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Saturday, February 19, 2011

EDITORIAL 19.02.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month February 19, edition 000759, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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







































































The death of three Pakistanis at the hands of a mysterious American official under inexplicable circumstances has not only bottomed out one of the world's most important and notoriously unstable alliances, but has also exposed the hollowness of America's supposed global supremacy. What else could explain Washington, DC's inability to extricate one single man, a supposed diplomat at that, from a Lahore jail despite the fact that the entire country essentially subsists on American dole? The United States is Pakistan's biggest donor — only recently President Barack Obama proposed upwards of $3 billion in economic and military aid — and greenbacks are necessary to prop up President Asif Ali Zardari's forever tottering Government. Yet, the Obama Administration has failed to get a low level Embassy employee out of jail. Reliable information about the case is typically scarce but from the details that have emerged, it seems like Mr Raymond Davis, a former Special Forces officer, shot and killed two motor cyclists in Lahore on January 27 while a consular vehicle that was rushing to his aid ran over a third bystander. Mr Davis has claimed that the motorcyclists had pointed weapons at him and he shot them with his Beretta pistol in self defence. It is still unclear why Mr Davis was heavily armed — he was also carrying a fully loaded Glock pistol — and if he had permission to carry weapons in the first place. Over the weeks, Mr Davis's case has got murkier as conflicting reports have emerged over his diplomatic status — senior State Department officials have said that he was an administrative and technical staff member at the consulate while other officials have said he was a security contractor. Either way, it has led to a nasty diplomatic row as officials on both sides of the Atlantic are now splitting hairs over which Vienna Convention covers Mr Davis adequately. But the issue at hand is not about Mr Davis's deed or his contested diplomatic status. It is about the larger picture — which as it now stands would fit quite well in a James Bond novel — that points to the futility of American aid to Pakistan and essentially a complete failure of US policy in that country and the region. It is really hard to accept that even after an intervention by the US President, a visit by a senior Senator and, of course, a hefty three-billion-dollar cheque, Mr Davis is still languishing in jail.

As popular perceptions about Uncle Sam's much-touted arm-twisting diplomatic prowess comes crashing down, Pakistan's response to the situation continues to amuse. For one, Mr Zardari has cautiously walked a very thin line — he has been mollifying protesters at home who view him as a stooge of the West, while also trying to appease his biggest donor by passing on the buck to the local police. Additionally, the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, has stopped providing the Americans with crucial information on the leaders of the Haqqani network who operate out of Pakistan's troubled north Waziristan region. The US has long goaded Pakistan to launch a military offensive in the area to flush out terrorists. But the latter has dragged its feet on the matter. Clearly, the curious case of Mr Davis has caused irreparable damage to US-Pakistan ties; worse still, it has left the so-called global superpower's reputation in tatters.







The Union Health Ministry's decision to ban six controversial drugs and soon come up with a policy on antibiotics is a welcome move, although it should have been done much earlier. While antibiotics are specialised medicines to be dispensed only through prescription, they are available to consumers across the counter in pharmacies, with the sales staff often recommending what to buy for which ailment. Consumers are equally to blame for buying drugs without seeking professional opinion: Many diagnose their own illness and indulge in self-prescription which, to say the least, can be dangerous. Neither the pharmacy staff nor the consumer is fully informed of possible adverse effects of a particular drug or if an antibiotic is wrongly administered. In the event of there being an adverse impact, nobody can be held accountable: It would be unfair to blame the manufacturer as much as it would be wrong to punish the pharmacy staff. Ultimately, it is the consumer who is responsible for not making an informed choice. While it would be useful for the Health Ministry to run a sustained campaign against this tendency of antibiotics abuse, that by itself is unlikely to have an impact, more so in semi-urban and rural areas.

A related issue is of antibiotics with high chances of adverse effects that should not be sold, even against prescriptions, in the first place. It is in this context that the notification banning six drugs that had the potential to cause various bodily damages, including fatal stroke, should be lauded. It is entirely possible that these drugs have left a trail of damage, including that which is irreversible, and there is little or nothing that can be done by way of reparation. Our system is just not atuned to deal with such situations. Yet, we need to ask the question: Why were these drugs allowed to be sold all these years despite there being adequate information about their potentially dangerous effects on consumers? Is it because there exists an evil nexus among drug manufacturers and relevant Government officials? More importantly, did doctors prescribe these drugs without caring about the consequences of their prescription? That cannot be ruled out because manufacturers are known to offer incentives to doctors for pushing a particular drug or prescribing a certain antibiotic over others available in the market. A new policy by itself may not succeed in changing the old habits of manufacturers, doctors and consumers. What is needed is a multipronged approach: Manufacturers who gloss over negative effects of drugs should be heavily penalised; doctors who prescribe these drugs should be stripped of their licence and pharmacies that sell drugs across the counter shut down. No law is feared unless its violation fetches swift, visible punishment.








Manmohan Singh blames everybody except himself and the Congress for everything that has gone wrong — from inflation to mega corruption.

Political scientists often talk of the 'expectations revolution', the urge in societies for public goods and responsive administration. In politics — as opposed to perhaps policy — there is another sort of expectations phenomenon. Public figures and elected leaders who raise hopes in one or the other area find themselves disproportionately criticised when they fall short of expectations. That hard message is a key takeaway from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's interaction with television editors earlier this week.

Mr Singh's question and answer session was telecast live and watched keenly by relevant audiences. To a degree, he was being heard by his constituency: The urban middle classes, the policy elite and the intelligentsia. Irrespective of party preferences, this is a broad section that has a significant quantum of affection and respect for Mr Singh. It has seen him as a good man in politics, honest and straightforward, not an intriguer. Making one of his rare media appearances, he drew attention if for nothing else for the fact that he was the picture of sobriety. He did not raise his voice, spoke softly and, really, was a model for the sort of television debates that educated India would want to see if haranguing anchors and screaming politicians would permit.
Yet, in the end even Mr Singh's partisans did feel a little disappointed, if not downright let down. The notion of trust that governed the relationship between the Prime Minister and middle India has been severely damaged in the past year. The media interaction did not reverse that process; it may actually have accentuated it.

In fundamental ways Mr Singh has changed. This was a man who gave his Government "six on 10" in a report card in 2005, one year after he became Prime Minister. Then, he was considered modest. He had public sympathy because he was running a very difficult alliance with regional parties and being blackmailed by the Left Front. This week, he insisted he (and presumably his Government) got things right "seven times out of 10". Whatever else that grade may be, it is not India's sense of how the UPA regime is doing. Though not quite hubris, the humility of 2005 has given way to an assessment that is, well, less-than-honest.

Mr Singh admitted mistakes had been made, but did so grudgingly. On specific questions — the delay in the Commonwealth Games investigation and the loss of revenue in the 2G Spectrum scandal — he was evasive. Everything seemed somebody else's fault. The spectrum scandal was blamed on the then Telecom Minister (A Raja) and the then Finance Minister (Mr P Chidambaram). Agriculture/food inflation was blamed on marketing reforms not being undertaken by State Governments. Imperfect Cabinet formation was blamed on coalition compulsions.

There seems to be a trend here. The telecom scandal and corruption generally have been blamed on coalition politics and the DMK. A few weeks ago, Mr Rahul Gandhi blamed food inflation on coalition politics and presumably the NCP (which runs the Agriculture Ministry). Some in the Congress have chosen to blame delay in new land acquisition legislation on coalition politics and specifically the Trinamool Congress. Is the Congress responsible for anything at all?

Such excuses would have been explicable and valid in the first term of the UPA. The Congress had only 145 seats and was precariously placed. It needed to make a lot of compromises. In 2009, the Congress won 206 seats in the Lok Sabha election, just 66 seats short of an absolute majority. If you add the Trinamool Congress's 19 seats, this creates a cushion of 225 seats. After all, Ms Mamata Banerjee's party has no outrageous demands and no political or economic interests outside West Bengal. No ruling party has been so secure in any election since 1991. How then can Mr Singh point fingers everywhere other than in his (and his party's) direction?

For all his protestations, the Prime Minister did not play with a straight bat. For instance, he said the goods and services tax regime has been in suspended animation because the BJP refuses to back it. The BJP is not supporting it, he suggested, because the Congress-led Government is going after Amit Shah, former Home Minister of Gujarat, in a criminal case that seeks to paint him as the mastermind of an extortion racket that used gangsters (such as Sohrabuddin Sheikh) and chosen police officers to threaten and coerce businessmen.

Many — and not all of them members of the BJP — feel the Central Bureau of Investigation's case against Amit Shah is largely concocted and politically motivated. Nevertheless, a legal process is on. If the BJP made a blunt demand, and asked the Union Government to withdraw charges against Amit Shah in return for its support on GST, then it is a serious matter. Was such a transaction proposed and, one would imagine, rejected by the Prime Minister and the Congress? If so, when did this conversation take place, who were the participants? How different is Mr Singh's vague allusion from the shoot-and-scoot tactics that a Congress spokesperson accused Opposition parties of only the other day?

The GST regime will do much to break inter-State trade barriers, rid India of artificial economic silos and make it a genuine national market. It is needed for a modern economy. However, the opposition to it is not coming from only the BJP, or only for political reasons. Different States are looking at the GST idea from their individual perspective, and not necessarily that of party affiliation. Even within the BJP there is a divide. States that have consumption-based economies will be immediate gainers should GST be introduced. States that have production or input-based economies will not and are bargaining for more and more compensation. Provisions in the draft GST law have also been opposed by Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, none of them ruled by the BJP. Amit Shah is irrelevant to all this.

Finally, though he may not have intended it that way, the Prime Minister's juxtaposition of the under-pricing of spectrum with the subsidy on food rations for people living below the poverty line was extremely unfortunate. The principles that underpin the Right to Food cannot be extended to the Right to Spectrum. Meant as an abstract example of perceptions of correct pricing of resources, that comparison ended up sounding callous and insensitive. It spoke for what is the Manmohan Singh Government's number one failing today: Disconnect from India.









It is ironic that the 20th anniversary year of Manmohanics should be observed with its author making a pathetic TV appearance to defend his worst genie -- crony capitalism-- which has dragged to the fore the suppressed disasters of the neoliberal 'reforms' programme

Twenty years after the launch of economic reforms, India has visibly changed. Today New Delhi and Mumbai claim to the status of "global cities", but it is the rich of India who seem to be enjoying the benefits most. There are 52 dollar billionaires and more than 100,000 dollar millionaires. A number of swanky malls in big cities have global lifestyle products and huge imported cars are plying the streets. Like in the US, India's inequality seems to be widening and reforms have brought unprecedented opportunities, income and wealth to people with higher education, capital, connections and nurtured talent.

But the 'common man' is still confused and struggling even though most people in the low income group can afford a TV, mobile phone, scooter and even a room or two in a poor residential area; all this does not necessarily signify upward mobility. There are still 93 million people in slums and 128 million have no access to clean water. The barriers to entry to high paying jobs and lucrative business are lack of skills, higher education and access to capital.

The huge middle class population, which is almost touching 300 million, is on the other hand enjoying more comforts than before and many can afford to buy branded goods. In sheer numbers India offers a big market to all global luxury brands.

For the ordinary middle class person, the rise in food prices over the past three years has been bothersome but it has not impacted on his survival. For the poor, higher food prices have meant cutting down on essentials, which, sadly, includes children's education. There are now over 8 million children out of school. The impact of high inflation has been the hardest on the lower income groups especially in rural areas. According to a recent study, purchasing power has declined by about 50 per cent for the rural low income group compared to about 38 per cent for the urban high income group. In addition, a majority of the people in the lower income group are wage earners from the unorganised sector whose incomes are not compensated. It has led to the erosion of their real per capita incomes disproportionately.



Food inflation has been high despite the fact that monsoons have been better in the last two seasons. The reason for high food prices is structural and requires deep rooted solutions like serious efforts at increasing agricultural productivity and revamping the public distributional system.

In recent times, slack or inadequate governance has led to crores of rupees being defalcated and misspent in different government departments. The government has increasingly deregulated sectors but has done so without enforcing a supportive legal framework and without keeping strict vigilance on public servants. The inevitable outcome of reforms has been the loosening of control and increased reliance on the market. However, markets do not always deliver and the corporate sector also needs strict control as it can easily indulge in oligopolistic practices-with a few controlling production and prices, excessive profiteering and speculation. The big businesses are thriving today on incentives and with the help of exemptions doled out to them in every budget whereas small businesses are struggling to survive. Crony capitalism has become more entrenched than before and the nexus between politicians, business and journalists was exposed in the Radia tapes recently.

Over the past year, a series of scams reached a high pitch and though every emerging country faces corruption, India seems to be getting a disproportionate share. It hurts more when the there are 400 million people below the poverty line and when many deprived lives could have been changed if the money that is circulating in the underground was used for their benefit. According to experts, the amount of black money in circulation is around 50 per cent of the GDP and if we also take into account the money that is stashed abroad in Swiss Banks and other tax havens, it would be much more.

The report of an American think tank, Global Financial Integrity, suggests that since 1948 India has lost over $460 billion in illicit financial flows much of it through corruption. The report concluded that the problem would worsen as the economy grows and incomes become more unequal. Even Sonia Gandhi recently said that India's moral universe is shrinking but what is the government doing about it? Just to refresh one's memory there was the CWG scam of Rs 8,000 crore, IPL scam of Rs 1,200-1,500 crore, 2 G scam of Rs 1.75 lakh crore and LIC Housing Finance scam of Rs 1,000 crore, to name a few.

Rural and urban unemployment is also going to be a big problem in the future. The main avenue of absorbing semi skilled labour is getting choked as manufacturing growth is showing a declining trend. In December 2010, industrial growth was at 1.6 per cent with the manufacturing sector growing at barely 1 per cent and capital goods sector contracting by 13.7 per cent. It means that India is increasingly becoming a high input price and high output price economy. This cost escalation (including high interest rates) would limit capacity expansion and the rate of manufacturing growth would slow down further.

In any case, India has had jobless growth for many years because the organised sector, in order to retain flexibility of production and a competitive edge, has been using more capital intensive techniques rather than labour intensive ones. Jobs in the organised sector have for a long time been stagnant.

Finding jobs in rural areas is going to be the main problem in India in the future. It has contributed to the spread of Maoist insurgency because village youth, most of whom are semi literate, lack employability. With no job prospects and families to feed they have taken to violence and crime.

According to Labour Bureau statistics, 9.4 per cent of the Indian labour force is unemployed with a higher rate (10.1%) in rural areas which means that there are around 40-50 million unemployed in the country not counting those who are disguisedly unemployed. The job prospects of village and urban youth will not improve unless they can be given training in skills or higher education.

Punishing the corrupt and bringing the money back from the Swiss banks is something that could be done easily to win back people's confidence in the government. The other challenges are to tame inflation and to create jobs for rural youth. Otherwise the voices of millions of disgruntled and angry people will gather momentum. The benefits from economic reforms have to reach down to the common man and the government has to promote growth with equity.


The writer is a columnist and author of A Nation in Transition: Understanding the Indian economy, New Delhi, 2007








People's power is collecting and it may be too late to duck out using the well worn path of media engagement. A Saturday Special review of two decades of neo-liberal "growth"

In the year of our Lord Two Thousand and Eleven, it is no longer possible for mortal high and mighty folks to hide behind Constitutionalism for protection from public ire for their crimes. The fires that swept Tunisia and Egypt since January have since spread to Yemen, Iran and Jordan. Millions of Indians, disgusted at the way their political and economic elites have twisted the basic laws of the country for their selfish interests, are hoping that their own corrupt societies will be similarly engulfed.

Saturday Special, for the third week in a row, has focussed on the dangerous crossroads we Indians have now reached. With each passing day the sceptre of mass upsurge looms imminent in the near horizon. There are signs galore of a new awakening, and the discomfiture of the dominant elite became all too apparent when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was forced to appear on Wednesday for an hour-long gruelling session before a clutch of TV channel editors. From the expression on his face at end of his ordeal, it seemed the father of India's neo-liberal reforms had gained a decade in age and shed a tonne in weight. Never before had an Indian prime minister been so fried.

On the same day, in another part of the country, the humble people of Barasat district in West Bengal staged a demonstration which seemed to some a precursor of a Tahrir Square. The previous evening, Kajal Das, a 16-year-old who was due to appear for the state secondary school examination in a month's time, was stabbed to death for resisting some drunks who tried to molest his sister Rinku. The poor boy was giving his sister, who works in a Kolkata firm, a ride home on the bar of his cycle when them miscreants stopped them. The most sickening aspect was that the incident happened just yards from the district magistrate's bungalow and Rinku's cries for help ("They are killing my brother") were ignored by the policemen on duty. The townspeople had been complaining for years against the takeover of the neighbourhood, incidentally the "VIP area" of the district but the well known police-babu-liquor don triumvirate had brushed aside their complaints.

Even as Manmohan weakly mouthed shop-worn excuses to disclaim personal responsibility behind the 2G and other scams, the people of Barasat were mobilising for a unique civil society demonstration. They blocked the convoys of all politicians, regardless of party, who tried to cash in on the tragedy. Even chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was not spared. His convoy was prevented from entering the area to offer the customary empty assurances to the family of the young boy who had fallen so valiantly, yet unnecessarily. Slogans demanding he "go back" and desist from making political capital of the incident forced the CM's driver to dash into a side street where he got off the car and managed to find his way to the house. But ministers and MPs of the Trinamool Congress and other parties who attempted similar tricks were forced to return without anything gained.

Are we seeing the beginning of civil society rage? Well, for some time now there have been signals that ordinary citizens are no longer willing to outsource the business of protesting and rights assertion to the political class. Three generations of post-Independence Indians have watched with part-amusement, part-disgust the antics of its democratic elite. But now, after the 2G scam comprehensively exposed the politician-industrialist nexus, the 'aam admi' has become conscious of the inescapable fact that he is horribly lonely. Democracy has been reduced to humbug; cynicism is all pervasive. Therefore a Tahrir Square in India is a matter of time.

In fact, as Ramdev, the yoga guru writes (The Other Voice) it may be only a week away. On November 27 he plans to assemble 1 lakh people in New Delhi as a show of force against corruption. That is some achivement for an apolitical person because unlike partisan leaders who spend crores to get lakhs of people to listen to their silly speeches, Ramdev is appealing to the good sense of the masses. The man who has transformed yoga into a daily necessity for hundreds of millions of people worldwide has for some time now been talking of taking a political role out of a conviction that it is time our neta class was given the boot, attracts more than 2 lakh people whenever he articulates the people's anti-corruption sentiments.

The rage of the masses is something our politicians are not accustomed to. Fattened by industrial backers and lavished daily with the grease of sycophants, India's political elites have given democracy a bad name. When cornered with evidence of the corruption of his government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh likes to retort "look at the economic growth".

This is becoming a sick joke. Everybody knows who this 'growth' is for. India's economic 'miracle' is now interpreted as a bewildering phenomenon. People all over the world are asking "how is it possible for so few to own so much?"

"Mounam ardha sammati" should be Manmohan Singh's epitaph. This is a prime minister who has betrayed the concept of "honest politician". His professional background and non-political profile had prompted many to believe that he could make a difference. But he has emerged in the public perception as nothing but a puppet; a non-entity whom Sonia Gandhi chose because he could be a safe seat-warmer for her son when he comes of age.

What, then, will be Manmohan Singh's legacy? The father of India's neo-liberal 'reforms' programme is today a mockery of his own image. He has brought down in a heap all the prized aspects of Indian nationhood. Sure, there are more cell phones, cars, malls, laptops, liquor brands, etc. than in the pre-1991 period. But couldn't all this have happened without unjust enrichment of the few?

-- The writer is Deputy New Editor,The Pioneer








The people of India have had enough of corruption. The world famous Yoga exponent who has been articulating their angst for some time now, is about to launch a mass movement aimed to bring down the corrupt establishment

Indians have witnessed, with a painful heart, a year of scams and scandals. Now, they are witnessing something unparalleled in history unfolding across the seas. With the Arab world shaken to its core following the uprising and revolutions against corrupt regimes and autocrats, Indians too are wondering if something will similar happen at home.

Three years back, Hasan Ali, the mysterious stud farm owner with unknown sources of income, got a notice and was asked to pay up Rs 50,000 crore for evading taxes. But now he is living a luxurious life. However, he is not the only person who has black money and whom the government daren't touch. The government is lying about thousands of such persons. About Rs 300 lakh crore worth of black money is stashed abroad. The government has lied before the Supreme Court and the country's citizens. Some say about half of India's GDP is transferred out of the country every year in the form of black money. This is a big issue. The Centre is in denial mode. The government confesses that it is a big issue but is doing nothing in this regard.

Today, India is ranked as the 4th largest economy in the world. It could become the No. 1 economy if we can root out corruption from our country. The Manmohan Singh government is not honest about tackling corruption. The Congress has been in power intermittently for about 50 years, and it is in their rule that such a huge amount of black money was sent out of the country.

The government has all the names of big tax evaders. More than 1 lakh people in this country are involved in illegal mining. This is not at all their hard earned money. So, it is not only an issue of tax evasion, but people are also engaged in looting national resources. The government should not merely recover the black money from them, but they must also be thrown into jail. The government got A.Raja arrested. But in fact Raja was extended protection by placing someone else in the Telecom Ministry and tampering with documents. Raja is now getting five-star treatment in jail.


Five years back people were unwilling to agree that corruption is a central issue in our country's politics. But the people are more aware now. We will not tolerate corruption anymore. We will conduct a signature campaign and hold a march this February 27. We will try to start an Egypt-like movement in the country but without violence. There will be a revolution in the country. People will come out on the streets. We will not tolerate these corrupt people anymore.

Mubarak was exposed. Delhi too will wake up on February 27 when more than 1 lakh people will gather (to protest against corruption). The governments are deaf, dumb and blind. Can't they see the hardship of the common man who is living in dire poverty? On March 23 we will show them something they can never imagine.

When I started this movement, people said that corruption is not an issue. But now it is the biggest issue of all. This is evident from the crowds I am attracting these days. -- 2 lakh per meeting. I was pained when people doubted me, especially when I was trying to do something for the country. However, all that is now a thing of the past. Has any politician ever got the love and affection which I am getting from 120 crore people?

I will teach yoga till my last breath, but I will also work to bring prosperity to this country. By 2020, India will be the top economy of the world. About 90-99 per cent of those who are at the top of the political spectrum are corrupt.

But yes, I don't want to name any individual. These people who are at the top of the government hierarchy, have looted the country. In fact I would recommend Narco tests for all citizens. Then the truth will come out automatically. We won't allow nepotism in this country anymore. They have to answer the people. Those who are saying that they will be the next prime minister, please visit villages once a year. I spend each day in a village. The poor and downtrodden people of this country will stand up one day. They won't allow such nepotism.








Walk like an Egyptian...So sang a pop group, the Bangles, busting global charts in 1986. The lyrics said some incomprehensibly profound things about sand dancers and old Egyptian tomb paintings: "if they move too quick" - imagined songwriter Liam Sternberg - "they're falling down like a domino". Many, since, have puzzled over what he meant. The Sphinx's riddle has been solved at last. If pharaohs building pyramids is history, Egyptian moves and grooves are still a hit. Tunisia's political storm hit Egypt, which then rained on Mubarak's power parade. Now everyone in the Arab world wants to rock like the Egyptians, walking a pro-democracy path. Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, even Iran...the boat-rocking list goes on. It's giving insomnia to modern-day pharaohs uneasily perched atop rigidified social pyramids. Do they too risk falling "like a domino"?

That Big Bangles Theory has takers outside the Mideast too. Like glasnost-man
Gorbachev, warning Russia of unrest. Nearer home, India's three political Musketeers - Mulayam, Mamata, Mehbooba - now talk like the Egyptians. Invoking Egypt, the Samajwadi Party chief plans to agitate against BSP 'misrule' in UP. He doubtless hopes to knock off Mayawati's crown and grease his own umpteenth anointing. Egypt has uses for street-fighter Mamata-di too. Like Mubarak's 30-year dictatorship, she says the Left's 35-year-old "party dictatorship" in Bengal will fall. Is that courtesy our phantom rail mantri's ability to sock like the Egyptians?

Yet credit the reds too for bringing Cairo's Liberation Square to Kolkata's Brigade Parade Ground. CPM's Biman Bose raised a "red salute" here to dictator-toppling Egyptians , never mind the Stalin-worshippers in his party. Aren't Marxists the original revolutionaries? Here's who they drove from a communist paradise over three decades: scholars refusing to wave lal jhandas, job-seekers who hate non-work ethic and piqued industry even a business-friendly CM can't mollify. How's that for a hammer-and-sicken revolution?

Finally, Mehbooba, Mehbooba. She says Kashmir's people already fight like - you guessed it - the Egyptians. Only, she claims they're "fighting in spite of democracy", inviting a dig from popularly elected CM Omar Abdullah. Does PDP's leader, he asks, want "army rule" instead? This skirmish needs a referee. Like our PM who says India can't replicate Egypt's uprising, being a "functional democracy". Lucky you, Belgium's "fried potato revolutionaries" must be saying. Even with a parliamentary democracy, they've had to protest being minus a government for 249 days. Their parties, post-election, can't gel enough to form one. And to think our PM has been lamenting coalition (a)dharma!

There's a lesson there. Even as Egypt shakes off authoritarianism, politically free people everywhere are strengthening, deepening but also interrogating their already existing democratic traditions. In short, democracy is ever perfectible. So, rather than conduct Cairo-inspired catfights, here's what all netas ought to do. Work at the Egyptians.








The spark that was lit in Tunisia has now spread the brushfire to four countries after consuming Egypt's long-time president Hosni Mubarak. Coming days will show if the Tunisian uprising will become the Arab equivalent of the 1980 Gdansk strike in Poland that brought down the Soviet empire. Whether the embattled regimes in Yemen, Bahrain and Libya succeed in surmounting street challenge or not, the phoenix of new Arab nationalism emerging from the ashes of fallen regimes promises to radically alter the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

The sudden flight of Tunisian strongman Ben Ali after 28 days of protest - the first ever Arab potentate in history to do so - burst like a thunderclap energising a small band of pro-democracy Arab bloggers and activists. A new generation of educated but mostly unemployed Arab youth (60% of the population) - who have chafed under corrupt, nepotistic and authoritarian regimes all across the Middle East and North Africa - has had enough of fake Arabism. Instead of parroting the empty anti-Israeli, anti-American slogans long used by the fundamentally pro-western regimes, the new pan-Arab nationalism has turned them against their rulers. Their chosen tools are not Molotov cocktails but Facebook and Twitter and their playbook a Gandhian primer on non-violent protest.

The Tunisian and Egyptian youth who made history in bringing down an entrenched autocrat through non-violent demonstrations lasting less than a month did not turn to al-Qaida affiliates for training. They read comic books on Martin Luther King's struggle and sought advice from the Serbian students' Otpor revolution that brought down Slobodan Milosevic through non-violent struggle in 2000. Practising Egyptian-style Gandhigiri, they fraternised with the armed forces, fought back violent pro-Mubarak attackers and with their uncompromising stand forced Mubarak to step down.

The youthful protesters in Tunisia and Egypt upended Nasserite authoritarian, statist secularism, embracing in its place a true secularism based on freedom of expression, human dignity and social justice. The yearning for democratic rule that marked the new nationalism thus rose above the struggle of Tunisia and Egypt and energised youth across the Arab land. Despite significant social and political differences among countries, the call for representative government and end to corruption and nepotism has proved contagious.

For the first time Arab nationalism is all about building and reforming their own societies, not blaming foreign powers for their ills. A chant developed in Tunisia, thunderously repeated in Egypt, is being echoed all over the Arab world and it's a polite assertion with serious portent: "The People Demand The Fall of the Regime!" The laser-like focus on throwing out their own oppressive rulers, their secularism (Coptic Christians standing guard while Muslim protesters prayed in Tahrir Square), their civic-mindedness (distributing food, providing medical care and cleaning the Square) and their call for social justice and equity have created a totally new challenge for the ruling monarchs, military establishment and business elites.

Unable to fathom the younger generation that has grown up in an interconnected world watching satellite television about the democratising world with a sense of humiliation, the rulers look for dark foreign conspiracy. While activists quietly exchange tips on how to evade government surveillance or function in a teargas cloud, rulers fulminate against shadowy enemies. Ironically, the violent response by Middle East governments to peaceful demands for freedom and democracy has put the US and European allies in a spot. They are being asked to choose between their economic and security interests and their avowed support for the protesters' democratic demands.

The swiftness of the Arab uprising has taken everybody by surprise. Yet the creation of the tinderbox lit in Tunis has been a long-time coming. The growing anger and frustration of Arab youth has been evident even to cautious UN bureaucrats. A 2009 UN report pointed to the massive unemployment of the youth whose alienation was palpable. Despite the fabulous wealth of their rulers, 20% of the population earns less than two dollars a day. The rulers' failures in governance, it noted, has turned states into "a threat to (Arab) human security, instead of its chief support". The teargas and bullets now being spent by shaken regimes can only add more fuel to the fire of new nationalism.









The nation's finances are hobbled by three problems: high government expenditure, unsustainable subsidies and steep interest payments. The resultant fiscal deficit of 5.5% (likely to be shaved this year to 4.8%) is the root cause of inflation. Rising food prices are exacerbated by a demand-supply mismatch, poor agricultural growth (except in 2009-10), hoarders and a broken PDS pipeline. Unless the government brings the fiscal deficit down to 2% or less of GDP, inflation will continue to blight our everyday lives.

Take a three-year view: finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has from 2011 to 2014 to fix the fiscal deficit. Total revised expenditure in 2010-11 is likely to be around Rs 11.50 lakh crore. Nominal GDP, assuming an annual growth rate of 9%, will rise from Rs 70 lakh crore in 2010-11 to Rs 90 lakh crore in 2013-14. By 2013-14, total budget expenditure will increase to at least Rs 14 lakh crore. Do the math backwards: to achieve a fiscal deficit of 2% of GDP by 2013-14, the expenditure-revenue gap must reduce to Rs 1.80 lakh crore. If total expenditure is capped at Rs 14 lakh crore in 2013-14, total revenue must perforce increase to Rs 12.20 lakh crore within three years.

In 2010-11, direct (personal and corporate) and indirect (excise, customs and service) taxes will comfortably meet the finance minister's revised target of Rs 7.70 lakh crore. In order to hit the revenue target of Rs 12.20 lakh crore for 2013-14, direct and indirect taxes must thus rise by Rs 4.50 lakh crore over three years - an aggregate increase of around 60% at a compounded rate of 18% a year.

That sounds challenging but is perfectly feasible. Consider recent history: over a five-year period between 2004-05 and 2009-10, direct tax revenue trebled from Rs 1,32,771 crore to Rs 3,78,000 crore, an annual compounded growth rate of 24%. Indirect tax revenue grew nearly as rapidly. If the tax revenue target of Rs 12.20 lakh crore is achieved by 2013-14 on an estimated GDP that year of Rs 90 lakh crore, the country's tax-GDP ratio will advance to a healthy 13.50%, up from today's 11%.

Turn now to the more difficult part - controlling expenditure. If total budget expenditure has to be capped at Rs 14 lakh crore by the finance minister's last budget in February 2014 (assuming the UPA government serves out its full term) in order to bring the fiscal deficit down to 2%, the government has three options.

First, as argued in some detail in these pages, firmly control the amount the government spends on itself (Rs 4.19 lakh crore) which accounts for 38% of total budget expenditure. Second, reduce subsidies (currently Rs 1.16 lakh crore) that create dependencies rather that build competencies. Third, cut government debt (over Rs 34 lakh crore) to save on interest costs which eat away Rs 2.49 lakh crore every year (22% of the country's annual total budget).

The finance minister has been fortunate on two counts. First, robust annual GDP growth of 8.60% has cut the fiscal deficit by nearly a tenth (due to the mathematical base effect) without the government lifting a finger. Second, buoyant entrepreneurial activity and windfall 3G spectrum receipts have raised revenue beyond the finance minister's expectations, allowing him to camouflage the government's fiscal profligacy.

That can't continue for ever. Oil prices have spiked dangerously to over $100 a barrel as the Egypt contagion spreads. Imports from Iran (13% of India's total crude imports), under tightening US/EU sanctions, are a growing concern. India's failed oil exploration policy since the discovery of Bombay High over 30 years ago forces us to import 78.5% of our crude oil requirement.

India's estimated trade deficit of $105 billion (Rs 4.80 lakh crore) in 2010-11 is almost entirely due to oil imports. Put aside our oil import bill and India's trade deficit would disappear. Much of the trade deficit is fortunately set off by FII and FDI inflows, remittances and other inward investment. These mask the problem. The weakness of the rupee is partly a result of the trade deficit. A lower trade deficit would strengthen the rupee. That may hurt exporters (who account for just 17% of India's economy) but will help importers. It will also cut our external debt and copious interest outflow. Weakening the rupee to help 17% of the economy at the expense of the rest is unwise and counterproductive.

The larger danger is that the corruption scandals which have engulfed the UPA coalition government in the past six months will persuade the finance minister to produce a "political" budget loaded with unproductive sops. That will only aggravate India's structural fiscal imbalance, leave less money to build the infrastructural assets necessary to reduce the demand-supply gap, give corrupt officials more money to skim off the leaky PDS and subsidy pipelines, and further delay the introduction of the progressive goods and services tax (GST) to which the prime minister sharply alluded at Wednesday's live news conference.

Pranab Mukherjee is the UPA's most experienced cabinet minister. He will need a steely resolve to ignore political compulsions and use this budget to end for good the government's fiscal irresponsibility. He may not get another chance.

The writer is an author and chairman of a media group.







The results of Japanese research to create and refine robots to help the elderly are eagerly awaited. Japanese scientists are working to integrate humanlike robots - or androids - into our everyday lives. The subject of science fiction, the idea is not as fanciful as it might seem. Japan's space agency proposes to have an android on the International Space Station as soon as 2013. Remarkably the android will not be performing the traditional role of a computer, but will offer some very humanlike services. Chief amongst them will be companionship.

The androids are part of a bigger project to help the elderly by taking over their routine monitoring and caring requirements. Handing such tasks over to robots would be a boon to the elderly, at the very least, psychologically. Just as some elderly people are willing to be taken care of, many are unwilling to accept that they require help or too proud to be helped or just plain embarrassed when it comes to personal matters. In such situations, a robot could not only perform such functions but the very fact that it is not human could be an asset. Robots would provide a constant watchful eye and permit the old to live on their own, free of the demands of caregivers or a sense of indebtedness to their children.

