to say we do have ongoing concerns about trends regarding treatment of journalists within Turkey. We've raised that with the Turkish Government, and we'll be watching this case very closely.

TANIR: So you have engaged with Turkish Government so far?

MR. CROWLEY: I don't know that we have engaged in this particular case, but this is an issue that we have raised with Turkey and will continue to do so.

TANIR: U.S. Ambassador in Ankara Ricciardone gave a couple of statements on the issue – I have the quotes – and there was a quite strong reaction from Turkish administration saying that nobody should be interfering with the Turkish domestic situation because of ambassador statement.

MR. CROWLEY: Again, obviously, Ambassador Ricciardone – we stand by his statement. But as I say, we do have broad concerns about trends involving intimidation of journalists in Turkey, and we have raised that directly with the Turkish Government and we'll continue to do so.

TANIR: There is some strong argument in Turkey that the U.S. approach so far to Turkish Government, strong Turkish Government, kind of appeasement policy to --

MR. CROWLEY: What kind of policy?

TANIR: Appeasement.

MR. CROWLEY: Appeasement?

TANIR: Yes, to Turkish Government. Not – there's my newspaper's editorial yesterday, so I'm just (inaudible) message what would be your --

MR. CROWLEY: It's hard for me to put that in context. Turkey is an ally and friend of the United States. But as we've made clear, anytime that we think that a friend or ally or adversary has crossed a line and – in terms of respect for universal principles, we will not hesitate to raise our voice.

 The exchange is as "straight" as anything we could have written today.







Interior Minister Beşir Atalay is taking us all for a ride. One could not help but laugh at his remarks on Thursday concerning press freedom in Turkey. He was responding to U.S. criticism over pressures being brought to bear on the Turkish media, a fact that has left the Erdoğan government livid with anger.

"Turkey in terms of press freedom is much more independent a country than America. … Turkey is a country where there is more press freedom than other democratic countries," Atalay said in response to remarks by newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Frank Ricciardone and U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley.

Ricciardone had said earlier in the week, when he was talking to members of the press at a reception, that journalists were being detained in Turkey despite the existence of a stated government policy of support for a free press, and added, "We are trying to make sense of this."

Government spokesman Hüseyin Çelik wasted no time in lambasting Ricciardone and calling on him not to exceed his brief by intervening in Turkey's internal affairs. Bülent Arınç, a key senior figure of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, upped the ante by claiming, somewhat arrogantly according to his critics, that Ricciardone – who arrived in Ankara only recently – would have to stay in the country a little longer to understand it properly.

In fact Ambassador Ricciardone has served in Turkey before and is sufficiently familiar with it to know what he is talking about when referring to the state of press freedom here. Even if he did not know anything personally before arriving, which is unlikely, the annual human rights report issued by his own State Department paints a fairly accurate picture of the state of press freedom in this country.

Atalay's highly comical words quoted above followed remarks by Çelik and Arınç, and all three statements clearly indicated that the U.S. ambassador hit a highly sensitive nerve in the AKP. Ricciardone's remarks also got support from Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, which undoubtedly amplified the anger felt by the AKP.

In other words it was seen, as soon as the AKP lambasted Ricciardone, that not everyone in Turkey is of the opinion that the ambassador has exceeded his brief. Many in fact welcomed his remarks, which were also backed up in Washington by PJ Crowley, the spokesman for the State Department.

"We stand by [Ambassador Ricciardone's] statement… We do have broad concerns about trends involving intimidation of journalists in Turkey, and we have raised that directly with the Turkish government and we'll continue to do so," Crowley said, indicating openly that they are not prepared to be cowed by the AKP into remaining silent on this issue.

The ongoing debate concerning the deterioration in the freedom of the press in Turkey gained added steam this week with the raid on "Oda TV," an Internet newspaper that is highly critical of the government and the questionable way the "Ergenekon" and "Balyoz" (Sledgehammer) cases are being conducted. These cases have to do with alleged plots to topple the AKP government by illegal means.

Following the raid Soner Yalçın, a well-known columnist and editor of Oda TV, was arrested for allegedly being a member of the group that is trying to topple the Erdoğan government. AKP apologists in the pro-government media have been trying to present journalists like Yalçın – as well as Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan, two journalists that are in prison currently for allegedly being part of the same plot – in the worst possible light.

Ricciardone's and Crowley's remarks, however, show that not everyone abroad is convinced about this. As President Lincoln famously said, "You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time." 

To return to Interior Minister Atalay's remarks in the light of Lincoln's words, one cannot help but wonder what planet he is living on, let alone which country he thinks he is in. To be able to twist the truth in this way, and expect people at home and abroad to fall for it, you have to be seriously out of touch with reality, or if not this, then you have to be taking your interlocutors to be utter fools.

It is clear that Mr. Atalay is not even aware of the "First Amendment" in the U.S. Constitution, i.e. the first thing the Constitution says before saying anything else, which prohibits infringing on the freedom of speech and infringing on the freedom of the press.

If Turkey was as good in this respect as Atalay claims, his party had a golden opportunity last year, when working out the package of constitutional amendments – which eventually passed in the Sept. 12 referendum – to add an article like the First Amendment which would constitutionally guarantee the freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

Neither should there be at least 50 journalists in prison today while thousands are being investigated by the legal authorities for what they have written about cases such as the Ergenekon or Balyoz cases. So we can brush aside Atalay's ludicrous claim, and disregard what Çelik and Arınç have had to say.

It is clear, whatever they and their apologists in the AKP-friendly media may say, that the issue is not going to go away either for Turkish and international press organizations or for the U.S. and EU, which are clearly determined to follow developments in this sphere, as Crowley's remarks clearly indicate.

In the meantime the shock the Erdoğan government feels over Washington's stance on this issue is amplified because of a basic assumption that has now gone seriously awry for it. Ambassador Ricciardone's appointment was delayed in the U.S. Senate because of a claim that he was soft on human rights issues in countries where he served before.

The Obama administration still sent him to Ankara, even though his appointment has yet to be endorsed within a year by the Senate. AKP members assumed, mistakenly as it turns out, that Ricciardone's being sent to Turkey in this way meant that he would be, if not a pliant one, at least an amenable ambassador who did not stir the boat.

This assumption has now been shattered since Ricciardone, at the very start of his tenure, has set the tone, with strong support from Washington, and this tone is clearly one that the Erdoğan government and the AKP are not happy about.

The bottom line in all this is that there are serious issues that concern freedom of the press in this country, and the situation is not getting any better, but worse. Whether the AKP and its apologists like it or not, this merits serious scrutiny at home and among Turkey's democratic allies abroad.

In the meantime we have a good indication of just how serious the government is concerning freedom of the press in Turkey in Interior Minister Atalay's remarks, which amount really to being no more than a tasteless joke.






Hysteria, especially when ideologically motivated, can often force adults into extremely childish behavior. This is, for instance, how an otherwise respected columnist – now from the English-language ranks of the pro-Justice and Development Party, or AKP, media – concluded his opinion piece two days ago: "Do not believe media figures who act like defense lawyers."

With reverse psychology, the columnist was pleading with readers to believe in media figures who act like prosecutors, not the ones who act like defense lawyers. Naturally, the case around which there are defense lawyers and prosecutors, according to the columnist, are the twin tribunals of Ergenekon and Sledgehammer. Pushing the newspaper aside, a diplomat friend asked: "Can you not have columnists in this country who are neither defense lawyers, nor prosecutors?"

It was not the first time that the Foreign Audience Section of the AKP's powerful Unofficial Propaganda Ministry was ridiculing itself with the same childishly amusing behavior of dancing around the theme "Don't love them (secularists), love us (neo-post-liberal-Islamists)!" – when in the past the Ministry's top bureaucrats disguised as journalists forcefully tried to prove to a foreign audience that Islamist/conservative Turks were in fact more liberal-minded than secular Turks. The post-WikiLeaks times have proved that those bureaucrats should work much harder, and they are trying to…

According to the "Don't-believe-them" journalist, "when the society in general is supportive of legal efforts to expose anti-democratic activity [as the polls show], a disproportionately large part of the so-called mainstream media is pulled in a hysterical mood to 'acquit' all those who stand accused in critical trials such as Ergenekon and Sledgehammer." And, "The more the editors and pundits [mainly from the powerful Doğan outlets] leave their professional roles and turn into the defense lawyers of the suspects – which they now openly do…"

The U.S. Ambassador to Ankara, Francis Ricciardone, told journalists a couple of days ago: "Journalists are being detained on the one hand, while addresses about freedom of speech are given on the other. We do not understand this, so we ask you."

It is not too complex.

When, for instance, in the "liberal" thinking of the "Don't-believe-them" columnist and his colleagues from the Ministry, any journalist who would fail to declare Ergenekon/Sledgehammer defendants "guilty" on the first day of their trial, any journalist who would not defend a fair trial for the defendants, who would not wholeheartedly and hysterically wish all defendants to rot in dungeons for the rest of their lives, would be a public enemy of "mature democracy."

Knowing that they won't, I would wish the Ministry officials ask themselves a few tough questions: With all the public support for the prosecution of retired and serving generals (and academics and journalists) who stand trial for plotting a coup d'etat and the Doğan outlets' behavior as "defense lawyers," why would the Doğan outlets still be "influential" (with high circulation)?

Why would democratic Turks not just put them into the wastebasket and force them into the position of marginal newspapers/TV stations with no influence? Why would the "democratic (read: pro-AKP)" outlets not come anywhere close to the influence Doğan outlets have? Why would the democratic flocks of Turks everyday rush to buy "anti-democratic" newspapers, watch news on "anti-democratic" channels? Why do the "democrat" journalists not just simply shrug off our "anti-democratic" columns, articles and reporting and ignore us as a handful of marginals?

And why would the "pro-democracy" journalists not think for a moment about the fact that yellow journalism has nowhere in history, at no time, been a grand success?

I recommend members of the "democratic media force" have a little bit of patience. I wholeheartedly believe in the sincerity of an increasing number of anonymous messages that pop up in my inbox, telling me in not-so-friendly to friendly language to prepare to pack up since I will either have to leave my country or end up in prison after elections in June.

I especially feel grateful to the "friend" who warmed me that "if only you had personally known one single Ergenekon/Sledgehammer defendant, if only you had exchanged one single call or message with one defendant, if only you had got together with 'those coup-lovers' at lunch or dinner or over coffee… But all that may not save you…"

Thank you, gentlemen, for all the friendly warnings; that's really very kind of you. We appreciate that you have such big hearts that you still forgive some of us for smudging your pure, democratic air with our words.

Note to foreign readers: Don't believe us, believe them.






Reading Recep Korkut's commentary on Greece ("Greece building a wall against humanity," Jan. 7), I felt compelled to write a response, having lived in the United States and been for a while in Greece. I hope to give a more in-depth understanding of the issue and demonstrate the need for Turkish-Greek solidarity to reach a solution. 

The US-Mexico issue 

In 2006, Mexican president Felipe Calderon declared war on the multi-billion dollar drug trade. Since then, over 35,000 deaths have occurred, including over 1,000 police, prosecutors and military personnel. Shockingly, about 50 journalists also were murdered to deter media coverage. 

While Mexicans neighbor the United States and have an opportunity to escape this violence, U.S. citizens have increasingly grown angry over illegal immigration. Arizona recently signed into law a bill allowing police to detain any citizen in the state without ID. Consequently, this legislation also makes legal Latino American citizens a target, because they share in the same ethnicity as the illegal immigrants south of the border. However, the legislation is more a political ploy to boost the popularity of politicians than a real solution. In reality, illegal Mexican immigrants are unskilled labor, incapable of taking over the many jobs lost in the recession.

Politicians have failed to decrease unemployment, instead choosing to focus on a scapegoat issue. The bill also doesn't stem the influx of migrants; they still come, but settle in other states. You can't deter people fleeing rampant violence. 

Seizing on this issue is the reactionary "Tea Party." The movement sometimes touts stances akin to conspiracy theory: Members argue President Barack Obama is either a racist or a neo-Marxist wanting to destroy America, and others claim he is a Kenyan-born Muslim. Some also argue in favor of Hosni Mubarak's autocracy. Fear-mongering prevails in the absence of real ideas. Now they propose budget cuts to education and healthcare, but refuse to cut ethanol subsidies, a proposed extra F-35 engine and other ineffectual pet projects that waste tens of billions of dollars per year and refuse to recognize the huge cost of our wars.

Greece's issue

Literally 1/30th the population, and smaller than many American states, the illegal immigrant population from Afghanistan, Iraq and various other hotspots, unlike America's, is staggering for Greece. However, the EU and Greek bureaucracy greatly magnify this problem. Most younger and progressive Greeks, already disenchanted with their government, hold nothing against asylum seekers:

"Our bureaucracy is so screwed up! Immigrants cannot get their papers done to legally become EU asylum seekers, nor can they acquire papers to get into Western Europe. Whoever comes is trapped in limbo – and the EU certainly isn't helping," says Anestis M., a bartender from my family's village and a family friend.

Many Greeks share Anestis' frustration: The corrupt political system misrepresents the attitudes of the people, who feel pessimistic and powerless. The parties instead represent a small segment of Greek society, which enjoys wages and privilege high by even American standards (yachts, BMWs; zero taxes, anyone?). Demand for reform is mounting, but the current crisis makes helping the immigrants a great challenge.

Another friend, a border guard in Evros, shares his thoughts: "We are told to arrest these poor human beings at the border; they are sent to Athens for around 30 days, and sometimes deported; and again they attempt to cross the same border, hoping this time will be their chance. It's an endless cycle with no solutions from Athens or Brussels."

Failure to produce a solution stirs resentment among far-right-wing groups, who have become a very vocal minority in Greece that fails to aim their anger at the "right" people. The fact that the EU provides no legal framework to assist Greece in naturalizing these people and blackmails Turkey over its visa issue while claiming to be progressive is appalling.

Who is Europe, which is engaging in these conflicts that displace millions to find nonexistent "Weapons of Mass Destruction" and providing no solid asylum policy, to criticize our nations?

But how can we approach this issue?

The answer is solidarity. In 1999, ordinary Greeks and Turks responded first and generously to our respective earthquake disasters at İzmit and Athens. Turkey and Greece in solidarity would have more political leverage.

Many Greeks, and myself, hope the Turkish people can agree that many important problems facing our nations today stem from external powers – not from each other. In fact, "Earthquake Diplomacy" proves teamwork on a single issue yields more than hundreds of years of mistrust. An adage states, "united we stand – divided we fall." It cannot be more true now. Our people need bilateral cooperation. Let's work together and prove Brussels wrong, that we are not exploitable.

*John Jordan is a Greek-American student.






A very important book has been released on Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, at İmralı prison.

"Öcalan'ın İmralı Günleri" (Öcalan's days at İmralı), by Cengiz Kapmaz has been published by İthaki. If you are interested in the Kurdish issue and especially if you are curious about what has been discussed behind closed doors within the past 10 years you should definitely read this book.

Cengiz Kapmaz is a 38-year-old journalist who follows the Kurdish issue from the Kurdish point of view. I'm sure he wrote his book based on meetings with Öcalan's lawyers and notes written from the date Öcalan set foot on İmralı until 2009.

In this book you'll find out what has been discussed behind closed doors, Öcalan's daily routine and his negotiations with the Turkish state. This book explains very well why the Kurdish issue has not been resolved yet. It destroys taboos and old clichés explaining in an apprehensible way what it is Öcalan really intends to do.

Since 1999 when Öcalan was brought from Kenya to İmralı, many, including me, thought, "The job is done, meaning the Öcalan issue closed and the PKK is about to be dispersed."

I clearly need to say that after reading Kapmaz's book I better understood how Öcalan created this miracle.

The entire book is based on conversations with Öcalan's lawyers and it reflects the views of only one party to the issue. We don't have the chance to check the information out for ourselves. I based my evaluations on information written in the book.

Öcalan received all his strength from the Kurdish society and made careful use of it. More interestingly, he knew how he needed to change himself from the day he set foot on İmralı. We can clearly see this by looking at his 10 years of imprisonment.

This did not suffice and he managed the PKK out of his tiny cell, forced them to change their way of thinking, channeled newly created parties and corrected mistakes.


It is quite amazing how he exercised such power through his lawyers, whom he saw only once a month or once every two months. While reading his struggle of 10 years full of ups and downs one feels sorry for lost opportunities, for all the sufferings told from firsthand accounts.

Based on conversation with his lawyers, Öcalan, in his 10 years of imprisonment, appears before us from day one as a leader who is in constant search for his own solution.

His only fear is a war between Turks and Kurds.

On one hand he tries to convince state representatives and on the other hand he tries to keep the PKK under control by drawing them into politics. He tries to settle arguments on a democratic ground.

According to information in the book the Turkish state, with its remittent attitude, either is unable to read Öcalan correctly or it does not care to do so. It looks as if it perceives the fight as beneficial. It tries to destroy the PKK with weapons and tire Öcalan. It does not care very much about a mutual solution.

The state's own measure is to scare and keep Öcalan at bay.

Despite being unsuccessful with such politics, according to Öcalan, the state can't come up with a solution.

Never got along with the AKP

Meeting minutes in the book also sheds light on Öcalan's relation with the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

To tell the truth, the AKP is one of the rare political parties to take a positive step in the Kurdish issue. No matter what, he took vital steps to ease the issue. But according to Öcalan, "easing" the issue was all it ever did.

Öcalan tirelessly wrote letters and sent messages to Erdoğan but did not succeed in drawing the prime minister's attention.

The book also clarifies another issue.

The general judgment, or what the society in Turkey is told, is that "The Kurds don't know what they want. Everybody says something different. There is no real leadership." But Öcalan within the past 10 years has proved that he is the real leader of this issue and that he has produced many detailed solutions.

But the state of Turkey did not take Öcalan seriously and preferred to camouflage the issue instead of producing a lasting solution.

The state winked at him, then turned around

From the moment Öcalan entered İmralı his relation with representatives of the Turkish state has been full of ups and downs. We understand from notes written by his lawyers in reference to their meetings, the so-called negotiations were more "exchanges of opinion" or "listening" types of thing.

According to these notes, the state exhibited an inconsistent approach. Meetings held between military, security forces and the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, in the 1999-2001 period were full of hope. State representatives treated Öcalan quite kindly. It shut its eyes to his meetings with his lawyers, to messages he gave and even encouraged him.

Between the years of 2001-2005, these relations first turned into a crisis then into a showdown. The state got upset.

Between 2005 and 2009 it came to a point of breaking ties.

Öcalan frequently used to receive cell arrest. His room would be changed and guardians would treat him badly.

Interestingly, Öcalan would receive the greatest support from young Kurdish people. Each stringent step taken by the state would turn into a fireball on streets.

In short, this book, comprising notes from İmralı, openly reveals that within the ruling party there is still a lack of political willpower and determination of rudimentary politics in respect to the Kurdish issue.






Respect to borders, territorial integrity, non-interference in internal affairs were just some of the fundamental pillars of the Westphalia Peace of 1648 – which indeed is a set of treaties – that brought an end to the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) between Spain and the Dutch Republic.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which will mark its 50th anniversary the coming April, on the other hand, is the cornerstone of modern-day diplomatic relations as it defines the framework for diplomatic relations between sovereign countries. The convention not only specifies the rights and privileges of diplomatic missions that are designed to enable diplomats to perform their function without fear of coercion or harassment by the host country, but also establishes the code of conduct for diplomats – headed by the principle of refraining from indulging domestic affairs of the host country.

Since the 1961 signing of the Vienna convention and particularly since the Westphalia Peace of 1648, things have changed a lot in all fields and naturally the meaning of independence, sovereignty of countries, internal affairs, universal human rights, freedoms and such terms and norms have changed as well. Well perhaps mostly due to the successful works of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe human rights, individual freedoms, freedom of expression and such inalienable norms have gained global meaning and can no longer be considered internal affairs of any country.

The governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Iran or who knows which country will come next – in the line to trouble – might not be happy at all seeing leaders of many countries talking about the need to take democratic reform steps, demanding respect to right to demonstrate or calling for restraint in handling protests. Right, it took some time for the Turkish leaders to join in the international chorus of support for the demonstrations in Egypt that brought an end to the 30-year-rule of President Hosni Mubarak, but if we are to lend an ear to what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül were advising to Mubarak, Turkey sure did not consider issuing calls for democratic reforms and expressing support for individual rights and liberties not only in Egypt but in the entire Muslim and Arab geography as an infringement in internal affairs of those countries.

Naturally none of the "brothers" of Erdoğan and Gül in power in those countries can be expected to be celebrating the remarks of the Turkish leaders regarding rights and liberties and the need to reform in their countries. Yet, such attitudes were exactly what a Turkey willing to play a regional role must have adopted long ago with the awareness that not with its military muscle – which nowadays hardly has any generals on duty because of alleged coup investigations – but rather with its soft power it can acquire itself a distinguished place in the hearts and minds of the people of the entire geography. Would it not be great indeed if Turkey abandons its honeymoon with dictators in Africa, Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia?

Anyhow, the already troubled Turkish-U.S. relations tilted toward yet another crisis this week with a remark made by new Ambassador Francis Ricciardone reminding the "advanced democracy" government of Turkey that freedom of media was the backbone of "normal democracies" and that like the Americans it was the aspiration of the Turkish people to have freedom of press, even though it might be critical.

So far so good, indeed. Then came the killer bullets that enraged the AKP government. The U.S. ambassador, like many other people, confessed that the United States was having difficulty in understanding how it was possible [for Turkish leaders] to talk about freedom of the press while journalists were being detained. Worse, Ambassador Ricciardone did not stop there but reminded Turkish officials that another landmark of "normal democratic governance" was free and independent justice and that the United States expected Turkey to respect the principle of presumption of innocence and the judicial process be a just and transparent one as after all Turkey represented democratic governance in its geography.

Naturally, since he uttered those words the ambassador has come under strong attack from all levels of the AKP governance. Was the ambassador wrong? Did he violate the diplomatic code of conduct and talked about an internal matter of Turkey?

A country claiming to have the will to export its "soft power" must have a better perception of democracy, must develop the awareness that boundaries no longer allow countries violate human rights and freedoms as those rights are no longer national, they are universal.

But, of course, before anything else, one must have a democratic mindset brushing aside all primitive aspirations of domination or the primitive instincts of taking revenge.







Senator John Kerry is a busy man. He works late nights and long days, and his nocturnal discussions with our leading politicians are the subject of much speculation, little of it well-informed. If he thought that he was going to return to the US with a deal sewn up and the release of Davis imminent, he may today be a disappointed man. The man at the centre of the largest row in diplomatic terms between us and our biggest donor – the US – has been remanded in custody by the Lahore High Court until March 14. His name is on the Exit Control List and the Foreign Ministry has three weeks to present a report on the vexed matter of his diplomatic immunity. By lunchtime Thursday it was announced that the core committee of the Pakistan People's Party would meet at some point in the day to also consider the matter of Davis' immunity. An American spokesperson was at pains to say that the Davis affair was not going to harm relations between Pakistan and the US, nor impede joint efforts in the fight against extremism. Sundry other characters have all had their say and the sum total by the end of play on Wednesday appears to be that little has changed. Stumps are now drawn until three weeks hence.

Perhaps. Much depends on what happens outside Pakistan as much as what happens inside it. American lawmakers are eyeing budget allocations at a time when the Republicans have proposed swingeing cuts in the US federal aid budget – of which we are significant recipients. The trilateral talks between us, the Americans and the Afghans are on ice and, in the opinion of the perennially nameless western diplomat, may be at risk of jeopardising whatever latent deal there was with the Taliban to end hostilities. Some of the heat may have dissipated with the Kerry visit and there has been no more mention of breaking off of diplomatic ties, but it is possible to see that without a resolution, and soon, sanctions may be around the corner. Few here are likely to be satisfied with the prospect of an investigation by the American State Department, and even fewer are likely to be anything other than incandescent with rage if Davis is somehow slipped through a loophole and out of the country. The prospect of social disorder in that eventuality must be high. Anti-Americanism is at a high point nationally and mobs are quickly raised in this volatile land. There may be a 'breathing space' between today and mid-March. Our government needs to use the time constructively; and in no way must we emerge from this messy business anything other than in the right.







Six months after the floods of the 2010 monsoon season, victims continue to struggle to get on with life. Their struggle is an especially tough one, given that attention from both the media and the government seems to have swung away from the victims. Concern over this situation has been expressed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan which has been conducting damage and needs assessments in 33 flood-affected districts across the country. The commission has identified a lack of consistency in government policies to deal with the post-flood situation, the absence of a disaster management plan and failures to include affected people in the task of decision-making as key problem areas. It has also noted grave allegations of corruption in the distribution of aid and nepotism in the Watan Card scheme - among a host of other problems.

Complaints have also come from other quarters. A few weeks ago several infants were reported to have died at a camp in Karachi due to lack of medical care. Elsewhere, flood survivors have complained about receiving no help at all to rebuild houses or resume livelihoods. The HRCP has noted that farmers and tenants without political influence have struggled to obtain seeds and fertilizers. There have been problems too for those living in rented housing, with owners claiming compensation intended for those inhabiting destroyed houses. It is unrealistic to believe that this bleak situation has not been picked up upon by the international community. Indeed there has been comment from some international agencies on the lack of commitment and the lack of transparency exhibited by our government in dealing with the catastrophe. This has very serious implications for the future. There is a real risk that, if crisis strikes again, Pakistan will receive limited help from the outside world. The findings by credible organisations about grave problems in the flood relief effort will only add to the doubts that exist already about Pakistan's ability to handle disaster, and this could have a very big impact in the future, whenever a situation arises that calls for international support and expertise.







 Footage captured by a secret camera and broadcast by a leading UK channel shows highly disturbing scenes of children as young as six years being beaten at a mosque school in Yorkshire. And this, while they are subjected to teaching that encourages hatred towards followers of other faiths, as well as moderate Muslims. Muslim groups in the town of Keighley and elsewhere in the UK have expressed concern over the scenes and are assisting the investigation into the affair. One arrest has already been made. The documentary should also be a matter of concern here in Pakistan. Through the years we have heard terrible accounts of the abuse of children at many madressahs in our country. Small boys have been found in shackles at these institutions. Others have been subjected to torture. Even though action has been taken against individual perpetrators, in some cases at least, there is still no system in place to regulate seminary schools, or to ensure that children attending them receive an education which would benefit them in the future, let alone a guarantee against the pupils' abuse. Reforms proposed during the tenure of former president Musharraf have never been fully implemented, while the fact that many madressahs are unregistered adds to the difficulties in regulating them or carrying out inspections of any kind.

The incident in the UK is a reminder of the need for a movement towards this. The religious groups that run seminary schools, and institutions that look after their affairs, must cooperate with the government to work out how this can be done. Most of the children who attend madressahs belong to desperately poor families. Their parents lack the power to voice their concerns regarding the treatment of their children at the seminaries. This adds to the responsibility of the government to regulate schools and take effective steps to stop the abuse that occurs in many of them.








The principal temple and the central fountain of Pakistani patriotism lies not on the mountains or along the shoreline of the Arabian Sea but in the imperishable land of the five rivers: Punjab the home of Pakistani patriotism and Punjab the unchallenged redoubt of that brilliant storyline, the ideology of Pakistan.

Right from 1947 until the present time most of Pakistan's tragedies have been enacted at the altar of this patriotism. As a young captain harnessed to the chariot of the 1971 war I remember the slogan pasted on the back of every car in Lahore: "Crush India". As we went about crushing India we managed to lose half the country. It says something of our extraordinary talent for amnesia that we have managed to virtually erase that event from our collective memory.

It is the same surge of emotion which leads the most vocal and indeed hoarse sections of Punjabi public opinion to anoint a misguided fanatic-turned-assassin into a public hero. There is no shortage of placards on Lahore's roads extolling him and his glorious deed. And it is similar zeal which is in full cry as we go about raising thunderclouds of emotion in the Raymond Davis affair.

Let me enter an immediate caveat so as not to be misunderstood. Davis should be dealt with according to the letter of the diplomatic law. If he is without immunity then that's it and to this position we should stick, regardless of pressure or threats from the seat of the American empire. But why must we make a tamasha (spectacle) of everything? Why can't we handle this affair without fuss and without the drumbeats of patriotism sounding from every rooftop?

And why, as we go about fashioning a response, must we present a picture of national disarray? The presidency in a tizzy, wanting a way out of this crisis and not being able to find one; the prime minister, as always, not in charge and hoping for the whole thing to blow away; the Foreign Office on a different page from the presidency; the former foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, eager to turn this dilemma into the wages of heroism; and the guardians of national security not wholly able to avoid the suspicion that they are busy pulling the strings from behind.

When the jihadi media goes into overdrive – some of the semi-literate babbling about national dignity and honour we are being treated to being quite an exercise in creative literature – and religious elements protest before the Press Club, Lahore, raising fists in the air and shouting full-throated slogans, it is possible to detect in these spirited forays the footprints of national security.

Pakistan's security establishment is a kingdom unto itself. In any given crisis or incident it is not always clear what it is trying to achieve. But since old habits die hard, the knights of this establishment always seem eager to make their presence felt. Almost as if to say, we are not to be ignored. Or ignore us at your peril.

To repeat the earlier point, if Davis is without diplomatic immunity, as seems to be the case, his prosecution should go ahead, regardless of anything else. But we can proceed along this path without too much frothing at the mouth. National dignity is better served by speaking softly. And protestations about national honour would sound more convincing if we could somehow put our permanent begging bowl to one side, for some time if not permanently.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi's bravura press conference was bemusing: this is not the time to lower our heads but to raise them; I know that by speaking up harm can come to me but I will not bend when it comes to national honour; there is a lot more to tell and if the need arises I will do so. Oh really? Exaggerated as the comparison may seem, is he trying to sound like another Zulfikar Ali Bhutto? Silence would have suited Qureshi better but then silence is not a particularly Pakistani quality.

True, after Qureshi's disclosure to a section of the jihadi media that it was the considered advice of the Foreign Office that Davis did not enjoy the kind of blanket immunity the Americans were asking for, an entire pack of PPP ministers – with the Amazon freshly-inducted into the information ministry in the lead – had ripped into Qureshi for daring to speak out of turn. But there were few plaudits for this yelping performance. As former custodian of foreign policy Qureshi should have held himself to a higher standard of responsibility and avoided playing to the gallery, despite any hard feelings he may have had about not being allowed to retain the foreign ministry in the cabinet reshuffle.

Robin Cook disagreed with Tony Blair on the Iraq war and delivered a masterly speech in the House of Commons, remarkable as much for its sharp logic as its understated tone. But I suppose this is a far-fetched analogy. That was the Iraq war and this is an American spook by the name of Davis. And that was Cook and this is...oh, well, let it be.

We know the spine of our Foreign Office. On matters substantial it does nothing without looking over its shoulder in the direction of Aabpara where looms the architectural disaster which is our sanctum of national security. It beggars belief that the Foreign Office's stand on this affair was not coordinated closely with the gatekeepers of Aabpara.

Nothing wrong with that except that one hopes that this was only about this affair and not, through it, another attempt to undermine our already confused and fragile democratic order.

Of course we should not succumb to American pressure. From day one the US embassy and consulate, not to mention the State Department, have behaved foolishly and arrogantly, piling up the pressure on Pakistan in a manner almost designed to foreclose the chance of any flexibility from the Pakistani side. Now even President Obama has spoken and Senator Kerry has visited Pakistan. It can't get any higher than this. Which makes it all the more incumbent on Pakistan to do what is right but without giving way to emotional excess.

We should have kept a closer eye on cowboys like Davis and restricted the numbers allowed into the country in the first place. We allowed Afghans a free run of Pakistan during the first Afghan 'jihad' and are still ruing the consequences. After 2001 we gave our American friends a too free run of the country. We tend to be immoderate both as regards as our enmities as our friendships.

This said, our American alliance is in our interest. We are not in a position to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Whatever the legal or diplomatic merits of this case, some way out of this imbroglio will have to be sought. Therefore we must allow passions to cool. And it would serve our American interlocutors better if they were to curb some of their zeal for shotgun diplomacy. Superpower or no superpower this is no way to go about securing a spook's release.

Drone strikes in Fata have killed scores of civilians and we have turned a blind eye and deaf ear to them. In fact after Baitullah Mehsud's death in a drone attack we stopped even the pretence of the ritual protest. But Davis' gunplay took place not on a remote mountainside but in the heart of Lahore. Talk of the ugly American. He was violating the laws of geography. What the hell was he doing there? This is a question the Americans should ask of themselves.

Anyway, this is a mess and also a lesson for us. When we enter into a pact with the devil – devil being a relative term...for the Americans, I am sure, we are the devil – instead of being distracted by immediate gains, we must consult the tomes of national dignity and honour beforehand instead of waiting for the dirt to hit the ceiling and then crying about lost virtue and innocence.









Blessed is the man who expects nothing for he shall never be disappointed. That's the feeling virtually all have about the forthcoming India-Pakistan talks. At best we will get a bit of friendliness when what is needed is friendship. Hardly anyone, therefore, whether in government or the public at large, expects anything to come out of these talks. They are likely to be thoroughly inconclusive and demoralising, much like the previous rounds and diplomatic interactions. They will consist of all the contradictions and inconsistencies that have become an integral part of the so called India-Pakistan 'dialogue' – truly the dialogue of the deaf.

"Meetings are only really necessary", said an ex ambassador, "when you don't want to do anything". And as it happens there is nothing of substance that either wants from the other and which either is remotely in a position to concede or, frankly, in the mood to do so. India perhaps needs the talks a mite more than Pakistan. It helps her perennial quest for enhanced stature at a time when it is seeking a permanent membership of the Security Council and after the recent uprising in Kashmir sullied her image. It also helps India manifest a keenness for a peaceful solution even as it visits further brutalities on the hapless Kashmiris. Of course, it fools no one and least of all the Kashmiris but then India is a slave to habit. On the other hand, our image is beyond repair and our preferences and dislikes set in stone, so whether or not talks are held is really of no import.

Meanwhile, India's and Pakistan's problems continue to grow, as new threats to their future emerge, such as the water issue which turns graver with every passing year as global climatic change takes hold, threatening to become in due course another source of hostility. How can they handle the impact of climate change on their river flows and food security when they have failed to tackle issues that have been rotting in their agenda for decades, even such secondary issues as Sir Creek and Siachin?