The benefits could transform all our lives. Robots would give younger family members the choice to not invest in costly caregivers and to actually maximise the quality of the time they spend with their elderly relatives. To put it simply, children can spend time actually talking and doing things with their old parents rather than cleaning up after them.

Such inventions can expand the arena of choice both for elderly people and their younger relatives








The Japanese space agency's endeavour to build advanced androids that will eventually take care of the elderly is tantamount to abdicating one's responsibilities towards senior citizens. True, a country like Japan has an ageing society where the ratio of workers to retirees is set to dramatically decline. However, taking care of the elderly cannot be left to a machine no matter how sophisticated and interactive it is. The warmth of human companionship - crucial to caregiving - cannot be substituted by a metallic console and two robotic arms.

With the advent of industrial societies and disintegration of the joint family system, caring for the elderly has become a highly impersonal affair. An entire industry has spawned around providing old age services. Nursing homes, condominiums specifically designed for old people, professional caregiving services, etc, all give a sense of support. But the ugly truth is most people today do not have the time or the inclination to take care of the elderly in their families. The Japanese android innovation stems from the mindset that taking care of
senior citizens is more of an obligation than a responsibility. Not only is this highly patronising but also represents a debasement of moral values.

The emphasis should be on devoting time to the elderly, not creating interactive robots for the task. Given the way they are often treated, senior citizens are made to feel like social pariahs. This is the biggest curse of old age. Counting on a robot to provide companionship to the elderly because no one else has the time is downright insulting. These are not the values we would want to pass on to our children. Technology definitely has its uses, but it is hardly desirable to let it replace human interactions. That is inevitably the net effect, no matter how much we insist that robots will supplement rather than replace human succour.







Here we are now at the start of the World Cup. We sure hope we will be entertained.

At the risk of sounding like Doomsday Dhiraj, is having a cricket tournament with 49 matches spread over 42 days pushing the legendary subcontinental enthusiasm for cricket to its teetering edge? Going by our voracious appetite for watching the game, especially its two limited overs formats, one would think not. And yet, even as the World Cup — the two words signifying a contest between those playing any sport at its highest qualitative level — kicks off today in Dhaka between Bangladesh and India, we do have a niggling feeling that World Cup fatigue may set in by the time, say, Canada and New Zealand play their group stage match on March 13 in Mumbai. We saw what happened in the last World Cup in 2007 in West Indies when a record number of 16 countries played over 47 days, the longest tournament ever. (The 2008 Beijing Olympics ran for 16 days; the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games for 11 days.)

Luckily, the subcontinent is not the West Indies where the game's popularity has taken a beating for a while now. But empty stands don't look pretty, especially on television, no matter how many crores are earned from 'global TV rights'. Even if teams are trained to focus on the job at hand each time they enter the field, playing back-to-back matches for one-and-a-half months can affect even the most steely minded. There is the distinct possibility that the champion team will be the one that gets least bored. However, let's not get all grumpy now. For millions the World Cup in the subcontinent is 'on tap' — to be savoured when the cricket enthusiast thinks it's the right time to take a sip, or while cheering his or her home team, a glug. So one hopes that apart from big draws like the Australia-Pakistan match exactly a month from today in Colombo getting the eyeballs, there will be a build-up in the show.

The one-day format came into being to put some life into the game of cricket that was seeing far too many yawn-inducing drawn Test matches. The logic of minnows like Canada and the Netherlands being in the fray till the end of the league matches may not catch everybody's fancy. But there was a time when India in the pecking order was a Bangladesh and Canada was a Bangladesh. So upsets could be tipping points in a cricketing nation's history. Which brings us to a scary possibility: what if the big boys India and Pakistan get knocked out by a minnow before reaching the quarter finals? After all, what are the chances of that happening for the second World Cup in a row?





How do you make a compelling film about... the creation of Facebook? This is the question that director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin would have been faced with a couple of years ago.

On paper, the story of the birth and subsequent growth of a social networking website sounds flat and cinematically unpromising. Besides, we're talking about history so recent that the real-life FB founder Mark Zuckerberg is a few months younger than Jesse Eisenberg, the actor hired to portray him! And since the Facebook story is very much an ongoing one, surely there was always the risk that new developments would make The Social Network a dated and irrelevant film before it was even released?

And so it might have been if they had made a doggedly faithful, literal-minded biopic. Instead, they dramatised with intelligence and discernment, turning Zuckerberg into a distracted, often inscrutable genius and giving his story the arc of grand tragedy.

They used cinematic licence to stress a central irony: a young man who launches a billion virtual 'friendship requests' is relatively friendless himself and can't relate to most people around him. In doing so, they held up a mirror to a world where millions of people stare unblinkingly into their computer screens, believing that they are meaningfully 'connected'.

But then, social alienation and the attempt to deal with it — either by reaching out to others or by taking recourse in dangerous escapism — has always been a key theme in Fincher's work, ranging from The Game to Fight Club. In his grisly

1995 film Se7en, a sociopath known only as John Doe attempts to 'play God' by committing murders built around the seven deadly sins.

"What I've done," Doe says, "will be puzzled over and studied and followed, forever." He says this with the same emotional inexpressiveness — the same faraway, "I can see the Larger Picture" look — that we often see on Zuckerberg's face in The Social Network. Perhaps, Fincher is suggesting with a wink, the internet age has created its own version of psychosis and god-playing.

Jai Arjun Singh is the editor of the forthcoming The Popcorn Essayists:

What Movies Do to Writers.

This special 2011 Academy Awards series will be published till Saturday, February 26.






Among the several questions that could have been asked at the prime minister's media conference - but weren't - one omission stood out for how interestingly it captures our malleable emotions. There wasn't a single question about Pakistan.

There were questions on the turmoil in Egypt; even on cricket and the World Cup. But no one, it seems, wanted to quiz Manmohan Singh on what led to the resumption of the dialogue process with Pakistan earlier this month in Thimphu, Bhutan. And unlike the forgotten query on the controversy surrounding the appointment of the central vigilance commissioner, the absence of questions on Pakistan appeared to be from disinterest - not oversight.

In other words, we are so distracted by domestic concerns that Pakistan is barely on our minds. Of course, the fact that there has been no major terror strike or volatility in the internal security situation has much to do with our lack of focus. But the truth is that if we - the polity, the media and the people at large - were not so preoccupied by the sense of churn within, the resumption of the talks with Islamabad would have invited the same merciless scrutiny as it has in the past. In fact, Pakistan is so off our collective radar that we've barely noticed the exit of the establishment's bete noire: the bumptious, often abrasive, Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

What makes things interesting is that the Pakistani mindspace seems to be just as distracted. As the assassination of Salman Taseer reminded us, Pakistan's internal implosions are, of course, existential challenges. Despite the avowed India-fixation of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in many ways, Pakistan today seems more at war with itself than with India. With competing philosophies and groups laying claim to the country's future, the cracks along its faultlines are deepening. Currently spooked by spy games that Washington is playing in its backyard, the growing domestic controversy over Raymond Davis (an American arrested for shooting two Pakistanis; he claims in self-defence) only underlines the divisions within the country's ruling establishment over how to navigate the minefields on its journey forward as a country.

Some say Qureshi lost his job as foreign minister for asserting that Davis never had the diplomatic status the Americans are now claiming. Others argue that Qureshi is only playing to the growling anti-American chorus with his proclamations, in case there is an early election. The whispers suggest that Davis is a CIA contractor collecting information on the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and a deal has already been struck by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government to pave the way for him to be handed back to the Americans. Either way, Pakistan's media are focused on the turmoil within. Even Kashmir hardly seems to inflame passions in the same way. So much so that Pakistan's annual marking of Kashmir 'solidarity day' on the eve of the meeting between the two foreign secretaries in Thimphu seemed more ritualistic than felt, and passed without much hoopla on either side.

Ironically, this emotional indifference may provide the best opportunity we have had in a long time for a dispassionate review of the India-Pakistan equation. For too long now, both countries have been trapped in a dysfunctional drama that alternates between love and hate. The schizophrenia has resulted in a deep-seated hostility at times and inexplicable bursts of affection at other moments. Remember the roar of applause when the Pakistani contingent marched in during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games? Too many Indo-Pak meetings feed the subcontinental craving for filmy drama right down to slammed doors and jostling over joint statements that never were.

The best thing the two foreign secretaries did for the dialogue process was to save it from the curious and contradictory love-hate melodrama that has defined similar meetings in the past. The future of the two countries belongs neither to the candle-waving romantics who convene at Wagah nor to the venom-spewing hatemongers who unleash their bitterness online (while, of course, befriending every Pakistani possible on Twitter). It belongs to the 'pragmatics' - to borrow a word from Nirupama Rao - who are able to see Pakistan beyond the Punjabi prism of the painful past.

Almost unnoticed and unacknowledged is the remarkable fact that Kashmir is no longer the main obstruction to peace between the two countries. Pakistan's former foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri has elaborated on the contours of a Kashmir settlement that had the nod of what he calls "all the principal players". He includes in this category, the present army chief of his country. Interestingly, we have seen neither a denial nor a confirmation of his assertions by our own government, with the foreign secretary only offering a "no comment" in a recent interview. But all other things being equal, a broad philosophical consensus does exist on what a possible solution could be to the longstanding Kashmir problem. And it still borrows from the essential template created by President Pervez Musharraf's four-point formula.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that in many ways the challenge of  terrorism is much more intractable than the Kashmir dispute. The 26/11 strikes had precious little to do with the politics of the Kashmir problem. Violence perpetrated against India, its cities and its people by fundamentalist religious groups is now the primary hurdle to cross for peace to have any real meaning. And many doubt that Pakistan's civilian government has the strength, even if it has the will, to do so. With emotions at an ebb on both sides, it's a good time to find out.

Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV

Barkha Dutt  

The views expressed by the author are personal.








Two facts are evident from the abduction of the Malkangiri district collector, R. Vineel Krishna, and his colleague, Pabitra Majhi, by Maoists. First, Maoists fear nothing more than representatives of the state reaching out and extending a helping hand to the poor, in whose name they have been waging their protracted war against the state, kidnapping and killing security personnel and civilians and destroying infrastructure and utilities. Second, beyond a certain tipping point, people across society were bound to raise their voice in anger and disgust. The online campaign for Krishna and Majhi's release ties in with the spontaneous shutdowns in Malkangiri, as well as other districts of Orissa where the young IAS officer had been posted, in protest against the abduction. Krishna, reportedly, made an effort to understand the problems of the poor and initiated programmes for their benefit. Reportedly, these initiatives had begun to wean prospective recruits away from the Maoists. That explains the instantaneous response from the districts that had him for an interface with the state as well as the emotion of friends, colleagues and strangers asking for his and his colleague's release, fearing the damage this case might do to honest, hard work in the civil services.

But, more importantly, it exposes and explains the irritation of Maoists with efforts to reach out to the tribals. Notwithstanding the long list of their demands on the release of jailed comrades, cancellation of mining and industrial projects, and an end to Operation Green Hunt, the state must be absolutely clear-sighted about what exactly it is dealing with. Securing the release of kidnapped personnel calls for a cali- brated, cautious approach, but the Orissa government — which suspended combing operations after the abduction — cannot make the mistake of offering an olive branch to the Naxals, especially now when it's on the backfoot. Orissa has also been one of the laggard states in moving against Naxals. Setbacks such as this are specific and need judicious, persistent effort, but they cannot put the overarching dual policy of development and paramilitary operations in the freezer.

No Maoist-affected state can afford the mistake under political and humanitarian compulsions of stopping state action against Maoists. In fact, that is precisely what could undo the work of people like Krishna. Underdevelopment and Maoist violence had been a self-perpetuating cycle in the red corridor. Extending the writ of the state to these areas, interacting with the people and helping them build their lives and livelihoods expose the cynicism of the Maoists and take the game away from them.







Economists often tell the story about the drunk, the coin and the lamp-post. A drunk is searching around a lamp-post for a coin. On being asked where he dropped it, he waves unsteadily in the darkness beyond reach of the lamp-post's light. Why not look there? Because, he tells you, the light's over here. The point, for economists, is that our approach to problems is frequently warped by what data we have available. We tend to search for the solution in the light of good, comprehensive data — even when the problem's somewhere out there in the dark. For a very long time, India's inflation discussion has been premised around the wholesale price index (WPI). That's because the WPI appears with less of a time-lag than the consumer price index (CPI), and macroeconomic policy needs the most timely data possible in order to respond nimbly. It's also more comprehensive than the CPI — the equivalent of the retail price indices that are, for solid theoretical, practical reasons, used internationally.

But it isn't very useful for several reasons. First, it doesn't include the services sector, 60 per cent of the Indian economy. (Neither does the old CPI.) This severely compromises its reach. Second, a large proportion of wholesale prices are of tradables — goods and commodities subject to international prices. Having the primary index of local prices so sensitive to prices set outside your economy warps both national discourse and policy-making. Finally, it doesn't have the right "weights". In constructing an

index, the crucial step is to weigh the prices in each sector with how much from that sector the average household buys. Food should be given more weight than energy, and so on. The inflation you calculate is sensitive to the weights, so its important to get them right. The new CPI uses weights that are based on five-year old survey data, much more recent and useful than those used by the old CPI or the WPI.

This is an important step towards modernising India's most basic diagnostic data. The next step is to ensure that it's used as the essential building-block for policy work.






As India know only too well, you can never presume victory over Bangladesh — that too in the World Cup. So the action at the inaugural match of the 2011 Cup at Dhaka's Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium will be keen. The two teams are in the more competitive group, and the hosts will be trying to qualify for the quarter-finals at the expense of one of these four: India, West Indies, South Africa, England. Before Thursday's opening ceremony, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said sports events brand a country, and she hoped that "the social and economic condition of the country would be consolidated if Bangladesh can be branded through the World Cup".

On Thursday, Bangladesh showcased itself as a socially vibrant, outward-looking society that embraces the ideals that nourished independence 40 years ago. Indeed, over the past few years, especially since Hasina swept back to power with the restoration of democracy in 2008, it has been conscious of re-imagining itself. Last year, the courts struck down a key amendment and restored the secular character of its constitution. The effect was not just to draw a cordon sanitaire between extremists and citizens, but also to draw focus to the very limited appeal of extremism. In fact, that's the re-branding Bangladesh celebrates these coming weeks.

Bangladesh is also finally reaping the benefits of steady economic growth over the past decade. Its begun to be proactive in moving for better economic integration and transport connectivity in South and Southeast Asia. The Bangla story is now about more than its famous microfinance models — and the country is part of the "Next Eleven" economies identified by Goldman Sachs as a follow-up to their BRIC report. Given Hasina's remarks, we are sure to see some snapshots of a changing country in the course of the eight matches in Dhaka and Chittagong.










Just a 90-minute interaction between the prime minister and the captains of electronic media in the country turned our entire upper crust into TV reviewers. And of course, in their near-unanimous judgment, the prime minister came off poorly. That is the clamour wherever Indian elites are to be found, from the party circuit to airline lounges: He sounded too defensive, he was getting too much into minutiae, he did not sound assertive enough. How does it measure up to a quick reality check?

It won't, if you remember that the key to understanding

Dr Manmohan Singh, and that is particularly so in terms of his public persona, is — the man you see, is the man you get. He is never one to sound assertive, or aggressive, never one to make broad-brush statements. His style is like that of a professor caught in the complex detail of a problem rather than that of an expansive Atal Bihari Vajpayee. And his method and moods? I have often said that even at the best of times Dr Singh seems to come across as Rahul Dravid batting at 39 for 3. He is not given to flourishes of any kind whatsoever. Go back to his public statements after the first flush of reform in 1991. He had the same lonely, almost melancholy, countenance when his first crisis, the (Harshad Mehta) stock market scam, hit him, and when he spoke a line as honest — and politically naive, you might say — as his "depends on what is your starting point" explanation for how to calculate presumptive loss on account of Raja's 2G spectrum allocation. He said then, famously or infamously, on the stock market crash in Parliament, that he "wasn't going to lose any sleep over it." Of course it got the rich, old and new, by far the greatest immediate beneficiaries of his policies then, furious: we are losing money, and he is so nonchalant? Nobody remembered that it was that one budget from him that had multiplied their wealth many times in the first place.

Lack of gratitude is the hallmark of the upper crust the world over. But in our country, lately, it has also got wrapped in a fascinating elite contempt for the political class. For the well-heeled Indian now, our politician (neta is the preferred expression, used as a pejorative) represents all that is wrong with our society. Some of it, probably, is driven by some evangelical "don't confuse me with facts" sections of news TV where anchors with clenched teeth and bared fangs hold forth, calling every scam massive, unprecedented, bigger than ever before and then, safely, blame it on the political class.

Safely because, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, ultimately it is only our politicians who end up facing accountability, and they are also least likely to go after you. Take the telecom scam. A cabinet minister of the ruling coalition, who also happens to be the leading Dalit face of a key ally in a state going to the polls this year, has been locked up in jail. If he and his alleged co-conspirators were bribed, it was done by some corporates. Have any of these "intrepid" TV anchors dared to call one of them, or even his spokesman or CEO, to his studio for a debate, or called for their arrest if not hanging? Would any of them, in fact, ever dare to call one of these corporates "a congenital scamster"? You have to ask that question, because that is exactly how one of these anchors has been routinely describing Suresh Kalmadi. Now, for sure, Suresh Kalmadi has more than a few serious questions to answer for CWG. But how do you know his forefathers were scamsters? Would you ever dare talk like that about anybody but a politician?

The more interesting thing, however, is that it is the rich who are applauding this lynch mob. Exactly the classes who wanted to hire private commandos in Mumbai after 26/11, to stop paying taxes, and keep routinely calling for election boycotts. You ask them who they would prefer as their rulers if not our "netas" and they waffle: the Congress has nobody worthwhile, the BJP has imploded, the third front is dead, and Mayawati, arre baap re baap... There was a time when the same class was fascinated with Musharraf: so smart, so with it, so confident, what swagger, so articulate, so much "like" us. More important, so unlike our smelly, pot-bellied, crotch-scratching politicians who mostly do not know how to dress or speak English. You know where he ended up as millions of brave Pakistanis took to the streets to protect their democratic rights and their judiciary.

And while the charmed circle mourns the end of the idea of India because of political corruption, incompetence, and cynicism, it is exactly our politics that is transforming India in a most remarkable manner now. The politics we curse has given us a truly federal polity where over half of the states are governed by non-UPA parties and where, while power to make big money (from land, minerals and liquor licensing) has shifted to the states, we have at least ten chief ministers with impeccable reputations. When was the last time you saw that in India? Maybe in Nehru's first decade? What is even more important, the most efficient and effective among our chief ministers — Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Sheila Dikshit, Narendra Modi, Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan — have all defied anti-incumbency. So it is evident that their voters not only acknowledge and reward these qualities, they also celebrate and value their democracy and politicians that make it possible, rather than curse them for all of their problems.

That is the happy, overwhelming reality behind this sullen, big-city drawing room mood. India is democratising and the political class and the voters are warming up to each other in a manner that is unprecedented, yet logical in its happy evolution. Voting percentages are going up, good leaders are being re-elected with larger majorities and others are mending their ways. Even the Congress has been forced to send to Maharashtra, its traditional milch cow,

a chief minister in Prithviraj Chavan whom his worst enemies would never accuse of taking a paisa in bribes or cuts. Likewise, can you deny that Dr Manmohan Singh is honest, capable, well-intentioned, wise and, most importantly, re-electable? So what if you do not exactly find him to be a rock star in front of the camera. That was never promised to you in the first place. But one thing you can be sure of. Whatever his countenance and style, like the dour but indispensable cricketer we compared him with, he is at his best at 39 for 3, which is how the scoreline looks for UPA 2 right now. You can trust him when he says he isn't going anywhere midway through this innings, and you can also be sure his party will now cut all the clutter and confusion and work with him rather than at cross-purposes. Even in the gossip-filled opium den that is Lutyens Delhi, you can see the smoke of confusion lifting. So forget all talk of a change midway, likely successors and so on through this Lok Sabha. And expect a fresh push for reforms, administrative and political changes and, hopefully, a changing of the headlines.







Deoband's Darul Uloom is once again in the headlines — unfortunately, for the wrong reasons. The man elected recently as its new vice-chancellor, Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, had been a member of the high-powered Shura which elected him for 12 years. However, after his election as vice-chancellor on January 10, he found himself under siege. He was attacked from every corner for many reasons, and not merely for his uncalled-for statements on Modi and the Muslims of Gujarat.

First, Vastanvi is not a Qasmi, someone who studied at Deoband. He graduated from a well-known, rival Saharanpur seminary called Madrasa Mazahir Uloom. The strong Qasmi lobby did not approve of a non-Qasmi VC. Second, Maulana Vastanvi has many followers among rich NRI Muslims. A lot of madrasas were established only after Vastanvi recommended them. Those maulvis who never received that help got a chance to teach him a lesson.

Remember, this is the first time in the history of Deoband that elections had to be held for the post of VC. Naturally, the defeated groups will not give up easily. Significantly, and fortunately, the largest sect among India's Muslim communities — the Barelvis — have kept themselves neutral on the issue, a commendable, wise and good idea.

Third, Vastanvi does not have the support of the powerful Madani family, the way his predecessor Maulana Marghoobur Rahman did. Rahman was a relative of Maulana Asad Madani, then head of the Jamiat-ul Ulama (United). Vastanvi, too, is a relative of Maulana Arshad Madani, who heads a faction of Jamiat-ul Ulama, and was also a candidate for the VC's post; but, because of Vastanvi's political associations, the Madani family might view him as an obstacle. The Jamiat-ul Ulama has already been divided between uncle and nephew, so the Deoband madrasa has become more important for both of them now.

Then there is the question of caste. Vastanvi is neither a Sheikh nor a Syed, but from the Gujarati Sunni Vohra community; he is the first non-forward caste maulana to be elected to his position in Deoband's history. The caste factor is so strong, in fact, that it caused open divisions at the Mazahir Uloom as well as the Darul Uloom in the 1980s. Just saying this might lead to my being branded as a player of caste games; but, honestly, despite being from the same society I have a lot of evidence to back up my concerns about the conception of superiority that drives the "super-caste" ulema.

And leaving caste aside, there are other ethnic considerations too. This was the first time in Deoband's history that a non-north Indian was elected, breaking what was, till now, a monopoly. The same interests aligned against the vice-chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University, Professor Abdul Azis, also not north Indian.

There are additionally fears that Vastanvi, being a modern and open-minded man, may support or implement the proposed madrasa board, an idea mooted by the Centre. This proposal was stiffly opposed by those white-collar clerics who control many of the country's bigger madrasas; they fear being made accountable to the government.

Vastanvi is, nevertheless, admired by thousands among the ulema for his knowledge and personality. In the Shura in particular, most members run their own big institutions with Vastanvi's support. After the controversy, when Vastanvi returned to Ahmedabad, he received an overwhelming reception: hundreds of ulema from Gujarat and Maharashtra, in a fleet of 300 cars, arrived at the airport to greet him. That is a clear signal that if Vastanvi is not allowed to run Deoband, the stream of huge donations flowing in from NRIs might well dry up.

The writer is media advisor to the president of the India Islamic Cultural Centre, New Delhi,







The UK Parliament is in the process of enacting a few bills that have significant impact on its electoral process. Given that India follows the Westminster model, and shares some of the same challenges, it is pertinent to understand the implications of these proposals.

There are two important bills that are under consideration. One bill fixes the length of every Parliament at five years, and removes the prime minister's prerogative to call for early elections. The second bill changes the electoral system for the House of Commons from the first-past-the-post system to a form of transferable vote system. It also redraws constituency boundaries to equate population sizes.

The Fixed Term Parliament Bill states that the term of Parliament will be five years and a general election will be held on the first Thursday of May every fifth year. There are only two conditions in which Parliament may be dissolved earlier — if two thirds of the members of Commons vote for dissolution, or if the government loses a vote of no-confidence, and no other person can win a confidence vote within 14 days.

India has seen early elections on a number of occasions. The Deve Gowda/Gujral and the Vajpayee governments lasted less than two years — it is conceivable that a fixed term system would have resulted in more stable governments. Such a system, if extended to states, would also enable aligning of state elections with national elections. Such alignment would provide the national government the room to take important medium term reforms without worrying about short term electoral implications.

The parliamentary voting system and the Constituencies Bill changes the method by which members of Parliament are elected. Currently, UK follows the first-past-the-post system, that is, the person who wins the highest number of votes in the constituency is declared elected. This can result in the overall tally of seats for major parties to be significantly different from their national vote share.

One alternative often used is proportional voting. In this system, parties get the number of seats based on their vote share, and MPs are decided by the party. This system has the drawback of delinking MPs from constituencies and reducing accountability at a local level. It also increases the power of political party leadership with respect to their members.

The UK proposes a middle way. Individual candidates will still contest at the constituency level. All voters will fill in a preference list stating the candidates in their order of preference. If any candidate gets over 50 per cent of the first preference vote, she is considered elected. In the absence of such a result, the second preference vote of the candidate who came in last will be counted, and so on, till one candidate gets at least 50 per cent of the votes. This system ensures that the candidate who is elected is the least disliked (even if she is not the most liked).

India follows the first-past-the-post system for Lok Sabha and state Legislative Assembly elections. In several states of India, there are three to four parties with a significant vote share. In the last Lok Sabha elections, just 120 of the 543 winners got above 50 per cent of the votes in their constituency. In 326 seats, the vote share of the candidate who came in third was higher than the difference between the winner and the runner-up.

In 62 per cent of the seats won by the Congress and 55 per cent by the BJP, the margin of victory was smaller than the votes polled by the third candidate. Or to see it another way, the Congress with a 29 per cent vote share won 38 per cent of the seats in Parliament; the BJP polled 19 per cent of the votes and won 21 per cent of the seats; the BSP with 6 per cent of the votes won 4 per cent of the seats. These results may have been very different had a system such as the alternative vote system been in place. The second preference of the third-place candidate could become pivotal — if many of them preferred the current runner-up to the winner, then the final result would be different.

The other proposal in the UK bill is to redraw constituency boundaries every five years in order to equalise the population within each constituency. The Indian Constitution provides for such a system through the delimitation process. However, after the 1971 process, the number of seats for each state have been frozen, with adjustments only within the states. The next review will be for the 2026 elections. Population projections suggest that the population of a Delhi constituency in 2026 will be more than double that of an average constituency in Tamil Nadu. The 11 Hindi-speaking states and union territories will have 37 seats less than their population share while the six southern ones will have 28 extra seats.

The UK-style reforms, if carried out in India, could have major consequences. That makes it important for us to follow the outcomes of these changes in the next few years.

The writer is with PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi







The ministry of external affairs press release of February 10, and our foreign secretary's press conference of February 8, clearly indicate that the latter and her Pakistani counterpart agreed at Thimphu to resume the stalled India-Pakistan dialogue in a "composite" plus mode. Thus, while the press release reveals that the resumed dialogue would cover "all issues", the foreign secretary, in her press conference, made out not only that the dialogue would be "comprehensive... covering all outstanding issues", but also that "more issues", like Afghanistan and cooperation in the UN, could be discussed. Ab initio, however, it seems that the dialogue would only be in the "composite" mode as the issues specified for discussion in the press release, with some nominal changes, are identical to the subjects in the erstwhile "composite dialogue"— a term that our foreign secretary was at pains to avert. Moreover, as under the composite dialogue, these issues are to be discussed sequentially. Discussions on all these issues are to be completed prior to the Pakistan foreign minister's visit to India scheduled for July 2011 who would "review progress" in the matter with his Indian counterpart.

Normally, few would question the propriety of our engaging in discussions with any country. However, such discussions are not desirable with Pakistan as the latter shows no indication of either bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to book or of curbing the export of terror to India, despite the fact that our leaders have repeatedly been predicating the resumption of the composite dialogue process on its taking such actions. In these circumstances, the resumption of the dialogue process exposes India as a paper tiger and promotes the perception that its leadership is weak, vacillating and incapable of penalising Pakistan. Such a perception is likely not only to embolden Pakistan to continue with the export of terror to India but also to encourage it to consider other even more adventurist actions.

The government's obsession with resumption of the dialogue process with Pakistan is inexplicable since the latter's inimical mindset towards India forecloses the normalisation of relations between the two countries. As one of our most cerebral prime ministers, the late P.V. Narasimha Rao, observed, in a discussion in the '90s, the normalisation of India-Pakistan ties would only be possible when the latter is prepared to accept the reality of being the smaller of the two countries. Since such acceptance was not on the cards any time soon, he predicted that the composite dialogue process, which was still at an embryonic stage, would be an exercise in futility.

Indeed, coincidental or not, whenever the dialogue process has been underway the number of terrorist actions by Pakistan against India, exclusive of J&K, have been higher than when it has been under suspension. Thus between 2004 and 2008 when the talks were in full flow, there were as many as 21 major terrorist actions against India, as compared to two between 2000 and 2004 and one after 2008 when the dialogue process was in abeyance.

The rumour mills have it that, in order to provide sustenance to the resumed dialogue, there may be compromises on issues like Sir Creek and Siachen. Going by historical record, one can rest assured that Pakistan will not be the one to make any compromises and any forward movement would require India to do all the running. Such one-sided compromises are best avoided.

With respect to Siachen, one must be particularly cautious. It may be recalled that India has long envisaged the possibility of its demilitarisation subject to Pakistan's acceptance of the actual ground position line. Pakistan's failure to do so explicitly has so far stalled progress in the matter. But even if it were today to accept the actual ground position line, demilitarisation would not be in India's national interest as once our troops give up the commanding heights on the Saltoro ridge, a return to the same would be impossible in the event of their seizure by Pakistan, something which is much more easily accomplished from the Pakistani side than from ours.

The logic of India's interest in demilitarisation through the '80s and much of the '90s stemmed from the difficulty of maintaining our posts on the Saltoro ridge and the confidence that we could bring to bear our conventional military superiority across the Line of Control or the International Border in order to address any Pakistani bad faith in Siachen. While, on the one hand, improved logistics have greatly eased the problem of maintaining our posts, on the other hand, our ability to address Pakistani bad faith by use of our conventional military superiority has been limited by the nuclearised environment. Accordingly, changed circumstances coupled with Pakistan's propensity to unabashedly violate the Line of Control, as during its Kargil actions, militate against any settlement of the Siachen issue on the basis of demilitarisation.

It is unfortunate that there has been little critical comment or analysis in the media on the decision to resume the dialogue process. Perhaps this is due to its preoccupation with the innumerable scams that have afflicted the nation. The same excuse does not, however, hold good for many of our security analysts involved in Track II India-Pakistan love-fests at various exotic locations lending their names to joint statements calling for "sustained engagement" between the two countries on a "full range of issues". Such exhortations are not only contrary to our stated policy, following the Mumbai attacks, but are also reflective of how soon some of us find it possible to forget the enormity of the injury and shame that these attacks imposed upon the nation.

The writer is former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan and former deputy national security adviser. He is currently distinguished fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation







Diplomatic row

The row over the diplomatic status of US consulate staffer Raymond Davis accused of double murder, is getting bigger. The US had warned Pakistan that holding Davis in judicial custody meant their bilateral ties were at risk. This "threat" seems to have had real consequences, as Pakistan President Asif Zardari's scheduled trip to the US stands postponed, as does a trilateral on Afghanistan.

Daily Times reported on February 14: "Islamabad is looking forward to the rescheduling of the trilateral meeting as soon as possible...Foreign Ministry spokesman, Abdul Basit said... 'We hope one person would not drive Pakistan-US relations and we hope we would not be losing sight of the strategic imperative of our relations'." The US did not cite Davis's detention as the reason for stalling the event. The story also quoted US State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley: "(The) US hopes to reschedule the meeting soon."

Pakistan, perhaps, is in a mood for some quid pro quo, reported Daily Times: "The US president has demanded the release of... Davis while the Pakistani government wants the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui in return, law minister Babar Awan said."

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who lost the portfolio of foreign minister in last week's cabinet reshuffle, made a couple of statements about Davis's diplomatic status, which created an uproar both within his party, the PPP and the media. The PPP appears to have disowned him after he insisted Davis didn't enjoy diplomatic immunity. However, another theory regarding his ouster also floats: that he refused to accept a new portfolio in protest against the recently-issued arrest warrants against Pervez Musharraf. The News reported on February 14: "Several PPP leaders... assailed former foreign minister Qureshi for issuing statements on Davis ... Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan linked the refusal of Qureshi to join the cabinet to the arrest warrants issued against Musharraf... Firdous said Qureshi's statements about Davis's immunity would create a bad environment in the country... 'Whatever verdict is given by the court... the government will accept it,' she added. The minister said such issues could be debated in party meetings, but not in the media. 'Shah Mehmood Qureshi had not shown his concerns over... Davis when he was foreign minister...' Sindh Law Minister Ayaz Soomro said Qureshi wanted to save the former president (Musharraf) from arrest."

Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an experienced Pakistan hand, was commissioned for the task of resolving the crisis by the US administration. He flew to Lahore and made no bones about saying that Pakistan's fortunes now lay in the hands of his colleagues in Congress. The News quoted Kerry on February 16: "some... things are beyond my control. Two or three members of Congress, as you know, have put resolutions to cut off aid. And every country has independent souls... Secretary Clinton and I made efforts and we have been able to get everybody calmed down. But I cannot predict what someone is going to do if we do not have (a) happy or sensible way out..." He also sought to settle the debate over Davis's diplomatic status: "While terming... Davis an administrative diplomatic employee working with the US embassy in Pakistan, Senator Kerry said diplomats working with the embassy under the Vienna Convention 1961 automatically enjoyed immunity and that was a 'big bottomline'." Soon after, a Daily Times report stated the foreign ministry wrote to the interior ministry saying "Davis was a diplomat who enjoyed immunity under the Vienna Convention."

A report in The Express Tribune on February 18, however, differed : "Davis has been sent on a 14-day judicial remand, while the government has sought three weeks-time to file a reply on his immunity... the Punjab government said... contrary to US claims, Davis does not have diplomatic immunity."