Even terrorism, which should have brought India and Pakistan closer, has in fact set them further apart because of the Mumbai episode. Surely, India must know that Pakistan is facing a grim situation with terrorism which is taking place in a complicated internal context. Pakistan could be far more effective in tackling this menace internally if its relations with India were better and there was no pressure of a reassuring kind on its eastern border. By seeking satisfaction on Mumbai and showing no flexibility on more fundamental issues, like Kashmir, India is adding to Pakistan's problems and threat perceptions. But then who would expect India to behave differently?

Such a stance is a non starter for the talks which have become a joke. Even the outside world that may not be intimately familiar with the India-Pakistan relationship has probably grown cynical about such talks. Better to talk than not to talk is about the only rationale that's left. Shah Mehmood Qureshi's claim that among his 'achievements' as foreign minister was the resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue without offering a solitary example of what they had achieved in the three years that he was in office only reinforced this impression.

What further dashes hopes of any meaningful outcome is that the talks are taking place at a time when Manmohan Singh's coalition is wobbly, admittedly not as much as that of Zardari's, but its pretty brittle nonetheless. Neither can afford to add to their list of woes by taking initiatives that are controversial lest their opponents have yet another issue with which to berate them. Besides, if one of the interlocutors, the former foreign minister, may have had the clout to be slightly more forthcoming when reacting to Indian proposals his successor has none. For all practical purposes she is an empty suit. Hopefully, Pakistan will have a full fledged foreign minister soon. Only this time he or she should be selected for their expertise and not sartorial flare. For that matter India too needs a heavyweight foreign minister. Mr Krishna gives the impression of being totally at sea in his job, an impression that was confirmed the other day by his faux pas at the UN. True anyone can make a mistake but his was a howler; and the length of time it took him to correct it was well past that half way moment when mistakes can be recalled without damaging the reputation.

What was noticeable from the aftermath of the foreign secretary level talks in Thimpu was the Indian desire to discuss the situation in Afghanistan with Pakistan, as if India now has as much of an abiding interest in Afghanistan as Pakistan. If India believes that it can elbow itself on to a chair at the Afghan peace table it has another thing coming. India's presence in Afghanistan is already the cause for much alarm in Pakistan and it will continue to be hotly contested.

What is worrying about Afghanistan is not the presence of Indian sleuths at the Indian Consulates in Kandahar, but the prospect of a permanent US military presence in Afghanistan after the pull out in 2014 that would strengthen India's role in Afghanistan in light of the emerging US-India strategic partnership to counter Chinese influence continentally. Which is why the Indians welcome continued US military presence and why we should be concerned about it. But that does not appear to be the case. Naively, we continue to support a continued US military presence post 2014 for selfish and short-sighted reasons, and mostly to gain leverage with Washington at the present juncture when, in fact, a continued and provocative US military presence will make it well nigh impossible to convince most Taliban insurgents to talk peace and we will see continued conflict on our borders.

No amount of dialogue, composite or singular, between India and Pakistan will make a difference to their adversarial relationship until India ceases to behave like a regional hegemon and shows respect for the legitimate security interests and concerns of its neighbours. By impinging on Pakistan's legitimate interests along its western borders India will only be adding to its problems with Pakistan.

The writer is a former ambassador.









I didn't know how to respond when an Afghan friend, struggling in Britain for the last three years, called to inform me that he had finally succeeded in received refugee status. While the friend expected to be congratulated on that, I couldn't help asking whether it wasn't a little ironic for someone to expect to be congratulated on attaining a certificate to perpetual homelessness.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, leading to a mass exodus of Afghans to Pakistan and Iran. The last of the weary and demoralised Soviet soldiers, Gen Boris V. Gromov, left Afghanistan nearly a decade later through the Friendship Bridge into Termez, in what was then the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. Exactly 22 years have passed since that history-making event, but not much appears to have changed in terms of the repatriation of the Afghan refugee. Reports released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) show there are still 1.7 million refugees camping in Pakistan and a little less than a million in Iran.

UNHCR data indicate that from 2002 to 2005 Afghanistan was the most-returned-to country with refugees abroad. But since then voluntary repatriation has slowed down considerably. 2009 was the worst year as far as voluntary repatriation is concerned. This slowing down is a matter of great concern. Those staying behind appear to be the most determined, and most stubborn, of the lot. Even the 2010 floods could not persuade them to leave.

Azakhel, on the Grand Trunk Road, used to be the most thickly populated refugee camp. The flood has reduced it to a collection of dwellings that look more like heaps of mud by the floods. The refugees, rather than agreeing to be repatriated to their country, refuse to vacate the devastated area.

The story of the camps is stuff that could produce great fiction. In his riveting thriller, The Warlord's Son, Dan Fesperman, brings out the gruesome and the sinister taking place in the camps. He had arrived in Peshawar in the wake of 9/11 to cover the Afghan war and told a story that was waiting to be told.

The Geneva Conventions on the status of refugees precludes the option of forced repatriation, and that is what the UNHCR uses as an excuse against the repatriation of the Afghan refugees. The UNHCR has successfully thwarted all moves for their repatriation. The 1951 Geneva Conventions on the status of displaced people are so open-ended that refugees resisting return to their homelands could take cover under any of its flexible clauses.

The UNHCR's position is reasonable, that reconstruction, rebuilding and stability in Afghanistan must precede the safe and voluntary return of Afghan refugees. But, then, how can reconstruction and rebuilding take place in a country if more than 10 per cent of its population is camped in another county, with no intention of returning? The Afghan intelligentsia could have provided impetus to the development of the country, but it now forms a large part of the Afghan diaspora in North America and Europe, such as that Afghan friend of mine.

UNHCR officials travel across Peshawar in vehicles with screaming sirens and police escort. The area housing the UNHCR offices is heavily fortified and stays out of bounds for the citizens of Peshawar. And this is a city overflowing with people, with the number of motor vehicles on its battered roads growing with alarming rapidity.

Several heads of state, monarchs and other figures have visited the refugee camps over the last three decades. These photo-ops have been repeated so many times that people in Peshawar have lost count. The latest celebrity to show up was actress Angelina Jolie, who is the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Refugees. Not only do these visits produce no results, there is never a word of praise or sympathy for the fortitude of the people of Peshawar, who are bearing the burden of a refugee population for more than three decades.

Under the impact of a permanent refugee population and of the ongoing senseless war in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Peshawar presents a pathetic picture of backwardness and chaos. The infrastructure of the city, in fact, of the entire province, is in a shambles. As the sun set behind the western mountains on Feb 8, there was more evidence of the grimness of this war, with trucks heading for Afghanistan being set on fire. This is just another face of the conflict that has devastated the roads, forests, schools, rivers and canals of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and its capital.

Peshawar used to have one of the world's best systems of canals around its peripheries, and others running through its streets, bazaars and parks. The perennial source of water could have been a boon for the people of the city. Unplanned construction to accommodate the refugees, greed and the utter failure of the local authorities have turned all canals into sewage drains.

The Geneva Conventions are not divine scriptures, and rather than using them as an excuse, the UNHCR should find a way of accelerating the refugees' repatriation.









For a few heady hours following Hosni Mobarak's exit from power after 30 years of dictatorial rule during which he (and his family) managed to "save" US $ 40 billion from the salary paid to him as a public servant of an impoverished country, the successful revolt in the streets sent hopes soaring about impending freedom and a functioning democracy that would fulfill Egyptian aspirations. Rid of another "indispensable" Pharaoh, Egyptians must be forgiven for believing in this ridiculous farce, at least for some time.

Who wields power in Egypt today? Appointed Vice President only a few days ago, General Omar Suleman, Mobarak's Intelligence and Security Chief for 18 years, who is notorious for torturing political prisoners himself. Barring a handful of skeptics, western leaders gushed "ad nauseam" for days over Mobarak's dreaded enforcer as the designated successor. In the evolving circumstances, Omar Suleman, like his boss, became a distinct liability. Remaining ahead of the game before their own troops started to refuse their orders, the "Higher Military Council" led by Defence Minister and Armed Forces Chief, 77-year old Field Marshal Tantawi, converted its quiet attempt to push out Mobarak gracefully, into a sudden firm shove in the middle of the night.

The Pyramids providing the backdrop to Cairo are a solid testimony to thousands of years of Egyptian bondage – millions of slaves laboured and died to build them. What the protestors have achieved in Egypt through peaceful means is indeed remarkable but as one CNN commentator put it, "in the aftermath of euphoria, the question is the same as before Mobarak's exit, what next?"

The people of Egypt want freedom, manifest in every sense of the word, one without shackles and repression thereof. Obviously, this cannot come overnight. without an effective transition government in place, chaos was very much a possibility. The Jan 28 movement forced Mobarak to appoint a new cabinet of loyalists led by PM Air Marshal Shafik. The military dissolved both the houses of parliament and suspended the constitution but opted to keep the transition government in place for six months, targetting elections during this period.

A commission will recommend changes to the constitution in 10 days. This will be put before a referendum within two months. To mollify the continued activism of the protestors in the streets, changes in cabinet faces were promised. A sort of an "Exit Control List" (ECL) was put in place for some public servants (including the immediate former PM) and businessmen notorious for their corruption during the Mobarak era.

Whether all this will satisfy an awakened populace remains in doubt, Tahrir Square (and smaller Tahrirs thereof proliferating throughout Egypt) continues to resound with continuing protest without more tangible reassurances from the new military rulers. Switzerland froze all of Mobarak's (and his family's) assets and accounts, the EU and Switzerland had earlier frozen the accounts of former President Ben Ali of Tunisia and his family. With Brussels alive to the matter, EU countries are expected to clamp down on Mobarak and his clan. Given stringent laws in the US about money-laundering and corruption, American silence on the issue is deafening and surprising.

That all existing international treaties and commitments would be honoured was reassuring to the West. This should give Israel some breathing space, encouraging it to conclude lasting peace with the Palestinians in the changed security environment. The next few days and weeks will be crucial to see what direction the Egyptian revolution takes. One is hoping that the "Higher Military Council's" 180 days do not extend to a decade (or more) like Ziaul Haq's 90 days did!

This would not be the first time in history that the military has used the blood of the masses spilt in the streets to hijack their sacrifice. Popular at the outset, all four military coups in Pakistan remained so till the people belatedly realised the coups had less to do with their aspirations, and more to do with their own (generals') selfish ambitions. Two of the military coups, Generals Yahya Khan (1968) and Ziaul Haq (1977) were executed under the pretense of preventing anarchy because of turmoil in the streets. Ayub Khan (1958) and Pervez Musharraf (1999) actually pre-empted moves by civilian authority to sack them but successfully garbed their coups as potential saviours of the nation.

The Pakistani and Egyptian militaries resemble each other to some extent. While Egypt has been a solid US ally for three decades, by going for the nuclear option, Pakistan's military stayed out in the cold during the 90s. The many benefits denied to those lower down the ranks separates them from the military hierarchy substantially during service and post-retirement in the quality of lives they lead.

Not surprisingly, my recent "A Roof for Every Public Servant" article received an adverse reaction from a handful of the 0.001% of the military that benefits from the largesse denied to the majority 99.999%. The tragedy is that the reaction is selfish and narrow-minded instead of comprehending the long-term complications thereof. One does not grudge this minuscule minority their well-deserved benefits, the emphasis being on the term "well-deserved".

Egypt's Armed Forces are largely served by conscripts, Pakistan's, on the other hand, comprise volunteers. Since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Egyptian soldiers have not seen battle in any form, this includes "Desert Storm" in 1991 against Saddam Hussain. Egypt was forgiven US$ 30 billion in debt for their participation in the Coalition Forces, Pakistan with a bigger contingent was not forgiven a penny. Our military has had considerable battle inoculation in Siachen and Kargil over the years, and now for the last three years have been engaged in successful counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in Swat and Waziristan. More and more officers reaching higher rank have had the privilege of hearing shots being fired in anger.

Unlike his predecessors, the welfare of soldiers is being addressed, to an extent, by Kayani. But even he has shown no real inclination to eliminate those unnecessary perquisites that the hierarchy can do without. Equitable distribution of welfare during service and post-retirement for all ranks (as well as public servants) is in the larger interest of the country.

This will be increasingly hard to ignore in the future, particularly if after Tunisia and Egypt, the dominos keep falling till the streets are aflame in Pakistan and the moment of truth arrives. Across the entire Arab and Muslim world, injustice and deprivation have been in abundance for thousands of years. Islam has tried over the centuries, with intermittent success, to shrug off this yoke. Terrorism has gained from this inherent seething frustration.

We are at an interesting crossroads, it has taken only a few days of perseverance by a few true souls in the streets in Tunisia and Egypt to bring down tyrants (and their kith and kin) who were looting their country at will. Yemen is sure to go, Jordan, Bahrain and Algeria are at considerable risk. Our Armed Forces will soon face such an "acid test" in this country, much sooner rather than later. The "Bangladesh Model" is now in place in Tunisia and Egypt. Is Pakistan the next likely candidate?

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:








Is this another Tashkent moment in our history? Shah Mehmood Qureshi may think so. His virtuoso press performance Wednesday, replete with dramatic pauses and high flown rhetoric, was as good an attempt as any to carve out a leadership niche for himself. Will he succeed?

For those younger readers who may not be fully aware of the significance of Tashkent, this was the moment that made Zulfikar Ali Bhutto a national leader. In the public eye he became a hero when he ostensibly – it is still not clear to what extent – differed with his president, Ayub Khan, on signing a peace deal with India after the 1965 war.

This was seen by the people as a betrayal. Primed by a constant anti India rhetoric and convinced of Pakistan's military superiority, they thought that Ayub had let them down. Ousted from the cabinet a la Shah Mehmood, Bhutto rode the tiger of anti India sentiment to popular leadership.

There are some similarities between today and the Tashkent moment but also many differences. There is a huge anti American sentiment in the country as there was against India then. As a platform for leadership and popularity, this has great potential. It has been recognised by others. PML-N, Tehrik-e-Insaaf and Jamaat Islami are also trying to cash in on it.

The difference is that Ayub was a hated dictator with very little support among the people. PPP with all its faults, including a leadership tainted by allegations of corruption, is still a popular political party. It has opposition, lots of it, but this space is taken by PML-N and much of the religious lobby. Where would Shah Mehmood fit in?

I think he understands this and therefore has pledged his undying loyalty to the ideals of Shaheeds' Zulfikar Ali and Benazir Bhutto. But this means making an attempt for national leadership on the PPP wicket. It would entail taking on its current leadership and if possible supplanting it through grass root support of the workers.

There are enough disgruntled prominent party members like Safdar Abbasi – an old classmate of Shah Mehmood – Naheed Khan, Yousaf Talpur, Sherry Rehman and others who may rally to his cause. But, would this be enough to challenge Zardari and company? More importantly, would he be able to energise the party grass root to his cause?

On the face of it, it seems quite impossible. The Pakistan People's Party has become a strange concoction. While it has genuine popular support particularly among the poor and the so called liberal elements in the society, it is also a very feudal entity. There is a strong top down control and while the party members complain all the time, they follow the leadership in the end.

For any party formed around charismatic leadership, the question of legitimacy in succession becomes very important. Once the devotees – I think it would be fair call the PPP grass root followers as such – accept a political succession it is difficult for anyone else to barge in.

Benazir was accepted as a legitimate successor to ZAB and after that, even his son Murtaza could not challenge her leadership. This happened despite the fact that he was a male in a feudal environment and had the support of his mother Begum Nusrat Bhutto. The question then is, has Asif Ali Zardari been accepted by the 'jiyalas' as the legitimate successor of Benazir?

There are no easy answers. Soon after assuming the mantle of leadership, Asif Zardari led his party to power and eventually became president. Besides winning accolades for this, it also meant that all opportunities of patronage came into his hands. The grass root followers are pretty savvy and know where their interests lie. They are unlikely to challenge his leadership while he is in power.

Asif has also skilfully played the Bilawal card by making him the Chairman of the party, thus ensuring a Bhutto blood link with party leadership. In feudal cultures and religious orders, this has great significance. PPP is a bit of both. Zardari has carefully covered this end by pushing Benazir's son into the top slot. In such an environment, is it possible for any other party member, however good and important, to challenge Zardari?

Shah Mehmood has many qualities. In a party rife with allegations of corruption, he is clean as a whistle. A decent man, he is also highly educated and articulate. From all accounts, he has done a very good job as foreign minister. In an ideal world, he is eminently qualified to be a leader of his political party and the country.

But, how will this happen? Can he challenge Zardari and oust him? Or, if that were not possible, claim ZAB's and Benazir's mantle by forming a dissident wing in the party that he would call the real PPP? This has been done before without much success. Even Murtaza Bhutto could not do it. How can Shah Mehmood hope to manage it?

He has some other drawbacks that within the PPP's peculiar culture become significant. His father, Makhdoom Sajjad Hussain Qureshi, was Punjab governor during the rule of one person that each PPP member fervently hates; Zia ul Haq. Shah Mehmood himself was initially in the PML-N, was its MPA and for a while member of Nawaz Sharif's caretaker cabinet before the 1988 election. This background can potentially be exploited by his opponents in the party.

If the PPP platform is difficult, can he float another party and forge ahead? It is difficult to say anything with certainty and I do wish him luck as I have great respect for him, but it seems a very difficult task. Parties take a long time to build and even then may not succeed. An excellent example is Imran Khan, a national hero, who has not been able to translate his cricketing and philanthropic popularity into political success – so far.

An opening though could come Shah Mehmood's way the manner in which the Raymond Davis affair plays itself out. If the government takes a strong stand and refuses to bow down before American pressure, there is little chance for anyone to make political capital out of it. It may have other consequences but politically, the PPP will not suffer.

If though the Zardari led regime caves in, there would be a fall out. How serious is anybody's guess. It could be a few days of riots and protests and fizzle out in the end or it could gain momentum particularly if the PML-N decides to take to the streets. This is a bit unlikely because Nawaz Sharif has so far studiously avoided upsetting the political order; for fear of a military take over.

The most likely scenario is that PPP would convince the Americans to take it easy, with the assurance that eventually Davis would be released. Zardari would drag the matter long enough for the political sting to be taken out of it. If this happens, we will be back to business as usual and little chance of any new leadership emerging including that of Shah Mehmood Qureshi.









The Raymond Allen Davis affair is not a simple legal or diplomatic concern. It would have been resolved by now if it were. Even after the US State Department made President Obama issue a categorical statement on Davis being a diplomat and after meeting the president's emissary, Senator John Kerry, here in Pakistan, we saw our not-so-former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi making a compelling statement that the concerted opinion of the foreign office, interior ministry and security institutions confirms that Davis is not a diplomat.

But there were two caveats to his press statement. Firstly, he said Davis does not enjoy 'blanket' immunity, which to a careful listener would mean that he may qualify for 'limited' immunity. Secondly, Qureshi emphasised that this was the opinion of all senior state officials he conferred with and since he is a politician and neither a lawyer nor a technical person, he had to rely on the opinion of experts. We are eager to see how the same foreign office responds to the queries of Lahore High Court in this matter, particularly after Obama's statement.

Diplomatic immunity doesn't mean that a person can go scot free after committing a crime but perhaps tried in her/his own country. Shooting down two young men when there is no evidence seen as yet that they were attempting to hit Davis, and then running over an innocent biker in trying to flee from the scene in a vehicle driven by a consulate employee, is a horrid criminal act.

However, the expression of regret and sympathy by both Senator Kerry and J B Crowley and then Kerry's stating clearly that Davis will be tried, needs to be registered. The most appropriate and practical way to deal with this situation now is to hand the culprit over to the US with the condition that he is charged and tried under their law with Pakistani government and media kept abreast of the trial. This should happen regardless of any compensation offered to the affected families.

But this course can only be taken if Pakistan deals with the issue diplomatically, which is made difficult by the reaction we see in our newspapers and on television screens. Besides, some of the public servants who are deputed to work on fat salaries in USAID-funded projects are equally sentimental. They want Davis to be tried here and actually sent to the gallows. Let alone the government, the charged opinion of these people does not even allow lawyers to defend and judges to rule in favour of individuals who are damned by them before being legally charged. Examples are many.

This particular incident has brought to the surface an entrenched anti-Americanism in a segment of Pakistani opinion dominating our media which does not fully represent large swathes of Sindh, Balochistan and Seraiki Wasaib, nor of the rational Punjabi and Pakhtun populations.

Intellectually led by parties like JI and JUI and wannabe Ahmedinejads like Munawwar Hasan and Fazl-ur-Rehman, they forget two things. One, Iranian clergy was never funded by or served as stooges of Americans in their war against the Soviet Union. Two, Ahmedinejad would never beg the US ambassador that his candidature for prime minister-ship may be supported by her.

On the other hand, American establishment refuses to rein in their cowboys let loose in the name of national security. Mutually, they make it impossible for a trustworthy relationship to be established between the two countries and continue to marginalise the saner elements in both American and Pakistani societies.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet and public policy advisor who works with progressive social movements. Email:








AT the moment, Pakistani leadership appears to be fully cognizant of the delicacies and implications of the Raymond Davis issue, as Federal and Punjab Governments as well as political leadership on the whole seems to be on the same page on this vital issue. We are sure that Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry would have taken the same message back home.

The deliberate killing of two Pakistanis by the American national in Lahore is a glaring example of how Americans trample sovereignty of small States and then insist on forgetting such tragedies. The way the American President came out in open to defend an established killer on the pretext of the so-called diplomatic immunity makes a mockery of the principles governing inter-state relations and respect for laws of other countries. His pronouncements and narrow-minded interpretation of the issues involved, which shocked global diplomatic community as well, and dispatch of Senator Kerry as his envoy on an obvious mission to pressurize Pakistani authorities, also indicate the extent of American interference in the country, expansion of their spy-network and how far the US leadership can go to shield even murderers. This is really painful for the people of a country that is being dubbed as strategic partner and is sustaining heavy losses because of its out of the way involvement in the war on terror that is aimed at oppressing and suppressing Muslims all over the globe. We are glad that, perhaps, for the first time in many years, Pakistan has so far adopted a principled position and refused to oblige the US despite immense overt and covert pressure. But given the kind of leverages being used by Washington, according to inside information, Islamabad would not be able to withstand the pressure for too long and the Government may have to release the criminal who otherwise should be hanged. Otherwise too, they say beggars can't be choosers and must be ready to bear insults because of their shameful over-dependence on others. It would have to be seen what will be the consequences in case of such an eventuality. Given fury of people's sentiments on the cold-blooded murder of three people and subsequent suicide by wife of one of the victims in a state of despondency, one can easily conclude that to give in would add to polarization and popularity of the regime would hit rock-bottom.








ON the auspicious occasion of Eid Miladun Nabi (SWS), former Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, emerged taller for eloquent presentation of his case before people of Pakistan. Qureshi, who was already considered as one of the symbols of nobility in Pakistani politics and who handled foreign affairs of the country in a dignified manner, gave his version of what led to his ouster from the Federal Cabinet.

In the backdrop of all sorts of accusations being hurled by his colleagues in the ruling PPP, Shah Mahmood Qureshi reiterated his loyalty with the party and its leadership but also put the record straight as far as the issue of immunity to Raymond Davis was concerned. The arguments advanced by him in his press conference following meeting with Senator Kerry gave a vivid impression that he had given deeper thought to various dimensions of the episode and his role in defending the cause of the country. It was not an emotional outburst but a well considered opinion when he told newsmen that his stance on the issue of immunity reflected consensus in the Foreign Office. His declaration that time has come to say goodbye to the policy of surrender and stand up to safeguard national interests reflected sentiments of the people on such issues. In our view, the position taken by Qureshi like what late Z A Bhutto did on the issue of Tashkent agreement raised his stature and also augurs well for the country. It shows that there are still some people who would go to any extent to protect national causes and call a spade a spade. Though Qureshi is presently expressing complete faith in the party and not willing to go further but he has also indicated that he may have some other things to tell at appropriate time. Qureshi has paid a price but by doing so he has conveyed the right message that nothing is more important than national interests.








THE Chief Justice of Pakistan has expressed his annoyance with the Government over not complying with the court orders and questioned if the Government was confronting the Judiciary. During the hearing on Tuesday the Chief Justice gave February 18 deadline to the Federal Government for terminating the services of 15 officers including those in the FIA who were re-employed on contract after reaching superannuation.

The tone and tenor of the Chief Justice of Pakistan reflects that he must be having prima facie a genuine concern over non-implementation of the orders and wanted the Government to behave. Contractual employees in the FIA and Police have not been able to come up to the expectations of the Apex Court in unearthing corruption in important cases, which are being heard like the Hajj scam. On the other hand pressure tactics are applied to divert the attention of the superior Judiciary. The President of Supreme Court Bar Association Asma Jehangir in a press conference in Lahore has stated that the Association has decided to resist the resolution unanimously passed by the full court reference of the Apex Court for appointment of Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday and Justice (R) Rehmat Hussain Jaffery as ad hoc judges for one-year term. She said the resolution had no legal authority and described it as an act against its own decisions. In view of the SCBA President's association with the ruling Party it could be construed that she said this on behalf of the Government to pay back for the support the Government extended to her during the election. Similarly there are some other indicators, which might have forced Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry to show his concern. We are of the considered opinion that the Government must implement the orders of the Apex Court in letter and in spirit in all the cases as that is the only way forward for ensuring rule of law. The independent Judiciary is dealing with matters of public interest and its performance is earning laurels from all and sundry. Instead of creating obstacles, we hope and expect that the Judiciary would be provided all the support from other arms of the state to









The Ides of March proved fatal to Gaius Julius Ceasar more than two thousand years ago, when he was felled by a large group of conspirators in the Theatre of Pompey in Rome. Several of those that stabbed him were his closest friends, people who may have been expected to defend rather than to murder him. These days, within Delhi and Mumbai, a similar group of conspirators has been active over the past eleven months, seeking to take away not his life but his job from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. And as in the case of Ceasar, many of those scripting his downfall are from his own party, and claim to be his ardent backers, often going before television cameras to "damn him with faint praise".

Deja vu! A quarter-century ago, many of the same group that are nowadays active against Manmohan Singh were expending considerable effort on unseating his mentor, then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. The Congress Party's second non-Nehru Prime Minister (after the short-lived 1964-66 tenure of Lal Bahadur Shastri had incurred the anger of loyalists of the family that owned the party, by his refusal to step down after two years in office and hand over charge to a faithful retainer, Kunwar (Prince) Arjun Singh, who had been Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh when the Bhopal disaster took place, and who made arrangements for the safe escape of Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson from Bhopal. Despite the fact that it was on his watch that the world's biggest industrial disaster took place, his 100% loyalty to the Nehru family ensured that Arjun Singh was given his fill of important jobs, ranging from chief ministership to Union Cabinet status and also Governor of important states.

Singh's devotion to the Nehru family - a bond that is as deep as that shown by distinguished acolytes of the family such as Nobel Prizeman Amartya Sen and writer-academic Sunil Khilnani - is all the more remarkable in view of the fact that Jawaharlal Nehru had cashiered Arjun Singh's father for improper behavior in the 1950s Narasimha Rao was humiliated by first involving him in several court cases, through the testimony of dubious characters who were given much play by a media captive to the conspirators against him. False entries were placed in financial records to implicate him, and allegations were made that he accepted large sums of money as bribes. One particular businessman even packed currency notes into a suitcase to "prove" that he gave a similar gift to Rao, who (according to the businessman) was so unconcerned about detection that he even accepted the cash in the Prime Minister's official residence! When all that failed to ensure his resignation, a split was engineered in the Congress Party that ensured a significant increase in seats for the BJP in the 1996 elections. Those who split the party in 1995 claimed that they were protesting against Rao's "soft approach to the BJP", but in fact ensured that the conditions got created for that party to form a short-lived government in 1996 that gave it the credibility needed to form a second and then a third government during 1998-2004.

When Narasimha Rao took over as PM, both Punjab as well as Kashmir were boiling. Large sums of cash were coming into Punjab from the UK, the US and Canada (besides Pakistan) to fuel the Khalistan movement, but neither London nor Ottawa nor Washington took any action against citizens who were funding terror groups in India. Rao gave his support to a decisive chief minister, Beant Singh, and both he as well as the new CM gave backing to the chief of police, K P S Gill, in his successful campaign to break the back of the Khalistan movement in the 1990s. In the case of Kashmir, Rao's task was complicated by the support given by the Clinton administration to the Jihadis active in that state. Throughout Rao's tenure as PM, the pressure on him by Clinton to make concessions to the "freedom fighters" in Kashmir was relentless, but the wily politician deflected this by a policy of agreeing to talk but refusing to make the substantive concessions demanded of him by the White House, concessions that would have led to civil war in India. It was during Rao's time that then Governor of Kashmir General K V Krishna Rao implemented a policy of reconciliation with Kashmiri elements in the jihad that led to many of them switching sides and fighting together with the security forces against the Afghans, Arabs, Germans, Brits and others who were sent to fight in Kashmir. By the end of the 1990s, again thanks to the policies pursued by Narasimha Rao, the situation in Kashmir had begun to stabilize, in that domestic support for the armed struggle fell to unsustainable levels. With 9/11, US backing for the insurgency ended, with only Pakistan and Saud Arabia left to carry on with the task of helping the jihadis. These days, the Saudi component is far lower, thanks to the excellent relations between Delhi and Riyadh that has been the gift of King Abdullah.

After he lost the 1996 elections (due to the split engineered by Congress leaders who were thereafter placed in high positions by incoming Congress President Sonia Gandhi), Rao was subjected to a battery of lawsuits that kept him fearful of going to jail till he final months of his life. The same individuals are these days readying a blizzard of lawsuits against Manmohan Singh and his top bureaucrats, that are expected to be filed as soon as the PM quits. The expectation in the "Brutus Camp" is that this will take place by March, once an orchestrated attack gets mounted on the PM from all sides.

Will Manmohan Singh fall? Forewarned is forearmed, and he probably has a good idea of the miserable fate in store for him, were he to oblige his secret and open traducers and resign. The rest of his life will be spent in court, defending himself against charges brought against him by those that are these days feeling the lash of his campaign against corruption. During the past four months, Manmohan Singh has done more to fight graft than all his predecessors combined, and it is ironic that he is being labelled as the fountainhead of corruption instead of its scourge. Despite the fact that government agencies are riddled with corrupt elements close to the six politicians and two business houses that are orchestrating the campaign against him, the PM has been goading the Central Bureau of Investigation into taking action against the guilty. In the meantime, to create a diversion from the very real 2G scam (and to give relief to the other big scam that has been exposes, that involving the 2010 Commonwealth Games), there has surfaced an "S-scam" involving the Department of Space. While it is clear that the scientists in the Department of Space behaved with the recklessness of teenagers in seeking to gift some of their cronies with satellite space, thus far no one has made any allegation of bribery or wilful misuse of power. Any set of authorities makes both good decisions as well as bad decisions, but unless there be evidence of mala fide, it would be wrong to club such errors together with deliberate misuse of authority, such as took place in the 2G scam, when a few companies were given benefits through violation of procedures and the twisting of rules. The sole purpose behind the clamour about the so-called "S-scam" seems to be to derail Manmohan Singh, as he is also the Minister for Space. However, the PM seems to be willing and able to foght back.

He has made it clear that he intends to stay his full term in office, and during this time, bring to book those exposed of corruption. Certainly a lot has taken place during these few months, with even powerful businessmen and politicians being sent to jail. The PM has been helped by a fearless Chief Justice of India, who to seems determined to fight the corrupt, and who has made the Supreme Court a beacon illuminating the path towards a cleansing of the system. The other side - those thriving in a system where influence and bribes deliver governmental favours - is working hard to ensure the exit of Manmohan Singh. They may yet succeed. After all, they have the money needed to bribe officials and political leaders into doing their bidding. But if they fail, and the unlikely combination of India's Chief Justice and Prime Minister succeeds in sending at least a few VVIPs to prison for loot, the country will have experienced its Second Wave of Reforms.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








India's shoot-to-kill policy on the Bangladesh border has taken a heavy toll of human lives at the Bangladesh-India border. Despite the fact that India was a benefactor of Bangladesh and aided it in gaining independence in 1971, subsequently its policies have been to browbeat its western neighbour. The reason is that Bangladeshis are a fiercely independent people and do not accept Indian hegemony or submission. Currently pro-India Hasina Wajid is the Bangladeshi Prime Minister but that does not deter India from wreaking havoc on hapless Bangladeshis. Frank Domenico Cipriani, who pens a weekly column in the Riverside Signal called "You Think What You Think And I'll Think What I Know", writes in his latest Op-Ed titled: 'A letter to India', raising the subject of India's killing of innocent Bangladeshi children. Addressing India, he states "We Americans have about one image that we can keep in our head about a country at a time.

The one many of us have of India is that of Gandhi, peacefully leading a march to the sea to make salt. We tend to think of India as a spiritual, non-violent land. Perhaps that's why so many people I've mentioned it to here are shocked by India's border killings of innocent Bangladeshis. It doesn't fit with the image we in America have of India. How can any nation justify such abuses of basic human rights, especially a nation that, because of its colonial history, should understand the sufferings of the oppressed?" Indian security officials openly admit that unarmed civilians trying to enter India illegally are being killed. Despite the fact that India has almost finished building a 2,000km fence, where once people on both sides were part of a greater Bengal, now India has put up a "keep out" sign to stop illegal immigration, smuggling and infiltration by anti-government militants. The world is apparently hostile to migration but to police the border, India's Border Security Force (BSF), has carried out a shoot-to-kill policy even against unarmed local villagers. The death toll has been huge. Over the past 10 years Indian security forces have killed almost 1,000 people, mostly Bangladeshis, turning the border area into a South Asian killing field. No one has been prosecuted for any of these killings, in spite of evidence in many cases that makes it clear the killings were in cold blood against unarmed and defenceless local residents.

What makes the wanton killing even more shocking is that some Indian officials endorse shooting people who attempt to cross the border illegally, even if they are unarmed. Almost as shameful is the lack of interest in these killings by foreign governments who claim to be concerned with human rights. A single killing by US law enforcement along the Mexican border makes headlines. The killing of large numbers of Bangladeshi villagers by Indian forces has been almost entirely ignored. Alauddin Biswas, while describing the slaughter of his 24-year-old nephew to Human Rights Watch, says that, being suspected of cattle rustling, his nephew was shot dead by the Indian BSF on March 10, 2010, while he was lying on his back. They shot him in the forehead; Alauddin argues that if he was running away, he would have been shot in the back. They just killed him. The BSF claimed self-defence, but no weapons were recovered.