Towards justice

Dawn reported on February 14 that Rawalpindi's Anti-Terrorism Court indicted Salman Taseer's assasin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri with terrorism and murder. Qadri pleaded not guilty to murder, his legal team said, adding he denied it was murder as he had acted on the directives of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed "regarding an apostate".

Year of Faiz

This year marks the birth centenary of renowned poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The government of Pakistan has declared the year 2011 as "the year of Faiz", reported Daily Times on February 15. "Programmes in no fewer than 109 cities of the world were simultaneously taking place to commemorate his birth,"

reported Dawn.






It occurs to me as I listen to the shouts of the young protesters in the streets here that they could use most of the chants of the Egyptian protesters verbatim — save for the ones about Suzanne Mubarak, the former first lady of Egypt. This is because the mere mention of any of the four wives of our president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, would be a shameful violation of a tribal taboo.

The state-controlled news media continue to assert that Yemen is neither Tunisia nor Egypt. But the president and his minions have been watching their backs since the success of the Egyptian revolution, as most of the revolutionary movements in Yemen have been influenced by earlier Egyptian events. The 1952 revolution in Egypt belatedly inspired the 1962 revolution in Yemen, which split our nation in half for nearly three decades. There is even a celebrated Tahrir, or Liberation, Square here in Sana'a, just as in Cairo.

It is not only the authorities who are nervous: most Yemenis are hoping to wake up one day and discover that the revolution has arisen earlier than they have; just like that, painlessly, with no losses. As much as they long to follow the path of Tunisia and Egypt, they are worried about the repercussions such a revolt might have, including a civil war should certain tribes align themselves with President Saleh.

In recent days, the president has met with tribal leaders in the Sana'a area and paid a visit to an army barracks. It's a clear indication of his fears that the Islamist Congregation for Reform, or Islah Party, might infiltrate the two pillars of his regime, the tribes and the military. Islah, once a vital ally of the president's, has thrown in its lot with the opposition.

For the last two weeks, members of Saleh's party, the General People's Congress, have set up large tents in Tahrir Square, attempting to pre-empt any protests. Hundreds of tribesmen take shifts at the tents, raising banners in support of President Saleh. Cars with government markings deliver their meals, along with handouts of cash that they spend on the stimulant qat. They sit in their tents for hours each day, chewing qat and listening to preachers on loudspeakers urging Yemenis to love their country and protect it against "troublemakers" and "foreign agents."

Until recently, the protest movement had been quite tame. On February 3, for example, an online call went up for a demonstration at Sana'a's central mosque; one young blogger urged his fellows to "stop using qat for one week only, for Yemen's sake, for the sake of change and dignity." Yet when I joined the protest around noon, there were only about 20 people, chanting slogans. "Tens of thousands of people joined the protest in the morning," one of them told me, "but they've left now and will come back in the evening."

As angry as they were with the government, they were equally frustrated with Islah. "We're here to free the Yemeni people from the bonds of darkness," another protester told me, "and there they are with loudspeakers beseeching God to break the siege of Gaza and bring down the Egyptian Pharaoh." I stood for a while, listening to their chants: "If the people decide one day to choose life/then fate must heed their call"; "Ali, enough, enough/Leave, let yourself out"; and, when a police car passed by, "The army, the police and we/are all connected by our need for daily bread."

The most striking was, "We will not sleep until the regime falls," which Yemenis understand means that the protesters had foregone qat that afternoon (users tend to become lethargic after its stimulant effect wears off). Still, the large crowd of the morning never returned, apparently having succumbed to qat's temptations.

More recently, however, the perseverance of young people like those 20 at the mosque seems to have paid off. For the last seven days there have been a series of localised but violent clashes between protesters and supporters of the regime backed by the police. Fortunately, Western news reports tell us that the police have so far fired their guns only into the sky as a warning. And the protests have spread across Yemen, to Aden, Taiz and other cities.

I, like many others, don't think that President Saleh's hastily made pledges — including his promises not to run for president again, to create a fund to employ university graduates and to increase wages and reduce income taxes — will assure his regime's survival. The virus of revolution that overtook Tunisia and Egypt has taken hold.

To many here, that is a troubling thought. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Yemen is tribal and could easily fall into civil war. Still, while I understand the risks, I believe that the future cannot be worse than the present. Yemen may be a fractured society, but I have faith that we can unite against a nepotistic regime that has plundered our resources and given us little but misery. Ali al-Muqri








What at one time looked like just a bad idea is all set to become a reality. New corporate affairs minister Murli Deora is readying to put into the Companies Bill, an idea first mooted by his predecessor Salman Khurshid, of mandating that companies compulsorily spend 2% of their net profits on what is now called Coercive Social Responsibility. It isn't bad enough that India Inc, and ordinary citizens as well, pay a cess for education over and above the taxes they pay, there's another cess being levied for building roads—that's built into the retail prices of petrol and diesel. Add to this the fact that India Inc also needs to fulfil the government's affirmative action agenda—the pressure on providing employment to SC/ST groups is slowly being ratcheted up—and you begin to wonder what we're paying those taxes for. Sure, government expenditure is nowhere as efficient as private expenditure is, but then why not lower the tax burden in a commensurate manner? No country, other than Saudi Arabia, requires companies to pay a fixed amount of their income or profits to the government for the sole purpose of distributing to the underprivileged population!

Apart from the question of why we're paying taxes, imagine the havoc the proposal will wreak on India Inc, and the backdoor entry it will provide for government inspectors. So let's say Tata Steel says it has built a school with its CSR-fund and Tata Steel employees' children go to that school. Is that to be considered corporate social responsibility? Shouldn't the school also fulfil some social responsibilities in the same manner all private schools now have to reserve a fourth of their seats for SC/ST/OBC children (that's another government responsibility the private sector is fulfilling)? And are we sure the school costs what Tata Steel says it does, and why should it pay so much to those teachers … Questions like these will almost certainly come up once Deora's 2% CSR becomes a reality. And that's when the inspectors will come back into the picture, just as they will in the case of private schools, thanks to the Right to Education Act. On the 20th anniversary of Manmohan Singh freeing up India Inc from inspector raj, a minister in his Cabinet is trying to bring it back. Singh had to have a chat with Deora to dissuade him from taking the line he did on Vedanta-Cairn while at the oil ministry. Perhaps it's time to do the same again on his CSR proposal.






Our press hadn't gone to town over it, nor did nearly as many Indians have TV then as now. But the Asiad had stopped by the capital the previous year, so the number of TV sets had certainly spiked. And as the India-West Indies final gathered momentum, so crowds gathered around those sets, to watch a moment that we now accept as historical. Put a photograph of that winning team in front of old-timers, and they will ooh and aah. The wonder is that even the young 'uns will. The thing about the Cricket World Cup is that India is not alone in cherishing its breakthrough moment. Pakistan's 1992 victory and Sri Lanka's 1996 one, for example, have got their share of reverence in the respective countries, cherished for their singularities. For Bangladesh, which put out lots of passion during the opening ceremony, being a host alone is going to be memorable for years to come. That this Cup comes along only once in four years helps.

Of course, this time, everyone is waiting with bated breath to see whether the supremacy of this podium has taken a lethal hit from IPL, and the T-20 format in general. We will find out over the next six weeks. There is some moaning about how the format has been fixed to help the marquee teams make it through the pool stage. But this doesn't really mean that a prima donna or two won't be upstaged by someone from the chorus line. In fact, there wouldn't be any World Cup oomph if there weren't any unpredictability. After all, a key reason why this tourney is expected to be more exciting than the last three is that they were dominated by one team (Australia) from start to finish. India is a clear favourite this time and it's not just the Indians who are saying this. It's not just wishful thinking. Our players are in good form, our team has been holding together well. But the first ball is yet to be bowled. And as Peter Roebuck says, the beauty of sport is that while the past is an open book, the future is an open page. Don't make too much of that home advantage either. However excited the thought of Sachin Tendulkar holding that trophy aloft in Mumbai makes you, not one team has so far taken the winning lap in its own country.





Let's assume, for the moment, Arun Shourie is indeed guilty of what the Justice Shivraj Patil report has accused him of, that he allotted 12 licences at 2001 prices to Tata Teleservices in 2004 even though the Cabinet had agreed all future licences would be auctioned. Shourie's explanation, that this was part of what the Cabinet approved, is a bit long-drawn and is not immediately convincing since the Cabinet decision was about older telcos migrating to a new licence and not about new telcos getting new licences. Shourie insists, for the record, that he has the documents to prove this is indeed the case, and that had certain critical documents been made available to Justice Patil, he would never have indicted Shourie's process.

The point, however, is whether what Shourie did (he issued 26 licences in mostly low-growth circles in 2004 at the same rates charged to firms in 2001) can be used as an excuse by the UPA to issue, over the next five years, 180 licences at the same 2001 prices.

After all, it wasn't even as if Shourie was part of the same government.

And this is where you see both UPA-1 and UPA-2 have to be the most file-pushing government the country has seen in a long time—file-pushing in the mindless sense bureaucrats do, not bothering to apply their minds to anything except to see if there's a precedent. So, 18 months after Shourie ceased to be telecom minister, on December 14, 2005, UPA-1 came up with its brand new licensing regime. If the BJP's licence rules had 17 sections over 6 pages, UPA-1's had 74 sections over 28 pages, but the operating part was the same, that if any newcomer came asking for a licence, it would be given at the same price that was got from auctions in 2001! Eighteen months later, and a brand new government comes up with a new set of guidelines that are, in essence, the same as in the previous government. Continuity with change!

Indeed, while the government set up the Patil committee primarily to embarrass the NDA, it highlights far far more irregularities in the UPA period. The bald numbers—Shourie's 26 licences versus UPA's 180—tell you the larger story, but it's a good idea to read the report for some of the more juicy tidbits like the one on how Swan's and Allianz's licences were cleared within hours (this is why S Behura was arrested) despite officials pointing out why the licences should be rejected. There are a lot more, so I'd strongly recommend you log on to in/miscellaneous/ OMC/ OMC.htm.

How much more lazy can you get? A lot actually—even after A Raja has been arrested for corruption, his successor Kapil Sibal continues to say Raja did the wrong thing only because he was following Shourie's footsteps. Raja tried to debunk the losses based on the 3G auction prices by saying one was PDS rice and the other basmati; Sibal repeated much the same argument except he did it with a Maruti and a Mercedes, and the PM went them one even better and argued that all consumer subsidies—such as on rice, wheat and kerosene—could be considered to be a loss by that yardstick! Never mind that one is meant for the poor while the other was meant for rich companies (sure, the fertiliser subsidy is also given to fertiliser companies but they're told they have to sell the fertiliser at a certain price). By the way, worth keeping in mind that one of the best-organised subsidy schemes in India is in the telecom sector, it's called the USO fund. The more you call, the more you contribute to the fund (it has Rs 20,000 crore in it today) and the money is available to anyone who bids for building rural telecom networks.

It would appear everyone in the UPA forgot the Cabinet had decided in 2003 that all future licences would be auctioned, so an argument continues to be made (by even the PM) that Trai didn't recommend auctions in 2007. So who said the government had to go strictly by what Trai said? Since this fact of the Cabinet decision of 2003 is really the central argument of the Justice Patil report, it is surprising that the PM was still briefed incorrectly.

Raja's affidavit kept saying he'd kept the finance ministry in the loop, and he had to say that, since he was obviously lying and needed to cover his tracks. But after he was arrested, after a crack team investigated the matter for the PM (one of this crack teams is investigating the Isro-Antrix-Devas case), the PM was still briefed using the old Raja arguments, that the finance ministry and the full telecom commission (which includes the finance secretary) had okayed Raja's decision not to have auctions. That none of this is factually correct can be ascertained from the Justice Patil report—the CAG report also says the same thing, but the CAG report has been dismissed by the government as a drain inspector's report!

The finance ministry is on record as saying it didn't agree with Raja—former finance secretary D Subbarao, who is currently RBI Governor, even told the PAC he wasn't able to follow up his differences as he got involved in the budget exercise. P Chidambaram wrote a letter to the PM after the licences were given out suggesting a way to still retrieve revenue in case there were any M&A deals (as happened later with Swan and Unitech), but everyone in the government was too busy to follow up on it!

Apart from the fact that it contradicts itself on various occasions, the government's affidavit in the Raja matter is perhaps the most eloquent example of how sloppy it is. The affidavit defends Raja and while the government has arrested Raja, the affidavit has not even been changed.

The NDA can't be held responsible for the crimes committed by the UPA in telecom. The only thing the NDA can be held guilty of is of messing up its alliance partners in the 2004 election which allowed the UPA to come to power, of not getting its act together in 2009, and perhaps even in 2014. That, however, is the subject of another column.





The new CPI is another addition to the series of changes one is witnessing in the data sets on the Indian economy. We have had a new WPI series followed by GDP, which chose 2004-05 as base year. The IIP is also being reworked on this basis, which would harmonise the base years for most critical economic variables. This move is definitely pragmatic as comparisons are possible across indicators without the limitation of having to qualify the base years.

The new CPI in its new form with 2010 as base looks at urban, rural and a combination of the two, and would probably replace the current sets on industrial workers, agricultural labourers and rural labourers, although it has been stated that the status quo would not change right now. While it may still be difficult to map the same, it could be assumed that there is some correlation between these groups. However, the major issue here is the choice of base year.

This index uses 2010 as the base year. Is it a fair assumption? Usually a base year should be a normal year where there was normal economic activity with few extraneous distortions. But, looking at 2010, it would probably not fit the billing. This was probably one of the most inflationary periods of our lives. Further, the global economy is still recovering from the financial crisis, which means that activity was not normal. Therefore, there will be a wrong start at the beginning of the index.

A high base year for the CPI in 2010 means that the future rates of changes in prices will tend to be lower as we move along. It is not surprising that the rates shown for January are of a lower order of 7% for rural folks, 4% for urban and 6% for all. The number of 4% will definitely not go down well with all those who will finally (when that for industrial workers is replaced) have their salaries adjusted for this kind of inflation, since the actual cost of living has gone up more significantly than this number suggests. In fact, looking at this number, one will get an impression that inflation was never a major issue to begin with, as January was the time when we had the highest number in food inflation. The WPI monthly index showed price increase of over 15%, while the CPI tells us that it was not really significant. Clearly, there is something wrong in the representation of prices.

A serious anomaly is that the base year has been taken as 2010, even though the weights are based on consumption patterns as per the NSS study for 2004-05. This being the case, they could have used 2004-05 as the base year rather than 2010.

Further, the new CPI has changed the weights of several components of the index quite drastically. Food items have a lower weight for urban folk when compared to the existing index for industrial workers by around 11.5 percentage points. The weight of housing has been increased by around 7 percentage points. What this does is that it would keep understating the price increase, since the category of housing is unlikely to show monthly changes, as such revisions take place only periodically. But then there could always be discussion on weights to other components also such as transport, clothing etc. What is the solution?

To strike a balance, the government should focus on bringing out a food price index and simultaneously revealing how this moves. The problem with having a composite consumption index is that these weights differ for different segments of society. Just as rural people spend more on food, so do the low-income earners in urban areas, who probably do not spend on other items like housing or transportation.

Finally, one needs to ask as to why at all are we having one more index on prices. If it will replace other indices, then it is okay. If it is to run parallel, then it will add to the confusion as each index can tell a different story. Already there is an anomaly between CPI and WPI numbers and one is questioning as to which one is right. Now with this new index having a statistical bias towards showing better numbers, we will get another picture. The existence of three indices here will only add to the plethora of presentations of inflation numbers—we already have week on week, month on month, year on year, average till date for the WPI and various CPIs. The same will hold for these new three CPIs.

While more is merrier in general, the tricky question is, which one will the policy makers be looking at?

The author is chief economist, CARE Ratings. These are his personal views






The International Cricket Council (ICC), in attempting to regulate the media's coverage of the World Cup, has over-reached itself. While cricket's governing body has cause to protect what it perceives as its interests, its efforts to monitor and curb the packaging and the presentation of content, particularly in the print media, are excessive and in some respects over the top. The ICC's rationale is that staging an event of the magnitude of the World Cup requires a scale of money that can only be raised by guaranteeing exclusivity — without this assurance, sponsors would be reluctant to help fund the exercise. In itself, the argument isn't without merit; these are the realities of the world we live in. But its interpretation, in the ICC's instructions to news organisations, continues a worrying development. "The free and open coverage of sports events is under attack," Larry Kilman, Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs for WAN-IFRA, an organisation that promotes press freedom, said last year. Kilman pointed to the increasing tendency of sports companies and organisers to control coverage by limiting editorial and commercial freedom. Although some of the ICC's directives pertaining to "permissible and impermissible activity" appear reasonable, drawing a distinction between editorial and commercial work, there is sufficient cause for alarm.

At the heart of the matter is the question: who owns sport? Organisations such as the ICC contend they do, ignoring both sport's essence as a public activity and the media's role in developing and promoting sport. It is this contention that has seen administrators across the world lay claim to sport's every facet so that they can monetise it. Central to this endeavour is the prevention of others from doing similarly. One manifestation of the ICC's heightened urge for control is the severity of the restrictions it is imposing on fans who will attend the World Cup. Ostensibly, some of these regulations are security measures. But several, designed to thwart ambush marketing, verge on the draconian and the absurd. Not only do the restrictions establish a monopoly in what is a public domain; they also unduly curtail personal freedom. The ICC must realise that it hasn't total ownership of on-field action. Cricket, like every sport, is many things at once, one of them being a collective experience. Individual components of a sporting event moreover cannot be copyrighted. For the ICC to tell the media how "match content" may be presented is to challenge freedom of expression — which is guaranteed in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution — and also the right to information. Responsible news organisations must be trusted to use their judgment to account for both the ICC's commercial considerations and their own.





The role of the International Monetary Fund during the period immediately preceding the global economic crisis has come in for sharp criticism by the Fund's independent evaluation committee. The panel's report, released recently, catalogues the warning signals — all of them emanated from the financial systems of the advanced countries — the IMF had failed to pick up and act upon. A number of its assumptions about the health of the financial sector in the West were incredibly naïve. For instance, as late as the summer of 2008, the IMF management asserted that the United States "has avoided a hard landing" and that the "worst news is behind us." The collapse of Lehman Brothers, which happened on September 15, 2008, marked the lowest point of the crisis, the first signs of which had surfaced almost a year earlier.

According to the watchdog committee, the IMF has always been late in spotting the severe interconnected problems of the advanced economies. Its ability to identify and evaluate the risks mounting in the U.S. financial sector was hampered by a high degree of "groupthink", "intellectual capture", and the general belief that the large advanced economies are unlikely to be hit by a financial crisis. Moreover, even the bilateral surveillance system of the U.S. has failed to alert its authorities of the emerging risks and pinpoint policy weaknesses. What is worse, the IMF seemed to be championing the cause of the U.S. financial sector and its regulator. Dissenting voices heard from within and outside went unheeded. In one striking case, the warnings its chief economist Raghuram Rajan sounded as far back as 2005 about financial instability were ignored. Also, the IMF was relying on traditional macroeconomic approaches and modelling that were wholly inadequate to spot the emerging risks. Since the start of the crisis — and in the recovery phase too — it has been striving hard to regain its relevance, even as its management and operational structures are becoming more democratic and broad-based. The emerging economies, particularly China and India, are poised to play a greater role. The watchdog committee has pointed out that the Fund's earlier focus on exchange rate and current account policies of the emerging markets — rather than on the housing and financial sector bubbles of the advanced economies — for solving the problem of global imbalances has left a legacy that continues to hamper greater cooperation among major economies, especially China and the U.S.








Anyone trying to predict the outcome of our polity's life and death struggle with crony capitalism will have to make sense of two contradictory sets of images.

On the one hand is the obfuscation and prevarication that senior Ministers have served up when confronted with the reality of the 2G spectrum scam and other unprecedented instances of corporate and political robbery. The most recent display of this was by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself, who needlessly played down the scale and significance of the revenue loss that the 2G scam had caused. But, on the other, are the pace and scope of the current investigation, which has also been unrivalled by anything India has witnessed so far. The same Prime Minister whose silence and ambivalence on 2G was seen by the Opposition and the public at large as weakness and even complicity has pushed the Central Bureau of Investigation into summoning and questioning top industrialists like Anil Ambani, raiding Kalaingar TV, the business arm of a key political ally, the DMK, and sending A. Raja, who was Telecom Minister till some time ago, to the unwholesome confines of Tihar Jail.

These are extraordinary developments by any yardstick and government managers have let it be known that there is further excitement in the offing. In the days and weeks ahead, more iconic businessmen are likely to be questioned for their involvement in the spectrum allocation scam. Nor will Shahid Balva be the only high net worth individual to be packed off to judicial remand.

When the leaked Radia tapes exposed a small part of the inner workings of the India establishment, our crony capitalists banded together to plead privacy and complain loudly about a "witch hunt." Top corporate figures and even some politicians spoke about the danger of India becoming a "banana republic" and issued dark warnings in serial interviews about how the investment climate in the country was being adversely affected by the absurd suggestion that respectable businessmen might actually be involved in scams. The purpose of that fully scripted campaign was to ensure that the media, the investigating agencies and the courts all back off. Fortunately for our body politic, that has not happened. Public disaffection is so high that none of the estates of our system can afford to be seen as slackening. And that includes the executive too, notwithstanding the 'zero loss' logic it foolishly put out. In his testimony to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, the CBI director was at pains to distance himself from that arithmetic of denial. Though the agency was painfully slow in getting off the block, nobody can really fault its current approach. And the credit for that must be shared equally by the media, the courts but also, ironically, Dr. Singh.

Yes, the Supreme Court is monitoring the functioning of the CBI but there are scores of cases where similar monitoring has produced nothing even remotely so dramatic. The Mulayam Singh disproportionate assets case, for one. When you are in government service, individual acts of bravery without the requisite air cover can be risky. As the police officers who raided the offices of Reliance Industries in New Delhi 13 years ago when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister discovered, taking on the biggest captains of industry is not exactly a career advancing move. If today, the younger Ambani is answering questions about his role in Swan Telecom, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that the agency has received pretty direct encouragement from the highest levels of the government.

The question, of course, is whether or not the CBI will persist in its endeavours. Are we being treated to an elaborate dog-and-pony show? Or does the agency's current activism represent a fundamental course correction for a system which has tolerated and thrived on corruption? If yes, does the Prime Minister have the political clout to see things through?

Rent seeking and money making have been fellow travellers of the Indian political system for more than four decades but this is arguably the first time that a Minister has been run out of office and sent to jail as part of a criminal investigation. Never before has the role of big business come under the scanner like this either. When the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power at the Centre in 1998, it promised clean governance. What the country got instead was sweetheart deals in the form of privatisation of hotels and other public sector assets, the petrol pump scam, the coffin scam and other crooked ventures. As the Justice Shivraj Patil report has catalogued, the rot in telecom policy and spectrum allocation also started then. But nothing was ever probed.

The United Progressive Alliance inherited this corrupt system and presided over its unprecedented expansion. Thanks to whistleblowers, upright auditors, a vigilant media and a fair bit of corporate rivalry, however, the truth about 2G, the Commonwealth Games and other money-making enterprises has slowly come trickling out. There are, of course, scores of other fishy deals that need probing too, especially those involving land grants and mining concessions.

What explains the schizophrenic attitude of the United Progressive Alliance government towards the 2G scam? Why does the Prime Minister peddle the fiction that companies like Swan or Unitech did not resell their spectrum (for a profit) but only expanded their equity base, when the sale of equity for a company which has no assets other than spectrum amounts to the same thing? Why does he persist in comparing the loot of public money via the sale of cheap spectrum to the cost of providing food subsidies for the poor — even as the CBI is pounding on the doors of the companies that benefited from the 2G allocation?

As an economist and a man of unquestionable integrity, Dr. Singh knew full well the revenue consequences of forgoing an auction for the allocation of 2G spectrum and recorded his unhappiness with the decision. Even if he is right in saying that he could not have been expected to get into the minutiae of decisions in all Ministries, this can at best explain why he allowed the January 2008 spectrum allocation to take place. What it does not explain is the delay of 20 months in the registration of the first FIR by the CBI. In the intervening period, there was ample material in the press for the Prime Minister to realise something wrong had happened. His argument that the compulsions of coalition came in the way doesn't cut much ice. For one, the DMK, with which the Congress has an alliance in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, would have been bound by the same compulsions and would have been hard placed to rock the boat at the national level. For another, why wasn't safeguarding the public exchequer considered as good a reason for putting the fate of the government on the line as the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal? Finally, 'coalition dharma' cannot explain the persistence of Congress politicians with questionable credentials in the Union Cabinet, men such as Vilasrao Deshmukh, for example, against whom the Supreme Court has passed embarrassing strictures.

If the Prime Minister were anyone other than Dr. Singh, one might be justified in treating his belated intervention in the 2G matter as an indication of his own involvement. In reality, the delay was the product of both his individual political weakness and his party's failure to understand the political implications of the scam. Today, it is obvious that vigorously pursuing the case is in the best interest of the government, the ruling party and the coalition. Such is the level of public disenchantment that if the Congress fails to punish the officials, politicians and businessmen involved, it will take a beating at the next elections. But there is also a wider, systemic opportunity the 2G investigation provides for the Indian polity. Capitalism needs rules. In mature capitalist economies, those rules are designed to allow businessmen to make "normal" profit and to use (or loot) the resources of the state as a collective. The growth of monopoly power, and thus supernormal profit, is also a "natural" part of the process of accumulation. When individual corporate houses attempt a short-cut, however, they invariably corrupt the wider political edifice. Corrupt politicians come and go. But unless the crony capitalists who use them are punished, Indian democracy will continue to corrode.






R. Balakrishna Pillai, the veteran politician who has been leading the regional political party named the Kerala Congress (B), was, on February 18, sent to jail for certain acts of corruption he committed some 20 years ago when he was Kerala's Minister for Electricity. Two others including a former Chairman of the Kerala State Electricity Board were also sentenced in the same case. The Supreme Court ordered this punishment on an appeal filed not by the State government but by the present Chief Minister of the State, V.S. Achuthanandan. He filed that appeal in the early-1990s in his individual capacity when he was the Leader of the Opposition, seeking a reversal of an acquittal that had been granted by the Kerala High Court.

It is a basic principle of criminal jurisprudence that the initial presumption of innocence enjoyed by accused persons is reinforced by an acquittal. On appeal it shall be upset by a superior tribunal only in rare cases and only on the strength of clear and loud grounds. Only in a small percentage of cases does the Supreme Court intervene in cases that involve such a presumption of innocence.

A ruling of the Supreme Court is final not because it is infallible; it is infallible because it is constitutionally final and structurally supreme. Prejudice or ignorance sometimes leads some robed brethren into grave errors. Had there been a court above the Supreme Court, many of its judgments would have suffered reversal. Look at the case marked 1973 4SCC 225 where the view of 11 judges headed by Subbarao J. (Golaknath case) was upset by little reasoning in justification in the Kesavananda Bharathi case. Indeed, several decisions of the highest court have been found to be fallible and have suffered eclipse over the years.

In Balakrishna Pillai's case, the trial court convicted the accused but a single judge of the High Court set aside that judgment and ordered acquittal. The Supreme Court upset the High Court's decision. Curiously, the State government under the United Democratic Front, of which the Kerala Congress(B) was a part, did not file an appeal — presumably because it agreed in conscience with the acquittal. Mr. Achuthanandan, however, filed a special leave petition. The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government which came to power later also did not file an appeal. In short, neither the party that was in power during the initial relevant period, nor the LDF government which came to power later, challenged the verdict of innocence that was rendered by the High Court.

The ultimate sentence issued by the Supreme Court is valid because the court has the jurisdiction. But it has been argued that the court supported the trial court's conviction without giving an opportunity to Balakrishna Pillai to show cause against the sentence.

It would be right for the public to draw the conclusion that the LDF government did not care to question the acquittal. It cannot take credit for the present conviction because it did not move the Supreme Court questioning the acquittal. Mr. Achuthanandan's appeal was not on behalf of the government but as an individual. The government objected to the acquittal, but only at the last moment. On the whole, had Mr. Achuthanandan not pressed his appeal in the Supreme Court, Balakrishna Pillai would have got off the hook since no proceedings had been initiated by anyone including the government.

The Supreme Court's pronouncement is the final judicial verdict and it has to be accepted. The only remedy that is open to Balakrishna Pillai now is under the clemency jurisdiction. That is a different jurisprudence dependent on other public considerations governed by Article 161, as has been explained in Maru Ram (1980 AIR 2147).

Review, an illusion

The possibility of a review of the punishment, as has been suggested in sections of the media, is but an illusion. It has to be done before the same Bench and there can be no obligatory public hearing except where the same Bench prima facie concludes that it has committed a grievous error. That happens rarely. It is hard to imagine the same Bench now considering a strong judgment it has delivered as a blunder. Clemency in this case is more a matter for the President.

In this case, in its well reasoned judgment the Supreme Court has discussed every facet of the case and come to a conclusion and a verdict that sounds satisfactory. Two views are possible with respect to any conclusion. In this case it is a single judge of the High Court versus two judges of the Supreme Court. Having read the entire judgment it seems to me that it is difficult to hold the conclusion as untenable. That is why I hold the view that no review is possible and only clemency can operate to save Balakrishna Pillai from behind the iron bars. But a clemency has to be rational and not fanciful. This case is indeed a tough one where the principles of criminal justice are on serious trial — in full public glare as well.

I must express my deep appreciation of the real hero behind this prosecution and conviction, who persisted with the criminal case for close to a decade. Mr. Achuthanandan, who was then not in power but in the Opposition, chose to hold the flag of justice aloft all alone, and because of his persistence won a victory for justice.






The years between 2002 and 2008 were particularly difficult for Indian Muslims suspected of terrorism. Waves of extremist violence during this time — from the Godhra train carnage in 2002 to the November 26, 2008 Mumbai attacks — had created an accusatory climate in which even the suggestion of Muslim innocence was sacrilege.

It was never the case of those arguing on the side of fair play and justice that Muslims were uninvolved in terrorism. Such a position would in fact undercut the premise of fairplay and justice. The 9/11 mayhem on the soil of the United States had exposed the extent and reach of global extremist Islamist networks. For its part, Indian intelligence had identified lynchpins at the head of active and sleeper terror cells, some of which admittedly became magnets for young men motivated to avenge perceived and real wrongs done to the community.

Stories always the same

But the problem was that the stories of terror were feeding off each other, blurring the line between fact and fiction. Slowly it began to emerge that many of the Muslim boys picked up by the police and shown as playing collaborative roles in complex terror plots involving dozens of masterminds and their associates, were in fact innocent; it seemed as if their presence in the plot had become necessary to embellish the police case and give it credibility. It did not matter which party ran the State Government — the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party or any other regional party. The police mind unravelling the terror mysteries appeared to be under a single, unified command. The stories were always the same — of young Muslim men apprehended while "moving about in suspicious circumstances" and readily confessing their parts in devilish schemes masterminded by big names in the terror networks. The recoveries rarely varied: "Urdu/Arabic seditious matter, jihadi literature, Muslim fundamentalism" and so forth. What was jihad? What was Muslim fundamentalism? Were these crimes in themselves? To any objective person it should have been apparent that a large cast of uninvolved side characters had been added to a core terror plot driven possibly and plausibly by some real suspects with real motives. Yet in the hostile atmosphere created by the terrorist bombings, the police passed off any theory and picked up anyone without questions being raised.

Consider the chain of bomb blasts and attacks: In 2007, the Samjhauta Express blast followed by the three Hyderabad bombings — at Mecca Masjid, the Gokul Chat Bhandar and Lumbini Park — and the series of court room bomb attacks in Uttar Pradesh. In 2008, deaths and devastation caused by terrorist attacks in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Delhi, and finally, and most stunningly, in Mumbai. It is now gradually being accepted that while many of these were the work of deadly Islamist groups, some were not.

Turning point

Nonetheless, as far back as 2007, the first doubts had already begun to be articulated — even if only feebly and receiving almost no attention. In Hyderabad, where the police had rounded up a score of young Muslims boys following the three bomb blasts, L. Ravi Chander, Advocate Commissioner for the State Minorities Commission, raised disturbing questions about the irregular manner of their detention. But the national media largely underplayed the report. His scathing September 2008 final report, where he warned that leaving the wounds of the boys unattended could recoil on society, too, did not receive the attention it deserved, though by this time in Maharashtra, Hemant Karkare, the chief of the Anti-terrorism Squad, had set off on a daringly different trail.

Importantly, Mr. Ravi Chander's was an independent voice, uninfluenced by ideological considerations. He was not a "pseudo-secular" civil society activist who could be accused of pre-judging events. Besides, the police case itself was riddled with holes. The Hyderabad police fed the media daily stories of the horrors committed by the boys under their scanner. The initial claim was that they were behind the Mecca Masjid blasts. But after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took charge of the Mecca Masjid case, the police net expanded to include more terror accused, who were all now linked to the twin Gokul chat-Lumbini Park blasts. Curiously, the forceful presentations that the police made were all before the media; the charge sheets themselves did not substantiate the claims. The trend of media reporting changed only after the courts began throwing out unsubstantiated terror cases.

Main charge sheet

The main charge sheet filed after the blasts (dated January 5, 2008), traced a convoluted terror plot said to have been masterminded by Shahid Bilal. Bilal and his associates flitted between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, receiving and imparting training in bomb-making; they did this with "a design to organise Jehadi and terror activities in Hyderabad and other places of India by blasting explosive substances like RDX/TNT/Gelatin and by killing innocent public …" The Bilal gang used a courier, Sameer, to import 10 kg of RDX from Bangladesh into Hyderabad. Sameer distributed the RDX and videographed landmark places in Hyderabad.

Where was the link to the three blasts in any of this? The only suggestion of a link was contained in the FIR/case diary dated June 15, 2007, which formed a part of the supplementary charge sheet filed against a second group of 21 co-accused. The key player in this charge sheet was Abdul Sattar, who, in 2004, received extensive training in bomb-making, physical fitness and handling of weapons in various camps in Pakistan. When Sattar returned to Hyderabad in 2005, he was arrested and jailed in an attempt to murder case (in which he was subsequently acquitted). While in jail "he converted Hindu prisoners to Muslim religion according to the Ahle-Hadees," and later, in early 2007, he crossed illegally into Bangladesh where he learnt the precise combinations of chemicals to be used in bomb blasts. At this point, Shahid Bilal handed over "provocative literature and CD containing the Mujahideen activities" to Sattar and asked him go to Mumbai to receive a bag along with instructions on where to place it.