Nazrul Islam, a Bangladeshi, was luckier. "At around 3 am we decided to cross the Indian border," he said. He was headed to India to smuggle cows back to Bangladesh. "As soon as the BSF saw us, they started firing without warning." Islam was shot in his arm, but survived. A number of the victims have been children. One father recounted how his sons were beaten by BSF officers. "The BSF personnel surrounded the boys and without giving any reason started beating them with rifle butts, kicking and slapping them. There were nine soldiers, and they beat my sons mercilessly. Even as the boys fell down, the BSF men continued to kick them ruthlessly on their chest and other sensitive organs."

The border has long been crossed routinely by local people for trade and commerce. It is also crossed by relatives and friends separated by a line arbitrarily drawn by the British during partition in 1947. As with the Mexican border in the United States, the border has become an emotive issue in Indian politics, as millions of Bangladeshis now live in India illegally. Many are exploited as cheap labour. India has the right to impose border controls. But India does not have the right to use lethal force except where strictly necessary to protect life. Yet some Indian officials openly admit that unarmed civilians are being killed. The head of the BSF, Raman Srivastava, says that people should not feel sorry for the victims, claiming that since these individuals were illegally entering Indian territory, often at night, they were "not innocent" and therefore were a legitimate target. Despite the fact that India claims to have functional courts, Srivastava apparently believes the BSF can act as judge, jury and executioner. This approach also ignores the many victims, such as a 13-year-old named Abdur Rakib, who broke no law and was killed simply because he was near the fence. Sadly, Bangladeshi border officials have also suggested that such killings are acceptable if the victim was engaged in smuggling.

As the recent WikiLeaks report about endemic torture in Kashmir underscores, Indian soldiers and police routinely commit human rights violations without any consequences. Permission has to be granted by a senior Indian official for the police to even begin an investigation into a crime committed by a member of the security forces, such as the BSF. This rarely happens. The response of various government officials to allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy has been confusing: we do shoot illegal border crossers since they are lawbreakers; we don't shoot border crossers; we only shoot in self-defence; we never shoot to kill. The facts show otherwise. India must revisit its shoot-to-kill policy otherwise it should be hauled up in international courts of justice.









Embarrassment after embarrassment, one wonders, where the things will end up? India has yet not able to come of the trauma of state sponsored terrorism by Lieutenant Colonel Shrikand Prashad Purohit as well as the dark shadow caused on the image of India by some of the senior and junior of Indian Armed Forces personnel, especially from Indian Military Intelligence (MI). Now another disgrace for the Indians has popped up. This time it is a retired Indian Army officer namely Captain Shyam Sunder Guleria who is involved in Hawala business and is linked with terrorists and criminals. Guleria has named a group of senior Indian Armed Forces officer including Intelligence bosses, who are allegedly involved in Hawala business. The first hot lead came from the interception of telephone call between two serving Army officer at Western Command in Chandigarh, who were in conversation with Bhagwan Dass. The arrest of Bhagwan Dass led to his accomplice Amrik Singh from Himachal Pradesh. On 31 January this year Captain Guleria was arrested and Indian Military Intelligence was quick enough to link him with Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Although the case is registered with Himachal Pradesh police station but all the arrestees are held with various Indian Intelligence agencies. Initial reports confirmed the involvement of the racket in Hawala business and the route adopted was through various cities of Indian Punjab to Pakistan's Khyber PK and to Central Asian Republic. The other routes include Karachi and Balochistan to Middle East and Europe. Reportedly, this money was also used as payments to Indian agents and over ground worker in troubled Khyber PK and Balochistan.

ADGP (CID) I D Bhandari who has interrogated Bhagwan Dass, arrested from Kangra on January 27, claims that vital leads about the possible involvement of Indian Intelligence official was there and the racket was using the money of Indian Army personnel for the business. Preliminary interrogation report suggests that Bhagwan Dass regularly visited the Cantonment area and had contacts with Indian intelligence units in Shimla and Chandigarh. Bhagwan Dass had opened an account in the name of his son namely Rajesh with a Mandi-based Hawala agent at Raxual, Bihar. On the other hand the interrogation of Amrik Singh revealed that he along with his brother Avtar Singh was working with ten other persons and use to transfer money into their accounts for further dispatch to other destinations through Hawala route. It is interesting to note that this racket is also linked with another group which was involved in gun running. In the month of August last year Captain Varun Misra, serving at Goa, was arrested at the Lucknow airport when AK-47 type arms and ammunition were found in his baggage. A case was registered against the officer at the Sarojini Nagar Police Station but Army authorities took possession of this officer. Initially, the investigation officers from Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) had linked the officer with terrorist groups but later it was reported that Captain Misra was possession of only two cartridges while he was not in possession of any weapon.

Quite recently, the Indian government has increased the pay of Indian Armed Forces personnel and today they are comparatively better off. However, where corruption has affected the whole Indian society, it has seriously damaged the character and disciple of the officers and personnel. There are numerous cases of corruption, involvement terrorism, narcotics, gun running and even anti state activities among the Armed Forces personnel. Today many Indian officers even forget that they are performing sacred duty of defence of the country. Probably, Captain Shyam Sunder Guleria and the Indian Army and Intelligence officers who had been financing the Hawala agents are unaware that how much loss they have inflicted to the country. Such kind of corrupt practices not only lead to economic loss but are connected to terrorism and other crimes. It is matter of concern that India which was 84th in 2009 in 178 countries has slipped to 87th spot in Transparency International's latest ranking of nations based on the level of corruption.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani is right in pointing out that India has come to be known all over the world as among the most corrupt countries of the world. It is important not only for India but all neighbouring countries including Pakistan to learn from each other. One wonders why when some decades back we were proud to be sons of the East are now suspecting each other of basic ethics and requirement of loyal nationals.








Recent incident of an American national Raymond Allen Davis involved in cold blooded murder of two Pakistanis in Lahore has given rise to many searching questions. The situation has become all the more shady and mysterious since his name and identity are fake and so was the car plate number in which he was traveling on the day of occurrence. He was carrying a prohibited bore pistol and prohibited bullets with which he shot the two motor cyclists. He was callous in using disproportionate force. He kept firing to ensure the death of Faizan and Faheem. This kind of brazen firing is plausible only when the opponents are also firing.

The backup vehicle from Lahore US Consulate came rushing on the distress call given by Davis. In its mad rush to reach the scene in a jiffy, the SUV came the wrong way on a one-way road, drove across road divider and reached the scene within 15 minutes but in haste crushed to death a motorcyclist Ubaidur Rahman. By that time, Davis after filming the two dead bodies soaked in blood with his digital camera tried to escape but due to traffic rush and police vigilance he was apprehended. The driver of second vehicle along with four persons from the consulate managed to slip away and till this day identity of five persons have yet not been ascertained. The US Consulate has refused to hand over the accused and the SUV. The US undue interference is heightening tension. Davis interrogation may reveal some hidden facts about US covert war in Pakistan. 36-year old Davis is being described by Washington as a diplomat whereas he is not. Pakistan is being pressed to release him immediately on account of diplomatic immunity he enjoys, whereas he doesn't enjoy immunity. The US earlier stance of showing Davis as a member of US Consulate in Lahore was modified and it now insists that he is a staff member of US Embassy in Islamabad. This change of stance has been necessitated to provide the accused greater degree of diplomatic immunity from criminal jurisdiction under Vienna Convention 1961. Our foreign office has yet to clear the mist of confusion about his real status. Even his real name is not known since the US has created confusion by stating that the accused is not Raymond Davis. It has however not intimated his real name so far which means he is an imposter.

Presidency, federal and provincial governments are taking cover behind the Lahore High Court (LHC) where Davis case is pending to avert American mounting pressure. The LHC alone cannot do much without the government clarifying certain basic facts about the accused status. The LHC has however taken the initiative to block handover of the accused to his country before completion and decision of the court and has also directed the government to place him on exit control list. In case the Foreign Office caves in under pressure and declares him as a US Embassy member, the US will then be in a stronger position to demand his immediate extradition. It may extend an assurance that Davis will be tried in the US court. If it is proven that Davis is a consulate member, in that case Vienna Convention 1963 allows host country to try him in its own court.

The government is being pulled in diverse directions. On one side is the ever increasing US pressure to set him free immediately; on other side is the mounting public pressure not to release him. The situation has become more complicated in the wake of suicide of 18 year old Shumaila, wife of murdered Faheem. Her dying words were that she wanted justice for her slain husband. The couple had been married six months ago. Davis is certainly a member of infamous Blackwater or a CIA agent who had been frequently visiting Pakistan illegally under a fake name, address and designation. It has now been ascertained that he runs a small private security company in Las Vegas in Colorado. As such he has nothing to do with diplomatic circle. Considering the objectionable weapon, specialized ammunition and equipment that was recovered from his vehicle which had a fake number plate and the precision with which he shot and killed the two moving motorcyclists from inside his moving car is a clear indication that he is a well trained marksman and adept in terrorism. One deceased had four bullet holes in his body and the other had three. Davis is also indirectly responsible for the death of Ubaid and Shumaila.

Items found in his car included masks, illegal 9mm glock pistol, make-up kit to change facial appearance, GPS tracker, satellite phone, telescope, five magazines, 75 bullets of prohibited bore, two cutters, two cell phones, ATM cards, first aid kit, PIA tickets, maps, all meant for espionage purposes. His digital camera had photos of several areas he snapped in Sargodha, Multan and Lahore. He was reportedly in charge of these three cities and was tasked to carryout espionage and acts of terror within his area of responsibility. His camera showed a video film as well. Intriguing thing is his choice of photos which included photos of sensitive military installations, bridges, Ack Ack gun positions near bridges and bunkers facing Indian border. These are certainly of no interest to USA since it already is in possession of vivid details of topography and installations captured through satellites. Afghanistan is also least interested in such details but India is certainly keen to acquire information of military significance. This factor deepens the suspicion that Davis may be working for CIA and RAW to earn money from both. His plea of self defence if taken on face value doesn't hold water since on this very plea the Taliban in Afghanistan are fighting the occupying forces. They had picked up arms in self defence after they were hounded, persecuted and killed. As such, they should also not be dubbed as terrorists. Comparing the two examples, Davis is a much bigger terrorist since he was not fired upon and he emptied his magazine on the backs of the two victims. It was not a firefight but a one-sided attack to kill. It is now quite clear that the main accused is a non-diplomat; hence Vienna Convention 1961 becomes invalid for a consulate staff member. Since domestic law takes precedence over international law, 1972 Act overrides 1963 Vienna Convention. 1977 anti-terrorist act is also applicable on Davis who himself has confessed that he is a consultant.

Relentless pressure is being exerted on Pakistan by Hillary Clinton, US Ambassador Cameron Munter and other officials to release Davis charged with double murder of two innocent Pakistanis. Their tone is getting shriller and threatening. Zardari's coming state visit to Washington is in jeopardy; so is release of Close Support Fund and fresh installment under Kerry Lugar Bill. Davis is the only topic under discussion between the officials of USA and Pakistan. All other issues have been relegated to the backseat. Hillary Clinton and Cameron Munter did not chew their words in saying that if Davis is not released promptly, it would have repercussions on Pak-US relations. Apparently there is little chance of disruption of relations unless the case is mishandled and in our eagerness to placate the US we bend our rules and let the double murderer go away scot-free without a trial. While the US may or may not get placated, the public will certainly not take it quietly. Already feeling the ripple effect of uprisings in North Africa and fed up of wrongdoings of the rulers, this callous act may ignite another long march in Pakistan and this time the caravan may not stop at Gujranwala.








HARNESSING the proceeds of the boom is a priority of responsible economists. 

Five years ago, The Australian's opportunity and prosperity conference, Making the Boom Pay, focused on how the returns of the boom were being squandered while the nation underinvested in ports, roads and other productive areas. The revised mineral resources rent tax, which The Australian supports, as well as reform of spending priorities, are needed to redress the problems.

The last thing the nation needs is an upsurge in the politics of envy, spurred by the record profits posted by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. Lamenting the demise of the original, punitive super-profits tax in light of the results, as some Fairfax commentators have done, is not constructive. Even without the new mining tax, BHP paid $US4.7 billion in taxes to Australian governments last year. It will invest $US80bn on new resource developments over the next five years. Through state royalties, payroll tax, company tax, new investment, employment, infrastructure and returns to superannuation funds and shareholders, who understand that their prosperity in retirement depends on good profits, Australia's largest mining companies serve the nation well. Crippling them with harsh taxation and industrial warfare, as Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes has threatened against Rio Tinto, would undermine the national interest.

Kevin Rudd, not surprisingly given the role of the "faceless men" in his demise as prime minister, hit out at Mr Howes yesterday. But the core of the current problem stretches back to 2007, when the ACTU's anti-Work Choices campaign delivered power to Mr Rudd and sowed the politics of envy. From the outset, the unions' role in that victory posed a problem for Australia's competitiveness. It gave unions the clout to force Labor to wind back industrial relations to an era when they were far more rigid and centralised, decades earlier than Work Choices. Now that Mr Howes has upped the ante, threatening a return to the industrial thuggery of the 1970s, the Gillard government has no alternative, in the national interest, but to prevent such a slide.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, a former ACTU leader, intervened sensibly in the row yesterday, arguing correctly that union sabre-rattling would not win the hearts and minds of workers and their families. That includes the 20,000 Australians who work for Rio Tinto, a major employer of indigenous Australians, which pays high wages, offers generous paid maternity leave and is planning $9bn in new investment.

With his limited life and workplace experience, Mr Howes, 29, who became a union official at 17 with the Labor Council of NSW, shows little understanding of the aspirations of working people. He and Wayne Swan, as passionate advocates of the original mining super-profits tax proposal that they viewed as an election-winner, misread the views of mining workers and their families. Even with a more moderate mining tax proposal, Queenslanders voted Labor out in seven seats last year, and the party also fared poorly in Western Australia.

AWU national president Bill Ludwig has labelled Trade Minister Craig Emerson a "rat" for daring to criticise Mr Howes. But it is Dr Emerson, with a doctorate in economics -- an adviser to Bob Hawke -- who understands that class warfare and the politics of envy were superseded in 1983 by the Hawke government's accords. Those pacts ushered co-operation between labour and capital that helped transform Australia's competitiveness and productivity. With other ministers sitting on the fence or even supporting Mr Howes obliquely, it is clear the Gillard government and the labour movement are split between those who understand and embrace the Hawke-Keating legacy and those who do not.

Julia Gillard is right. Employees, employers and trade unions need to work together in an environment of mutual respect, which leaves no room for Mr Howes's militancy. Until he replaces his inane, abusive outbursts with substance, he would be better off getting a real job, or a better education.







MULTICULTURALISM is such a loaded word that it is difficult to see what is to be gained by reintroducing it to the national conversation.

Indeed, the Gillard government risks an unhelpful backlash by championing terminology that even fell out of favour with the "father of multiculturalism" in this country, the late Jerzy Zubrzycki. By 1995, the Polish-born sociologist was saying that multiculturalism, embraced by both sides of politics in the 1970s and 80s, "has clearly gone off the rails", its meaning corrupted by politicians wooing the ethnic vote. In 1996, he wrote in The Australian that the "clumsy, pompous, polysyllabic noun -- multiculturalism -- adopted from the Canadians and incorrectly associated in the public mind exclusively with the ethnic groups has outlived its purpose".

Certainly, anger over the policy built support for One Nation and generated indignation among those who believed migrants were favoured. Now, as Immigration Minister Chris Bowen seeks to revive the term, the danger is that "multiculturalism" will become a distraction from the real social issues facing us. Exactly what is meant by multiculturalism in this country will continue to be contested, but the more important question is precisely what Mr Bowen plans to do under its banner in order to advance social cohesion.

The contribution migrants have made to the success of modern Australia is unquestioned, both in economic and social terms. We are more interesting now that we are less homogeneous. The waves of migrants, from the Irish to the Italians and Greeks to the Lebanese, to the Vietnamese and yet another cycle of Lebanese, to mention just a few, have had a positive impact. Mr Bowen reminded us in his speech at the Sydney Institute this week that a staggering 44 per cent of Australians were born overseas, or had at least one parent born overseas.

This newspaper has always supported a substantial migration program but is not so naive as to think Australia can avoid the problems that emerge from absorbing up to 300,000 migrants a year. It is true we are doing better than Britain, Germany and France, but there is also evidence that life in some suburbs is not as harmonious as it was five or 10 years ago. Gangs, drug use and anti-social behaviour, almost exclusively from young men, are real problems, not figments of the imagination of far-Right racists. This is appreciated by the less-extreme commentators and policymakers on both the Right and the Left, who understand the debate has moved on. It is no longer a question of ethnicity but of cultural difference, and the tensions that can all too easily follow. Only 1.71 per cent of Australians identify as Muslim, but we cannot simply ignore reports of behavioural problems among young, unemployed and disaffected Muslim men in the outer suburbs of Sydney, for example -- problems that are increasingly acknowledged by community leaders. The difficulties among largely Lebanese Muslims are mirrored in some Pacific Islander groups in the same areas and among Somali refugees in country towns.