Did Sattar place the bag outside Mecca Masid? All that the FIR/case diary says is this: "In his training camp at Bangladesh, he (Sattar) was distributed with ice creams by one Hamza @Asif for having successfully (fulfilled) in their task of bomb blast in Mecca Masjid Hyderabad and few persons have died." So when and how did Sattar go from Mumbai to Hyderabad? And how did he land back in Bangladesh where he was "distributed with ice creams"? All this would be comic were it not for the tragic circumstances of the blasts, the deaths in the blasts and the rounding up of a huge number of alleged suspects by the police.

That the Andhra Pradesh police had no hard evidence becomes clear from a January 28, 2008 letter from the office of the Commissioner of Police, Hyderabad city, to the Secretary, A.P. State Minorities Commission. The letter says that following the Gokul chat-Lumbini twin blasts, "elaborate efforts have been made to identify and examine the suspects. During the process of examination of the suspects, while evidence of their complicity in the twin blasts could not be gathered, 26 suspects were found to be involved in certain criminal acts and they were also part of jihadi network in Hyderabad."

Little wonder that the poorly assembled cases came apart in the courts. It is not just that the prosecution witnesses turned hostile. Witnesses in terror cases do turn hostile, and this could well be out of fear of getting involved. Yet what is striking about the Hyderabad cases is the police-prosecution's failure even to make out a plausible case. They presented unsigned seizure memos, failed to produce recordings of alleged terror conversations, and simply could not show that "the two VCDs and Urdu/Arabic jihadi literature" recovered uniformly from all the suspects contained any incriminating material. In an earlier case of attempt to murder, the police could not even confirm the existence of the target, an alleged Bharatiya Janata Party leader named Sampath. Said the judge in that case: "Even the investigating officer is not able to say that there was Sampath Kumar in existence. Where the accused met together and where they have conspired to commit the offence is not at all proved by the prosecution."

It is important not to diminish the existence of terror networks or undermine investigation into terror cases. But this what the police themselves end up doing when they present absurd cases in the courts. For the sake of their own credibility and in the larger interest of bringing terrorists to justice, it is vital that the police follow laid-down procedure in arrests, investigate cases impartially and present watertight cases in court. For its part, the media must exercise caution, whether the reporting they do is of "Muslim accused" or "Hindu accused."





The United States Navy headquarters in Bahrain, the tiny Persian Gulf nation whose capital was rocked on February 17 by a violent police crackdown on anti-government protesters, oversees warships and combat aircraft that carry out long-range missions across Afghanistan and Iraq, conduct antipiracy patrols off the Horn of Africa — and keep a wary eye on the activities of a bellicose Iran.

But the Fifth Fleet compound itself looks like little more than a modern office park in a quiet neighbourhood of Manama, the capital, whose piers occasionally host a warship but never a sustained presence of hulking vessels comparable to bases in, say, Norfolk, Va., or Yokosuka, Japan.

Day by day, the Fifth Fleet is at sea and in the air, across 2.5 million square miles of water. In Manama, a city that is more open and socially welcoming to foreigners than those in much of the restrictive Arab world, American personnel live out in the community, and not in isolation. And thus far, Navy officers are quick to point out, the street protests have given voice to a disenfranchised Shiite majority's complaints about Bahrain's leadership — but the United States has not been cast as a villain, despite six decades of close ties with the governing Sunni elite.

"We are monitoring what's going on," said Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost, the Fifth Fleet spokeswoman. "The protests and demonstrations are not against the United States or the United States military or anything of that nature."

Military personnel, Defence Department civilians, contractors and their families — numbering about 6,100 in total — have been advised to avoid areas where the protests were taking place, but as of late February 17 there was no order to evacuate dependents.

The Navy has had a presence in Bahrain since Franklin Roosevelt's presidency, well before it took over a British army base east of Manama, in 1971, when the country achieved full independence.

The 100-acre naval base is in Juffair, a suburb six miles from Pearl Square in the centre of the capital, where thousands of mostly Shiite protesters were attacked by security forces early February 17 morning. Though the base is physically separated from its piers, Ms. Stride said there was "no concern" about being cut off if protests were to widen. The broad mission of the Fifth Fleet includes combat, counterterrorism, air support for the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, antipiracy efforts and military exercises with regional allies, including Bahrain.

Much of the fleet's time is spent watching Iran's two navies — the more professional Iranian state fleet and the less predictable Revolutionary Guard navy that has harassed American warships in recent years.

The United States and Bahrain signed a 10-year defence pact in 1991 that includes American training of Bahraini forces; it was renewed in 2001, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The Fifth Fleet's area of responsibility includes waters that touch 20 countries along the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean. The area includes the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab el Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen — all strategic passages for international shipping.

( Thom Shanker reported from Washington, and J. David Goodman from New York.)— © New York Times News Service





The United States Navy headquarters in Bahrain, the tiny Persian Gulf nation whose capital was rocked on February 17 by a violent police crackdown on anti-government protesters, oversees warships and combat aircraft that carry out long-range missions across Afghanistan and Iraq, conduct antipiracy patrols off the Horn of Africa — and keep a wary eye on the activities of a bellicose Iran.

But the Fifth Fleet compound itself looks like little more than a modern office park in a quiet neighbourhood of Manama, the capital, whose piers occasionally host a warship but never a sustained presence of hulking vessels comparable to bases in, say, Norfolk, Va., or Yokosuka, Japan.

Day by day, the Fifth Fleet is at sea and in the air, across 2.5 million square miles of water. In Manama, a city that is more open and socially welcoming to foreigners than those in much of the restrictive Arab world, American personnel live out in the community, and not in isolation. And thus far, Navy officers are quick to point out, the street protests have given voice to a disenfranchised Shiite majority's complaints about Bahrain's leadership — but the United States has not been cast as a villain, despite six decades of close ties with the governing Sunni elite.

"We are monitoring what's going on," said Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost, the Fifth Fleet spokeswoman. "The protests and demonstrations are not against the United States or the United States military or anything of that nature."

Military personnel, Defence Department civilians, contractors and their families — numbering about 6,100 in total — have been advised to avoid areas where the protests were taking place, but as of late February 17 there was no order to evacuate dependents.

The Navy has had a presence in Bahrain since Franklin Roosevelt's presidency, well before it took over a British army base east of Manama, in 1971, when the country achieved full independence.

The 100-acre naval base is in Juffair, a suburb six miles from Pearl Square in the centre of the capital, where thousands of mostly Shiite protesters were attacked by security forces early February 17 morning. Though the base is physically separated from its piers, Ms. Stride said there was "no concern" about being cut off if protests were to widen. The broad mission of the Fifth Fleet includes combat, counterterrorism, air support for the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, antipiracy efforts and military exercises with regional allies, including Bahrain.

Much of the fleet's time is spent watching Iran's two navies — the more professional Iranian state fleet and the less predictable Revolutionary Guard navy that has harassed American warships in recent years.

The United States and Bahrain signed a 10-year defence pact in 1991 that includes American training of Bahraini forces; it was renewed in 2001, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The Fifth Fleet's area of responsibility includes waters that touch 20 countries along the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean. The area includes the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab el Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen — all strategic passages for international shipping.

( Thom Shanker reported from Washington, and J. David Goodman from New York.)— © New York Times News Service






Fourteen teams, and one aspiration. Forty-three days of competition, with one outcome. The ninth edition of the cricket World Cup, which gets rolling from Saturday at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur, Dhaka, will see Australia going for a fourth straight title after final victories sequentially over Pakistan (1999), India (2003) and Sri Lanka (2007). Or will there be another champion from among a group of strong cricketing nations like England, South Africa and New Zealand who have never won the championship? More probably, will one of the three sub-continental giants — all winners in the past — be able to bely pressure and expectations and cash in on familiar conditions to bring back the coveted trophy? These are only some of the several questions hanging above this tournament, but none more important that this simple one: Will the one-day international format survive the onslaught of its still more abbreviated cousin — Twenty20 cricket —and the newly resurgent force that is Test cricket, or will we see the beginning of the end of the 50-over format? Clearly, much hinges on how and in which direction this edition of the quadrennial event will go. A repeat of the disastrous 2007 World Cup where cricket's biggest market lost interest after India were eliminated may well turn out to be the final blow for the ODI format. The tournament then saw Pakistan and the West Indies too eliminated early, which meant that a massive chunk of its potential audience had already lost interest in proceedings. With excessive rigidity in planning, and high ticket rates that saw empty stadia and low TV ratings, it all combined to hurt the game like nothing had before. Lessons, however, have been learnt and the format has been tweaked yet again to ensure that the possibility of such seismic shocks is minimal, and that eight favoured teams advance into the quarter-finals.

The International Cricket Council will also be keen to see co-hosts Bangladesh — who authored the exit of Rahul Dravid's India in Trinidad four years ago — get the best possible chance to move up as well since it is a nation where the national team are immensely popular and massively supported. In fact, the Port of Spain victory over India has whetted appetites immensely and expectations are high — at least in Bangladesh — that the Tigers will upset the applecart of their mighty neighbours yet again to give their quarter-final chances a flying start. All of this is only good for the game, and if the remaining three Asian teams also make it through to the round of eight, one can safely bank on unprecedented interest in the tournament in its catchment area. For India, too, this is a critical time. In Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team, the 1983 champions have a squad well-equipped to make a real run at the title, and, if they do indeed go all the way, it will ignite an even bigger outpouring of support for ODI cricket than the victory by Kapil Dev's side 28 years ago. India are already the top-rated team in Test cricket and number two in ODIs. Even if Dhoni's men do not get the top rating, a second World Cup title will give India the right to call themselves world champions for the next four years. Sourav Ganguly took India to the very cusp before faltering at the crunch in 2003 while the theory-mad Greg Chappell overrode his captain — and cricketing nous — to undermine the team four years later. This time, however, the signs are good, the Men in Blue appear ready and willing, and it may just transpire that Sachin Tendulkar, in his sixth World Cup, will walk away with the winners' medal. At least that is what a billion Indians will be praying for.






"At last I am safe,

My creditors do not know me..."

From The Kadkanama of Bachchoo

In Ranikhet some years ago for Subhash Ghai's shoot of Kisna, to which I was contracted as a co-writer, I was sitting around the dinner table with the director/producer, his assistants, stars and hangers-on. An Indian film shoot is quite a mela — as Shekhar Kapur is fond of saying, some final sense and order emerges from "existing in chaos"

Theshoot in Ranikhet seemed to my inexperienced eye lively and busy but in no sense chaotic. As a writer, one is as welcome on the film set as a one-legged man at an arse-kicking contest. Nevertheless, Subhash made me very welcome indeed and no indulgence was spared, including a case of white and rose wines specially brought up from the plains to indulge my taste. (I am not going to waste type once again in plugging Sula's Sauvignon Blanc as the most drinkable of Indian wines, because I've done it a few times in print before and haven't even been presented a free half-bottle for my uninstigated and unstinting pains!... but yeah, one can hope...)
Around most Indian shoots there are plenty of young and some not so young assistant directors, some of them with the technical title of first assistant director (AD) and several, possibly even six or eight, second and third ADs. All of them do their allocated jobs but their dream is to jump into the director's chair if not shoes. They work, they bide their time and good luck to them.

At this particular dinner I was sitting next to Subhash and someone — one of the stars — asked me if I had any ambitions to direct films. I could see that the ADs and others who harboured such ambitions were listening to see if I would be a future competitor.

"No, I'll stick to writing", I said.

Several people asked why.

"Because I think you have to suffer from severe personality defects to want to direct", I said.
Subhash laughed and said he agreed. The others, reluctant to confess their ambition, silently wondered what I meant.
I wasn't going to explain. Apart from the fact that it was said partially in mischief, or because of that, I was content to let it fester. Needless to say my unpopularity went up a notch or two.

I have no way of knowing whether it was in the same spirit of mischief that Martin Amis this week said, when asked if he had considered or would ever consider writing for children, that he would have to suffer severe brain damage to contemplate such a thing.

He went on to explain. His explanation contained the belief that people who wrote for children condescended to their readers, avoiding vocabulary and modes of expression that would as adults come naturally to them.
He found this act of condescension, or of holding back or shallowing one's depth of engagement with the object of one's prose, demeaning and the defeat of "writing".

Good stuff.

The Indian reader probably knows Martin Amis from his several works of fiction and perhaps from the fact that he has appeared on one or more Indian literary festival platforms and was rude, outrageous or whatever it is that a 61-year-old enfant terrible can be.

I think Amis is wrong. The idea that people who write for children have to be brain-damaged is not objectionable because it is insulting to Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Enid Blyton (I'm not sure about this one), A.A. Milne, J.K. Rowling and a thousand more.

It is objectionable because it turns the act of writing into a form of confession, self-expression or mental — which includes intellect and emotion — self-discovery or even indulgence.

I should declare an interest. I have written books some of which are classified by publishers, booksellers and librarians as "for young adults". I have also written one or two books which are very noticeably illustrated for and sold to younger children. I write other things too, but don't disown these.

I might further declare that at the age of 19 in Pune I was riding a motorcycle, hit a very large pot hole and was hurled off the bike as was my pillion rider. She suffered no damage but I ended up in hospital and was ordered to lie still in it for several days. I don't recall the doctors saying that I was brain-damaged, but then Indian doctors at the time were quite discreet.

I do plead that I am an exception to the rule.

I don't know why Amis writes. Samuel Johnson said, "Only a blockhead writes, except for money". I am sure William Shakespeare did, fulfilling commissions for the stage and defining and retaining relationships with his patrons by writing poems for them. I am sure Charles Dickens wrote for money and then brought to the task his critical and reforming social sensibility.

Rudyard Kipling didn't write the Jungle Books for children. He did write the Just So stories for his son and daughter and addresses the stories to his "Best Beloved".

The stories bear out part of Amis' thesis, because when he comes to a word or an object which he thinks will be unfamiliar to his children he draws a picture of it or describes it. And still there isn't any condescension in the explanations which are often ironic, twisted and amusing.

One mustn't speak for J.K. Rowling (if one could, one would be rich), but my own experience of writing for "young adults" or younger children was that it wasn't consciously done. I don't know if I know more big words that Amis but have in my time wrestled with and understood all manner of complex prose, including that which strives to describe the mysteries of quantum physics. I feel I am capable of some profound thought, but when one writes a particular story, one enters into the universe of that story — the language, concepts, conceits and emotional tropes of that world.

It wouldn't be right for Huckleberry Finn, Balu the Bear, Toad of Toad Hall or Harry Potter to escalate into Karamazovian angst.

My advice to Amis is to stick with adult prose and to stay away from motorbikes when in Pune.






It has been a sensational wedding so far. Probably the only one conducted in the Golden Temple that has received wide coverage in both Hello! magazine as well the tabloids. When Britain's former "It girl" Alexandra Aitken decided to marry a Nihang, Inderjot Singh, it was presented as a leap of faith over a vast cultural chasm. The reportage was accompanied by the startling information that over 150 holy men had abandoned their meditation in "caves" and hotfooted to Amritsar to attend the unique union. Wow!

The Daily Mail informed us breathlessly last week that Ms Aitken, politely described as a reformed "hell raising nightclub regular" (and daughter of a former member of UK Parliament and minister, Jonathan Aitken, who had once been jailed) had married the "handsome Sikh of noble blood" in Amritsar. Her twin sister Victoria gushed that Ms Aitken had met the "noble" Mr Singh while she was practising yoga "on a retreat at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, near the foothills of the Himalayas". Ms Victoria delightedly discovered that "he is a Nihang warrior… a military Sikh order formed 300 years ago in which men and women are trained in horsemanship and swordmanship". She then flew to Amritsar to attend the wedding and found that this "devout Sikh" was every bit as handsome, calm and thoughtful as she had been told. She commented very perceptively, "Even though he was educated in Australia, his English was perfect".

Ms Victoria had thoughtfully packed an off-the-shoulder little black dress to wear for the wedding at the Golden Temple but was crushed when her sister told her "that's far too sexy to wear in front of holy Sikhs". However, suitably attired in a salwar-kameez she was taken around the Golden Temple where Mr Singh is apparently a "giani". She also visited the "soup kitchens" (langar!) where she thought the food was being cooked to give to the poor.

The wedding itself was attended by over 300 guests, with prayers recited by 150 Nihangs (saints from caves) as the couple walked around four pillars (someone obviously forgot to tell Victoria that they were not walking around the pillars, but the Guru Granth Sahib). This was followed by a mesmerising performance by brave Nihang warriors comprising "tribal dances", cartwheels, sword fights and dagger throwing. All fairly normal stuff in Sikh weddings. Amritsar is one of the richest cities in India with a sophisticated population that has probably seen much more pomp and splendour than poor Ms Aitken and Ms Victoria ever have (regardless of the fact that their great grandfather Baron Rugby was the "acting governor" of Punjab during the Raj). But if I hadn't been a regular visitor to Amritsar I would have thought the wedding had taken place in some wild and weird part of the world just discovered by two intrepid young British explorers.

Nonetheless, life for the newly-married and named "Harvinder Kaur Khalsa" with her husband Mr Singh apparently is beset with all kinds of responsibilities and onerous duties. Some of this exhausting activity includes arriving at the Golden Temple everyday at 7 am to pray till the noon, going home (for some much-needed siesta, perhaps) and returning once more to watch the sunset. What a stressful existence! Mr Singh, on his part, has admitted that he had always wanted to marry a foreigner as "local women weren't good enough for him and their families would have interfered too much". He had also confided to Harprakat Singh, a "holy man" who had introduced them, that he wanted a wife who would spend all her time in the temple with him. According to the holy man this deep spirituality is the reason why the four-month-old marriage is yet to be consummated. Ms Aitken aka Harvinder has also agreed to remain chaste as she wanted to show devotion to her new faith. How long this dedication of a former "It girl" will last is anyone's guess as she has also confessed that she wants her children to be "running around the Himalayas" quite soon. I don't know the running distance between Amritsar and the Himalayas but it is a charming thought.

British women were, no doubt, impressed with the lengths she is willing to go for her stringent new faith as it is reported that she has refused to cut her hair or even wax her eyebrows. A few days later, however, a rather more callous article appeared in the Telegraph as some intrigued reporters had actually decided to track down the happily-married couple. It now turns out that the freshly converted, turban-clad Mrs Khalsa has been enthusiastic about religion for a long time. So much so that she has already tried most, including Buddhism, Kabbalah, Judaism and Islam. Perhaps, Sikhism will ease the pain of her searching soul. Meanwhile, she is still quite keen on carrying on with her yoga, which includes the sale of yoga merchandise, using her current base.
Mr Singh, it is now learnt, has not always been the devout Sikh he has been presented as. There are those who are (just jealous, perhaps) questioning the fact whether he is a Nihang at all, implying that he has just acquired the costume and not much else. This bunch of rude friends have said that he used to party, drink, even chase girls and smoke, but apparently, upon his return from Australia he became spiritual. One friend said it would be "fascinating" to know what changed him.

Meanwhile, the number of cynics seem to be growing and Mr Singh's uncle has pointed out that his nephew has no source of income and lives on handouts from his mother. Once she refuses to support him, life will become tough for him. He is also concerned about whether the mem will stay if life becomes uncomfortable. But perhaps his real anxiety is that the "pure" bloodline of Mr Singh's family will now be polluted by British blood. He has said quite firmly: "It is the mixing of races and races should not be mixed". Meanwhile, people are wondering if the whole thing is a publicity stunt? They say the memsahib and the Nihang may not be telling us the whole story but they have already made a few thousand pounds selling it to the media… how mean is that.

The writer can be contacted at






Mental health is finally getting some sarkari attention. Now, health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has admitted that it is a neglected area and needs much improvement. He spoke anxiously of developing multinational partnerships, and of significantly increasing manpower to improve mental health services.
Under the National Mental Health Programme, the government is setting up 11 institutions across the country as centres of excellence in mental health on the lines of Nimhans (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences) in Bengaluru. Thanks to these institutions, India would have 44 psychiatrists, 176 clinical psychologists, 176 psychiatric social workers and 220 psychiatric nurses more every year. Besides, the states had been asked to start postgraduate courses in mental health. This would add another 60 psychiatrists, 240 clinical psychologists, 240 psychiatric social workers and 600 psychiatric nurses annually. "Together, these two schemes would help us produce 1,756 qualified mental health professionals annually and enable us to bridge the gap between our requirement and the availability of mental health professionals", the minister said. He admitted that a major constraint in implementing the national mental health programme was lack of manpower.
Sure, dearth of mental health professionals and hospitals has been a longstanding concern. Especially since mental illness affects about 70 million Indians. There are three psychiatrists per million people and one bed per 40,000 population. So the government's initiatives are extremely welcome.

But we need more. We need to look at mental patients as full citizens with equal human and legal rights. And psychiatric care givers need to be held accountable for the violation of these rights. We cannot continue with the fill it, shut it, forget it attitude that we have towards "loonies in loony bins". The condition of patients in mental hospitals remains deplorable. We only sit up when something dramatic happens. Like 12 patients dying last month at the Berhampore Mental Hospital. They had chronic illnesses, said the hospital, ailments that had worsened in the severe cold. So why were preventive steps not taken? And why were they not treated earlier? Is a mental illness so dehumanising that hospital authorities think it unnecessary to treat patients for physical diseases?

Mental patients are in hospital because they cannot look after themselves — they need to be fed and clothed and protected. Much like children. Particularly so, because patients are brought in by families when they are absolutely fed up — and the patient herself may be malnourished and sick. Unlike free people, inmates of a mental hospital are totally under the control of their caregivers, they don't have access to food or clothing unless it is provided to them. They cannot protect themselves from the freezing temperatures, they cannot take preventive steps, they cannot go see a doctor. The hospital they are admitted to has the entire responsibility of their physical and mental well-being.

Like most public hospitals, our government-run mental hospitals are also in a pathetic state. In general, mental hospitals have a long-standing record of neglect, abuse and poor medical care. This winter, India's largest psychiatric hospital, Yerawada Mental Hospital in Pune, struggled to get warm clothes for its 1,800 patients, even appealing to the public to donate woolens for inmates, as the hospital lacked funds. Many patients had died, and without public support, many more would have.

The lack of public accountability for the deaths of psychiatric patients in hospitals is worrying. We often hear of patients dying of food poisoning or even being beaten to death in our mental hospitals — sometimes by other inmates, occasionally by the wardens themselves. We ignore routine neglect that kills, and only notice catastrophes.
Like when 28 inmates were burnt to death and several badly injured in a mental home in Erawadi, Tamil Nadu, in 2001. The inmates had raised an alarm, but they couldn't escape the flames as they were all chained to beds and posts. And help was far delayed. National dailies frontpaged photographs of charred bodies spread out among cinders in a grey, ashen landscape, still fettered to charred poles. All patients here were chained — irrespective of whether they were violent or docile, raving mad or just depressed. Because we deal with mental illness in black and white — you are either sane or insane. There is no middle ground. If you are schizophrenic, bi-polar, depressed or even mentally disabled with cerebral palsy, Downe's syndrome or autism, you fall in the "other" category — those who are not quite like us, not as human as us. And you send them off to some hospital, dutifully paying fees and medical expenses, occasionally visiting them. Sometimes you send off family members to mental homes to settle property disputes, or to keep them apart from a lover you may not approve of. They are the new outcasts, once they are out of the way, normal life can resume for their family.
Of course, like any illness, mental illnesses do need professional care, and hospitalisation remains the best option for most beleaguered family members. But that faith in medical care is more often than not destroyed by the abysmal treatment that their child or spouse or parent gets at the mental institute. After the Erawadi deaths, the Supreme Court had ruled that the human rights of the mentally disabled had been violated. But not as much has happened to protect these rights as was expected. Last year, 26 patients died of cold in Havana Psychiatric Hospital. Cuba is seeking prison terms of up to 14 years for the hospital authorities. There is also a demand for the heads of higher government officials and ministers. Sadly, in India, we cannot imagine holding any high official — let alone ministers — accountable for the deaths of lunatics.

We are used to the general apathy and the rot that has set into every government institution. We are not horrified when children are abused in orphanages and women raped in Nari Niketans. So why should we be shocked by the abuse and criminal neglect of patients in mental asylums?

Rectifying the huge shortage of psychiatric doctors and nurses will certainly help. But that is not enough. A proper mental health policy is essential to deal with the whole spectrum of psychiatric problems and to make treatment possible for the most neglected high-risk groups — women and the underprivileged. And perhaps more than multinational partnerships, the government needs better partnerships with voluntary organisations working in this area. Besides, we need urgent public education to counter the stigma and change our attitude towards mental illness. For mental patients deserve not just proper care, but dignity as well.

Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at:








Team interlocutors will be visiting the valley for the fourth time. But separatists won't meet them. The reason is that the team talks only of internal matters. But the separatists had no problem in meeting with the 39-member strong All Party Parliamentary delegation. They were more than willing to get locked in animated talks with the small delegation headed by Ram Vilas Paswan, the MP from Bihar. By their own confession, the separatist leadership, especially the Mirwaiz group of the APH, had held meetings with the Prime Minister and the Home Minister in the past. Did all of them talk nothing about internal aspects of Kashmir issue? Why then does the separatist group avoid meeting with the Tem Interlocutors? Mirwaiz has usually recognized the importance of dialogue to find a solution of the problem. Why does he shun the dialogue now? Obviously, the separatists are a house divided against it. More often than not, the Mirwaiz faction has been giving the impression that it is open to reason and shuns obstinacy. That is a quality of leadership. But when it comes to practice, he defaults. The separatists are confused and cannot make up their mind what to do. What weighs heavy on their mind is more than one thing. Pakistan is presenting a disappointing picture of a failing state. The Muslim world is in turmoil. Fundamentalism and terror sadly associated with Muslim community in the East and the West has created many hardships for good and honest Muslims world over. Nearly four crores of Muslims have left their original homes and are living in the western world. They have adopted the western life pattern in principle and are happy in those social structures. If everything was right with their parent Muslim states, these large numbers would not have migrated to alien lands. It means that right thinking Muslims feel there should be a radical change in the thinking of Muslims all over the world. Besides this scenario, the democratic dispensation available in India has the strong secular dimension. The question is not how far the Indian society accommodates the Muslims: the question is how far the Indian Muslims are ready to identify themselves with Indian secular-democratic ethos? The long and rather senseless effort of denigrating and hating everything Indian has begun to boomerang. This is the dilemma that has gripped the All Party Hurriyat. It is battling with its self-imposed hypocrisy and fallacies. It knows who kills who; it knows what it is doing. Hence it is caught in a conflict of conviction. Essentially and intrinsically Kashmiris are peace loving. They are gifted with very peace inspiring natural surroundings. Their traditions are humane. But unfortunately they have surrendered to aberration against their nature, against their will and against their ethos. The dilemma is how to return to equilibrium. The icons they have created, and the malevolent elements have been encouraged would not let them see reason. Emotions drag them and reason prevents them. It is this situation which the team of interlocutors has found to be the ground reality. If the separatists had the courage to listen to their inner voice, they would want to meet and interact with the team. And the team is not bound to stake its success only on interacting with the separatists. It has a mission and it will complete the mission with or without meeting the separatists. A famous Arab scholar once said that if the Muslim leadership world over does not reform, the people themselves will rise to reform the ummmah. This is very true about Kashmir also. The masses of people, eager to embrace economic and developmental plans and programmes and desirous of wriggling out of poverty, ignorance and conservatism, are gradually but perceptibly distancing from the archaic leadership. Separatists should feel the pulse of the time. After the mass uprising in Egypt, some Kashmiri separatist leaders hastened to yearn for a similar uprising in Kashmir. But alas, they have neither understood the background story of this uprising nor the purpose for which the uprising shaped. If they would, surely they would find themselves seated by the side of deposed Mubarak or Zainu'l Abidin bin Ali. Boycott has outlived its utility. Self imposed aberration needs no face saving. Separatists may not talk to the interlocutors but the people have. A day is not far away when the separatists will yearn for the people to listen to them but the time will have slipped out of their hands.






Demand for withdrawal of AFSPA has been mounting for quite some time. Not only had the opposition in the assembly and the separatists but the ruling party as well been insisting on its withdrawal. The army was mystified because in its perception, militancy and submersion still raged in Kashmir. Sometimes contradictory statements also emanated from responsible quarters. All this had made the situation very confusing. But it could not be allowed to linger on and some decision had to be taken. After due deliberations, a right decision has been taken and a committee has been set up to deliberate on the subject. A senior army officer is included in the committee and thus a decision that is likely to follow will be to the satisfaction of all. The army had been called in because the situation had slipped out of the control of civil authority. In order to re-establish control, it was unavoidable to declare parts of the state as disturbed. That gives legal authority to the army to act. And it was equipped with the AFSPA. These powers remained in force and now it is felt by the civilian authorities and the state administration that parts of valley have shown improvement in law and order and the time has come when classification as disturbed areas could be withdrawn. Thus the civilian administration with the concurrence of the army will identify the areas where situation has satisfactorily improved and can be declared as undisturbed areas. In that situation, the army will be withdrawn and the AFSPA becomes redundant. This is a legal and justifiable approach to resolve the issue. It will yield twin result of reducing the number of troops in Kashmir and removing the AFSPA. This is the new situation and a welcome one. But that does not mean the guard against terrorist attacks is to be lowered. Now it is the duty of the civilian government to keep a vigil and not let miscreants revive mayhem. In recent days militants have regrouped in Sopor and Baramulla sectors. They launched attacks on army camps and police posts. The line of communication and supplies for the militants in these two sectors seem to be intact. They remain disturbed areas and the security forces will manage the elements that are active there.







Reproduced below is an excerpt from the book, 'My life and years in Kashmir' politics', (Konark: New Delhi; 2005) Written by Late Sh. D.D Thakur, who was a High Court Judge, A senior Cabinet Colleague of Sheikh Abdullah, Deputy Chief Minister in G.M Shah's Government, Governor of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and Senior Advocate of Supreme Court of India
KarunaThe story of my life vividly depicted in the book primarily relates to my interactions with the world. From the events which are narrated one can draw certain inferences and a broad understanding about the functioning of the world, its peculiarities and idiosyncrasies. In this chapter, however, I propose to specifically discuss and spell out my perceptions of the world
To me, the world appears to be a labyrinth, an enigma and an unfathomable ocean of inexplicable mysteries. Human knowledge is too superficial to claim mastery over its origin , nature or affairs.
However,evolution of human society and civilization has always been a continuous process of upheavals. History of wars and revolutions reveals a ghastly picture of lack of compassion and respect for human life and dignity ;this is how world wars came to be fought. Six million Jews were reportedly killed by Hitler during the second world war and quite a few million died otherwise. There were similar implications from the first world war. A million people died .in Iran-Iraq conflict while many of the wars fought in the recent past could have been avoided. During my visit to the North-East, I was taken to war cemetries in Imphal and Kohima,. the epitaphs had cracked and one of the inscriptions read, 'We have given our Today for your Tomorrow.' This inscription may sound very consoling but the fact remains that neither the conqueror nor the conquered can ever compensate either the dead or the survivors as a result of war. For those buried in the cemetries ,the only redeeming fact was that the director of the War Graves Commission paid a visit every year to check that the epitaphs had not crumbled.
Today we have reached a stage in our civilization when space is conquered and galaxies other than our own discovered, yet the world suffers irreparably because of discriminations and various other afflictions.
During my life of about three quarters of a century because of my station in life and nature of functions, I had an opportunity in a small measure to sample the hard realities of life and the world. I met a cross-section of people belonging to all levels of society. .I interacted and mingled with the backward, poverty-stricken, nomadic tribes inhabiting the mountains; their possessions were no more than a few cattle, a little barn of foodgrains and a mud hut. There were shepherds who lived in dense forests under the shade of pine trees in stormy weather facing lightning and thunder; they moved from place to place in search of grazing meadows and were wholly oblivious of the dynamic world around them. In Zanskar, a sub region of Ladakh, snow covered underground cellars were shared by humans and yaks and were no better than hell holes. I stood there aghast brooding over their fate.
In the North-East, the condition of rural areas was equally disappointing. People lived in sub-human conditions though the urban areas presented a picture of total contrast. In the city of Kohima , men and women were dressed in Western outfits, comparable in style and fashion to any European country.
Sights of manual labourers carrying loads on their heads and shoulders in scorching heat and living in horrendous conditions are common..Pavement dwellers in Bombay and fishermen of coastal regions share the same fate. However the other side of the picture presents a striking paradox. Wealth and opulence distinguish some people as if they were not a part of this world of discriminations, afflictions and agony.
Even the gift of natural beauty is not evenly bestowed. Countries like Switzerland and Kashmir have received nature's munificence more than the others., their beauty has a heavenly language loftier than the one expressed in words. I have been bewildered as to how nature was generous to some and not to others.
The discrimination in human race, to my mind ,originates from birth which gives an individual a certain status in life. A child born in a hut and another in a palace are poles apart from each other. Their destinations are different; their pace is not comparable, both have inherent advantages and disadvantages when they start charting their life course.
It is a mystery as to how nature decides which soul to be breathed into one foetus or the other. The very fact that the child receives life breath in the mother's womb is a great mystery.I can not imagine that God Almighty who is the fountain source of all justice would be so unjust, unfair and arbitrary in deciding such an issue. One has therefore to look for a convincing hypothesis to explain these mysteries.
My feeling is that the theory of transmigration of souls and Karma alone offers a convincing explanation for these disparities and discriminations. No pain can be inflicted and no pleasure bestowed unless there is a reasonable cause for it. Since soul is eternal, it carries with it imprints of the good and the bad deeds from previous birth and man's fate is determined precisely on the basis of entries in his ledger book.
Souls may have both positive and negative actions to their credit., which means a corresponding amalgam of pain and pleasure in this birth This is what is determined by Karma and is called fate or luck. Man can conquer his sins in this birth but not his fate which remains unalterable.
In this race of life, there is no parity between one and another. It is the blending of human and supernatural forces even when life is broadly planned by nature which shapes the life of a man though the actual distance has to be covered by man himself.
Religion, I believe, provides a beacon's light to men who sail unanchored over the the unchartered and raging seas of life. It is a system of thought which adds significance to an otherwise fugitive human existence. My perception is that holy books of all religions have contributed more than anything else to the development of human civilization Prophets of all religions have laid down the do's and donts of life .Acting upon those religious mandates, I feel, shapes life not only in this birth but also in the next one..
At a personal level I feel that the glorious moments of one's life are the ones when one performs good deeds, selflessly; when one shares the pains and problems of others and the moments one spends in spiritual practices for purification of soul. For purification of soul renunciation is the condition precedent; but the irony is that most of us do not renounce and those who do, do it very late in life. Earlier we do the better.







Am I surprised that the separatist Muslim leaders in Kashmir valley have lost no time in owning up the Egyptian revolution that ended the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak? Mubarak, a former Egyptian Air Force commander had succeeded the assassinated Anwar Sadat, another soldier, who himself had stepped into the shoes of the charismatic Gamal Abdel Nasser who with the harmless General Naguib staged the popular coup that toppled King Farouk in 1952.
The answer to the question is a clear NO. Infact I would have been surprised had they chosen to ignore what was basically a popular, secular revolution. What they forgot to remember was that the moment to dislodge the 82 year old Mubarak was remarkably peaceful, non-violent infact. Some days did occur but that is inevitable when millions take to the road, most of them laying siege to Cairo's Tahrir square, "our Hyde Park" as an elderly resident of Cairo told a TV reporter.
The Egyptians, ten days after the revolution, are still sorting out the mess, with the Army as usual acting as the mentor. Another thing to remember about the 18-day siege of the Tahrir Square is that the protesters included leaders of the Coptic Church and vast numbers of the Christian population, very loud, very vocal, giving credence to the secular character of Egyptian society.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the leader of the hardline faction of the Hurriyet in the valley, was expectedly lauding the revolutionary fervour of Islamic Egypt. To my utter surprise Peoples democratic party, mainstream in name only, separatist in intent, lost no time to draw parallels between stone pelting mobs in the streets of Srinagar and the Egyptian revolution.
Which, given her party's record after it lost power, only means that the PDP would do its bit to ensure that the valley remains unsettled this summer as well. Geelani's outburst against India was not unexpected but Mehbooba Mufti, the PDP chief and daughter of the former Chief Minister of the state, chose to use the media to give a thorough dressing down to India.
Rather naively she even held out a book, its cover showing the map of pre-independence State of Jammu and Kashmir with the Chinese in control of one part, Pakistan of another and India holding on to third part. Questioned about the portion painted in Chinese colours are, for the most part, controlled by POK she insisted it was a fact and indeed went on to claim that unified Kashmir could well do with the reopening of the old silk route reviving avenues of trade between Kashmir and China.
Given her self-righteous tone and her tendency to brush aside uncomfortable questions she really expects everyone to accept her word as the gospel truth. And the truth is that ever since the PDP lost power in the State nearly four years ago its leaders, including her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed have not been able to adjust themselves to the change. If things are that bad for her and her party why doesn't Mehbooba resign as the leader of the opposition, surrender all the perks, the palatial house she shares with her father, the Security paraphernalia, and whatever else goes with it. The problem with Mehbooba is her adoring father has never been able to give rein to her ambitions.
She appears to have convinced her father that the Muftis can very well be what the Abdullahs have been since the 1930's. Nothing wrong with that. And she knows that her party had humbled the Abdullahs National Conference once. As a democrat, if she believes in that, she must learn to wait, bide her time. She can't make the anti-India card her own and yet hope to be accepted by New Delhi.
Given her belief that the Abdullahs have run out of steam why can't she work within the system rather than resorting to her duplicitous way which may earn her momentary gains but not take her very far in the long run. To be in the headlines can be very tempting and Mehbooba has this time scored over all the separatist parties.
The map released by her shows Aksai Chin and Karakoram region in as Chinese. Her "vision of Kashmir's power point presentation" acknowledges China's stake and role in Kashmir. The vision want Srinagar to be connected to Yarkand in China and beyond that to the Karakoram highway by land ceded to them by Pakistan. She even spoke of the timid Indian government which had chosen to live with stapled visas which the Chinese insist on issuing to people travelling to that country from Arunachal and Jammu and Kashmir. I don't know how many Kashmiri Muslims would approve of Pakistan ceding with a large chunk of territory in Azad Kashmir to China.
To their credit - whether they mean it or not - it must be recorded that both Ali Shah Geelani and Maulvi Farooq of the two Hurriyet groupings have always spoken of Jammu and Kashmir as a unit, as it existed at time of partition, questioning even the conversion of Gilgit etc. into the so-called Northern Territories. Mehbooba Mufti obviously has other ideas.
Mehbooba's venom surfaces time and again when you follow her utterings post Egyptian revolution. She appreciated the role of the Egyptian Army saying it had protected the demonstrators, unlike in Kashmir, where police had "defamed the people seeking justice and dismissing them as paid agents of Lashkar-e-Toiba." She is being clever by half, if you ask me, when she says the people of Egypt were fighting for democracy and "we are fighting in inspite of democracy for the past 60 years." She could have edit that her party had nevertheless and in partnership with Congress party ruled the state. She also seems to have forgotten the many years her father had served as a Minister in the state and later in New Delhi, holding important portfolios including Home affairs.
I am not quite sure how much money she gets as the leader of the opposition in the state assembly (normally the leader of opposition in a legislature enjoys a cabinet ministers rank with all the perks thrown in) finally if she is so upset by the Indian 'zoolum' in Kashmir why doesn't she quit the assembly, shift to a more modest lodging and surrender the enhanced security she enjoys. For my part I remember vividly my friendship of many years with her father. I genuinely cherish the memory of those moments spent by me in his company in Delhi and in Srinagar.







Recently Ms Mehbooba Mufti and The People's Democratic Party created quite a furore in India by releasing a map of Jammu and Kashmir (the earstwhile princely state) which had three colours on it. Aksai Chin and the Karakoram area was painted red (indicating perhaps that it was under the administration of "red "China, the Pakistan occupied territories (POK) were painted green to indicate that it was an administrative part of "Islamic" Pakistan. The green colour is usually taken as the colour of Islam, perhaps because green was the favourite colour of the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace be on him). The Indian administered part of J&K was depicted in yellowish saffron---although the Indian state being a perfectly secular and non theocratic state has nothing much to do with the saffron colour..I wish the PDP had not used this colour scheme. The fact that Aksai Chin and Karakoram are with China at present and POK is with Pakistan is a hard fact which cannot be denied--- however much patriotic Indians and patriotic Kashmiris may wish otherwise. China and Pakistan are nuclear powers and it may not be practically feasible for India to retrieve those lost territories by force. The Indian parliament's resolution of 1994 saying that the entire princely state of Jammu & Kashmir was a part of India-- is quite meaningless today. Those areas are not going to come back to India ever---"umar bhar chahe koi pukara karey unka naam, woh phir nahi aatey".
There are many patriotic jingoist Hindus in India who still believe that Pakistan and Bangladesh will one day return to India. But that will never happen. There is a temple of Mother India in Varanasi which depicts a huge map of India in marble showing Pakistan and Bangladesh as part of Mother India----worshipped by Hindus. The huge map is actually a map of British India as it existed prior to 1947. The map of Jammu and Kashmir which we usually see is also the map of the pre 1947 princely state -- which hardly has any relevance today. If we get emotional on such imaginary maps we can never find a practical solution to the Kashmir problem. We have to accept the ground realities first and then address ourselves to the problem of Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir. The ground reality is that a vast majority of the Kashmiri speaking muslims want to have a minimum or no connection at all with the Indian union and these Kashmiri speaking Muslims live in the Kashmir valley and in some areas of Doda and Kishtwar districts and in the Loran and Thanamandi areas of Poonch Rajouri belt.
People who donot speak Kashmiri as mother tongue and who live in the Jammu and Ladakh areas want to have minimum or no connection with Kashmir and crave for their own statehood. Just as overpatriotic and jingoist Indians do not want to loosen their grip over Kashmiris, the overpatriotic Kashmiris donot want to loosen their grip over Jammu and Ladakh---and always dream of united princely pre--1947- J&K. where Kashmiri hegemony would be complete and they could boss over the people of Jammu and Ladakh. The two mainstream political parties of Kashmir also suffer the same illusions. The separatists of Kashmir also have similar illusions. The Kashmiris must realise that if they really want to have a separate country for themselves they must, first of all learn to respect the political aspirations of Jammu and Ladakh. They must realise that there is nothing sacrosanct in political boundaries and these boundaries change with time according to the aspirations of the people. Land, mountains and rivers are not so important-- the human beings and their aspirations are far more important and have to be respected. Maps are meaning less sketches drawn on paper-- may be important for school children learning Geography-- but not for mature grown up people.
(The author is former Financial Commissioner J&K and also contact at 09748635185 or e-mail to



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THE Manmohan Singh government's decision to scrap a 2005 contract to lease satellite space to a Bangalore-based firm, Devas Multimedia, has saved the exchequer a presumptive loss, which the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had put at Rs 2 lakh crore. The controversial deal has caused avoidable embarrassment to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is directly in charge of the Department of Space under which Antrix Corp, a commercial wing of ISRO, operates. The government appears confident of taking care of the legal fallout of unilaterally terminating the deal.


Under the deal ISRO was to launch two satellites –GSAT6 and GSAT6A — for Devas by 2013. This would have given the firm, floated by a former Scientific Secretary at ISRO, Dr M.G. Chandrasekhar, a major benefit: the use of 70 MHz of the scarce S-band spectrum over a period of 20 years. The government had raised Rs 67,719 crore last year from the auction of just 15MHz of 3G spectrum. Had the media not unearthed the little-known deal the small company would have got away with airwaves valued at Rs 2 lakh crore just by paying Rs 2,000 crore. The credit for unearthing the hidden financial aspects of the scandalous deal goes to the CAG, which had earlier shaken the nation by estimating the 2G spectrum allocation loss at Rs 1.76 lakh crore.


Government representatives – Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal in the 2G case and ISRO Chairman Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan in the S-band case – maintain that the CAG figures of loss are presumptive and questionable. Strangely, in his interaction with TV journalists the Prime Minister compared the allocation of spectrum at throw-away prices to corporates with the subsidies given on food and kerosene to the poor. Along with its many applications, spectrum is used by telecom firms in providing various mobile services. It is a public property, which cannot be given away cheaply by those in power to firms of their choice for personal gain. It is a scarce asset and has to be distributed in a transparent manner through auction. 









THE kidnapping of the District Collector of Malkangiri in Orissa, Mr R. Vineel Krishna, and a junior engineer, Mr Pabitra Majhi, on Wednesday by the Naxalites is highly condemnable. The 31-year-old IAS officer, said to be popular among the tribals, was abducted when he was reviewing a welfare programme. The Naxalites intercepted him and three others, made him write a letter with some conditions for his release and sent back the other two persons. Significantly, the abductions have been condemned in and outside the state. The tribals, in particular, have openly criticised the Naxalites who claim to fight for their rights. Apparently, the Naxalites have synchronised the abductions with Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's scheduled video conference with the District Collectors of 60 Naxalite-hit districts. This is the first time that they have kidnapped an IAS officer in Orissa, indicating a possible change of strategy to target senior government officers.


The Naxalites have made several demands for the officers' release. Top among these are the withdrawal of CRPF and BSF camps across the state, a complete end to the combing operations and the release of hardcore Naxalites such as Sudhakar of the Andhra Orissa Border State Zonal Committee of the CPI (Maoist), Padma, wife of top Naxalite leader A. Hargopal alias Ramakrishna and Ganti Prasadam. Without losing time, the state government has invited the Naxalites for talks and has stopped Operation Greenhunt. It is nobody's case that it should not make efforts to secure the expeditious release of the two officers. However, while doing so, it should not bow to their unreasonable demands and must enforce its authority to uphold the rule of law at any cost.


In this context, the government would do well to follow the Centre's anti-hijacking policy formulated last year. To avoid a Kandahar-like hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight in 1999 and the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001, the policy provides that no negotiations whatsoever would be held with hijackers. The state government should send a strong message to the Naxalites that it will not succumb to their blackmail and pressure tactics. Simultaneously, it should encourage backchannel communications between social activists, NGOs and the Naxalites to save the officers' lives. Swami Agnivesh, who secured the release of some abductors in Bihar and Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh balladeer Vara Vara Rao, have indeed pledged their support to bail out the government.
















Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe wanted everybody in his country to play cricket because he desired that Zimbabwe be known as a "nation of gentlemen". But while the civilising influence of cricket remains debatable, if not doubtful, cricket in the subcontinent remains more than just a game and generates passion that is often far more potent than religious fervour. Not surprisingly, even as the subcontinent braces for seven hours of live cricket televised every day for the next seven weeks, concerns about security around the World Cup somehow seem to have been relegated into the background. Distributing nearly 50 matches among the three host nations is one of the reasons for the confidence that organisers seem to exude in their ability to fend off desperate elements. Add to this the festive atmosphere and carnival spirit on the eve of the tournament that promises a marathon fiesta, and it becomes easier to appreciate the sense of anticipation. Cricket, associated with commerce, entertainment and national-pride, is a great leveller and a unifying factor in all the countries of the sub-continent, which for the next few weeks will shelve its fear of the future and, instead, will cheer the exploits with the bat and the ball.


The game's format, schedules, venue and the gaps seem tailor-made to allow one of the host nations, with India as the favourites, to win the championship. While Pakistan is not technically hosting the tournament, following the incident two years ago when the visiting Sri Lankan team was ambushed by terrorists, the team led by Shahid Afridi, too, will be playing in familiar conditions and, along with Sri Lanka, make it even more competitive. The format makes it unlikely for any of the major teams to be relegated before the knock-out stage and with Australia, South Africa and England also boasting of match-winning teams, the contest will hopefully be keen and provide spectators value for their money.


Don Bradman had dwelt on the lyrical quality of cricket, saying there was not that much of a difference between reading poetry and playing the game. John Arlott wrote about the loneliness of the batsman facing a bowler, who is supported by ten fielders. But while cheer leaders, commentators and writers get busy, everybody will be hoping that the spirit of cricket will triumph.









Kerala and Tamil Nadu are due to witness fresh Assembly elections in May. Karnataka's next Assembly elections are due only in 2013, but this may change depending upon the fast moving political developments there. In Andhra Pradesh, the Assembly elections were last held along with the parliamentary polls in 2009, and both elections will now be held in April 2014.


The merger of the Praja Rajyam Party led by Chiranjeevi has changed the political equations among the various parties in Andhra. Chiranjeevi is an action-oriented actor with a lot of stunt in his popular films. He has acted so far in nearly 150 films in his acting career of nearly 30 years. He has capitalised on the sentiments of the backward class of Kapu in the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh.


In the southern states, a successful career in films means a sure passage into politics. M.G. Ramachandran of Tamil Nadu was the best example of this southern phenomenon. Born a Malayali, he became a popular hero in Tamil films and was hero-worshipped by large sections of the backward classes in Tamil Nadu. MGR, as he was called, took care to act in such films as showed him as the champion of the poor and the downtrodden, always fighting against the villains and emerging victorious, to the delight of the masses. He teamed up with Jayalalithaa, who became equally popular along with MGR.


To return to Andhra Pradesh, Chiranjeevi had his own illustrious predecessors like N.T. Rama Rao, who after a long career in films, founded the Telugu Desam Party and captured power in his very first political bid in the Assembly elections in 1983. The Telugu Desam was later hijacked by his son-in-law, Chandra Babu Naidu, who remains the leader of the TDP.


The merger of the Praja Rajyam Party of Chiranjeevi in the Congress comes at a time when the grand old national party is buffeted by political uncertainties created by the antics of Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of the late Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, also called YSR. YSR was a phenomenon in Andhra politics since he not only captured power in the state after the 2004 and 2009 elections, but also ensured 33 parliamentary seats for the Congress party in the 2009 polls, which enabled the Congress to form the UPA-II government.


Corruption indulged in by YSR was allegedly phenomenal, and since he died in a helicopter crash and left behind a legend, all allegations against him are now forgotten. YSR left behind a colossal financial base for his son Jagan Mohan Reddy, who is said to own a cement factory, a steel factory and a captive iron ore mine, all valued anywhere between Rs 4000 crore and Rs 5000 crore, if not more. Jagan has his own captive newspaper and a TV channel. There is no demand for a CBI enquiry into his sources of wealth so far, but it is bound to arise sooner or later.


Jagan is too ambitious and will not stop short of becoming the Chief Minister of Andhra. He has founded his own political party named after his father — the YSR Party. His blatant bids for chief ministership by manipulating the emotions of the Andhra people over the premature death of his father have been rebuffed by the Congress President. Jagan, however, is determined to show his political power. He went to the extent of demonstrating his strength by bringing his followers to Delhi and holding a demonstration. He claims to have at least 24 MLAs and two MPs on his side. In the event of 24 MLAs voting against the present government in Andhra Pradesh, it will fall since it has a majority of only about nine MLAs in a House of 293.


This explains the importance of the merger of Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam Party, which has 18 MLAs. The Congress in Andhra Pradesh also has the support of the Hyderabad-based MIM party, which has seven MLAs. Jagan's threat is, therefore, temporarily warded off. After the rebuff he suffered over his ambition of becoming Chief Minister, Jagan resigned his Kadapa parliamentary seat and also persuaded his mother to resign from her Assembly constituency. The byelections are due and as and when these are held, Jagan is most likely to win them. However, this alone may not mean much since the real test will come only in April/May 2014 when the parliamentary and assembly elections are due.


There is also the factor of Telangana which is waiting to explode into a law and order problem sooner or later. After the submission of the Justice Srikrishna report and its publication — it has suggested several options — the Centre is yet to announce what option or options it has chosen. However, indications are that the formation of Telangana is ruled out and what may emerge is a constitutionally guaranteed regional set-up for the Telangana districts. Hyderabad city may become a Union Territory and united Andhra Pradesh by and large may continue.


The Telangana Rashtra Samithi led by K. Chandra Shekhara Rao will not accept this dispensation and widespread disturbance of law and order could be expected in Hyderabad city and several Telangana districts. The Centre is prepared to face the situation.


The Congress Government in the state, with Kiran Kumar Reddy as Chief Minister, is safe for the present. The Andhra Assembly has a strength of 293, the Congress has 156 seats and it can now count upon the 18 MLAs of Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam Party and seven MLAs of the MIM. The Telugu Desam Party has 92 MLAs, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi 10. However, all these parties together with Jagan's 24 MLAs are not in a position to destabilise the present Congress government in the state. The trial of strength has to wait for the 2014 elections when the Congress will have to face the TDP, the TRS and the newly formed YSR Party, which has a strong following in the Rayalaseema region. By and large, there will be an uneasy peace in Andhra but the Congress government may continue.


In Tamil Nadu, which will go to the polls along with Kerala in May, the DMK-Congress alliance has a strength of 135 members in a House of 235. Negotiations are on for seat sharing, and the Congress is making a determined bid to get a minimum of 60 seats from its present strength of 36. There is also the PMK party of Dr Ramadoss which holds sway over a section of the backward classes and has a strength of 18 MLAs. The PMK is negotiating both with the DMK and the AIADMK and would eventually opt for the party which is most likely to emerge as the majority party.


The other major Dravidian party, the AIADMK led by Jayalalithaa, has 57 MLAs, and certain minor parties like the MDMK are allied with it. Jayalalithaa has been cashing in on MGR's charisma, but she is unlikely to defeat the DMK-Congress combination. She is hoping to fully exploit the 2G spectrum scam that led to the exit of Raja, who was close to DMK chief Karunanidhi. However, Karunanidhi has claimed that the people in Tamil Nadu are more worried about the high prices than the 2G scam or any other scam. Eventually, the DMK-Congress alliance is most likely to emerge with a majority and enable the DMK to form its ministry again.


That leaves Kerala in the South. The political tradition of Kerala has been such that the CPM-led Left Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front have been coming to power after alternate elections. In the last assembly elections in 2006, the Left Front emerged successful with 82 MLAs in a House of 141. The Congress secured 24.


The political equation may change and the Congress is making a determined bid to win back the state in the May elections. Congress veterans A.K. Antony, Oommen Chandy and Vayalar Ravi will all be working hard to ensure the party's success. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself will be making a four-day visit to the state. The UDF led by the Congress won a majority of the panchayat elections held in the state recently. The unseating of the CPM-led Left Front in Kerala would be the precursor of the CPM-Left Front government being dethroned by the Trinamool Congrees and Congress combine in West Bengal.


The writer is a former Governor of UP and West Bengal








MY generation, born during the heyday of the Assam movement and grew up during the ULFA uprising, needn't have to be told stories about bogeyman to be tucked into bed. We had our own live bogeymen, who came with heavy footsteps and knocked on our doors and, again, those invisible ones who pelted stones on the roof the moment those heavy footfalls receded from the area.


This would happen without fail whenever there was a call to observe 'blackout' in the area from some organisation—AASU, ULFA or any organisation worth its name. First would come the Army guys in groups, knocking roughly, forcing us to switch on the lights.


They would, often, ask my parents to produce their I-cards if they dared to protest saying they were government employees and not supporter of any such organisations. Somehow, we were spared from proving our allegiance to the country. Perhaps, they thought we were too young to belong to either side. As soon as the Army men cleared the area, there would come another set of bogeymen. You couldn't see them, but could feel their presence from the sound of stones on the tin roofs, which meant, 'switch off your lights'. We felt trapped and helpless.    


A lot of water has flowed down the Brahmaputra since then. From shouting slogans 'We will give our blood but not oil' on the street to studying in college and university in Delhi to settling down with a North Indian man in the historic city of Patiala, life has changed in all conceivable forms. But the need to prove my identity seems to be haunting me even now.   


Recently on my visit to the Taj at Agra, I was stopped at the entrance. "Excuse me madam, we cannot allow you with this ticket. Foreigners have to pay Rs 750 to enter the Taj Mahal," the security guy told me.


What an irony, I thought. Throughout my formative years, I had heard netas urging the youth of Assam to join the mainstream and here I am in the mainstream, in sickness and health, till- death-do-us-part kind of mainstream, and, yet, I am asked to pay up like a foreigner! 


"I am from Chandigarh and you have just allowed my son and my husband to enter with the Rs 20 tickets," I protested. "Sorry, please show me some residence proof, madam," The guy was polite but unyielding. Feeling defeated and unwilling to waste any more time arguing with him, I fished out my I-card and showed him. That seemed to satisfy him as he stepped aside to let me enter.


The time has changed, even the tenor of the voice who questioned my identity has changed. But I could hear the faint sound of those heavy footsteps and those of pelting stones once again. 









THE agriculture sector, which supports a majority of the population, requires a serious attention in the forthcoming budget. The misery of debt-ridden farmers across the board is well known and credit policy needs to be more inclusive towards this section.

The benefits of the Green Revolution have been almost eroded with near stagnant technology, declining productivity and the ever-rising cost of inputs, including credit, coupled with low levels of support prices. The income-expenditure gap is so wide that farmers, especially small and marginal, cannot fulfil even their basic consumption needs, leave aside production needs. Their dependence on borrowings has increased, but they have little repaying capacity as farming is no longer remunerative.

No wonder they are caught in a virtual debt trap. Since the late eighties, they have started choosing death over repayment of debt. Although the problem has been long pending, little has been done to tackle it. Under such circumstances, expectations from policymakers rise as the day of the annual budget draws nearer.


The 2008-09 budget tried to address the issue of agrarian indebtedness by providing a Rs 60,000 crore debt waiver and lowering interest rates on agricultural loans. However, the entire relief package was for institutional debt only and the debt from informal sources was neglected even though it is far more in volume.


Now the Eleventh Plan is well under way with the populist slogan of growth with a human face, that is, inclusive growth, offering an equality of opportunity for all. It is, therefore, pertinent to examine agricultural indebtedness. within this framework. This is especially undertaken for Punjab, the state that was once the most prosperous and is a major contributor to national food security of the country.


Admittedly, the inclusive approach to growth is a wide concept. Here the focus is on financial inclusion of cultivators, big and small, particularly in the case of borrowings from banks for their production needs. If cultivators have to depend on non-institutional sources of finance because of scant avenues from formal sources, this amounts to their financial exclusion.


The 59th round of the NSSO (2005) estimated that 65.4 per cent of farmer households in Punjab were indebted (the all-India figure was 48.6 per cent). Independent surveys by noted economists (Shergill-1997, 2010; Sukhpal Singh -2007) put the figure at much higher levels - close to 90 per cent. In terms of land size no single category of the farm households is free from debt. Although there is a difference of opinion as to which class of farmers is more indebted, there are no two views on the fact that the average outstanding loan per household increased with the increase in land size.


Analysing source-wise indebtedness in Punjab, the NSSO survey indicated that institutional sources accounted for 48 per cent of the loans for all land sizes, while 52 per cent was accredited to non-institutional sources. The position for small and marginal farmers is worse as they have still less access to institutional sources, particularly commission agents (arhtiyas) vis-à-vis commercial and cooperative banks in the credit market.


Hence, it will be a gross exaggeration to say that informal lenders (arhtiyas) are losing their grip on rural life. This firm grip of the arhtiyas is a ramification of contracts involving the inter-linkage of input and output markets with the credit market. This means that in return for loans from commission agents, farmers are forced to not only purchase inputs from, but also sell their crop through commission agents.


The procurement agencies make payments for farmers' produce to commission agents who deduct their loan amount first and then pay the balance to farmers. As a result, farmers receive only a meagre amount -- at times insufficient to meet their basic consumption and production needs. Then another round of borrowing follows. Interest rates vary between 24 per cent and 36 per cent per annum. This is another aspect of exploitative informal lending.


Why do these commission agents enjoy a thriving business? First, they are easy to approach. The simplicity and elasticity of their methods act as a powerful magnet. At present "hassle-free" loans are only for large farmers; poor farmers have to face atrocities like land-grabbing, exorbitant rates of interest and sometimes even death (read murder at the hands of goons of commission agents). The murder of a farmer leader in Mansa in full public view on October 11, 2010, is a very recent example. Such atrocities have become common.


Another reason for the booming business of informal lenders is the credit gap - the difference between demand and supply of credit by formal financial institutions, which is more than 50 per cent for each size of land-holding and that too for production purposes. Who will cover the credit gap then? Informal lenders, of course.


The official (NSSO) as well as independent surveys have established that of the total loans (formal and informal), a major percentage is spent on conventional productive purposes, while a small percentage is spent on loans conventionally labelled as unproductive - education, healthcare, consumption and marriages. The last purpose accounts for less than 10 per cent of the loans in Punjab and 11 per cent countrywide. The State has increasingly withdrawn from public expenditure on rural development, agriculture and allied activities, health, education, irrigation. The decline has been substantial, and as a result, private expenditure on these essential services has increased, causing a further dent in incomes.


Unfortunately, financial institutions are not making much headway in providing succor to farmer households and in making financial services available to them. Punjab is just an example. The situation is the same throughout the country. Public policy has much to answer for in this case. With the introduction of banking sector reforms in 1991 and the subsequent revision of the priority sector list, agriculture has been hit hard. The priority sector now includes new segments and items - in agriculture, for example, acquisition of jeeps, mini buses and vans, loans to commission agents for meeting their working capital requirements on account of credit extended to farmers for the supply of inputs have been added.


While there has been an increase in the ceiling of advances for some other segments in the priority sector, the share of agriculture has been retained at 18 per cent of the net bank credit. Agricultural advances have now been made inclusive of indirect finances. This means that if banks fail to meet the stipulated target of 18 per cent, this can be made up by depositing the shortfall in the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund and even earn a rate of interest. This fund is required for activities, which should ideally be financed through budgetary resources and not by cutting down on finances to be given directly to farmers.


The financial inclusion of small farmers requires serious thought. In Punjab 12 per cent of the small farmers and 5 per cent of the large farmers have left farming with no alternative, gainful employment. The solution is not a one-time institutional debt settlement. The half-hearted attempts to make direct payments to farmers instead of commission agents on the sale of produce are not going to break the strong market inter-linkages between the farmer and the commission agent. The need is to smash the political clout of informal lenders.


For this the coming budget will have to devote considerable attention and resources to agriculture. The financial aspect of the agrarian crisis can be resolved considerably if public policy strives to restore the repaying capacity of farmers and financial institutions put in their bit by becoming a formidable challenge to the commission agents.


Financial inclusion requires a holistic approach and an effective regulatory mechanism. The pressures and compulsions of globalisation have taken their toll in terms of the growing exclusion of a sizeable portion of the population from the development process. A success story in terms of high growth rate without any corresponding pattern of development benefiting rural masses is not only awkward, but questionable as well.


The writer is a Professor of Economics, Department of Distance Education, Punjabi University, Patiala



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The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it."
Karl Marx (Thesis on Feuerbach, 1845)

Has the deepest economic crisis in 80 years prompted a shallow revival of Marxism? Or is the jury still out despite the failure of Lehman Brothers and other leading financial institutions in 2008 and the official acknowledgement of American recession in mainstream journals that have hailed Marx as the neglected seer of capitalist crisis? Have the basic articles of Marxist thought – that capitalism was inherently unstable, political activism or state intervention indispensable and revolution offered the ultimate prize – become irrelevant as many radical thinkers had us believe? Some of us who kept the powder dry just in case the times should turn dialectic again predicted that Marx's relevance would be discovered soon enough. Leading the critics who stuck their ground was Professor Eric Hobsbawm who has influenced a whole generation of students, especially Indians, and whose selected writings have now been brought together in How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism (Little Brown/ Hachette India, Special Indian Price, Rs 795).


 With How to Change the World, Hobsbawm marks 60 years in books since editing Labour's Turning Point in 1948 and his debut with The Jazz Scene and Primitive Rebels in 1959. Should this book prove to be the last of his 20 or so titles to date, (he is almost 95 now) it would represent a fitting farewell to a career intimately bound up with the name and intellectual and political legacy of Karl Marx. Sub-titled Marx and Marxism, the book does not contain all the author's writings on the subject which can be found in his earlier collections — Revolutionaries (1973) and On History (1997) plus the long entries in The Dictionary of Marxism and The Dictionary of National Biography.

Still, the book contains the bulk of the relevant material since the watershed years of 1956 ranging from an article on Marx's Victorian critics in 1957 to Marx Today that was specially written for this volume. Although the book consists of previously published materials, many of the 14 articles have never appeared in English and to that extent constitutes an entirely new book for English readers.

As such, it will appeal to two overlapping levels of readership: specialists in the field and the serious common reader who would look into why a movement that lasted the greater part of the 20th century suddenly collapsed like a house of cards. Hobsbawm doesn't provide straight answers to this question because his main purpose has been to commend "the history of Marxism for the past 130 years ... as the intellectual history of the modern world, and through its capacity to mobilise social forces, a crucial, at some periods a decisive, presence in the history of the twentieth century".

Hobsbawm has divided his 16 essays in two parts: "Marx and Engels" that has eight essays and "Marxism", the remaining eight. The first section that contains diverse studies on aspects of the thought of Marx and Engels opens with a small introduction to Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England and pre-Marxian Socialism and Marx on pre-Capitalist Formations in the unfinished work, known simply as Grundrisse that was written as a preparation for his Critique of Political Economy and Capital.

Part Two contains essays that would interest the common reader. Together, they provide an overview of Marxism in almost 130 years since Marx's death in 1883. It is these chapters written with simplicity, clarity and a purity of style that exhibit Hobsbawm's combination of lucid analysis and breathtaking range of scholarship that provide, inter alia, an itemised translations of Das Kapital to conclude: "The only other major linguistic extension of Capital occurred in Independent India, with editions in Marathi, Hindi, and Bengali in the 1950s and 1960s."

In the past 100 years, Marxist writings have oscillated between two poles. On the one hand, there was the orthodox communist position represented by Party hacks that was "all-but-infallible guide to political action that would inevitably lead to the perfect society that would succeed capitalism". It was one long political harangue, was written in the most turgid prose that put off the common reader from any form of radical thinking despite the ravages in the world outside. On the other side, there was the western view in which Marx was treated along with Nietzsche and Freud and other western thinkers. Much of this writing degenerated into jargon that few could understand and only resulted in turning readers away from the fundamental tenets of Marxist thought.

Hobsbawm avoids both approaches. In the Preface to Marxism in Marx's Day, Hobsbawm quotes the Feuerbach thesis, given above, and proceeds to note that:

"Marxism, the most practically influential (and practically rooted) school of theory in the modern world, is both a method of interpreting the world and of changing it, and its history must be written accordingly."

Hobsbawm lives up to these injunctions to provide the conjunction of both theory and practice that we can all understand.








Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu are round the corner but "Captain" – as Vijayakanth is known – isn't saying a word. The heart-throb of millions of Tamils and the leader of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) believes he holds all the aces. A team constituted by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, comprising P Chidambaram, Jayanthi Natarajan and others, was despatched to Chennai to negotiate with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). The group made a courtesy call on M Karunanidhi and preferred to hold discussions with its own party, indicating it was in no hurry to conclude any agreements. The Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) led by Jayalalithaa is saying nothing about Vijayakanth.

A lot of people are waiting for Vijayakanth to break his silence. Why is he in great demand?


 The DMDK has been growing in strength ever since it was formed in September 2005. It contested on its own, both in the last Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. It got 8.38 per cent of the votes in the 2006 Assembly elections and 10.08 per cent of the votes in the Lok Sabha elections. It secured more than 20,000 votes in 27 Assembly segments; more than 15,000 votes in 75 segments; more than 10,000 votes in 169 segments; and more than 5,000 votes in 228 segments in the last parliamentary polls. In other words, it can rain on the winner's parade, even if it doesn't win itself.

Naturally, everyone wants it to be inside the tent facing out, rather than outside the tent, facing in. Most people believe Vijayakanth will align with Jayalalithaa. If that happens, Jayalalithaa will have to make many compromises. The ADMK vote will be attached to Vijayakanth's — but will Vijayakanth's vote come to the ADMK?

There are hierarchy snafus. Given that he's known as "karuppu MGR" (dark MGR), whose pictures will figure on the ADMK's posters? Who will be the bigger Presence: Jayalalithaa or Vijayakanth ? And what about joining the government if the ADMK alliance wins?

But this much is certain: an additional 8 per cent will represent the difference between victory and defeat for either alliance. The day Vijayakanth makes his preference known, a lot will change in Tamil Nadu politics.

There are two other related factors.