These are not racial problems but problems born of cultural difference. There is a troubling alienation from mainstream Australian values. The reasons can be complex, including family breakdowns and the trauma of the refugee experience. Parental unemployment and a lack of literacy in their native language often leave them ill-prepared in terms of socialisation and education for the challenges of a modern, hi-tech economy.

Something has to give, and it is up to the communities, backed by sensible support from governments at all levels, to try to change the expectations that are holding back so many young Australians. How wonderful it would be if the next generation of Lebanese-Australian kids held as their models the successful chief executives and footballers from their communities, rather than drug barons and night club owners.

With open debate and good will, there is a real possibility of cultural change. What is not possible is to shame Australians into agreeing there are no problems in their suburbs by labelling them racist when they raise their fears. Unhelpful, too, was the decision of Labor and the Coalition to pursue a "small-Australia" approach to migration at the last election, rather than addressing the real problems behind suburban discontent.

Mr Bowen says he is not afraid to use the term multiculturalism. The true test of his fortitude will be whether he can foster the deep change needed to ensure immigration continues to make a positive contribution to Australia.







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.








THE publication in the science journal Nature of evidence demonstrating that human activity has made extreme weather events worse in recent decades marks another stage in the debate about how to arrest climate change.

The argument around climate policy has been complicated until now by the absence of any conclusive proof linking human activity and global warming. It has been a theory - based, true, on many observations of weather patterns and climatic phenomena such as the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and extrapolations of their likely effect. The theory is carefully formulated but, as the scandal over climate scientists' emails in 2009 showed, it has come to be treated as another weapon in a polemical argument, another extension of the battleground over climate policy - and even economic policy. Scepticism has become widespread, fed in many cases by paranoia or wilful ignorance.

Sceptics who may accept that the climate is indeed changing have been able to point to other possible causes for what is happening to deflect moves to change behaviour. If it was ever persuasive, that argument is much less so now. One scientific article is not necessarily conclusive, but others will follow in this high-profile field, and gradually the case will be made. The research covered only the northern hemisphere, but it would be more than surprising if its findings applied to only half the globe.

For politicians the difficulty is to convince people that measures - often inconvenient and costly - to limit greenhouse gas emissions will actually make any difference.

There is a small-scale parallel to worldwide action on climate in the so far successful action which has been taken to repair the hole in the ozone layer. Observations from the 1970s onwards established that the ozone layer was being damaged by chlorofluorocarbons - man-made chemicals used in refrigerators and aerosol sprays. But it took until 1987 for countries to agree to limit the production of CFCs by international treaty - a process opposed vigorously by the chemical industry. Further evidence of the damage being done by CFCs was necessary before it was agreed to phase them out from 1996.

As a result, the ozone layer is slowly returning to health, though that process is expected to take until the second half of this century. It is a mostly positive story which shows global-scale results can be achieved given the right conditions through international action. But chlorofluorocarbons are not central to the world economy; fossil fuels are. The stresses imposed on countries by action on climate change will be many times greater.






THE challenge which the internet represents to longstanding legal norms has been highlighted by a decision of the Supreme Court. For the first time in NSW, newspapers, including the Herald, have been ordered to remove from their websites articles that are alleged to have the potential to affect proceedings of a trial. The articles relate to three men who are to go on trial over the death of Terry Falconer, a former drug dealer, in 2001. The order remains in force for the duration of the trial.

The court is right to want to keep jurors away from extraneous sources of information. It is central to the British and Australian legal systems that the accused are tried according to the rules of evidence, which cover what facts may be put to the jury. The problem with Justice Derek Price's decision, though, is that it will not have the intended effect.

Though the Herald and the other newspapers named will remove the articles as ordered, jurors will still be able - though they will be told not to - to search for the names of the accused on the internet and read articles presenting the background to the case in a manner beyond the court's reach. Some will be copies of the articles the newspapers have removed. What, then, is the point of the order? Justice Price seemed almost to acknowledge this futility with his remark that the court had the obligation "to do whatever it could" to protect the integrity of the process.

Clearly if this is all it can do, it can't do much. Although it was possible before the internet existed for a juror to go to a library on the way home from court and consult back copies of newspapers or clippings files for references to a case, it would have taken energy and dedication. Inertia kept the rules of evidence safe. No longer. On the internet such searches are a matter of a few keystrokes. And most homes are connected - as are plenty of mobile phones. The internet has changed the world courts operate in, and they will have to adapt.

The problem, it would seem, is not the Herald's or any other paper's website, but the internet itself. If jurors' deliberations are to be kept free of contamination, should the court not consider ensuring jurors don't log on at all? It may of course be thought that disconnecting jurors from the internet is oppressive and too much of a burden for people who are doing their civic duty. But court orders, whether for jurors or newspapers, are important things. They should, wherever possible, make some sense.







IF IT were not so serious, it would be funny. Australia learnt this week that it does not have a seaworthy amphibious warfare fleet. The two biggest and oldest landing ships, HMAS Manoora and HMAS Kanimbla, are in such poor order that the government says the lives of sailors would be imperilled if the vessels were to be deployed. A smaller, younger member of the fleet, HMAS Tobruk, is so beset by problems that it could not be used to help with the recovery operation after cyclone Yasi devastated north Queensland early this month.

It gets worse. Australia has had to ask to share use of New Zealand's amphibious ship, HMNZS Canterbury, to fill the void until at least 2014, when two so-called landing helicopter docks are due to come into service. The defence relationship between New Zealand and Australia is a rich vein through the history of both nations, but it is humiliating for Australia that it has been reduced to this.

It seems difficult to determine who is to blame for this appalling situation. Defence Minister Stephen Smith this week released a report from the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Houston, and Defence Department secretary Ian Watt, that exposes what the minister calls systemic and cultural problems in the maintenance of the ship fleet ''for a decade or more''. It points to a ''make do'' culture in the Defence Force, particularly relating to the maintenance of the amphibious fleet.

The minister says the report identifies a perception in the navy that ''major support ships are not subject to the same level of risk as submarines and aircraft - almost a perception that HMAS Manoora and HMAS Kanimbla are second-tier ships''. As Mr Smith told a conference of defence industry leaders in Canberra: ''Maintenance and sustainment must be bread-and-butter issues for Defence, for the Defence Materiel Organisation, for navy and for the defence industry.'' It is an indictment of Australia's Defence leadership that a minister should have to make such a statement.

The rendering of the amphibious fleet as useless is only the latest in a litany of blunders, delays and cost overruns that talk of a cultural crisis in Defence. Last year, it emerged that two of the six Collins-class submarines would be out of action for a combined total of nine years. More broadly, about two-thirds of the navy's fleet was unable to operate at full capacity during the early months of last year. Two weeks ago, it was revealed that the department had spent $40 million on boats that could not be used for their intended purpose because they were too big to fit on to the navy's amphibious ships. Responding to that news, Mr Smith declared: ''In the past there has been too much of an attitude or a culture that, irrespective of the cost and the outcome, Defence projects are somehow immune to rigour.''

Mr Smith, still relatively new to the portfolio having been given the role after the election last August, has identified his challenge: to break down the culture that allows Defence to act as though it were a law unto itself. This is more than a matter of waste of public money. The capability of the Defence Force is being affected. More fundamentally, such poor administration of the Defence Department, should it continue, would undermine public support for and confidence in the force.

Defence occupies a unique position among government departments. It is an enormous entity; the latest annual report records a workforce of more than 73,000 permanent employees, made up of nearly 58,000 ADF personnel and about 15,000 civilian public servants. Its budget, now running at more than $26 billion a year, has been quarantined for years and by governments of all colours from the caps and cuts routinely imposed on other departments. That privileged treatment is predicated on the expectation Defence will do its job better.





ONLY a week ago, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson told The Age Australia would not sell uranium to India until it signed up to the non-proliferation treaty and comprehensive safeguards. He said so after this newspaper reported a diplomatic cable that revealed he had told US officials a uranium export deal with India could be clinched in three to five years. Now Mr Ferguson is heading a push to re-open debate on an expansion of uranium exploration and mining and an end to the ban on exports to India at this year's ALP national conference. ''No one can suggest India is a rogue state,'' he says. That is generally true but, critically, not when it comes to the nuclear arms that India developed in defiance of international rules.

A core principle of the non-proliferation treaty is that only signatories are allowed free access to nuclear trade for verifiable civil purposes. It is true that India has a good record of safeguarding nuclear materials and secrets, despite its rejection of the key global treaties. It has a self-declared moratorium on testing and a no first use policy. Yet India and its rival, Pakistan, have come to the brink of nuclear war several times, highlighting the threat to humanity that nuclear weapons pose. Australia has worked hard for the non-proliferation cause, to which the US has recommitted under President Barack Obama. His predecessor, George Bush, did much to undermine the treaty regime and pushed through a waiver on nuclear trade with India. The problem with the ''special case'' exception that Mr Ferguson suggests is illustrated by China's use of the US-India deal as justification for expanding nuclear ties with Pakistan.

The Age does not object to exploiting Australia's vast uranium reserves, although the scope for nuclear power to cut greenhouse emissions tends to be overstated. This nation has a grave responsibility, though, to ensure its export activities are 100 per cent consistent with non-proliferation. India refuses to ratify the test ban treaty and regards the NPT as flawed and inconsistent. That may be so, but this only means nations must work to bolster the non-proliferation regime, not disregard or circumvent it.

If India wants Australian uranium, it should accept all treaty compliance and verification requirements. Resolving the inconsistencies of these treaties, and their application to members and non-members of the nuclear club, may take time, but Australia should not rush to supply India for the sake of any political and commercial returns. The risks attached to uranium mean it is unlike any other trade item. The rules on nuclear trade should not be arbitrarily bent.








On Tuesday President Barack Obama found it ironic that an Iranian regime which had celebrated the popular uprising in Egypt had gunned down and beaten Iranians demonstrating peacefully. Two days later the boot was on the other foot. Security forces in Bahrain, a kingdom the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, described in December as a model partner for the US, gunned down protesters, some in their sleep, assaulted doctors who came to their aid, and beat anyone they came into contact with. Women and children were not spared.

The phone lines to the Gulf state burned. Ms Clinton expressed concern. The Pentagon urged restraint. The foreign secretary, William Hague, who was in Bahrain only last week, stressed the need for peaceful action to address the concerns of protesters. And Michèle Alliot-Marie, the French foreign minister, regretted the excessive use of violence by security forces, as if a lower level of violence would have been permissible.

Once again, the strategic interests of the US, Britain and France and the values they uphold as universal rights appeared in stark contrast to each other. There can be no doubt that the tiny island kingdom in the Gulf is a strategic interest. Manama is home of the US fifth fleet, whose main task is to protect Saudi oil installations and the Gulf waterways. Both view the ruling al-Khalifa family as instrumental in containing Iran, which has long claimed the island as its territory. If the US ever grew cold on its ally, the Saudi kingdom never would. Neither power would permit regime change in Bahrain. There is simply too much at stake. But that is what the majority of Bahraini opposition may now have in mind. Before yesterday's police brutalities, their main demands were a constitution written by an elected assembly and the release of political prisoners. Most of them did not demand that King Hamad al-Khalifa himself should go. They do now.

The sectarian nature of the conflict is never far from the surface in a country where the two-thirds of citizens who are Shia Muslims remain underrepresented in parliament and have little access to Bahrain's oil wealth. The security forces have had to recruit and naturalise foreign Sunni Muslims – some of whom are decried as mercenaries – to make up the numbers. Before the spectre of Iran is invoked (and there is no evidence yet of its involvement in the Bahraini protest), it is worth remembering that none of the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya or Yemen have been particularly Islamic in nature. The generation demanding basic political rights are interested not in ideology, but in an end to tyranny and corruption. It should be clear where the west's interests lie.






The venue was carefully chosen, and the prime minister struck his most progressive note. In Toynbee Hall, east London's temple of the big society, David Cameron yesterday explained that his welfare reforms were not merely driven by money but by the same moral convictions that inspired Beveridge. He will be happy with the immediate results. The gist of the news reports was that Mr Cameron's tough decisions would promote responsibility, autonomy and work.

This reporting was far too kind. Eyes were grabbed by Iain Duncan Smith's plan to replace a host of benefits with a universal credit. No matter that the work and pensions secretary's squeezing of the welfare balloon into a new shape will cause old problems to pop up in new places, as Resolution Foundation research has underlined this week. Social security is at its knottiest where one piece of the safety net gets entangled with another, so there is real logic in weaving overlapping elements into a seamless whole. It must be hoped that the parallel move to let every town hall write its own rules for rebating council tax does not undermine the whole enterprise, by ensnaring national rationalisation in local variation.

In the end, however, the changing shape of welfare is less important than its adequacy. Step back from the blueprint for a universal credit, and cuts dominate the big picture. The annual £2bn earmarked for ironing out glitches in the new architecture is scant compensation for the £18bn set to be squeezed from existing benefits. The howls of anguish heard thus far concern particular payments to care home residents or to poor families in flashy postcodes. These cries are a mere foretaste of the horrors ahead, as a close reading of the bill confirms.

Part 1 of the legislation covers the universal credit, but push on through its 136 clauses and bigger stories emerge. Clause 51, for example, contains proposals, as yet scarcely noticed, that seriously jeopardise the income of many disabled people. Consider a stroke victim, who may have paid national insurance for decades before incurring a severe impairment from which there is no prospect of recovery. If they have even a low-paid working spouse, the bill will cut their money off cold the moment that 12 months have passed. Prompting incapacity benefit claimants to consider their options is eminently justifiable, since some could indeed work. But this is hardly an argument for punishing other recipients who either cannot work at all or else cannot find suitable jobs.

Spooling slightly further forward, clause 93 provides for a crude benefit cap to be imposed irrespective of circumstances. The wheeze won red-top plaudits, with the headline "the cap fits". But according to forensic analysis by Tim Leunig, an LSE economist who has recently been appointed to the leading liberal thinktank CentreForum, it could leave large families even in deeply unfashionable corners of the capital trying to scrape by on £3 per person each day. And the entire bill is underpinned by a recasting of the rules on indexation, which will steadily make the poor poorer. Instead of being pegged to the total cost of living, benefits will in future be pegged to the cost of shopping, thereby stripping the rising price of keeping a roof over one's head out of the general calculation – and at just the same moment that housing benefit is being cut back.

Mr Cameron may sense he will not get away without some compromise. Already, impractical plans to force the long-term unemployed to pay more of their own rent have been ditched, and in a curious coda to yesterday's speech he signalled that the bill covered "lots of difficult issues and many things that we will have to examine all over again". He has this week performed one about-turn over the forests. Cast your eyes up from the individual trees and survey the whole welfare wood, and it looks like he might soon need to make several more.






The Latin language distinguishes between questions expecting the answer yes, which are prefaced by "nonne", and those expecting the answer no, which begin with a "num". In the House of Commons on Wednesday Ed Miliband asked a textbook "nonne" question only to find, to his astonishment and almost everyone else's, that the answer he got was a no. Was David Cameron happy with his forestry policy? He wasn't; and now he has ditched it. Immediately headline writers all over the land reached for the time-honoured formula: government U-turn. It was, of course, but the phrase gives no hint of the elegant sweep with which the prime minister, in one fluid motion, disarmed the opposition and sliced off his environment secretary at the knees. It is time for a new phrase that conveys at least some of the elegant feint of Wednesday's almost insouciant answer. This is not about the substance of the policy, which was wrong, but merely a small footnote of admiration for the style with which it was abandoned. And a plea for some less pejorative way of describing the moment when a government realises it has got something catastrophically wrong. Mature second thoughts should never – or at least not automatically – be an occasion for shame and popular obloquy. Let us always remember the wise admonition of Emerson: "A foolish consistency," he pronounced, "is the hobgoblin of little minds." Though he may, of course, have reconsidered that later.






The results of the Nagoya mayoral and Aichi gubernatorial elections Feb. 6 were miserable for the Democratic Party of Japan, highlighting the DPJ leadership's inability to think strategically to win elections. Prime Minister Naoto Kan and DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada should figure out why, starting with its defeat in the Upper House election in July, that the DPJ has suffered a series of election losses in such places as Hokkaido's No. 5 Lower House constituency, Matsudo (Chiba Prefecture), Ibaraki, Nishi Tokyo, and finally Nagoya and Aichi. For the Nagoya mayoral election, the DPJ picked Mr. Yoshihiro Ishida, a Lower House member, as a candidate. While Mayor Takashi Kawamura collected 662,251 votes on the strength of a populist platform to make a 10 percent residential tax cut permanent, Mr. Ishida garnered only 216,764 votes.

The DPJ suffered a miserable defeat despite the fact that it sacrificed one of its precious Lower House seats by making Mr. Ishida run in the Nagoya election. The DPJ is now five seats short of a two-thirds majority in the Lower House that it needs to override a vote in the Upper House. But 15 rebellious DPJ members Thursday expressed their desire to leave the DPJ's Lower House parlimentary group.

The result in the Aichi gubernatorial election was equally devastating to the DPJ. Mr. Kawamura's ally, Hideaki Omura, a former Liberal Democratic Party member of the Lower House, won. But Mr. Shinichiro Misono, supported by the DPJ, came out third — even behind Mr. Kazuhiko Shigetoku supported by the LDP's Aichi chapter. In the 2009 Lower House election, the DPJ took all the 15 constituencies in Aichi Prefecture.