First, the DMK's stranglehold over the south Indian film industry is coming back to bite it in the leg. Whether it is Stalin's son or Azhagiri's, they are the ones who dictate release, production and launch of films. This is creating deep dissatisfaction among a new, younger crop of film directors and actors. They will flock to Vijayakanth if he calls out to them.

Second, the Tamil fishermen are fishing in Sri Lankan waters and are being shot at by the Sri Lankan Navy. The fact is, that part of the coastline was policed entirely by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE) earlier. Now they have been turfed out and the Sri Lankan Navy has taken over. Therefore, the kind of freedom Tamil fishermen enjoyed earlier is no longer available. The Sri Lankan navy will shoot first and ask questions later. Obviously, the livelihood of fishermen is a big political issue in Tamil Nadu. Jayalalithaa has been more or less camping in the coastal areas and telling the fishermen the DMK can't protect their lives and livelihood. Neither, frankly, can she, if she comes to power. But why worry about that? Right now, this is the biggest issue in the coastal areas. Add to this the campaign by small resurgent Eelam groups that detest the Indian state but hate the DMK more for selling out and not saying a word when the capture of north-east Sri Lanka was on and Prabhakaran was killed. This group is very small but very vocal.

Add to this the unbearable pressure on the DMK-Congress alliance. Kalaignar TV, in which Karunanidhi's wife Dayalu has maximum equity, has been raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation. This is like raiding Karunanidhi himself. If the alliance breaks, the government in Tamil Nadu will fall. But there might be greater danger to the government at the Centre: the DMK has 18 MPs in the Lok Sabha. This deficit can be bridged if the Samajwadi Party with 20 MPs is roped back into the UPA. But then if Tamil Nadu elections are due in April-May this year, 2012 elections in Uttar Pradesh, where the Samajwadi Party is the Congress' sworn enemy, are not that far either.

This is why the Congress and the DMDK are keeping so quiet. This is the chance. If the Congress can shrug off the yoke of the Dravidian parties and offer an alternative – like the short-lived Tamil Maanila Congress – promising Vijayakanth the chief ministership of Tamil Nadu as the ultimate sacrifice, there might be a sea change in not just Tamil Nadu but Indian politics. There's no telling what might happen.





The prime minister's answers to questions put to him by TV editors on Wednesday were less than convincing on key points, as even those with goodwill for him will concede. But there is little to be gained by hammering the obvious. More importantly, as an insightful observer pointed out, it may be useful to learn from the Harshad Mehta scam of the early 1990s, and its fallout. That sorry episode led to far-reaching reform of India's stock market and the birth of a thoroughly modern stock exchange. It led also to the de-materialisation of shares and the birth of well-run share depositories. And it resulted in the stock market regulator being empowered like never before. The result today is one of the better functioning stock markets anywhere. For all of which, thank Harshad Mehta.

Could the multitude of scams that have erupted over the past six months lead to similarly positive outcomes? Yes, if the government goes about the job systematically. Most of the controversies relate to a few defined sectors: land/real estate, scarce natural resources (iron ore, coal, spectrum), and finally government contracts. As it happens, solutions in all three areas are not only feasible, some of them are already in the works.


 For instance, a new draft law on mining proposes transparent auctions, mimicking the established and functioning policy for oil and gas fields. Another Bill looks at how to clean up land acquisition and make it more fair to the seller who is being displaced against his will; indeed, some state governments have already introduced methods that seem to be working well. And the spectrum mess could get cleaned up once and for all if errant companies are appropriately penalised, if past omissions are corrected, and if Mr Sibal would pause to think before coming out with glib solutions.

That would leave government contracts, which range all the way from multi-billion defence deals to road contracts, and from "overlay" supplies for the Commonwealth Games to discretionary transactions (think Yeddyurappa and Adarsh). The government has already set in motion a process to take away discretionary rights, though whether this can really work remains to be seen. The real deterrent here would be a truly independent watchdog so that the chances of getting caught are very high; after all, every telecom company that did not do deals with a crooked minister must now be thanking its stars. That should become the general mood across the board. If the Central Bureau of Investigation were to be made immune to political influence, and if the Lok Pal Bill were to be made a more convincing document, that would cover much of the required ground. The rest would be covered if the continuing rackets in government hand-out programmes were minimised by using cash transfers. And the truth is that all or most of this can be put in place in the next three months.

The public's faith in the processes of government would be restored if the prime minister is as good as his word, and goes with determination after all the guilty in the telecom scam and the many Commonwealth Games rackets (action has already been taken on Adarsh and Antrix), and if the follow-through policy and legislative changes are made quickly. India has been slipping in the international corruption rankings, domestically the birth of oligarchies has done much to derail markets and de-legitimise politics, and the damage done to the country's reputation in world capitals is now hurting in more ways than one. All of this can be undone real time. So if Manmohan Singh wants his discredited government to regain trust, he still has a real chance.






Glued to television as the revolution in Egypt unfolded, I was reminded once again about an old book by Crane Brinton: The Anatomy of Revolution (Vintage, 1938), which I had to read before I went up to Oxford to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) in 1960. Having surveyed the pattern of events in the English Revolution of 1640, the American Revolution of 1776, the French Revolution of 1789, and the Russian Revolution of 1917, Brinton produced what has been called "the natural history of revolutions" [Jack Goldstone (ed); Revolutions, third edition, 2003]. It still remains the best guide to the pattern of events that unfold in a revolution. It has been added to by other social scientists to explain why revolutions arise. Can these analyses help us explain the Egyptian revolution and its possible outcomes? This is the central question I will try to answer in this column.

It is a common myth to assume that it is the wretched of the earth who resort to revolutions. I was in China in May 1991whilst visiting Peking University, which was plastered with hoardings and signs by the students who were in the vanguard of the "democracy" movement in Tiananmen Square. Their main grievance was, in part, the heavy-handed surveillance of their personal lives by the authorities and, more seriously, the system of job assignment by the state. They did not want democracy as understood in the West, but the civil and personal liberties associated with it. Seeing the similar, young, educated middle-class protestors at Tahrir Square on my TV screen, I could not help but have a sense of déjà vu. In both cases, the revolutions arose not at a time of economic stagnation but during a period when the economy was doing well. However, the economic gains – particularly high income and employment – were widely perceived to be going to the "well connected" in corrupt regimes. But in both cases it was rising food prices that hurt a much larger swathe of the population, which fuelled support for the young urban revolutionaries.


 The pattern of revolutionary outcomes depends crucially upon whether the old regime has the will to assert its authority. This depends on its control of the military. In 1991, the Chinese had to deploy a unit stationed on its borders to fire on demonstrators, since the units around Beijing were not willing to kill the demonstrators. In Tahrir Square, the military was, again, unwilling to fire on the people from whom its soldiers had been recruited. In China, where the government did not blink, the revolution ended in a bloody massacre. In Egypt, with the army maintaining peace between anti- and pro-Mubarak groups, the revolutionaries succeeded in toppling Mubarak. But, with the military still calling the shots, it is early days to predict whether the constitutional democracy that has been promised will be delivered.

If it is, there is a likely pattern that could echo what happened in Iran in 1979. Brinton argued that having toppled the ancien regime, the internal conflicts among the hitherto united revolutionaries emerge: conservatives seeking to minimise change (like the military council now running Egypt); radicals seeking widespread change (like the Muslim Brotherhood and Gama'a Islamiyya) and moderates (like most of the young demonstrators) seeking a middle course.

Moderate reformers are the first group to seize power, like Bazargan in Iran. Meanwhile, radicals attempt to compete with moderates through mass-mobilisation: the Jacobins competing with the moderate Girondin assembly in France, or the moderate executive in Iran competing with the mass mobilising mullahs led by Khomeini. The next stage, which is not inevitable, comes when the radicals supplant the moderates: the Jacobins in France and the mullahs in Iran. Typically, moderates have a better chance of staying in power if the revolution is against a colonial power, but less so when their enemy is an internal ancien regime. Both the American Revolution of 1776 and the Glorious English Revolution of 1640 bucked this trend. The next stage is Thermidor, or the imposition of order by terror: Robespierre's rule by guillotine, Stalin's Gulag, Mao's Cultural Revolution and the summary executions of opponents under Khomeini. The struggle between moderates and radicals, often exacerbated by external threats, sees the rise of a Napoleonic figure. It seems Iran is close to this stage with the Revolutionary Guards being the power behind Ahmadinejad and Khameini's throne. In the final phase, the radicals are defeated or dead, and the moderates return to power, seeking economic progress rather than political change: as with the fall of Robespierre, in Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin, and Deng's of Mao's Gang of Four. Iran has still not reached this stage.

Given the time it takes for a successful revolution to run its course, and the serious danger of the contagion facing the other authoritarian Arab regimes, West Asia is going to be a volatile, disorderly and dangerous place for some time to come. Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia are particularly at risk. The first stage in Brinton's "natural history" is already in place. The regimes have lost the support of their "intellectuals" with the educated young demanding reform. Faced with the risk of revolution, the rulers have offered some reforms — the second stage in Brinton's "natural history". But these are likely to be too little, too late.

With burgeoning young populations, the root of the crisis facing the Arab dictators is their failure to generate economic growth through creating open market economies by adopting liberal economic reforms. Predatory elites have garnered the fruit of the limited reforms that have been undertaken. But the fuse to the resulting tinderbox of popular discontent has been lit by the rise in food prices. This has in large part been caused by the global diversion of land from food to biofuel production, to meet the Green hysteria about global warming. A prediction made in an earlier column ("Biofuels: An assault on the world's poor", February 19, 2008) has sadly come true.

William Wordsworth extolled the French Revolution: "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!" A sentiment widely echoed around the world in the aftermath of the revolutionary victory in Tahrir square. But the "natural history" of revolutions should warn us that if the Egyptian revolution follows the course of many of its predecessors, this euphoria might soon turn to ashes.







A lightening strike by Pakistan International Airlines having put paid to our plans for departure to Delhi, we found ourselves with a few extra days in Lahore, awaiting our air exit permits to be converted for the overland crossing at Wagah. Our friend Jugnu Mohsin, the Cambridge-educated lawyer who is also a leading newspaper publisher and editor, suggested we take a day off to visit her ancestral village about a 100 km southwest of the city on the Multan road. I leapt at the opportunity, for it had been many years since I took a turn in the Punjabi countryside of Pakistan.

At first everything looked utterly familiar: the same flat fertile landscape with fields of ripening wheat and sugarcane flecked yellow, here and there, with rippling stands of mustard. Even the fruit and flowering shrubs for springtime planting bought at a nursery on the way were the same: identical species of mango, guava, rose and jasmine. Most reassuring of all was the sweet cadence of the rustic Punjabi dialect spoken in these parts: women are courteously addressed as bibi and men as janaab or huzoor.


The first difference was how quickly agricultural land starts outside city limits. In India, industrial and housing developments have swallowed up large tracts so that it is many miles before one encounters tilled fields. The other major difference is the size of the landholdings. An average farmer would own as least one marabba of land, equivalent to about 25 acres, and old feudal families like Mohsin's would own several hundred acres, either tenanted or personally managed. A well-irrigated system of British-era canals means that farmers harvest two to three crops a year.

In Indian Punjab, by contrast, average landholdings have shrunk between five and 10 acres. A recent survey in The Tribune of Chandigarh reports soaring land values due to urbanisation; scarce fields outside the state capital go for Rs 4 crore an acre and land for townships being developed outside Patiala is worth Rs 30 lakh an acre. Across the border, agricultural land is a fraction of that price.

Jugnu Mohsin's village Sher Garh is a medieval settlement built round the 16th century shrine of a Sufi pir who came from southern Persia and from whom her family is descended. His Akbar-period mausoleum is immaculately preserved and maintained. Close by, in an enclosed garden, are the family cenotaphs. Above it rises a magnificent, many-tiered haveli of fine Mughal brick, portions of which are being painstakingly restored. In an upper chamber, a local artisan on scaffolding was carefully touching up the exquisite painted decoration of her grandfather's bedchamber. Mohsin and her father have set up 26 schools for 4,000 students in the area through a family trust and NGO; there are two colleges, a teachers' training centre and dispensary in modern brick buildings of excellent design, and a hospital is being planned.

All afternoon I observed Mohsin holding court on a moorah chair in an open air courtyard, a sort of super-panchayat head and leader by inheritance. She holds no elected or administrative office, though her late uncle held this constituency in Islamabad's National Assembly for decades. As the sole woman in a stream of men who came and went, she arbitrated over tenancy disputes, heard petitions, rang local officials, took accounts and supervised building works, cajoling errant carpenters and threatening lazy guards. Head covered in a local woollen shawl known as a loi, she commanded attention with her mix of patient listening, good humour and swift redressal of problems. She is not an absentee landlord and comes here to spend almost each weekend as her forbears have done for generations.

I asked her how she remembered every family in the village and her knowledge of the Punjabi vernacular, with its range of aphorism and innuendo. "I grew up with these people," she said. "In our home in Lahore we have no one but servants from our village."

It was a performance in enlightened feudalism that has all but vanished in India's Punjab.







In Eastern Europe, Poland lit the fire nearly a quarter of a century ago, with Lech Walesa of Solidarity, an electrician from the shipyard of Gdansk. He led the Poles to defy the communist regime and, more importantly, the Soviet Union and was finally elected president of a non-communist Poland. Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and the German Democratic Republic quickly followed suit. And, finally, the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. With the exception of the Soviet Union, not a bullet was fired in Warsaw, Budapest, Bucharest, Prague, Sofia and East Berlin. Regimes that no one had challenged for four decades disappeared in four months. The domino effect swept communism away. Democratic elections were held, the press was freed and political prisoners detained on flimsy grounds were released.

Will the Arab world follow the example of these countries? Will history repeat itself? Will the undemocratic regimes of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen and the Gulf states have their own Tahrirs? In most of these countries, the economy is doing well, but little else. In Egypt, the average age of the youth is below 25. And they are in a majority. What is unique about the Arab revolt is that it was mostly organised through Twitter, Facebook and the Internet. A totally new phenomenon. The mobile phone did wonders. The discipline demonstrated by people in Cairo was quite something. No one broke ranks and the army refused to fire on the protesters. It was Gandhism in a new form. What will be the post-revolution scenario — democracy or Islamic fundamentalism?


 Also, nearly five million Indians live in West Asian countries. They keep away from any kind of political activity. Few have been given citizenship. They can be fired as easily as they are hired. So, can there be an exodus? One can only keep one's fingers crossed.

The situation is volatile; the present is precarious and the future is a riddle. It took less than three weeks to put an end to the Mubarak regime. The Gulf states could fall like ninepins. The price of oil would shoot up, which will have a direct impact on our economy. One of the most deplorable features of totalitarian states is their near-total reliance on secret services, which serves neither the people nor the state. It serves only the dictator. As years turn into decades, dictators become complacent, flabby and out of touch. Ben Ali and Mubarak were fed on a dictatorial diet for so long that they feared no revolt, that they could oppress, brutalise, loot and live happily ever after. Power and profit mattered, not sacrifice and service. Brutal and cruel mediocrities preside over the destinies of decent, law-abiding and honest people. So, we in India should count our blessings for being spared this fate and bow down to Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Rajaji, Maulana Azad and Jayaprakash Narayan.

Cricket chronicles
Cricket will be the flavour of the next six weeks. The game is entirely English in origin. The passion with which India has embraced it would leave the Marylebone Cricket Club gasping. Apparently, the first game of cricket was played in India in 1804 in Calcutta (now Kolkata) between Old Etonians and the Rest of Calcutta.

Who put Indian cricket on the world map? The House of Patiala. In his book titled Imperial Cricket P F Warner wrote in 1912, "His Highness the late Maharaja of Patiala was devoted to cricket, and collected from all India a team of cricketers who could practise together under his patronage and carry the Patiala colour to victory far and near. He used to engage English professionals like T H Hearne and W Brockwell to go out every winter at the end of the first class season in England, and coach the Patiala team..." The Maharaja's name was Rajinder Singh; he died in 1898. It is hardly known that the great Ranjitsinhji (Ranji) was aide-de-camp (ADC) to Maharaja Rajinder Singh, whose son Bhupinder Singh took the first Indian cricket team to England in 1911. Ranji never forgot about his debt to Patiala. When Bhupinder Singh visited Jamnagar in 1930, Ranji said, "My personal connections with Patiala began during the rule of His Highness' late revered father. I can never forget as long as I live the wonderful kindness, generosity, and hospitality I received during the years of stay with His Highness. That has left a deep impression on my mind, and I always felt that I owe a deep debt of obligation to the rulers of Patiala…" On Ranji's death in 1932, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh donated £500 for a gold cup to start the Ranji Trophy cricket tournament. Lala Amarnath was one of his ADCs. Larwood, of Bodyline fame, spent a season in Patiala. Lala Amarnath once told me, "Without the generosity of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, I would have got nowhere."

As for World Cup 2011, Tendulkar, Dhoni and Sehwag will do India proud.

Dharma and adharma are two sides of the same coin; Prime Minister Manmohan Singh knows this better than most of us.









Professor Ashish Bose of Delhi's Institute of Economic Growth wrote a letter to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985. In that letter he rued the fact that four states of India, which had forty per cent of the country's population, were economically sick, and were contributing to India's backwardness. These four states were Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The first letters of these four states form the word BIMARU, which means sick in Hindi, and it's no coincidence that these states were from the Hindi belt.

It was a provocative thing to say almost thirty years ago, but Bose is known for his forthrightness. He backed up his Bimaru assertion with solid data and analysis. But in 2011 the picture has changed slightly. In terms of the Human Development Index (HDI), computed on the basis of income, life expectancy and infant mortality, the bottom most states in India are Bihar and Orissa. So the BIMARU acronym is actually BIMAROU (still the same pronunciation). Isn't Bihar doing well now?


In the past five years income growth in Bihar has been nearly ten per cent per annum, and this year it will be one of the fastest growing states. But Bihar's backlog of backwardness is so huge, that it will take another ten years of high growth, and improvement in health facilities, to make Bihar less "bimaar"! The same is true for Orissa, which also has shown remarkable growth in industrial investments. It too has a long way to go.


In the low development club, there has been one more addition since that famous letter of Bose. That state is Assam, which has deteriorated in terms of its development indicators, making the acronym Bimaarou now.


There is, however, one state which has broken out of the club. That state is Rajasthan. Its HDI score is now closer to Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which makes it medium developed as compared to an all-India average. It has recorded good economic growth for several years and substantial increase in agricultural growth and productivity, especially oilseeds. It has 10.4 per cent of India's landmass, 5.4 per cent of population and only 1 per cent of national water resources.


Yet, its progress in water harvesting is impressive. The National Rural Employment Guarantee was co-pioneered by this state, and this programme is run with minimal leakages. The discovery of oil and gas, as also other minerals in the state promises future prosperity. It also has a large base of nuclear electric power serving the northern grid.


Tourism is already a major revenue earner. Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur are becoming hubs for the info-tech industry. Most of the road and rail traffic in the Mumbai-Delhi corridor passes through Rajasthan, contributing to collateral industrial development.


The best metaphor for Rajasthan's rising fortunes is cricket. The Rajasthan Royals were the most inexpensive IPL franchise at $ 67 million. In the first season in 2008, theirs was the least fancied team, which eventually surprised everybody by winning the tournament.


They couldn't follow up with the same performance in the next two seasons, but early in 2011 they have scored a big cricketing win.


Their team has bagged the coveted Ranji trophy for the first time in the seventy-five-year history. The Ranji prize used to be the highest prize in domestic cricket, and Mumbai used to be habitual winners. But this year the trophy went to a young and restless team from Rajasthan.


Led by a former Maharashtra player from Pune no less! The Chief Minister congratulated the team with a prize of Rs 1 crore.


Professor Bose, can we drop the "R" from Bimaarou now? (No, no he says. Look at those Gujjars blockading the Delhi highway.) The patient has to wait some more.











It is a bad idea for the law to mandate that companies carry out activities that are covered under the rubric corporate social responsibility. The parliamentary standing committee on finance has proposed that the new Companies law should oblige companies of a minimum size to spend at least 2% of their profits on CSR or explain why they could not, in their annual reports. A minor mercy is that the committee has refrained from also mandating what activities should invite CSR largesse: it leaves that to the companies to decide. There are multiple objections to such a proposal. At one level, asking companies to spend 2% of their profits on something is like levying an additional tax on them. When the whole effort is to reduce the burden of tax on companies but to widen the tax base, such a move would be a step backwards. At another level, the proposal is rather confused on what constitutes CSR. It should be clear that CSR is different from philanthropy. Every company advances the collective good by creating jobs and incomes, improving the conditions of human existence through their products/ services and through the jobs and incomes they create. Companies sometimes advance the frontiers of knowledge and extend the reach of human creativity. They convert society's pooled savings into productive capital. And pay taxes. All this is corporate service to society. If some companies want to go beyond this and do philanthropy, and their shareholders are fine with it, that is welcome, too. But that cannot be mandated. Then again, some companies have the opportunity to undertake activity that both increases their own revenues and advances the collective good, such as when Hindustan Unilever improves public health by educating people on the benefits of hygiene, achieved by the simple expedient of washing their hands with soap. This last kind of activity is CSR proper. How much companies want to spend on it, and whether to, should be up to them.

The government should drop this idea without waiting for industry to mount any large-scale lobbying. In these scam-tainted days, protracted persuasion will lead to inferences that are undesirable, even if unjustified.






The government's chief economic advisor Kaushik Basu analyses India's foodgrains policy, in a recent issue of the Economic & Political Weekly. We support his call for a holistic perspective on the entire system of food production, procurement and the release and distribution of food. However, there seems far too much stress on government intervention in the paper, with not enough attention paid to allowing private trade into food distribution, revamping supply chains, agrimarketing and easing bottlenecks in policy and infrastructure. The stepped-up demand for superior foods like fruits and vegetables surely calls for better market design. Dr Basu disagrees with the 'popular' view that our central problem is that of poor storage of foodgrain. Storage facilities need to improve, no doubt, but this in itself would not lower the price of food, it is underlined. The paper makes the point that government intervention to procure grain via a minimum support price, would, by definition, be at a price higher than the free market equilibrium price. This begs the question, shouldn't the procurement price be conceptually and not just quantitatively different from the MSP, whose purpose should be to cover costs and forestall distress sales? The suggestion to procure grain in years of good weather and bumper harvests, when food prices are relatively low makes eminent sense, as also the one to release food from godowns in small, frequent and geographically dispersed lots. The other proposal outlined in the paper is for food coupons for the poor, for better targeting of the food subsidy. And instead of paper coupons, other delivery platforms such as smart cards or direct banking via mobile-phone interface can also be perfected, it is averred. In parallel, we need a new effort to change the entire production and marketing of fruits and vegetables to genuinely address food price inflation. Producers' cooperatives of the Amul kind, new producer companies and private firms, all need to be encouraged in this new initiative. A hundred flowers need to bloom in the thinking on stepping up India's food production.







The example set by British Prime Minister David Cameron to deal with the rat menace in 10 Downing Street needs to be heeded by his peers in other countries. The three-century-old PM's residence in London, like old institutions of that kind in every country, is a natural haven for all manner of creepy-crawlies. Unless rigorous cleanliness norms are continuously adhered to and monitored, these rarefied environs can easily deteriorate into dens of pestilence. Prompt action is the only recourse once lax standards have led to a general deterioration. Getting a cat to catch a mouse may seem like a no-brainer, but if the population of rats in high places — such as the one under the queen's chair in the nursery rhyme — is any indication, pest control has not been a priority with the political class for a long time . To Cameron's credit, he brought in Larry the cat very soon after the vermin were first spotted and highlighted by the media, and before it could be touted as an example of his government letting things drift. He did not waste precious time letting the rusty wheels of government crank out a solution. Some jobs are not best left to the tender mercies of due processes.


Moreover, the one chosen by the British PM for the job is obviously more than a mere ace rat-catcher by instinct and profession; he is also the ultimate outsider. A rescued stray from the Battersea Dog and Cats Home, he has no obvious links to the establishment and, at least for the moment, is likely to remain unaffected by any insidious power flows of his new exalted home. He is thus more likely to do his job without fear or favour — and distractions. In fact, since Larry is an unpaid civil servant, he would be the template cheap, eco-friendly and easily-obtained solution for other nations to adopt.





In 1991, when Manmohan Singh rose to present his first Budget as the country's new finance minister, India was reeling under an imminent foreign exchange crisis — which could have led to defaults. We did not have enough money to pay for even two months of imports. The choices staring Singh were stark; either continue with the disastrous economic policies and see India reduced to an economic basket case or seize the moment to usher in far-reaching reforms. He chose the latter option and the rest is history. It was the time for making bold decisions.

Today — for many different reasons — finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is at faced with a new set of challenges. Thankfully, the situation is not as desperate as in 1991. Then it was a crisis of survival — now it is a crisis of growth — especially doubledigit growth. India's true potential is not in 10+% GDP growth — but a set of recent events have made this seems difficult to achieve. The threat to this aspirational goal of double-digit growth for the next 10 years could be the opportunity for making some bold decisions.

This current threat to the India story is a result of many external as well as internal factors.
The government seems to be caught between a rock and hard place when it comes to the fiscal consolidation. The FM will find it politically impossible to curtail subsidies and funding for schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). Many of these programmes are worthwhile and necessary for inclusive growth, but the key challenge now is get more of limited resources for this as the government's ability to increase outlays will be curtailed in this Budget.

Options to raise additional revenues like using 3G spectrum auction proceeds to bridge the fiscal deficit are no longer available at the same level. Disinvestment is likely to rope in . 40,000 crore. So, taxes will have to provide a boost — though the tax revenues are healthy; it is unlikely that in view of rising inflation, individual tax rates will be raised. So, the only option will be to raise some more from corporate and indirect taxes.
Tax revenues for the next year could also be under pressure if the GDP growth rate buckles under the pressure of political pressures and inflationary factors.

The case of inflation control is the biggest issue in front of the FM — it is also probably the most politically sensitive. The classical response till now has been to raise interest rates, which the RBI has already done seven times during the year.

But this has failed to rein in a price rise which is caused by supply-side bottlenecks and inadequate investments in infrastructure. Also inflationary expectations are on the rise, which is dangerous. The FM has to supplement the RBI's actions with tighter fiscal policy measures — to control inflation, for sure; but, more importantly, to rein in inflationary expectations. This is easier said than done as the fallout of this could be GDP growth slowing down. The other challenge facing the government is purely political. Last few months, with various scams grabbing the headlines, there is a feeling that the government is so wrapped up in fire-fighting that there is a sense of drift when it comes to policy-making and taking decisions. It is under heavy Opposition pressure for apparent inaction on the question of black money parked in tax havens.

    But these three key challenges — inflation control, fiscal consolidation and regaining control of the political agenda — actually present unique opportunities for the FM. This could be the opportunity to seize the moment and usher in a second wave of reforms — and ensure 10+% GDP growth for India for the next 10 years. Here is what the industry and even common man like to see:

One, address the core infrastructural bottlenecks which are at the root of the supplyside led inflation. This is not going to happen overnight, but it is also an area we have ignored for too long. For example, the projected versus actual shortfall in investments during the 11th Plan by the Planning Commission's own estimates have been 12% for roads, 24% for railways, 46% for ports and 40% for storage.

Two, fiscal consolidation through curtailing of government expenditure, especially the non-Plan variety. It should be remembered that a system of subsidies that raise the fiscal deficit and lead to inflation ultimately harms the poor more than the rich. Three, pushing through the taxation reforms via the Direct Taxes Code and goods and services tax. This will not only simply taxation but will also lead to revenue buoyancy. Four, kick-start the next stage of reforms — especially in areas like financial sector and retail. And maybe, some baby steps in agriculture reforms to increase food productions and efficiency in the agri sector.

Five, adopt a carrot-andstick approach towards the problem of black money in tax havens — carrot to encourage voluntary disclosures and stick to ensure that involuntary disclosures happen through the banks. After all, if the US government could force UBS to reveal account holders' names, there is no reason that the Indian government can't.

Admittedly, some of these are not easy choices. They will require the FM to use all his considerable political prestige, savvy and experience to push through. But like the poet Robert Frost once said, "Two roads diverged in a wood/and I took the one less traveled by/And that has made all the difference."










While there is a clamour that Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, should be conferred on cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, nobody seems to be disturbed by the fact that so far no Indian writer has been considered worthy of this honour. This glaring neglect raises several questions about the nature of these awards and the criteria adopted to decide who should get them. It goes to prove that we have no love or respect for our writers who are, in Maxim Gorky's description, "sculptors of our souls".


The Bharat Ratna award, instituted in 1954 through a presidential notification, is to be given only for "exceptional service towards the advancement of art, literature and science and in recognition of public service of the highest order". It's a sad that not a single literary writer figures in the list of 41 persons who have been deemed deserving enough to receive the highest civilian honour in the past 57 years. That too when the notification mentions 'literature' as one of the four areas to be considered for the award!


Even art in general was completely ignored till the year 1992 when just a few months before his death, Satyajit Ray was honoured with a Bharat Ratna. In his case, the government seemed to have come under tremendous pressure after Ray was decorated with an Oscar for his lifetime achievements in the field of film-making. The real break occurred in the year 1998 when eminent Carnatic vocalist M S Subbulakshmi was chosen for the Bharat Ratna. This paved the way for other musicians too, and next year sitar maestro Ravi Shankar received the award. Two years later in 2001, Lata Mangeshkar and shehnai legend Bismillah Khan were honoured, followed by Hindustani classical vocalist Bhimsen Joshi in 2009. Thus, three singers and two instrumentalists have been conferred with the Bharat Ratna. Even a cursory look at the list of the recipients of the Bharat Ratna award is enough to reveal that the government has been bestowing it mainly on politicians, technocrats and non-literary authors. In 1954, due care was taken in choosing C Rajagopalachari, S Radhakrishnan and C V Raman for the honour. While Rajagopalachari was a politician, he was an author too and had written extensively on religion and culture, earning recognition for his writings on the Mahabharata. Radhakrishnan was an world renowned philosopher while Raman had already bagged a Nobel in Physics.

While most people date the degradation and devaluation of the Bharat Ratna from the mid-1970s when it was awarded posthumously to K Kamaraj, the process had actually started in the second year of its institution. According to the presidential notification, "the recommendations for Bharat Ratna are made by the Prime Minister himself to the President. No formal recommendations for this are necessary". It so happened that in 1955, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru too received the Bharat Ratna along with philosopher Bhagwan Das and technocrat M Visvesaraya. In other words, Nehru recommended his own name to President Rajendra Prasad for the highest civilian honour. There is no need to say that as one of the foremost leaders of the freedom struggle, Nehru was bigger than the biggest award. If anybody was the Jewel of India, it was indeed he. But, it is also true that it was highly inappropriate for him to recommend his own name for an award.


Just as Indira Gandhi chose to bestow the Bharat Ratna posthumously on Kamaraj to placate the Tamils, her son Rajiv honoured M G Ramachandran for a similar reason. Up to this point, the posthumous awards were given to only those who had died recently. However, Rajiv Gandhi's successor V P Singh, in a gesture to woo the Dalits, opened the floodgates by honouring B R Ambedkar in 1990 — a good 34 years after the Dalit icon's death.
It is difficult to concur with the government's view that not one of the following writers contributed enough for the advancement of literature to deserve a Bharat Ratna — G Sankara Kurup, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyaya, Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala', Sumitranandan Pant, Mahadevi Verma, Sachchidanand Hiranand 'Ajneya', Firaq Gorakhpuri, Ali Sardar Jafri, Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, K Sivaram Karanth, Bishnu Dey, Gopinath Mohanty, Ashapurna Devi, Krishna Sobti, Jainendra Kumar, Qurratulain Hyder, Mahashweta Devi and Nagarjun. This list is obviously not exhaustive. Moreover, since the government has got into the habit of honouring people several decades after their death, what prevents it from bestowing a Bharat Ratna on, say, Munshi Prem Chand, or, to stretch the logic further, Mirza Ghalib?








The Supreme Court of India held that the "doctrine (of levelplaying field) provides space within which equally placed competitors are allowed to bid so as to subserve the larger public interest." (Reliance Energy Ltd & Anr vs Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation Ltd & Ors., 2007(8) SCC Page 1). But the "level-playing field" concept has become used and abused. Most regulatory concepts have strong theoretical foundations in law and economics, but the playing field doctrine curiously comes from sport. It refers to the unfair advantage that one team would enjoy were an end-to-end game to be played on a sloping pitch. A level pitch ensures that that the best team wins.


Businesses and sports teams are rarely perfectly matched — some are better than others. Some airlines have new aircraft, others old. Some have experienced flight crews, others pretty ones. Those differences evolve as a consequence of competition and in economic terms they are called competitive advantages. Competitive advantage is good as it delivers value and choice to customers.

Too frequently, firms that call for a level-playing field are focused on eliminating an advantage that another competitor has built. Rather than seeking to level the playing field, the real effect is the neutralisation of competitive advantage to the detriment of choice, innovation and value for the customer. Sam Bostaph, Chairman of the Economics Department at the University of Dallas, provides a wonderful example: "Suppose that our auto mechanic really wanted to practice dentistry but couldn't keep patients because of the competition from our more highly skilled dentist. He might lobby the city or the state to limit the number of patients that any one dentist could treat so that this would "level the playing field" for other dentists like himself by providing them patients. After all, some dentists have the "unfair" advantage of being more skilled than others and thus are more able to attract and keep patients than others."


To return to the sport theme, the concept of a levelplaying field does not require both teams to have the same chance of winning. India should not have to drop Sachin Tendulkar simply because the other team does not have a player of his skill. Such a decision would be ridiculous, yet that interpretation of "level playing field" has crept into the language of regulation of Indian telecommunications in a big way. The Trai recommendations on Spectrum Management and Licensing, issued in May 2010, contained 26 references to the concept, including:
3.44 In order to maintain a level-playing field, it would be necessary to avoid the auction route for the newer operators for whom an auction would raise the cost of providing the service vis-àvis the operators who already have more than 6.2 MHz of spectrum


3.116…… The second reason why the authority does not favour uniform spectrum charges is because it disturbs the level-playing field between new operators and the other operators. While it brings down the spectrum usage charge rates for the bigger operators, it has the effect of simultaneously enhancing the charges for the smaller operators who are already suffering from lack of adequate spectrum and who also have to compete as new entrants in a market that is becoming increasingly difficult to penetrate.

The way in which the levelplaying field concept is used is disturbing. Trai is using the concept to neutralise competitive advantage. Most bizarrely, in 3.116, it uses the concept to justify nonuniform (i.e., differential) spectrum fees. Using a sporting analogy, Trai is not just preventing India from picking Tendulkar, it is requiring him to play for the opposition!

It is clear from the above that Trai is confused by its role — is it a rule-maker or a handicapper? To go back to the Supreme Court order, the critical point is that the "doctrine" applies to equally-placed competitors.
Over the history of the telecommunications sector, the competitive position of firms has evolved. Some made good technology choices; others not so good. Operators who took the initial risks of entry into a nascent market were awarded the preferred spectrum. Trai should not seek to nullify the advantages, enjoyed by those operators who seized those opportunities, in the name of a "level-playing field".

So, the next time someone argues calls for a level-playing field, make sure you know what they are asking for. Perhaps they think that your teeth should be treated by an auto mechanic or that Tendulkar should play for Bangladesh. Be careful.

(The author is group public policy director, emerging markets, Vodafone Group Plc)








We got introduced to Kabir in school through a doha which said bliss is when you remember God in good times, not just in the bad ones. Most of us do exactly the opposite. Our strategy in life is pretty simple, we go after what we want and we try to avoid what we do not want. But our wishes are not horses: life includes not getting what we want and getting what we do not want. That leads to stress, says Swami Shankarananda, in Happy for No Good Reason,who studied self-realisation techniques under Baba Muktananda: "When life does not go the way we would like we acutely feel the indifference of a vast universe that is unresponsive to us (and) our needs… We may be happy when we get what we want but we can also be happy when we don't get what we want." He calls this condition of inner independence true empowerment. Meditation is an important means to this goal. Another way is to turn problems to opportunities. That's what Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, did when she prayed to God, "Let my life be always filled with troubles, so that I may always remember you." That represents a huge image turnaround: convert tough times into a time for remembrance of God. The more trouble you have the more you importune God. So, what if your life is one endless stream of torments? Turn them all over to Him with constant remembrance. This may explain why Kunti prays for one-pointed attention on the Lord; to defeat distraction. It illuminates the essence of Bhakti-Yoga, summarised in the Bhagvadgitain the celebrated verse: mam ekam sharanam vraja. Come to Me alone in surrender!







Food in our country has always been expensive, simply because abysmally low yields and poor infrastructure push up production costs.

Grim warnings have come from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Bank and similar institutions about elevated food prices and their adverse impact on food intake, nutrition and health, especially for the world's poor. These may be ignored by governments at their own peril. Food prices are racing towards the all-time highs of early 2008, when unprecedented speculative frenzy had gripped markets worldwide. Although the prices stabilised subsequently, no lessons seem to have been learnt. Admittedly, adverse weather conditions in different regions were largely to blame for pushing up food prices the last several months. Crude oil prices, which have a bearing on farm production costs, are also at elevated levels. How benign the weather will be in 2011 is unclear. A repeat of 2010 would lead to disastrous consequences for the world food market. So, contingency plans are necessary, especially because global agriculture has extremely limited resilience to weather aberrations.

As far as food crops and prices are concerned, for the short term, the world will have to rethink seriously at least two of the many driving forces — the large-scale diversion of essential food crops (maize, wheat, sugarcane, vegetable oil) for bio-fuel production and the largely unchecked flow of speculative capital into the commodity derivatives market. The food price crisis may well rekindle the fading 'food versus fuel' debate. Developed economies will have to make their bio-fuels less food-intensive. In the medium term, there is no alternative to stepping up investment in agriculture and infusing technology for higher yields, steady output and better quality, in addition to fighting climate change.

For the millions of poor Indians who have been facing high levels of food inflation for nearly two years now, the recent FAO warning may only evoke a sense of ennui. Most Indians have seen it all. As much as half the monthly budget of an average Indian family is spent on food (as compared with 12-15 per cent in the US). Food in our country has always been expensive, simply because abysmally low yields and poor infrastructure push production costs higher. There is utter lack of attention to yield enhancement, which alone can augment domestic availability. India can actually play a role in easing high global food prices by focussing on productivity gains in agriculture and ensuring the country remains largely self-reliant. Recent ambitious initiatives such as the Food Security Act are indeed welcome to the extent they make food more affordable for the poor. But the bigger challenge is to ensure that farm output demonstrates sustained growth to meet ever-rising demand. If food output growth trails demand growth, the success of 'right to food' will be at risk.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



Fourteen teams, and one aspiration. Forty-three days of competition, with one outcome. The ninth edition of the cricket World Cup, which gets rolling from Saturday at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur, Dhaka, will see Australia going for a fourth straight title after final victories sequentially over Pakistan (1999), India (2003) and Sri Lanka (2007). Or will there be another champion from among a group of strong cricketing nations like England, South Africa and New Zealand who have never won the championship? More probably, will one of the three sub-continental giants — all winners in the past — be able to bely pressure and expectations and cash in on familiar conditions to bring back the coveted trophy? These are only some of the several questions hanging above this tournament, but none more important that this simple one: Will the one-day international format survive the onslaught of its still more abbreviated cousin — Twenty20 cricket —and the newly resurgent force that is Test cricket, or will we see the beginning of the end of the 50-over format? Clearly, much hinges on how and in which direction this edition of the quadrennial event will go. A repeat of the disastrous 2007 World Cup where cricket's biggest market lost interest after India were eliminated may well turn out to be the final blow for the ODI format. With excessive rigidity in planning, and high ticket rates that saw empty stadia and low TV ratings, it all combined to hurt the game like nothing had before. Lessons, however, have been learnt and the format has been tweaked yet again to ensure that the possibility of such shocks is minimal, and that eight favoured teams advance into the quarter-finals. The International Cricket Council will also be keen to see co-hosts Bangladesh get the best possible chance to move up as well since it is a nation where the national team are immensely popular and massively supported. In fact, the Port of Spain victory over India has whetted appetites and expectations are high — at least in Bangladesh — that the Tigers will upset the applecart of their mighty neighbours yet again to give their quarter-final chances a flying start. For India, too, this is a critical time. In Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team, the 1983 champions have a squad well-equipped to make a real run at the title, and, if they do indeed go all the way, it will ignite a bigger outpouring of support for ODI cricket than the victory by Kapil Dev's side 28 years ago. India are already the top-rated team in Test cricket and number two in ODIs. Even if Dhoni's men do not get the top rating, a second World Cup title will give India the right to call themselves world champions for the next four years. Sourav Ganguly took India to the very cusp before faltering at the crunch in 2003 while the theory-mad Greg Chappell overrode his captain to undermine the team four years later. This time, however, the signs are good, the Men in Blue appear ready and willing, and it may just transpire that Sachin Tendulkar, in his sixth World Cup, will walk away with the winners' medal. At least that is what a billion Indians will be praying for.






 "At last I am safe,

My creditors do not know me..."

From The Kadkanama of Bachchoo

In Ranikhet some years ago for Subhash Ghai's shoot of Kisna, to which I was contracted as a co-writer, I was sitting around the dinner table with the director/producer, his assistants, stars and hangers-on. An Indian film shoot is quite a mela — as Shekhar Kapur is fond of saying, some final sense and order emerges from "existing in chaos".

The shoot in Ranikhet seemed to my inexperienced eye lively and busy but in no sense chaotic. As a writer, one is as welcome on the film set as a one-legged man at an arse-kicking contest. Nevertheless, Subhash made me very welcome indeed and no indulgence was spared, including a case of white and rose wines specially brought up from the plains to indulge my taste. (I am not going to waste type once again in plugging Sula's Sauvignon Blanc as the most drinkable of Indian wines, because I've done it a few times in print before and haven't even been presented a free half-bottle for my uninstigated and unstinting pains!... but yeah, one can hope...)

Around most Indian shoots there are plenty of young and some not so young assistant directors, some of them with the technical title of first assistant director (AD) and several, possibly even six or eight, second and third ADs. All of them do their allocated jobs but their dream is to jump into the director's chair if not shoes. They work, they bide their time and good luck to them. At this particular dinner I was sitting next to Subhash and someone — one of the stars — asked me if I had any ambitions to direct films. I could see that the ADs and others who harboured such ambitions were listening to see if I would be a future competitor.

"No, I'll stick to writing", I said.

Several people asked why.

"Because I think you have to suffer from severe personality defects to want to direct", I said.

Subhash laughed and said he agreed. The others, reluctant to confess their ambition, silently wondered what I meant.

I wasn't going to explain. Apart from the fact that it was said partially in mischief, or because of that, I was content to let it fester. Needless to say my unpopularity went up a notch or two.

I have no way of knowing whether it was in the same spirit of mischief that Martin Amis this week said, when asked if he had considered or would ever consider writing for children, that he would have to suffer severe brain damage to contemplate such a thing.

He went on to explain. His explanation contained the belief that people who wrote for children condescended to their readers, avoiding vocabulary and modes of expression that would as adults come naturally to them.

He found this act of condescension, or of holding back or shallowing one's depth of engagement with the object of one's prose, demeaning and the defeat of "writing".

Good stuff.

The Indian reader probably knows Martin Amis from his several works of fiction and perhaps from the fact that he has appeared on one or more Indian literary festival platforms and was rude, outrageous or whatever it is that a 61-year-old enfant terrible can be. I think Amis is wrong. The idea that people who write for children have to be brain-damaged is not objectionable because it is insulting to Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Enid Blyton (I'm not sure about this one), A.A. Milne, J.K. Rowling and a thousand more.

It is objectionable because it turns the act of writing into a form of confession, self-expression or mental — which includes intellect and emotion — self-discovery or even indulgence.

I should declare an interest. I have written books some of which are classified by publishers, booksellers and librarians as "for young adults". I have also written one or two books which are very noticeably illustrated for and sold to younger children. I write other things too, but don't disown these. I might further declare that at the age of 19 in Pune I was riding a motorcycle, hit a very large pot hole and was hurled off the bike as was my pillion rider. She suffered no damage but I ended up in hospital and was ordered to lie still in it for several days. I don't recall the doctors saying that I was brain-damaged, but then Indian doctors at the time were quite discreet.

I do plead that I am an exception to the rule.

I don't know why Amis writes. Samuel Johnson said, "Only a blockhead writes, except for money". I am sure William Shakespeare did, fulfilling commissions for the stage and defining and retaining relationships with his patrons by writing poems for them. I am sure Charles Dickens wrote for money and then brought to the task his critical and reforming social sensibility. Rudyard Kipling didn't write the Jungle Books for children. He did write the Just So stories for his son and daughter and addresses the stories to his "Best Beloved".

The stories bear out part of Amis' thesis, because when he comes to a word or an object which he thinks will be unfamiliar to his children he draws a picture of it or describes it. And still there isn't any condescension in the explanations which are often ironic, twisted and amusing.

One mustn't speak for J.K. Rowling (if one could, one would be rich), but my own experience of writing for "young adults" or younger children was that it wasn't consciously done. I don't know if I know more big words that Amis but have in my time wrestled with and understood all manner of complex prose, including that which strives to describe the mysteries of quantum physics. I feel I am capable of some profound thought, but when one writes a particular story, one enters into the universe of that story — the language, concepts, conceits and emotional tropes of that world.

It wouldn't be right for Huckleberry Finn, Balu the Bear, Toad of Toad Hall or Harry Potter to escalate into Karamazovian angst.

My advice to Amis is to stick with adult prose and to stay away from motorbikes when in Pune.





It seems that the best way to survive in politics is to behave like a hoodlum. The TD MLA, Mr Revanth Reddy, who created such a ruckus in the Assembly recently, did not do so because of any love of, or commitment to the cause of separate Telangana, but because that's how he can stay ahead of his rivals. During the Governor's address to the joint session of the Legislative Council and Assembly, the TD MLA from Mahbubnagar, much to the shock of his party colleagues, went on a rampage, pulled down chairs on the podium and kicked and punched the marshals who tried to take him out of the hall. Mr Revanth Reddy rose very quickly up the ranks largely due to such maverick behaviour and strongly believes that without it he cannot survive in district politics among stalwarts like Mr N. Janardhan Reddy. With Mr Nagam trying to gain the upper hand by raising the T-issue, Mr Revanth had to do something spectacular to prove his credentials. "No one can question me for the next six months even if I don't say a word on Telangana. I secured enough marks," he says, making the point very clearly.


The Praja Rajyam chief, Mr K. Chiranjeevi, had not calculated that his party's constitution would make it difficult for him to merge the PR with the Congress. The party constitution was scripted by the Marxist sympathiser Dr P. Mitra and the late P. Upendra, who took extra precautions to ensure that such mergers had wide intra-party approval. After Mr Chiranjeevi and the senior party leader, Mr C. Ramachandraiah, met Mrs Sonia Gandhi and agreed to merge their party, Mr Ramachandraiah went to the Election Commission to complete the merger formalities. But a perusal of the PR constitution, submitted at the time of registering the party, revealed that in the event of a merger, all the party units, right from mandal, district and state level, have to meet after all the respective leaders are served one week notice for them to attend, and at each unit meeting, two-thirds of the members should be present and vote for the merger. The gap between one meeting and another should be a minimum of three days to prevent simultaneous meetings conducted etc. In case the concerned leader was not present, the notice should be pasted on the wall etc. Mr Chiranjeevi was heard telling some of his close associates: "We never expected this at the time of launching. Now we have to follow the rules. It will take another month to complete formalities." The moral of the story is: always read the fine print, even if you wrote it yourself.


Ministers in the state Cabinet are all praise for their colleague and tourism minister, Mr Vatti Vasanth Kumar, for belling the cat for the second time. Mr Kumar was the first to raise the banner of revolt against discrimination in allotment of portfolios on the very day the Chief Minister, Mr N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, took oath. The revolt was a severe blow to the image of the Chief Minister who is yet to regain the ground he lost on the first day. The minister has now trained his guns on bureaucrats who try to place themselves a step above their political bosses. The minister made a fuss about secretaries of departments under him issuing orders without circulating files to him. Babus like Mr Jayesh Ranjan, who had a field day during Dr Geeta Reddy's stint in tourism, and Mr A.K. Parida, who only manages brief stints in any department to which he is posted, came under attack from the minister who complained to the Chief Minister and got him to issue clear instructions that bureaucrats were not to violate rules and must stick to the practice of seeking approval from mantris.






It has been a sensational wedding so far. Probably the only one conducted in the Golden Temple that has received wide coverage in both Hello! magazine as well the tabloids. When Britain's former "It girl" Alexandra Aitken decided to marry a Nihang, Inderjot Singh, it was presented as a leap of faith over a vast cultural chasm. The reportage was accompanied by the startling information that over 150 holy men had abandoned their meditation in "caves" and hotfooted to Amritsar to attend the unique union. Wow!

The Daily Mail informed us breathlessly last week that Ms Aitken, politely described as a reformed "hell raising nightclub regular" (and daughter of a former member of UK Parliament and minister, Jonathan Aitken, who had once been jailed) had married the "handsome Sikh of noble blood" in Amritsar. Her twin sister Victoria gushed that Ms Aitken had met the "noble" Mr Singh while she was practising yoga "on a retreat at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, near the foothills of the Himalayas".

Ms Victoria delightedly discovered that "he is a Nihang warrior… a military Sikh order formed 300 years ago in which men and women are trained in horsemanship and swordmanship". She then flew to Amritsar to attend the wedding and found that this "devout Sikh" was every bit as handsome, calm and thoughtful as she had been told. She commented very perceptively, "Even though he was educated in Australia, his English was perfect".

Ms Victoria had thoughtfully packed an off-the-shoulder little black dress to wear for the wedding at the Golden Temple but was crushed when her sister told her "that's far too sexy to wear in front of holy Sikhs". However, suitably attired in a salwar-kameez she was taken around the Golden Temple where Mr Singh is apparently a "giani". She also visited the "soup kitchens" (langar!) where she thought the food was being cooked to give to the poor.

The wedding itself was attended by over 300 guests, with prayers recited by 150 Nihangs (saints from caves) as the couple walked around four pillars (someone obviously forgot to tell Victoria that they were not walking around the pillars, but the Guru Granth Sahib). This was followed by a mesmerising performance by brave Nihang warriors comprising "tribal dances", cartwheels, sword fights and dagger throwing. All fairly normal stuff in Sikh weddings.

Amritsar is one of the richest cities in India with a sophisticated population that has probably seen much more pomp and splendour than poor Ms Aitken and Ms Victoria ever have (regardless of the fact that their great grandfather Baron Rugby was the "acting governor" of Punjab during the Raj). But if I hadn't been a regular visitor to Amritsar I would have thought the wedding had taken place in some wild and weird part of the world just discovered by two intrepid young British explorers.

Nonetheless, life for the newly-married and named "Harvinder Kaur Khalsa" with her husband Mr Singh apparently is beset with all kinds of responsibilities and onerous duties. Some of this exhausting activity includes arriving at the Golden Temple everyday at 7 am to pray till the noon, going home (for some much-needed siesta, perhaps) and returning once more to watch the sunset. What a stressful existence! Mr Singh, on his part, has admitted that he had always wanted to marry a foreigner as "local women weren't good enough for him and their families would have interfered too much". He had also confided to Harprakat Singh, a "holy man" who had introduced them, that he wanted a wife who would spend all her time in the temple with him. According to the holy man this deep spirituality is the reason why the four-month-old marriage is yet to be consummated.

Ms Aitken aka Harvinder has also agreed to remain chaste as she wanted to show devotion to her new faith. How long this dedication of a former "It girl" will last is anyone's guess as she has also confessed that she wants her children to be "running around the Himalayas" quite soon. I don't know the running distance between Amritsar and the Himalayas but it is a charming thought.

British women were, no doubt, impressed with the lengths she is willing to go for her stringent new faith as it is reported that she has refused to cut her hair or even wax her eyebrows. A few days later, however, a rather more callous article appeared in the Telegraph as some intrigued reporters had actually decided to track down the happily-married couple. It now turns out that the freshly converted, turban-clad Mrs Khalsa has been enthusiastic about religion for a long time. So much so that she has already tried most, including Buddhism, Kabbalah, Judaism and Islam. Perhaps, Sikhism will ease the pain of her searching soul. Meanwhile, she is still quite keen on carrying on with her yoga, which includes the sale of yoga merchandise, using her current base.

Mr Singh, it is now learnt, has not always been the devout Sikh he has been presented as. There are those who are (just jealous, perhaps) questioning the fact whether he is a Nihang at all, implying that he has just acquired the costume and not much else. This bunch of rude friends have said that he used to party, drink, even chase girls and smoke, but apparently, upon his return from Australia he became spiritual. One friend said it would be "fascinating" to know what changed him.

Meanwhile, the number of cynics seem to be growing and Mr Singh's uncle has pointed out that his nephew has no source of income and lives on handouts from his mother. Once she refuses to support him, life will become tough for him. He is also concerned about whether the mem will stay if life becomes uncomfortable. But perhaps his real anxiety is that the "pure" bloodline of Mr Singh's family will now be polluted by British blood. He has said quite firmly: "It is the mixing of races and races should not be mixed". Meanwhile, people are wondering if the whole thing is a publicity stunt? They say the memsahib and the Nihang may not be telling us the whole story but they have already made a few thousand pounds selling it to the media… how mean is that.

* The writer can be contacted at [1]






Mental health is finally getting some sarkari attention. Now, health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has admitted that it is a neglected area and needs much improvement. He spoke anxiously of developing multinational partnerships, and of significantly increasing manpower to improve mental health services.

Under the National Mental Health Programme, the government is setting up 11 institutions across the country as centres of excellence in mental health on the lines of Nimhans (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences) in Bengaluru. Thanks to these institutions, India would have 44 psychiatrists, 176 clinical psychologists, 176 psychiatric social workers and 220 psychiatric nurses more every year. Besides, the states had been asked to start postgraduate courses in mental health. This would add another 60 psychiatrists, 240 clinical psychologists, 240 psychiatric social workers and 600 psychiatric nurses annually. "Together, these two schemes would help us produce 1,756 qualified mental health professionals annually and enable us to bridge the gap between our requirement and the availability of mental health professionals", the minister said. He admitted that a major constraint in implementing the national mental health programme was lack of manpower.

Sure, dearth of mental health professionals and hospitals has been a longstanding concern. Especially since mental illness affects about 70 million Indians. There are three psychiatrists per million people and one bed per 40,000 population. So the government's initiatives are extremely welcome.

But we need more. We need to look at mental patients as full citizens with equal human and legal rights. And psychiatric care givers need to be held accountable for the violation of these rights. We cannot continue with the fill it, shut it, forget it attitude that we have towards "loonies in loony bins". The condition of patients in mental hospitals remains deplorable. We only sit up when something dramatic happens. Like 12 patients dying last month at the Berhampore Mental Hospital. They had chronic illnesses, said the hospital, ailments that had worsened in the severe cold. So why were preventive steps not taken? And why were they not treated earlier? Is a mental illness so dehumanising that hospital authorities think it unnecessary to treat patients for physical diseases?

Mental patients are in hospital because they cannot look after themselves — they need to be fed and clothed and protected. Much like children. Particularly so, because patients are brought in by families when they are absolutely fed up — and the patient herself may be malnourished and sick. Unlike free people, inmates of a mental hospital are totally under the control of their caregivers, they don't have access to food or clothing unless it is provided to them. They cannot protect themselves from the freezing temperatures, they cannot take preventive steps, they cannot go see a doctor. The hospital they are admitted to has the entire responsibility of their physical and mental well-being.

Like most public hospitals, our government-run mental hospitals are also in a pathetic state. In general, mental hospitals have a long-standing record of neglect, abuse and poor medical care. This winter, India's largest psychiatric hospital, Yerawada Mental Hospital in Pune, struggled to get warm clothes for its 1,800 patients, even appealing to the public to donate woolens for inmates, as the hospital lacked funds. Many patients had died, and without public support, many more would have.

The lack of public accountability for the deaths of psychiatric patients in hospitals is worrying. We often hear of patients dying of food poisoning or even being beaten to death in our mental hospitals — sometimes by other inmates, occasionally by the wardens themselves. We ignore routine neglect that kills, and only notice catastrophes.

Like when 28 inmates were burnt to death and several badly injured in a mental home in Erawadi, Tamil Nadu, in 2001. The inmates had raised an alarm, but they couldn't escape the flames as they were all chained to beds and posts. And help was far delayed. National dailies frontpaged photographs of charred bodies spread out among cinders in a grey, ashen landscape, still fettered to charred poles. All patients here were chained — irrespective of whether they were violent or docile, raving mad or just depressed. Because we deal with mental illness in black and white — you are either sane or insane. There is no middle ground. If you are schizophrenic, bi-polar, depressed or even mentally disabled with cerebral palsy, Downe's syndrome or autism, you fall in the "other" category — those who are not quite like us, not as human as us. And you send them off to some hospital, dutifully paying fees and medical expenses, occasionally visiting them. Sometimes you send off family members to mental homes to settle property disputes, or to keep them apart from a lover you may not approve of. They are the new outcasts, once they are out of the way, normal life can resume for their family.

Of course, like any illness, mental illnesses do need professional care, and hospitalisation remains the best option for most beleaguered family members. But that faith in medical care is more often than not destroyed by the abysmal treatment that their child or spouse or parent gets at the mental institute. After the Erawadi deaths, the Supreme Court had ruled that the human rights of the mentally disabled had been violated. But not as much has happened to protect these rights as was expected. Last year, 26 patients died of cold in Havana Psychiatric Hospital. Cuba is seeking prison terms of up to 14 years for the hospital authorities. There is also a demand for the heads of higher government officials and ministers. Sadly, in India, we cannot imagine holding any high official — let alone ministers — accountable for the deaths of lunatics.

We are used to the general apathy and the rot that has set into every government institution. We are not horrified when children are abused in orphanages and women raped in Nari Niketans. So why should we be shocked by the abuse and criminal neglect of patients in mental asylums?

Rectifying the huge shortage of psychiatric doctors and nurses will certainly help. But that is not enough. A proper mental health policy is essential to deal with the whole spectrum of psychiatric problems and to make treatment possible for the most neglected high-risk groups — women and the underprivileged. And perhaps more than multinational partnerships, the government needs better partnerships with voluntary organisations working in this area. Besides, we need urgent public education to counter the stigma and change our attitude towards mental illness. For mental patients deserve not just proper care, but dignity as well.

* Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.
She can be contacted at: [1]









BIMAL Gurung's serial flip-flops over the hill shutdown - on, off, on again ~ is symptomatic of the confusion that now plagues the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha in the aftermath of the recent mayhem in the Dooars. One group was firm on the bandh though the party president would rather a limited disruption. Now, having initially rejected the Centre's halfway house of an interim council, he appears to be mildly agreeable with a decidedly modified 'yes'. In his latest stand, Gorkhaland is of lesser moment than its geographical boundaries. "Territory is the main issue, not Gorkhaland or the interim set-up." Clearly, the interim arrangement will be acceptable if the Dooars and the Terai are incorporated in the set-up. This certainly is a turnaround as barely a fortnight ago ~ in the wake of the police firing in Shibchu ~ Gurung had trashed the interim arrangement as a "closed chapter". He has reopened the chapter, reaffirming the geo-political contours. The issue becomes ever so thorny, one that goes beyond the remit of the state government. And indications over the past few years suggest that neither the Centre nor the state nor for that matter Parliament will have the nerve to even consider the demand.  Beyond the obvious constitutional aspect is the danger of ethnicity and the simmering subaltern disaffection. The Adivasis, a fairly large segment in the Dooars, are determined to oppose the expansionist designs of the likes of Gurung. The robust renewal of the territorial rider could make the Darjeeling issue still more intractable. It transcends the mere grant of autonomy for the Hills, a fairly valid demand not least because of the prolonged neglect and exploitation by Kolkata. Gurung doubtless has his compulsions, post-Shibchu. Sub-regional jingoism has become ever more strident and even a semblance of a compromise could well infuriate the Hills people.
 The firing has exposed the helplessness of the administration, now reinforced in the move to appoint an IAS officer ~ recalled by the MEA from London and kept on compulsory wait ~ as the administrator of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. The office is vulnerable, one that has reportedly been turned down by quite a few officers. It isn't a dumping ground for one in the doghouse. A government seemingly going through the wrap-up motions of its dispensation can scarcely be expected to be effective in an area that on occasion is more volatile than West Midnapore. It has already made a spectacle of itself in trying to mobilise the Army. That the appeal was turned down by the Ministry of Defence has been setback enough.




THE arrest of a lawyer would scarcely have sparked the scale of protests as Libya witnessed on Wednesday. The whiff of jasmine would seem to have spread to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's country from Tunisia via Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Iran. The fact that Fathi Terbil, a human rights campaigner, has been freed along with 100 prisoners suggests that Gaddafi's decidedly firm dispensation has relented almost readily in the face of people's power in Benghazi. By all accounts, it has been a rare show of unrest in the oil-rich country; the throne in Tripoli may not be as rusted as the ones in Tunis, Cairo, Manama and Tehran; unmistakably though, Africa's longest-serving leader of 40 years' standing can be said to have felt the ripples of popular revolts in the Arab world. As in the rest of the region, the revolution in information technology has to a critical extent ignited the spark of dissent. Gaddafi's opponents had used the Facebook social networking site to call on  people to observe Wednesday as a "day of rage". Indeed, to buttress the message of what ordinary people can do should they conclude that enough is enough. The Libyan stakes are high for the Western bloc. It is an open question whether the USA and Europe will readily throw their weight behind the opposition and then craft a change of guard... as they did in Egypt. Gaddafi has long been accorded the status of an obedient ally. Libya, unlike Iraq and Iran, has surrendered its nuclear ambitions ~ a stroke of Gaddafi's diplomacy to abide by the rules of international engagement. The second was the curb on migration to Europe. In the net, such acceptance of conditions by Gaddafi fetched Libya trade deals and security guarantees over the past decade. For all that, events over the past weeks signify that this part of the world has ceased to be a safe place in Washington's geo-politics. Libya can turn out to be a dilemma for the West. Of course, the "people's committees" offer a semblance of grassroots democracy. But Gaddafi's writ reigns supreme. For all the playing to the Western gallery, his dictatorial streak is central to the system. Libya could do with a measure of freedom as with the other nations in the Afro-Arab world. Wednesday's expression of popular fury suggests that the "day of rage" may yet metamorphose to the last hurrah.




THE risk of Bengal losing out in Britain's aid tranche is substantial if Wednesday's caveat by Chris Mitchell, the international development secretary, is any indication. The government is on course to rationalise its assistance programme for India in view of the increasing perception that aid is "unjustifiable" for one of the fastest growing economies. The British government would rather "focus its fiscal support on three of the poorest states", notably Bihar, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. Unwittingly or otherwise, Britain's aid establishment has chosen a part of the country's perdurably poor Maoist belt. Hence Mr Mitchell's assertion that "we should focus on the poorest areas, particularly on the roles of girls and women." The anticipated benefit hinges hugely on the level of execution by the three selected states. Precisely on this parameter has Bengal's performance been dismal. Small wonder why it has lost out in Britain's modified aid stakes. It would be difficult to accept that the state will be deprived of the pump-priming because it is relatively well off. Nearer the truth is the fact that it has made a mess of the funds advanced by the Department For International Development (DFID), most critically in the poverty basket of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura.  Mr Mitchell has been gracious enough not to have touched on this point, one that was buttressed by none other than the Chief Minister more than five years ago.

It bears recall that in the presence of Sir Michael Arthur, the then British High Commisioner, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had pulled up the panchayats in the three districts for the failure of rural governance and the poverty alleviation programmes. The 130 million pounds advanced by the DFID were grossly under-utilised, if not frittered away. The present Con-LibDem dispensation appears to have been driven by Sir Michael's assertion in November 2005 ~ "Decentralisation will deliver on poverty outcomes only if local governments are accountable and responsive to the poor." They palpably have not, and the reality is far worse, if not explosive, today. In terms of entitlement, two other eastern states have scored over Bengal.  Bihar and Orissa will also benefit from DFID expertise, which definitely is more effective than that of the state's.  Not that Bengal has been a vibrant partner in the country's growth; still less is it relatively affluent. The fine print should be obvious ~ it shan't be entitled to a fresh bout of DFID tranche unless it sheds its sloth. The administration in Kolkata can only sulk.







ORISSA was the country's poorest state in the Nineties. It is now on the move. Its economy has registered an upswing, and the gross state domestic product (GSDP) has grown at the rate of 8.74 per cent, which is above the national average. While this performance reflects the strength of the state's economy in many areas, the standard of living of a large segment of the population is yet to improve. Far too many people still lack access to the basics, such as health, education, clean drinking water and sanitation.

The agricultural sector suffers from the twin problems of landless labourers and small and marginal farmers. There aren't enough dams and water storage facilities. These projects call for huge public investment. Public-private investments are imperative for the agriculture and irrigation sectors.

Orissa's farmers depend on surface irrigation. In the process, the level of ground water gets depleted. Small holdings cannot afford economies of scale, nor the infrastructure to convey the commodities to the markets. There is need to utilise the latest technology and create a free market for farmers.

Removal of controls on agricultural exports should match the withdrawal of import controls if farmers are to benefit. State laws and regulations that prevent private parties from investing and engaging in agricultural marketing, storage and transportation also needs to be reviewed.

The growth of agriculture depends on diversification to non-cereals, fisheries, and dairy farming. Institutional changes are required in marketing to facilitate crop diversification. Modernization and diversification of agriculture can be promoted either by cooperatives or by the joint efforts of private and the cooperatives sector by setting up private sector markets that follow the government-regulated Agriculture Marketing Committee Act.

Rural areas provide the biggest markets for low-priced consumer goods, including consumer durables. Any change in this sector has a multiplier effect on the entire economy. These regions are still under-developed in terms of accessibility, location and availability of resources. The development of both rural and urban areas has to be balanced and sustainable. Rural-urban linkages should be established for strong inter-dependence of cities and villages

To create such linkages and to use cities as engines of rural development, the decentralization of the development process deserves priority. This calls for micro-level village enterprises with supporting management systems that will provide for  transparency and prudence at the grassroots. This will not only improve the economy of rural areas but will provide farmers better employment opportunities and bring them closer to the market areas. This, in turn, will help them obtain better information. The use of information technology in rural marketing will help develop the rural areas and improve their linkages with the cities through the flow of knowledge and ideas from town to country.

The development of infrastructure in rural areas and the peripheral towns is essential to. increase production and give people a better access to markets, information and jobs. Cities act as magnets for rural trade and as gateways for national and international markets. Better road connectivity between cities and the hinterland ensures faster economic development of rural areas.

The private sector  can play an important role in the development of infrastructure. All these schemes and projects need to be integrated properly. Some of the jobs can be entrusted to village panchayats, which would be in a better position to monitor implementation. Public-private partnerships are useful; private healthcare providers should join hands with the government in many spheres. They can provide doctors, nurses, paramedical staff and a critical care unit.  Healthcare schemes and insurance policies with a low premium can help the rural population. The government should encourage private players to manage secondary and tertiary care centres in state-run medical colleges and hospitals.

Community participation can enhance the rural-urban linkages through NGOs, cooperatives, village panchayats and the private sector. The government can facilitate linkages by offering policy support. This is vital in planning, design and maintenance of physical infrastructure. District planning committees in every district can play a critical  role in governance at the local level while preparing developmental plans for both rural and urban areas. They have been mandated by the 74th amendment to the Constitution to prepare regional developmental plans for balanced sustainable development.

Cities are regarded as the engines of rural development, but they must function as true centres of growth. They originate from the rural areas. As such, their role as growth centres is central to integrated rural development.  This can be possible in Orissa  by identifying the existing and potential linkages. On the basis of such linkages, the areas for investment and development can be selected.

A comprehensive regional policy can take care of strategic decisions on investments. This can sharpen the competitiveness of rural and urban regions and enable them to contribute to the state's development and growth. Orissa should formulate a comprehensive regional policy to guide investments that can sharpen the competition between rural and urban areas and enable both segments to contribute to the state's development and growth.

The writer is Research Officer, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi






Mr Dilip Modi, at 36, is the youngest president of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) in its 90-year history. He took over from Mrs Swati Piramal, so far the only woman president of the chamber, late last year.