Tactically the DPJ must field strong candidates with appealing power, concentrate campaign funds in elections where the DPJ's prospects are good and strenuously approach organizations likely to support DPJ candidates. More importantly the DJP must correctly detect problems voters face and work out concepts and policies to address them. Otherwise it will suffer defeats again in local elections in April, which will include 13 gubernatorial elections and 44 prefectural assembly elections.






In 2010, Japan's nominal gross domestic product increased 1.8 percent from 2009 to ¥479.223 trillion. This is about $5.470 trillion, or some $404 billion (some ¥35 trillion) less than China's corresponding figure already announced. Thus it was confirmed this week that China has overtaken Japan as the world's No. 2 economic power — a position Japan had enjoyed since 1968 when it passed West Germany.

Given Japan's low birthrate, it is unlikely that it can achieve high economic growth as registered by emerging economies even if it overcomes its current deflation. In terms of per capita GDP, Japan climbed to second place in 1993 but fell to 16th in 2009 after falling to 19th in 2007 and 2008.

China is expected to achieve growth of 9 percent to 11 percent in 2011. The gap between Japan and China is likely to expand because China is expected to maintain high growth for the time being.

If the spirit of the Japanese people remains low, the situation will worsen. Japan should look to its strong points such as relative social stability, advanced energy conservation and environmental protection technologies, and creativity as seen in anime, manga and fashion, and look for ways to strengthen them.

Japan's technological power is still strong. The government and the private sector should cooperate to nurture new fields of economic growth. Medical and nursing services, agriculture, tourism, renewable energy and energy conservation can be such fields. It will also be important to view China as a place that offers business opportunity for Japan.

Education will grow in importance for Japan. The government and educators must make serious efforts to produce a workforce that can compete in the global market. They should encourage young people to stop being self-complacent, to look beyond Japan and to have ambition to become active internationally.

Japan also should have the courage to remind China that it can no longer act like a developing nation and that it has an international responsibility to behave as the world's No. 2 economy.







HONG KONG — The resignation of Hosni Mubarak after a 30-year reign as modern-day pharaoh of Egypt has demonstrated the nervous and potentially combustible connection between oil and politics in the Middle East. As soon as Mubarak quit after weeks of demonstrations, oil prices dropped, but quickly rose again, and benchmark Brent crude touched $103 a barrel as new political protests erupted in Bahrain and Iran amid certainty about who would really rule Egypt.

It looks as if it will be a stormy springtime for oil and hence for the world economy. There are reasons to be jittery, not least because of a dangerous mix: Politics, economics, social unrest, religion, and oil supply and demand are working together. The fear is not only for Egypt but of contagion across the Middle East, with the political explosives detonating the economic damage.

Egypt after all is not a major producer of oil. Its production of 662,000 barrels a day accounts for just 0.8 percent of total world production, and most of it is consumed domestically. What has got the markets worried is that Egypt also controls the Suez Canal, whose very name is evocative of world trade and the potential for disruption. In the 1956 crisis, about 10 percent of global oil production was removed and it took more than six months to get the canal back to normal and production flowing freely.

These days the Suez Canal is much less important. About a million barrels of oil a day goes through it. Another 1.1 million barrels crosses Egypt through the Sumed pipeline (the Suez-Mediterranean pipeline running from the Gulf of Suez to the Mediterranean Sea). So even if the Suez Canal were to be closed, the impact would be much smaller. In 1956, Suez alone accounted for 8.8 percent of world oil flows, but today it is only 1.1 percent, and less than 2.5 percent of global oil if Sumed flows are included.

However, even a marginal disruption of oil supplies could have a much bigger impact than the actual shortfall. This is especially the case today when economic recovery has prompted a commodity price boom affecting goods from basic food grains to sugar and cotton and on to copper, palladium and tin and indeed oil.

The International Energy Agency has raised its estimate for oil usage this year four times in as many months and is now forecasting 89 million barrels a day in 2011, rising to 93.5 million barrels a day by 2015. To give a sense of history, in 2001, global oil use was 76 million barrels a day. The good news is that inventories are 61 days of forward demand, or 10 days more than during the oil price spike in 2008. In addition, the world has about 5 million barrels a day of spare oil production capacity. That's probably why U.S. crude oil futures fell as Brent rose, creating a record $18 Brent-Nymex price gap.

Unrest in Egypt raises questions beyond the country, with uncomfortable implications for the U.S. and the West in general, and for Israel and Middle East peace in particular. Indeed, protests have already flared up in a number of countries.

Lebanon, which produces no oil, but is a touchstone for the prosperity and stability of the region — not least because it has borders with Israel and Syria and has one of the few remaining substantial, though dwindling, Christian communities in the Middle East — again experienced street violence, the toppling of its government and replacement with a Hezbollah-dominated coalition.

Tunisia's long-term president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali proved to be of softer stuff than Egypt's Mubarak when he quickly fled his country at the first sign of trouble and demonstrations on the streets. Violence has also affected Yemen, another tiny oil producer (258,000 barrels a day or 0.3 percent of world production) which like Egypt is an ally of the U.S. and also occupies a key strategic position with a potential choke point for oil transit at the Strait of Bab al Mandab, where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden.

Last month also saw a sharp rise in bombings and deaths in Iraq, which is a considerable oil producer (2.4 million barrels a day or 2.7 percent of world production), as well as being an ally of Washington. There were also small protests in Jordan, mild but enough for King Abdullah prudently to change his prime minister and government. Syria, Bahrain and Algeria also experienced protests against their authoritarian rulers.

Iran's mercurial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, quickly forgetting protests against his own rule, claimed that the demonstrations in Cairo and other Arab cities are a defining revolutionary struggle against "despotic" secular Westernized "puppet" rulers and are inspired by the overthrow of the shah of Iran (who was toppled in 1979).

But then Iran, which is a major oil producer, with 4.1 million barrels a day, got its own rude awakening, with demonstrators on the streets this week having the temerity to call for its own supreme ruler to step down. Iran's security forces will have little compunction in putting down the protests, brutally, if necessary, but it is a reminder to authoritarian rulers that people everywhere long for freedom of the spirit as well as freedom from economic want.

Egypt has a central and pivotal position in the geopolitics and economics of the whole Middle East, not least because of its long and ancient civilization and role as the largest of the Arab states and the center of Arab nationalism. Under Mubarak it enjoyed two other features that will now come under threat with the president's departure and which make the melting pot potentially more explosive.

One is Egypt's peace treaty with Israel, signed by Mubarak's assassinated predecessor Anwar Sadat but which Mubarak has faithfully adhered to (allowing Israel free rein to extend settlements in Jerusalem and occupied territories without fear of war with Egypt). The other has been firm friendship with Washington, which has seen more than $70 billion in American aid pumped into Egypt to help create Mubarak's vision of a modern state.

Steven Cook, senior fellow at the influential Council on Foreign Relations, wrote last week that "Mubarak was long Washington's man in Cairo: he kept open the Suez Canal, repressed the Islamists, and maintained peace with Israel."

The self-styled "leader of the free world" has other friends in the region with fewer democratic credentials than Mubarak. Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Ethiopia, Jordan and Bahrain spring quickly to mind. Some of these may not be in imminent danger of falling, but even a Saudi king (oil production 10.2 million barrels a day or 11.7 percent of global production) might have to sing a different tune to the U.S. and Israel if the Muslim Brotherhood get their feet under the ruling table in Cairo.

Kevin Rafferty, a Hong Kong-based journalist, specializes in economic development and social issues.







The offer of two squadrons of used F-16 jet  fighters — gratis  — from the United States seems too good to be true. With its aging defense weaponry systems in desperate need of upgrading, the Indonesian Military (TNI) signaled last week it had accepted the offer under a US grant.

The ball is back in the US court to decide whether to proceed with the deal or not.

But wait. Nothing is as free as it seems. When making the announcement, the TNI did not quite explain the various strings that come with the offer. Indonesia still has to fork out a considerable sum of money to retrofit and install weapons on the 24 F-16 fighters. By one insider's calculation, the amount would come close to the cost of buying six brand-new (and newer model) F-16s, which the TNI had originally planned to buy.

The choice for the TNI boils down to having 24 secondhand fighters which would probably be good until 2025 or 2030, or get 18 fewer planes with the plan of buying more down the road when budgets permit. The Air Force says it needs 200 planes of various types and sizes in its fleet to protect the country's vast airspace.

Another string attached is the reality that the weapons will have to be procured from US defense contractors. With the US government still banned by Congress from selling lethal weapons to Indonesia, one can only wonder what sort of weapons the TNI will be able to install on these F-16s.

The offer should also be seen as part of the US lobby, even if only half-heartedly, to stop Indonesia from buying military hardware from other countries.

Because of the military sales embargo imposed by Congress, Indonesia over the past decade has looked to Russia for some of its air defense systems, marked by the procurement of Sukhoi jet fighters.

Many senior TNI officers are more familiar with US weapons, but circumstances, most particularly the US arms embargo, dictated that the military has had to turn to other countries to seek ways of upgrading its weaponry systems. As Indonesia begins to increase its spending on procuring weapons, the US has reason to worry.

Some analysts have proclaimed that Southeast Asian countries today are locked in an arms race.

Given the spending spree in recent years, Southeast Asia is considered one of the fastest growing markets for global arms traders.

Others linked these buildups to growing concerns in the region over the rise of China and what this might mean to their strategic security environments. In their defense, these countries say they are only catching up, having severely cut their defense spending during the Asian financial crisis more than a decade ago.

As far as Indonesia is concerned, the current "arms buildup" is part of its effort to upgrade the TNI to meet the minimum essential force. If there is an arms race in the region, Indonesia may as well throw in the towel now.

Jakarta does not have the resources to compete, not even if it wanted to. When compared with countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines, Indonesia's defense posture will pale, especially when taking into account the large land, water and airspace it needs to protect.

Fortunately, Indonesia does not see any immediate external threat, allowing it some leeway to keep defense spending low and release money for other more needy sectors, such as education, healthcare, poverty alleviation and the construction of economic infrastructure.

There is now an acknowledgment that human security is just as important, if not more, to the national security of a country. Still, Indonesia cannot neglect its defense sector for too long before compromising its ability to defend the country from potential security threats, both the traditional and the non-traditional versions. In recent years, the defense sector has seen the second largest growth in spending after education, and for a very good reason.

The challenge Indonesia faces now is how to allocate the rising defense budget as efficiently as possible. Sharing more information about the options available with the public and the House of Representatives would certainly help the TNI and the government in making those important decisions.






If you are traveling through the highway between Cikarang in Bekasi and Jakarta, you will find a big billboard on the left side with an Indonesian state minister on it dressed in green with a dominantly green background. On the top right corner, the billboard reads "Islam Untuk Semua" or "Islam for all".

The billboard then reminded me of the bloody attack over Ahmadiyah people in Cikeusik, Banten, the arsons on churches in Temanggung, Central Java, and the raid on an Islamic boarding school belonging to a Shiite foundation in Pasuruan, East Java. The minister vociferously conveys negative sentiments over the presence of "other-than-Islam" religious beliefs in Indonesia. With his statements since taking office in 2009, we know that he has no empathy at all with the suffering Ahmadis in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, or in any other locations.

I am quite sure that "Islam for all" in this minister's mind means not more than Islam as he understands and the way he understands it. There seems to be no room for diversity. There is only one "true" Islam and no other different textual interpretation building blocks. Looking at the expensive billboard tells us that Islam in green is the only one blessed and therefore has to be obeyed.

Still, despite that his guardianship as a public official should be for all different beliefs, his controversial avowals acquaint us with symbolical "Islamization" that he deeply wishes.

Much earlier, in the beginning of the 19th century, in a village in West Sumatra, Tuanku Nan Renceh, started his religious-puritan jihad bloodcurdlingly through murdering his aunt for chewing tobacco leaves. To this raging-eyes man, there should be a rigid religious order in his society with swords acting as unbending guardians. Whoever tried to traverse differently or cross the arrogantly-defined border was a traitor who deserved death.

In the following years, the outraged leader executed more lives in imposing his law: no tobacco and alcoholic drinks; all people had to be attired in white; women must cover their faces; men should be bearded; and etcetera. Every village had its own jurist to decide the verdicts to implement the law.

Tuanku Nan Renceh was then categorized as more extreme than the Wahhabi sect itself in Saudi Arabia.

Yet, more than a century later, Mohammad Hatta, Indonesia's first vice president and a devout Muslim, sharply criticized the so-called "Islamic movement" led by Tuanku Nan Renceh and his followers. It was never something Islamic since Islam itself in Hatta's view meant "peace-building".

What they had done was more an attempt to legitimize their movement for their own belief.

If we read more, it was linked to a rapid and unstable change in the peasant's economy (Christine Dobbin, 1992). In the self-regulating highland villages, social order had been determined very materialistically before it was unsettled by the political economy inflicted by Dutch colonialism. There was, therefore, focal social fretfulness.

Coincidentally, Wahhabism, one of the most radical sects of Islam in history, came offering an "imagined" stability with heavenly promises if holy borders were drawn uncompromisingly. To Tuanku Nan Renceh, this choice suited his intention to chastise the "chaotic" society diversely from the more peaceful approach drawn on by his religious teacher, Tuanku Nan Tuo, the one he called "an already worn-out monk".

Nowadays, pro-violent Islamic radical revival seems to occur in a similar uncertain changing in modern Indonesian politics and economy. More particularly, it is a transitional face of democracy in Indonesia which stands side by side with its unpreparedness as a state (or a nation) to face a speedy change of contemporary world.  

What results is the spreading of acute hesitancy, mostly with the ignorance feature, in deciding where the state will head to. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, for example, could never enforce definite and operational policies since he himself is too cautious to sacrifice his political assets: The "assumed" Muslim voters and Islamic political parties. Despite of his last term of presidency, securing the crown for his political group is seen better than risking it with more courageous moves.

In fact, as it is proven by the consecutive defeats of Islamic political parties, Indonesian voters are actually more moderate than they are commonly presupposed. Regardless of the escalating religious conflicts, tolerance still could be experienced in most parts of Indonesia.

Accordingly, we could not also hope too much for the brace of the legislatures or judicative bodies. The failure to review the blasphemy law, which prohibits alternative interpretations of the six officially recognized religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism) proves that their presence in the bodies never equivalently represents the moderate majority.  

Back to the story of Tuanku Nan Renceh, it was then the society itself that had him defeated. In history we read that the Dutch army would mean nothing if the unrestful small communities had been settled thoroughly by the irritated Muslim leader.

Here, the society had its own law, that beyond any supra-structural institutions, tried to recover itself sooner or later with its own logic.

What we need, therefore, for today's world, is continuous empowerment of the people who have been destined to live in multicultural circumstances. I myself believe, for instance, that education with touchable democratic features, in formal or non-formal educational centers, will mean more in the not-too-distance future. Too, if our TV screen is free from hate preaching and ignorant religious programs, our minority fellows will not suffer as  they do nowadays.

The writer is a researcher at Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta.






We live, according to German sociologist Ulrich Beck, in a global risk society. In our society decisions are clouded by radical doubt and our actions have unexpected and unwanted side effects.

In risk society, more knowledge only raises more complicated questions (the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk urges us to ask what the moral consequences are for us now that we are able to modify ourselves through genetic engineering).

In risk society, we have to deal with uncertainty and contingency. In present-day modernity — which has been given many names to symbolize our uncertain times: late, radical, liquid, second, reflexive and post-modernity — radical doubt is turned against itself and it is no longer possible to colonize the future with a grand gesture so that certainty supposedly becomes secured. However, we have to make decisions even if we cannot know the consequences.

A good example is the debate concerning global warming. Some outright deny it, others downplay it, and those who do claim that it exists do not agree on what the causes and consequences are, let alone what should be done. Al Gore and others are accused of overreacting and even of fear mongering. However, sometimes a situation calls for fear mongering, because it urges us to act immediately by putting our doubts aside.

The unwanted side effect of fear mongering is the cry wolf syndrome – used repeatedly it can lead to distrust. The war-on-terror is a good example; George W. Bush inaugurated the war on-terror by saying that whoever is not with him is against him. Bush, as the commander-in-chief of this war, only created more enemies. More and more are unilaterally declared enemies-of-state, the latest casualty being WikiLeaks' spokesperson Julian Assange. We have been sucked into the trap by worrying that we will be perceived as soft on terror.

Jacob Burckhardt, a Swiss historian of art and culture, posed the following thesis: When a society becomes more complex, the need for radical simplifications quickly emerges. He noted this at the end of the 19th century, a time of nation-building, colonialism and wars. Now we live again in complex times, and this time around radical simplifications are again offered.

The debate on migration is an example. The American political scientist Samuel Huntington urged his fellow countrymen in his book Who are we? to defend the WASP culture against the influx of Latin-American immigrants. Dutch politician Geert Wilders warned in his short movie Fitna that Islam justifies its believers to use violence against non-Muslims. Both men want their country to be more homogenous and thus to return to more parochial times (it is, of course, a myth that such times ever existed). They play with fire by perceiving Latin-Americans and Dutch Muslims as a fifth column; they defend and define national culture against an enemy from within, unworthy of trust because they have multiple loyalties (for this reason John Locke, writing in the 17th century, excluded Catholic Britons from toleration).

We are constantly posed with hermeneutic problems. We could know how to act if we are able to understand a situation, however, we do not know who the other is or how she or he is going to (re-)act, which means that there is always a gap between what we need to know and what we do in fact know, i.e. indeterminacy. This makes our society an ambivalent place, which can lead to anxiety and fear. Therefore, the stranger needs to be deported or assimilated.

The stranger is proximate but socially distant. The danger is a renewed longing for "communityhood" — a community of thick relations of care — to exclude the stranger (from xenophobia to suburbia).

However, the tension between communityhood and individual freedom remains unresolved. Resisting ambiguity can lead to violence by drawing new borders. The gated communities of suburbia and the air-conditioned malls symbolize the fear of the stranger; homogeneity symbolizes the need for certainty, while high walls, barbed wire, CCTV and security guards do not provide real safety.

We miniaturize – dehumanize – the stranger if we see her or him only as representing a religion, a culture, a race or a nation. This one-dimensional outlook can have real and violent consequences, which means that it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, nations are diverse because they are a collection of individuals and each individual inhibits a wide range of identities. It depends on the context which part of our identity gets focus; and (social) life is rife of contradictions. And if we demand that a person's identity is to be readable in a single glance, we actually create borders to exclude the alien. On the other hand, Goenawan Mohamad claims identity is on-going becoming, always tentative, and seen like this, borders become volatile and could become an invitation to others.

We have to come to terms with contingency so that tolerance is not a form of snobbish indifference, so that it can lead to solidarity with differences from the acknowledgement that we could have been very different ourselves (if Wilders would have been born in Istanbul, he very well could have been a Muslim, to paraphrase the 17th century philosopher Pierre Bayle).

If citizenship is not to be reduced to a passport and the right to stay within a certain territory, it should be connected to spatial justice. Citizenship should mean more than being allowed to be in a certain space, it should also mean that one is allowed to become of that space (to take Indonesia as an example: some are more equal than others, to paraphrase George Orwell's Animal Farm, i.e. pribumi vs. non-pribumi).

Spatial justice requires that all citizens have the right to enter, use and participate in changing public space, as is happening right now in Cairo and other cities in Egypt. Spatial justice has also to deal with spatial segregation through the architecture of fear, which means that we need to address publicly the privatization of risk and anxiety. And, finally, it means an acknowledgement that we cannot speak for the other, but that we have to grant space for the other to speak for themselves and assure that we actually listen.

The writer is a lecturer at the Faculty of Philosophy, Parahyangan University, Bandung. He can be contacted at






There has never been a better time to become a student of democratic transitions than now.

With people in Middle Eastern countries taking to the streets to rid their polities of authoritarian regimes, and with the success of demonstrations in Tunisia and later Egypt, some have begun to talk about the "fourth wave of democratization", with the third wave being the removal of authoritarian regimes in much of the developing world since the early 1970s.

But, the tendency to look for a pattern and regularity — as implied in the catch-all term "wave of democratization"— in democratic transitions has at times led to a gross oversimplification and misconception about the process.

Some of the biggest misconceptions are that democratic transitions are something that can be triggered by external powers, be they the world's superpower or non-state actors helping to spread the idea of democracy.

The Egyptian experience not only shows that the United States — the world's lone superpower — has limited power when it comes to politics in the Middle East, it also shows that the US is not an omnipresent entity that can effect any changes it sees fit for the sake of its own national interests.

As if to thumb his nose at the US, ousted president Hosni Mubarak made a defiant speech saying that he would not leave the presidency only hours after Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Leon Panetta told Congress that Mubarak would resign.

It took 18 days of back-and-forth at the White House before Mubarak left office. And with this, the Obama administration appeared to perform better than its predecessors in effecting democratic change abroad. Quoting CNN pundit Fareed Zakaria, it took three years for President Ronald Reagan to see the ouster of American ally Ferdinand Marcos and one year for President Bill Clinton to see the end of Soeharto's rule.

I suspect this misconception led Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) politician Anis Matta into making the statement that hundreds of his Muslim-based party members helped foment insurrection in Egypt that led to the downfall of Mubarak. The statement not only reflected Anis' poor understanding of international politics, it was an insult to the resolve of the Egyptian people in wanting to bring down their modern-day Pharaoh.

The democratic transition in Egypt also challenges the conventional wisdom that democracy comes after economic progress.

Political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset said in 1959 that the more well-to-do a nation, the greater the chance it could sustain democracy. In his study, Lipset found that democratic countries in the Anglo-Saxon world and Latin America had higher levels of average wealth, degrees of industrialization and urbanization and levels of education.

If that's the case, then countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would certainly have begun their transitions earlier than Egypt and Tunisia, which are less well-off. On the contrary, we have seen the biggest demand for political freedom in less developed countries like Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia.

Given that fact, it is always prudent to see transitions to democracy as complex and homegrown processes that rely very much on the internal dynamics of the society.

Some observers of democratic transitions have been keen to argue for what they call "the unstructured and indeterminate nature of transitions and the crucial roles of choices made by the elites of the state and the opposition."

Others have argued that transition is always the result of fluctuating divisions between hardliners and those less rigid in the state elite.

In a number of cases, the opening up of an authoritarian regime and the start of a democratic transition is the result of liberals challenging the predatory behavior of autocrats — who are backed by hardliners.

In the late 1990s in Indonesia, it was nationalist elements within the Indonesian Military (TNI) that had grown anxious about the Soeharto family's excessive rent-seeking activities that made it possible for the Indonesian-style glasnost called keterbukaan (openness).

It was the same nationalist element within the TNI — which was worried about the rise of Islamist generals in the military — who pushed for Soeharto's departure in May of 1998.

The dust has yet to settle on Cairo's insurrection, but the fact that Mubarak left only after the military delivered a communiqué lifting emergency law — the mainstay of Mubarak's 30-year rule — is proof that division within the elite had certainly given way to transition.

And, now that a council of generals is running the show in Egypt, it is evidence that the Egyptian military pushed the autocrat out as his predatory behavior became untenable for the survival of the ruling elites.

Division at the elite level is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to bring about a democratic transition.

Another prerequisite for democratic transitions are what some term the "resurrection of civil society", which in Egypt materialized in the mass protest facilitated by social media like Twitter and Facebook, which to a considerable extent replaced the role played by political parties.

In the case of the resurrection of civil society, the similarities between Indonesia's experience in 1998 and that of the Egyptian people could not be more striking.

Protesters on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other cities in Egypt were concerned by the decline in their living standards, partly attributed to the incompetence of their leaders. The same occurred in Indonesia, where even the middle class saw their affluence disturbed by the late 1990s financial crisis.

This is, of course, a tentative look at the democratic transition in Egypt and Indonesia and making an apples-to-apples comparison between the two could be just another oversimplification, but, in the very least, the comparison is not a one-way determinism on transition to democracy.

In the final analysis, democratic transition is always a muddled and murky affair.

The start of a democratic transition is the result of liberals challenging the predatory behavior of autocrats.

The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.








Improving health services was one of the important topics discussed when President Mahinda Rajapaksa met trade union leaders this week for a dialogue on how to provide more relief to the people because of the soaring cost of living and other problems. Indeed if Sri Lanka is to become a wealthy and developed nation, we need healthy people because health is wealth. How Sri Lanka will be built up to be a model country is another matter because Finance Ministry officials have revealed that post-war Sri Lanka's foreign debt service is likely to double next year to an estimated US$1,539.4 million (Rs.171 billion) from $810 million (Rs.90 billion) last year.

According to them the debt service payment this year is expected to be $954.5 million (Rs.106 billion). Debt servicing, which comprises both principal and interest payments is what a country pays annually as a part of its total dues.

The vicious debt trap apart, improving health services essentially means restoring a healthcare system, where the well-being of the patient is given top priority not only in public hospitals but even in private hospitals or dispensaries.

Treating the symptoms as they arise does not bring about a lasting improvement in the health services. We saw this in the latest crisis relating to the shortage of paracetamol in most public hospitals. It was evidence of the ills of too many pills and the real pill or remedy lies in identifying and making some vital structural adjustments in the health service.

Patients' rights groups and health policy experts have in the past few decades' campaign for at least four such structural adjustments to restore a patient friendly health service. One of these is the much needed but long delayed National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP) to make quality drugs available to all people at affordable prices. The current paracetamol crisis is a direct result of the lack of such a policy because no one seems to know how many drugs are registered and what is happening.

In 2005, the World Health Organization's Asian Regional Advisor Professor Krishantha Weerasuriya, an expert on drug policy was invited by the Health Ministry to work out a comprehensive draft for an NMDP. After at least four rounds of talks with all stakeholders, Professor Weerasuriya handed over such a draft to the then Health Minister and it was approved by the Cabinet in October 2005.  For the past six years promises and excuses have been given but for various reasons including pressure from vested interests the legislation was not brought to parliament.  The new Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena has also repeatedly promised that he will introduce legislation for an NMDP soon. But patients' rights groups are wondering how soon that soon would be. Besides providing quality drugs to all at affordable prices, the NMDP could also help bring down Sri Lanka's foreign debt burden by stopping the import of thousands of nonessential drugs under highly expensive brand names.

Other structural adjustments needed are a charter of patients' rights and responsibilities, constitutional amendments to make health a fundamental right and a national policy on food and nutrition. We hope the President and the Minister will act fast to diagnose and treat the root cause of the disease instead of treating the symptoms.





Perhaps the best indicator of how India looks in its new power jacket and with its unsubtle 'We are a global power' mascara can be gauged by Britain's decision to continue its aid programme to India. Remember that this is the same Britain that we use as a bouncing ball each time we splash headlines such as 'The empire strikes back' and start playing 'Jana Gana Mana' in our collective heads whenever we hear about an Indian taking over a Brit company.

But despite British Prime Minister David Cameron's entourage of industrialists and entrepreneurs descending on our shores a few months ago looking for business opportunities and the island nation's dipping fortunes on the economic side of things, London has decided to continue its Department for International Development (DfID) aid programme of £280 million (approximately R20.4 billion) a year till 2015.

India remains the biggest recipient of British development aid, having received more than £800 million (approximately R58.2 billion) over the last three years.

So with our happy economic machine chugging like a Jaguar engine, do we still need the largesse? Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had told Parliament not too long ago that India would prefer to 'voluntarily surrender money' if Britain decided to cut aid.

There was also some rumble in the government in Delhi about national pride and all those furry feelings when it came to accepting British aid money. It's one thing that Britain stopped aid to China, now officially the world's second-largest economy, and to Russia last year.

But some chaddis are in a twist in India when folks tom-tomming our growing 'prowess' realise that Britain has stopped aid to countries that include Moldova, Cambodia, Serbia and Vietnam. This can hardly look good for India in Davos et al.

The reason why we continue to get 'poverty benefits' from the Queendom of Britain isn't because we're not big players in global economics already. It is because we still contain giant pools of poverty, with healthcare and education still in an abject state of chaos across the country.

So until we clear our own mess, India would be playing dog in the manger if we tell a fellow who's come to help us out a bit to take a Cumbrian hike. But if there's one roundabout way to spur our government into action about removing poverty in a shiny house, it's to tell cash-strapped benefactors like Britain soon enough: thanks, but no thanks. And if a little bit of 'Jai Hind' follows, so be it.

Hindustan Times





Remember Zia ul Haq? Remember Pervez Musharraf? Soon after capturing power in two coups 22 years apart, the two Generals promised full democracy in Pakistan within 90 days. But once firmly in the saddle, they reneged on their promises and declared themselves presidents by amending the constitution in such a way that suited their agenda.

Now the Egyptian junta is talking about a six month timeframe to bring in democracy. History shows that military rulers seldom keep their promises on democracy, so much so that it is easier for the barren desert to turn into a fertile ground than for democracy to take root in the Middle East — a region that is more familiar with military rulers, monarchs and despots than with democratic statesmen. Will Egypt's new military rulers be different?

The junta has dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution, pledged elections in six months and appointed a committee of jurists to draft constitutional amendments which are to be completed in ten days and put before the people in a referendum within two months. Good intentions indeed. But the path to the hell of a dictatorship is also paved with good intentions.

Although Egypt's junta is sending what is being hailed by Washington as positive signals, doubts remain. This is because many key demands of the protesters still remain unfulfilled. However, the haste with which the junta has sent assurances to the United States and Israel seems to confirm that whatever the form of government that may eventually emerge will remain servile to Washington.

In one of its first announcements, the junta gave assurances to the United States and Israel, saying it was committed to uphold international treaties, especially Egypt's treaties with Israel. This indicates that the junta will cooperate with Israel in starving the Gaza Palestinians who have been under siege since 2006. This also indicates that Egypt will continue to sell its natural gas to Israel at one third the market price. (Egypt is said to be losing some US$10 million a day as a result.)


No option would have made Washington happier than Mubarak handing over power to the military. While the tensed drama at Cairo's Tahrir Square was reaching its climax, the Obama administration was hosting Egyptian military's Chief of Staff, Gen. Sami Hafez Anan in Washington. Gen. Anan is being promoted as the common candidate — a compromise between Washington, the military and the protest leaders. Even Egypt's most powerful opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, has given its nod for Gen. Anan.

The US President Barack Obama may seem to be supporting the pro-democracy protests. But the same cannot be said about the forces that control the US presidency. These forces make sure that whatever change takes place wherever will serve the US national interest — the interest of the capitalists and the Zionist lobby. Even Obama's words in support of the popular uprising in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East serve the US national interest. They have helped the US to improve its image which George W. Bush had tarnished with his gung-ho policies.

What Egypt is witnessing today is not a transition to democracy, but a transition to government by another military ruler. The February 11 people-power victory was, in a way, a military takeover. Throughout the revolution, the military skillfully made use of the trust the people had placed on it to manipulate the events. The military's thus-far-and-no-farther attitude stopped the surging waves of the people when they marched to the presidential palace and the state TV building. The military was in full force, ready to fire at anyone who dared to cross the line and ransack Mubarak's palace, like the Iranian people did exactly 32 years ago, to the Shah's palace.

Two days after a majority of the protesters left Tahrir Square, the military began to ride roughshod over those who decided to remain there until all the promises were fulfilled. The protesters, for instance, had demanded the lifting of the 30-year-old state of emergency, the release of all political prisoners and the prosecution of police officers who killed peaceful protesters, but the junta had indicated it was in no mood to do that. The protesters also demand that civilian leaders of the revolution be included in the transition government so that they can guide the country to the type of democracy the people want. But the military has chosen to ignore this demand as well.

The military is reading the riot act on the protesters, on the guise of bringing order to the country. Some protest leaders also seem to have compromised their position upon realizing that if they go beyond the military's tolerance limit, they will run the risk of the reforms being postponed. But others are set to test the military's tolerance limit in a massive victory rally today.

However, the six-month timeframe gives the military and its US backers time to come up with a type of government that will serve the US interest while sating the protesters' hunger for democracy to some degree. What will probably emerge is a two-tier government, a hybrid system — with a president, most likely a US crony, responsible for foreign and defence policies while a government elected by parliament will run domestic affairs.

Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports circulating in Egypt say the ousted president has fallen into a coma in Sharm al-Sheikh. Prior to leaving the presidential palace in Cairo, he is reported to have told his son Gamal, who is synonymous with corruption in Egypt:  "You got me into this, you and your mother. You have ruined my history in Egypt".

Will the rulers of the Middle Eastern countries where protests are being held take heed of the warning contained in Mubarak's words?





The much awaited and spoken about local government elections will be held on March 17. Deputy Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government Indika Bandaranaike stated that the elections should be held before March 31, leaving room for the Prime Minister who announced a date outside his authority. Finally the Elections Commissioner, the sole authority, announced that March 17 would be the day to hold the LGE.

The Government decided to hold the elections under the old Proportional Representation system since it would take three months to demarcate the divisional boundaries to hold the elections under the new system. Under the new act, the local government elections were to be held in a combination of First-Past-the-Post and the Proportional Representation systems.

Party leaders must stop candidates from abusing state resources

Executive Director of the National Peace Council Dr. Jehan Perera

The abuse of state resources is a recurring problem. It has been noted and criticized by election observers at elections in recent times. The Election Commissioner should be legally empowered to take action, such as giving direction to the Police and Government officials to take action against the miscreance and even disqualifying them from contesting. He also needs to have the personal courage that corresponds to those legal powers. After the abolishment of the 17th amendment by the government, the Elections Commissioner is at a difficult position as he has lost those powers he had under the 17th amendment, since the 17th amendment is overridden by the 18th amendment. What the Elections Commissioner can do now is to give the names of those who are abusing their powers, to the media and they should be named and shamed. But now he has to make requests to the Police to take action and inform the media of those requests he has made. He can also issue guidelines to the media to report fairly and make that known to the public. However if there is to be an actual change in the ground this should be enforced in practice. The party leaders must stop their candidates from abusing state resources.

18th amendment allows Govt. to manipulate election process

Human Rights Lawyer J.C. Weliamuna

The Local Government electoral system was changed but the Government for political reasons chose to hold elections under the old system which was complicated. The situation is that in this electoral system the Elections Commissioner has no power, as he did before. He cannot control the state resources and with the 18th amendment the G