Mr Modi belongs to the new generation of entrepreneurs in India who are spearheading the transition of family-run industries to professionally managed businesses. He started his professional career in 1996, working closely with McKinsey to help restructure the BK Modi Group businesses, which included companies like Modi Xerox, Modi Olivetti, Modi Alcatel, Modi Telstra and Spice Telecom. Dilip worked actively from 1998 in building Modi Telstra, India's first cellular service provider, that was set up in partnership with Telstra in Kolkata.  
He also became the chairman and managing director of Spice Communications, a leading telecom service provider in Punjab & Karnataka. In July 2008, Mr Modi spearheaded the company's merger with Idea Telecommunications, with the family selling their stake in the company in one of the industry's most lucrative deals. Mr Modi played a dynamic role as the youngest chairman of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) in 2004 -2005. He has also been actively involved with the GSM World Congress. With the Union Budget for 2011-12 just a few days away, Mr Modi has met the finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee and other key officials and informed them of his expectations from the annual financial exercise. He spoke to RC RAJAMANI about his business vision and how India can grow into a major global economic power.

What are your priorities as the new chief of Assocham, a road map for a year of targets and goals?
Assocham's charter is "making inclusive transformation happen". This is our charter not for just one year, but for years ahead until we bring the high growth trajectory to every corner of our country.

We have identified five pillars that will empower both industry and common man ~ infrastructure inclusion, financial, digital and global inclusion and talent inclusion. Our agenda is to generate processes and projects that will effectively lead to inclusive development in each of these sectors. For instance, through digital inclusion, we are working towards expanding broadband coverage and content creation by bringing together all stakeholders, government, industry and experts, to create an enabling environment for value-added services such as e-learning, e-health and e-governance to reach the common man.

Take another example: rural development, where we are conducting in-depth study to understand how increased investments in irrigation projects can result in large-scale benefits in terms of increased productivity in the agricultural sector. We are focusing on micro-irrigation projects, watershed development and biotechnology that can transform the rural landscape.

These pillars are not mutually exclusive. Assocham has already started exploring ways to build new services by combining financial and digital inclusion to reach out to our people in the unbanked sector.

What are your views on the 2G spectrum scam and the corporate war that has dragged in the media as well? Any suggestions to ensure corruption-free, transparent, corporate business practices. Do you think India Inc. should have a self-regulatory mechanism to ensure fair play?

We look forward to good governance and good economic policies. Any investigation is welcome as long as it is time-bound so that there is no uncertainty in the minds of investors. We are for transparent and fair business practices and in fact support the setting up of an integrity commission to infuse greater business ethos.
What is Assocham's wish list for the general Budget 2011-12?

We as an industry body look up to the government to build the right environment for creation of  the right physical and social infrastructure, a level playing field to compete globally, an efficient digital infrastructure, an enabled consuming class and world class manpower.

Let me state our specific recommendations: Infrastructure inclusion means access to world-class physical and social infrastructure. The government should retain the concessions that make the infrastructure sector attractive for the private sector, so that private investment in infrastructure does not slow down. While we welcome the provisions being cited by the Direct Tax Code, it is imperative to retain the benefits available under section 80(I)A till the DTC provisions are applicable so as to not slow down the momentum created over the last few years. While we realise that MAT is the key for the government to balance its finances, we recommend that it not be higher than 50  per cent of regular corporate tax. This we believe will go a long way in creating the right expectation framework for private sector to create its investment strategies. The government should increase its budget outlay and grant infrastructure status (as defined under the RBI regulations as well as the prevailing tax statutes) to industries such as education, health care, telecommunications, Internet and agriculture, that are key long-term drivers of growth.

For global inclusion, excise and services tax should be retained at the current level of 10 per cent. Corporate tax rate should be brought down from 30 per cent to 25 per cent. Investments in building an R&D ecosystem should be encouraged by making benefits available irrespective of whether R&D is in-house or outsourced. The government should encourage creation and use of digital infrastructure by incentivising the industries focused on building digital services. The government should grant infrastructure industry status to the Internet and mobile value-added services sectors given that they are key enablers in supporting the creation of a viable digital infrastructure economy.

As for financial inclusion, we must allow for smaller private banks to operate, as smaller capital requirement of these banks can be easily monitored under capital adequacy norms. Besides, global experience supports the efficiency of these banks as compared to larger banks. For talent and social inclusion, tax incentives should be given to sectors like textiles, agriculture, civil construction, roads, ports and services sectors like IT & telecom, that have high employment generation potential, be linked to the incremental employment generation in addition to capital investment or profits.

With more than 60 per cent of Indian people depending on agriculture for sustenance, we suggest creation of a separate agriculture budget to ensure focus and execution and a phased move away from consumption to capital subsidies. Allocation should be increased for accelerated irrigation benefit programme by 50 per cent.

Do you think India has weathered the storm of the meltdown? If not, what are your suggestions?
The global economy has not yet fully recovered from the 2008 recession. While the industry is trying its best to compete with companies globally, it is critical to strengthen SMEs (small and medium enterprises) competitiveness. We also urge government to continue the stimulus so that we can have a level playing field against companies from other economies.

While global recessionary trends continue, India will face challenges both on account of external and internal factors. Take the case of inflationary expectations. With structural constraints afflicting Indian agriculture and a sustained rising trend in international crude prices likely to follow, it appears that rising price levels are here to stay.

Food inflation has been in double digits since June 2009. Structural constraints in increasing supply of food articles have come to characterise Indian agriculture. This has made prices of food articles sticky downwards. Once they move up, they rarely come down.

Inflation has another side to it ~ inflationary expectations. It matters when inflationary expectations are high, as both the seller and the buyer are expecting the price to move up higher. Then even if the demand and supply situation remains unchanged, price increase happens. The bad news doesn't stop here. Worldwide, crude oil prices are increasing. And with retail petrol prices already de-regulated and diesel prices soon to be, higher international crude prices are getting reflected in higher domestic retail prices fuelling inflation. Moreover, once fuel prices rise, it has a cascading effect on other sectors, especially on manufacturing that involves transportation of both raw materials and the final product.

In other words, we have challenges but there are also opportunities to overcome constraints by enhancing investments in the right sectors. We have to ensure that our demographic dividend reaps benefits. The key is to encourage entrepreneurship and revitalise public-private partnership.







In a coalition, there is a coalition dharma. Obviously, things are not entirely what I would like them to be. But I never felt like resigning. I have a job to do.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

The Opposition is talking about change. What does it mean? Does it mean that peasants will return their land to the feudal lords? Does it mean the workers will stop fighting for their rights? Does it mean teachers will cede the prestige that the Left Front had accorded them? We have won seven times and we have to win again.
West Bengal chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in a rally at Brigade Parade Grounds

After this government leaves, the government of  maa-mati-manush will take its place. The people will then call a meeting at the Brigade Parade Grounds and the people's government will take oath from there.


Trinamul chief Miss Mamata Banerjee


He (the DM) is a liar. I shook the iron gates of his bungalow for five minutes. Had his guards come to my help, my brother's life could have been saved.

Rinku Das, whose younger brother Rajib was stabbed to death in Barasat, on the DM's remarks

I am ashamed that I am only reactive and not active. The district magistrate enjoys a good salary and a lot of facilities. If he doesn't care about people, who will?

Theatre personality Rudraprasad Sengupta

They want the probe to be limited to only 2G spectrum allocation, so that only the DMK faces trouble. We want all recent scams to be probed by a JPC. We want the Adarsh Housing scam and the Commonwealth Games scam be probed at least. Or else, the Opposition won't be satisfied.

BJP leader Mr LK Advani.

Subsidising the poor is one aspect but subsidising the rich and saying that it is necessary is just naked loot of the country.

CPI-M politburo member Mr Sitaram Yechury


The trip is in connection with political programmes. We have not come here to meet the state government.
GJMM general secretary Mr Roshan Giri in Kolkata

Sorry for the inconvenience, but we're building Egypt.

Legend on placards in Tahrir Square as activists began cleaning up

We need small improvements in all aspects ... Choti-choti cheez hain ... But, yes, we'll have to really work hard on keeping the extras down.

Pakistan cricket captain Shahid Afridi







DO-IT-NOW chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee identified "sensitivity" and "swiftness" as the cornerstone of his administration after he took office in 2006. It was he who kicked a football wearing his trademark, starched white dhoti-punjabi to bring police and the people together by organising soccer matches. The upshot? Mr Bhattacharjee's police turned a deaf ear to the urgent cries for help from Rinku Das, a young woman of Barasat, when her 17-year-old younger brother, Rajib, was being stabbed mercilessly by four drunken criminals about 33 feet from the sprawling bungalow of the North 24-Parganas district magistrate.
If police, during the Marxist regime, have turned into a monument to insensitivity, the administration, represented effectively by the North 24-Parganas district magistrate, seems to be equally debilitated. He remained blissfully unaware of the merciless murder of a teenager a stone's throw from his bungalow even when an anguished sister's desperate cries for help continued rending the night air. The district magistrate is in good company. Even the superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas, shares a similar, if not a more pronounced lack of interest in acts of murder committed in his neighbourhood.  

What happened in Barasat earlier this week is symptomatic of the rot that has set in after more than three decades of Left rule. It is indicative of a lethal indifference that stems from a shameless culture of quid pro quo that undermines good governance, renders policing meaninglesss and holds the common man hostage.  
It is no secret that police in the state act at the behest of Alimuddin Street. An influential state committee member, who was once regarded as the right hand man of late CPI-M state secretary Mr Anil Biswas, has been running the show for years. Bengal's Marxists speak so derisively of Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, but they thought nothing of propping up a Goebbels of their own whose charms seem to have won over much of the print and electronic media. When police do the damage, he sees to it that it is controlled.
There are instances galore. Rizwanur Rahman was a victim of bad policing as was Barasat's Rajib. Mr Bhattacharjee rushed to Rajib's inconsolable family and promised prompt punishment for the perpetrators the day after the teenager's murder. The district magistrate must have been very upset, considering it was only the day before that he had summarily rubbished Rinku's account of how security guards on duty at his bungalow had refused to leave their posts despite her frantic plea to save her brother ~ who was being stabbed to death less than 100 feet away.   

When Tapasi Malik was raped and burnt alive for spearheading an agitation against Tata Motors' small car project in Singur, the CPI-M, never for once, condemned the brutal murder and its top leaders, including party central committee member Mr Benoy Konar, ran a smear campaign against the dead girl and her parents. In Rinku's case, the home secretary put out, apropos of nothing, that "she was divorced and returned home late every night".The state administration was used to shield the culprits in the Malik case and a judicial intervention forced the state government to order a CBI inquiry and file a chargesheet.

The state's bureaucracy and police seem to be choosy about whom to protect. They acted with lightning speed when a security guard posted at the chief minister's residence reportedly misbehaved with his daughter. The punished man, however, insisted that punitive action had been taken against him because he hadn't saluted the chief minister's daughter "properly" ~ something he thought wasn't part of his job anyway.

The late chief minister Jyoti Basu started the tradition of heaping praise on police at their annual events. And, time and again, both Basu and his successor have railed against the media for portraying police in a bad light who they thought were functioning admirably! No denying that the Marxists take good care of their dependants. But then, the culture of quid pro quo demands they do.    

That culture suffered a setback on the night of 14 February when Rajib Das was murdered by goons bent on misbehaving with his sister. The impending Assembly poll made it imperative that the chief minister try and control the damage. Instructions were issued to police and bureaucrats to do the needful about the Barasat murder and they had to swing into action. Elections come and go but decadent cultures are more enduring. The chief minister has fooled no one.

The writer is Chief of Bureau, The Statesman, Kolkata







Even after they had rejected the theory of half-partisan warfare and joined the parliamentary path, Indian communists were never sure of their role in a multi-party democracy. One of the theories they put forward for accepting parliamentary democracy was that it gave them an opportunity to wreck the system from within. Participating in elections and even running elected governments were thus part of their larger strategy of demolishing the "bourgeois" system. The longer a communist party ran a government, the more effective and widespread its demolition work would be. During its 34-year reign in West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has succeeded in doing this in all aspects of public life, but especially in two specific areas — education and the police administration. If sabotaging the system destroyed the idea of quality in education, it reduced the police to a force completely divorced from its constitutional, social or moral obligations. The revolting portrait of the police that emerged from the tragic death of a schoolboy in Barasat is thus all of a piece with the state of Presidency College under Marxist rule. Both tell the same story of the rulers' contempt for the rule of law and of their role in subverting it.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is both a perpetrator and a victim of his own party's subversive game. It all began with Promode Dasgupta, the CPI(M)'s secretary in Bengal at the time the party came to power in the state in 1977. The party's job of demolishing the system was carried on and perhaps perfected by Anil Biswas, another powerful secretary of the state unit of the party. During his 22 years as the chief minister, Jyoti Basu presided over a government whose real power and functions were usurped by Alimuddin Street. The tradition continued with Mr Bhattacharjee, whose early attempts to change things were both inadequate and too half-hearted. It was no mere distribution of patronage to officers and men in the police who did the party's bidding. It was essentially part of the larger game of replacing the democratic set-up with an insidious party system. It is not uncommon to see political masters in other states foist their favourites on the administration. But what happened in Bengal was a takeover of the system by the party typical of Stalinism and Brezhnevism. It was based on the official ideology of communism that the party must have the leading role in representing and protecting the people's interests.

That this sabotage served the party's interests is only a small part of the story; the real damage is to institutions, the society and the public cause. It is possible that the Left's rule will come to an end after the forthcoming assembly polls. But, as Václav Havel said about the post-communist Czech Republic, it may take at least two generations for Bengal to recover from three decades of systemic collapse.







Some of the questions asked during Manmohan Singh's televised press conference reminded me of Lee Kuan Yew telling the International Press Institute that it was naïve to believe a free press curbs corruption because "the media itself is corrupted". Listening to the prime minister's appeal to editors not to erode self-confidence recalled Vallabhbhai Patel's argument that the test of a newspaper's loyalty lies in supporting the government when it is wrong because support is automatic when it is right.

But it's arguable whether Wednesday's hour-long staged show will yield dividends since television is by definition a circus that thrives on excitement and will not be robbed of its customary sustenance. One might as well ask newspapers to publish not news but features. The interaction did, however, go to the heart of the old question of how a responsible media should relate to a democratic government that acts on its belief in liberal values. Unexpectedly, it also threw some light on the undefined role of media adviser. The model ranges from India's H.Y. Sharada Prasad, who was seen (with more than a little help from himself) as the strong silent man behind three prime ministers, to Britain's Alastair Campbell, the spin doctor who became the story and famously pre-empted Tony Blair at a press conference.

Seven years after P.V. Narasimha Rao's death, I am surprised to learn from the internet that he, too, had a media adviser, an IAS officer named P.V.R.K. Prasad. As both external affairs minister and prime minister, he would do his own talking and sometimes complain I had written the opposite of what he had said! Occasionally, he mentioned trusted aides like Ramu Damodaran and Shyamala Cowsik but never a media adviser. Though he follows Prasad's admirable precedent of anonymity, Harish Khare did well on Wednesday to emerge from the shadows when obstreperousness had to be rapped on the knuckles.

If, as the need for Khare's intervention showed, Manmohan Singh's diffident manner invites hectoring, it also induces a sense of protectiveness. Prannoy Roy's perception of an honest man fallen among wheeler-dealers — evident from the preamble to his question — is widely shared in objective sections of the media that are neither committed to an opposition cause nor searching for titillation to make their product saleable. But respect for the man need not mean automatic support for everything his government says and does. Manmohan Singh must know that C.P. Scott, whose famous dictum about facts being sacred and comment free he invoked, would never have agreed to circumscribe that freedom to strengthen "the self-confidence of the people".

Not that the high priest of journalistic tradition was himself always the epitome of consistency. The classic instance of double standards was that while the Manchester Guardian that Scott edited for 57 years took a lofty moral tone against tobacco in any form, its survival depended on the advertising (including for cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco) revenue of its lowbrow stable mate, the Manchester Evening News. Not only that. The popular Evening News played up the sleazy and sensational stories that the Guardian disdained to notice. When Malcolm Muggeridge, who worked for the Guardian before joining The Statesman in Calcutta, described this duality in a novel, the Scott family sued for libel and the publisher withdrew all copies of Picture Palace. It was a severe professional and financial setback for Muggeridge. The ban was not lifted until 30 years later. "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of slaves?" Dr Johnson asked.

It may sound heretical for a newspaperman of more than 50 years' standing to voice scepticism about the media's prized halo. Even Manmohan Singh, who chided the media on Wednesday, subscribed to the popular theology the previous Friday when he described journalists as "the conscience keepers of society" charged with "pointing out what is wrong not only with the administration and government but also society at large". But he may have had no choice since he was speaking at the centenary celebrations of the Malayalam daily, Kerala Kaumudi. The Eid greeting with which he launched the press conference was another genuflection to convention. Of course, he may actually have believed what he said for, after all, press freedom is one of the pillars of the Indian state like democracy and secularism.

But several caveats must be entered about this idealized image. Lee touched on something that has long bothered working journalists when he noted that "freedom of the press really means the freedom of the owner, the man who owns the newspaper, who hires and fires the journalists". The late Ramnath Goenka was our veggie version of Citizen Kane aka William Randolph Hearst. Manmohan Singh noted another shortcoming in the same speech by stressing the importance of accuracy and fairness, defining the latter as "not merely the absence of bias in reporting on events but also a very conscious attempt to present diverse and different views on a situation or an issue". This absence of a "conscious attempt" to be fair can be attributed to ignorance, malice or both.

The Indian Buddhists' recent memorandum to the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi about "many wild reports" circulating in the media is instructive in this context: "We were astounded to hear a senior TV anchorman, Mr Arnab Goswami, say on the Times Now channel that the Karmapa had gone to Hongkong and met Chinese leaders there. We wonder who Mr Goswami had in mind! Since leaving Tibet in 1999, His Holiness the Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, has left India only once, and that was for his highly successful tour of the United States in 2008 undertaken with the Government's permission. [Otherwise], he has not set foot outside India and has certainly never been to Hongkong." Goswami's bloomer was a godsend for Ogyen Trinley Dorje's supporters. Gloating tongue-in-cheek that "a journalist of [his] standing will not invent events", they pounced on a relatively unknown aspirant for the Karmapa's crown, Thinley Thaya Dorjee, who had, indeed, visited Hongkong and been feted by the Chinese authorities. In trying to weaken Ogyen Trinley Dorje, Goswami ended up by strengthening him because he had neglected his homework!

However, a three-column DNA heading "HP lets cash-stashing karmapa go scot-free" was pure mischief. It was bad journalism because it was a single-sentence editorial masquerading as news. It was dishonest because the PTI report below said exactly the opposite. The Himachal Pradesh chief secretary had given a "clean chit" to the Karmapa precisely because he was not "cash-stashing" even if others were.

I go back to Lee's point: a bent media cannot be the watchdog of probity.

All this has a bearing on Manmohan Singh's plea that the media "must not focus excessively on the negative features, important though it is that the government should deal with them". Tomes can be devoted to this subject, and I have written extensively elsewhere that the sensitive communal balance of Asian societies cannot afford the West's publish-and-be-damned bravado. My favourite illustration is of the Indonesian editor who said that if a bus rammed into a rickshaw, he couldn't say the bus-driver was Chinese and the rickshaw-driver Javanese.

I don't regret the many occasions when I have had to exercise similar circumspection. But the justification for restraint is less well-founded when abstractions like the people's self-confidence or the country's image are concerned. The answer in such cases lies not in expecting the media to exercise self-censorship over scams and scandals but in providing firm and convincing evidence that the government is tackling abuses. Manmohan Singh's promise of being "dead serious in bringing to book all the wrongdoers regardless of the position they occupy" may not deter television's frenzied quest for entertainment but is far more relevant in this regard. However, it will have to be proved in the days and weeks to come.


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




A relative lull in Maoist violence has been shattered with the abduction of Malkangiri district collector R Vineel Krishna and junior engineer Majhi in Orissa's Chitragonda area. Krishna was returning from a public contact programme when Maoists took him and his colleague hostage. They have demanded a halt to the ongoing 'Green Hunt' operations in the state and the release of 700 of their jailed comrades. The Orissa government has suspended the operations and efforts are on to secure the bureaucrat's release. Last week Maoists freed five policemen they abducted in end January in Chhattisgarh. While some will interpret the abductions as a sign of the Maoists' declining capacity to carry out the kind of spectacular attacks that the country saw last year, it is evident that the almost 18 months after the start of Operation Green Hunt, the Maoists retain considerable sting in their tail. The abduction of a senior official underscores that they have capacity to strike terror in the hearts of the public as well as the Indian establishment. It does seem that the Maoists see hostage taking as an effective way — far more potent than even explosions and ambushes perhaps — to get  the government to concede their demands, even if only partial.

Home minister P Chidambaram recently described the situation on the battlefront as 'a kind of a stalemate.' Clearly neither side is winning. The government is hoping that the tide will turn soon in its favour. It is digging in its heels in the Maoist areas. A massive army camp for training in guerrilla warfare has been set up in the heart of the Maoist stronghold in Abujmarh. The Maoists are reportedly furious with that and can be expected to strike the camp in the coming months.

Ultimately, both sides must realise that a lasting solution lies only through the negotiating table. Setting up army camps and abducting officials might give the two sides tactical advantages but these are only short-term benefits. Instead they need to move towards a dialogue. Ongoing back channel talks to secure the release of the abducted officials carry the potential of growing into a larger peace initiative. But will the two sides grab the opportunity that is opening up? The trust deficit needs to be bridged immediately. A first step would require the Maoists to release hostages and the government to free locals against whom it has no serious charges.







Former chief justice of India K G Balakrishnan's keenness to keep details of his income tax returns secret strengthens widely-shared suspicions about his rectitude.

Balakrishnan has not been famous for his commitment to openness. He had stalled requests under the Right to Information Act to reveal the financial status of members of the higher judiciary. He has shown the same negative attitude in dealing with a request for disclosure of his income tax details. A citizen had sought these details under the RTI Act from the income tax department in Kochi. The department wrote to Balakrishnan about the request, but he has maintained that there is no legal need to make the disclosure. Considering his objection, the citizen's request was rejected.

The department acted wrongly in concurring with Balakrishnan's view. The law does not consider income tax returns confidential documents when public interest is involved. Balakrishnan was the country's chief justice and is now the chairman of the national human rights commission. His income is of public interest, especially in the wake of charges that his relatives amassed huge wealth disproportionate to their income during his tenure as the CJI. The charges are credible and are being investigated. They have created doubts about Balakrishnan's integrity. If he wanted to remove these doubts he should have agreed to make his income public.

The Delhi high court has held that the chief justice of India comes under the purview of the RTI Act. The ruling still holds and so Balakrishnan's contention is legally unsound. He had put forward lame excuses and unconvincing arguments in the past to prevent the disclosure of wealth by judges, though many of them wanted to do so. When he told the income tax department to reject the request he should also have explained how the disclosure of the information would adversely affect any genuine personal interest or the public interest. He has not done that.  His contention that his PAN and bank account numbers might be misused if they are disclosed is unconvincing. The applicant is sure to go in appeal. In another disproportionate assets case, the supreme court has asked the Centre to file a status report on a complaint against Balakrishnan. It is high time, the former CJI came clean on all these allegations and cleared his name.







Grossman's appointment is a tacit recognition that the US needs someone with experience, tact and tenacity to leverage the Pak military.

Full two months it has taken for the Barack Obama administration to find a suitable successor to late Richard Holbrooke, United States' former special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Of course, it isn't easy to replace a titanic figure. But life ought to move on. Some speculate that the issue became the stuff of turf war between the White House and the State Department.

Be that as it may, the appointment of former career diplomat Marc Grossman as Holbrooke's replacement indicates an element of 'continuity' insofar as the incoming special representative is broadly in the same mould as his predecessor. Grossman has some pluses as well, given the unusually long stint he had in the American embassy in Islamabad (1976-83) when, too, Pakistan was a 'frontline state' in the US regional strategies.

Grossman is familiar with the Afghan 'jihadi' culture and the ethos of Pakistan's security and military establishment. Additionally, he has rich professional background of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and in Kosovo, in fact, he was a participant in the alliance's first encounter with conflict situations in a post-cold war setting.

Grossman's appointment gives away clues to US priorities. One, primacy lies in working with Pakistan. Two, despite the public US claim that the Pentagon's 'surge' is working, there seems to be uneasiness that ground realities are stark and gains can at best be transient, which means political track needs to be opened. Three, US is strongly pitching for Nato's presence in Afghanistan in the long term. (Grossman held the Nato portfolio in the state department at a turning point in the alliance's evolution as a global security organisation.)

However, Grossman faces an uphill task ahead. Cutting across any plane in the Afghan situation, we have been witnessing a drift in the recent months — be it as regards the ground situation in Afghanistan, US' equations with Hamid Karzai or US-Pakistan relationship.

Bluntly put, there is no convincing evidence to substantiate the claims by the US military that the Taliban momentum is being steadily broken. The brazen attack by the Taliban fighters on the headquarters of the Afghan police last week in broad daylight killing 15 policemen speaks volumes about the fragile security situation in the epicentre of the US' 'surge'. Again, Kabul city itself has become unsafe, as repeated attacks in the recent weeks testify.

The insurgency is spreading in the northern regions. The Afghan opinion is turning hostile to western occupation. While on the one hand Taliban has no dearth of 'manpower', western attempt to build up an Afghan national army seems to meandering. The much-vaunted 'Afghanistaion', too, has lost steam.

Sour relations

The US' equations with Karzai have dipped to an all-time low point. Karzai has become extremely wary of the US intentions. The US attempt to prop up a 'hostile' Afghan parliament as a rival power centre checkmating Karzai's authority and Washington's overt dalliance with the former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh (who was sacked by Karzai last July) have created a grave crisis in confidence between Washington and Kabul.

Meanwhile, the unravelling of Kabul Bank, legal proceedings against the president's brother Mahmood Karzai in a US court, International Monetary Fund's strictures providing alibi for the western 'donors' to refuse routing their aid through the Afghan government, the imminent ruling by the special court investigating fraud in the Afghan parliamentary elections — all these controversies are potential 'time bombs' waiting to explode. Things have become very messy, indeed. Some American commentators speculate on a 'colour revolution' to drive Karzai out of power.

The 'standoff' is quintessentially over the US push to secure a status of forces agreement that would legitimise American military bases. Karzai has misgivings about the idea despite sustained US pressure tactic and insists any such agreement will need to be ratified by the Afghan parliament and a Loya Jirgha, which is hard to obtain.

The US objective is to get the matter sorted out before an Afghan settlement (which may include Taliban) materialises. The 'standoff' lies at the root of the US' discontent with Karzai. And it adds to the US paranoia that Karzai is steadily strengthening ties with Russia, Iran, China, etc and reducing dependence on Washington.

Far more important than all this is of course the state of play in US-Pakistan ties. The troubled relationship seldom touched such a low point. In sum, Pakistan cannot go along with the US' surge policy and it refuses to undertake military operations against Taliban groups entrenched in North Waziristan. Pakistan is increasingly suspicious about the American agenda and regards Taliban as its 'strategic asset'. Of late, Pakistan is linking up with Karzai on the basis of shared concerns to kickstart an 'intra-Afghan' dialogue even without US blessing. Indeed, Raymond Davis case highlights the covert US activities inside Pakistan.

To be sure, Grossman's appointment is a tacit recognition that the US needs someone with experience, tact and tenacity to leverage the Pakistani military at the present crucial juncture of the war. But does diplomatic style and acumen alone suffice? The geopolitical reality is US-Pakistan relationship is riddled with contradictions, which are hopelessly intertwined, too. Even as the US boosts military ties with India, these contradictions can only become more acute. And their shadows on the Afghan chessboard will only be lengthening.

(The writer is a former diplomat)







Every Republic Day I scan the list of men and women honoured for outstanding performance in their field of work or service rendered to society.

 I did that this year and barring a couple of names, I won't reveal, I agreed that those honoured deserved to be honoured. I was hoping that Atal Bihari Vajpayee would be conferred the Bharat Ratna.

He is no longer a political force but a figurehead of the BJP. He was a good prime minister. No scandal was associated with his name. He never married but adopted the Kaul family as his own. He did not indulge in nepotism nor had any cronies (hangers on). Being honoured by his political adversaries would have given credit to the ruling Congress party.

Vajpayee was the best orator I have ever heard. He made a daring bid to befriend Pakistan when he went by bus to Lahore. According to Indians and Pakistanis who heard him, it was the most memorable speech they had ever heard.

Vajpayee wanted to please everyone. When Babri Masjid was being demolished, he was on the dais with L K Advani, Kalyan Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharati and others. It could be assumed that he was guilty by association with those who committed the crime. A few days later he and Mrs Kaul contrived a meeting with me at a small dinner party.Mrs Kaul asked me to ask Vajpayee to show me the latest poem he had written. It was entitled 'Kya main boorha ho gaya hoon?' (Have I become too old?) It was full of regret that he had failed to stop the mosque being destroyed. He gave me permission to translate it into English and use it in my column. So he won both ways. No wonder Govindacharya called him 'makhauta' (double speaker).

Vajpayee is a poet but a very second rate one. I read through one of his selected anthologies. One struck me as singularly silly, was entitled 'Goriya Manali Mat Jaiyyo':

Fair one do not go to Manali

But if you must go

Arm yourself with a trishul

Because there you will meet Khalistanis.

However, an able and ambitious civil servant like Pavan Varma translated a selection into English. It was set to music and Uma Sharma danced to it. That is how it goes in our country.

There is something very likable about Vajpayee. He is warm hearted, has eye for the beautiful and enjoys his evening drink.

Let me return to Republic Day honours list. Lobbying which should disqualify a candidate has become a common practice. I was invited to suggest names of those I thought deserved to be honoured. I suggested one without telling her. I was sure my recommendation would be accepted. She has been treating free of charge an average 500 sick persons in the slums of Delhi by taking her mobile clinics with doctors, nurses and medicines every day. She has been doing this for some years. Her name was not in the honours list. I felt very peeved and swore not to recommend any person in the future.

Gas problem

At times I find the most amusing news item about India in 'Private Eye', column 'Funny Old World' spotted by some Englishman. This one is from its latest issue of magazine called 'One India', published in Australia. I found it hilarious.

This is how it goes: "Nothing is more uncomfortable than being in an intimate situation with a woman, and finding that you can't contain your gas," clothing designer Gilbert Huynh told a press conference in Sydney. "I've suffered for years from the fruity flatus emissions of my own family, and one cannot keep blaming these onto the pet dog. So I thought to myself, wouldn't it be great if I could come up with an underwear range that was not only comfortable for the wearer, but could also completely eliminate the sound and smell of body gas? The result is 4SKINS, the world's first designer underpants that uses nanotechnology to eliminate flatulence misery in a stroke.


"Sportswear has been incorporating odour-neutralising fabrics for years, but this is the first time it's been used in such intimate apparel. The Nano Tex treatment is applied to individual fibres in the fabric, which is also sound-proof. I did basic tests on myself and my family, then held further extensive design and development trials with more than 50 volunteers. After two years, our product finally went on sale last month, and initial interest has been beyond expectation. I'm particularly amazed at the number of women who are buying 4SKINS for their boyfriends or husbands. In fact, so far we've actually had more women buyers than men."

Apt summing

Taarey Zameen Par

Keemtein Aasmaan Par

Question: What should be the new name of Twenty20?

Ans: Four20!

(Contributed by K J S Ahluwalia, Amritsar)








I felt proud that I was able to do my bit for the Indian cricket team.

In today's media led coverage of any event, there is a plethora of articles and discussions on any event including ostensibly minor events like Shahrukh Khan's child being admitted to and released from Lilavati hospital for a minor flu being a case in point. So the mega event of 2011 — the cricket world Cup would warrant ball-to-ball or wall-to-wall coverage on both the electronic and print media.

Back in 1983 the World Cup was sponsored by Prudential Assurance Company of UK and by today's standards it was a dull and drab affair for Indians in India. We did have Doordarshan as the channel that brought the World Cup matches to India along with the venerable All India Radio and of course the print media.

The Indian team captained by Kapil Dev was not given a ghost of a chance to do well in the tournament. As events unfolded in 1983, India was set to be eliminated when it was reduced to 17 for 5 and then, Kapil played the innings of his lifetime with a scintillating 175 not out against Zimbabwe that set the tone for a resurgent India. The rest is history with victories against Australia in the second league match and England in the semi-final and West Indies in the final.

I was at HMT's watch marketing division handling the advertising and sales promotion function during the 1983 World Cup. At that time HMT's watch account was considered the most prestigious in the country and we had the top advertising agency of the time Clarion as our advertising agency.

After the tremendous win against Zimbabwe on June 18 and against Australia two days later, I sensed a historic moment for India and when we were pitted against England in the semi final, I proposed to my GM that we should prepare for a congratulatory advertisement in the event India won the World Cup. He was sceptical but nevertheless gave me the approval and I briefed the agency to come up with a quarter page black and white advertisement.

We planned to release the ad in the Sunday edition of Deccan Herald dated June 26. At that time deadline for receiving ad material — either an art work or a block was 9 pm on the previous day. But as the result of the final could be forthcoming only by 11.30 pm or so, we requested Deccan Herald to extend the deadline till after India had won.

On the day of final, our hearts were fluttering as we listened to the commentary. As India posted a pitiable 183 runs we felt that our efforts were in vain. However, with the catch of the tournament again by Kapil Dev our hopes soared once more and by 11 pm, I made bold to predict the win for India and requested my GM to permit me to send the ad material to Deccan Herald. As India registered its historic win, the ad appeared on page 5 of the paper the next day.

I felt proud that I was able to do my bit for the Indian cricket team. I dare say that we may have been the only organisation that put out an ad congratulating Kapil's Devils on June 26, 1983. Kudos to Clarion and Deccan Herald and of course, HMT for a bold attempt that succeeded.










The policemen of the Panjim police station who killed Cipriano Fernandes, have committed a crime that goes far beyond the normal parameters of a criminal violation under which they will be punished. The Prevention of Torture Bill 2010, when passed, along with additional recommendations of the select Committee of the Rajya Sabha, will hold police officers accountable with stringent punishment even for offences which do not lead to the death of the victim.

In fact, the select committee of the Rajya Sabha which is studying the bill is looking to define torture as severe pain or suffering even for a prolonged period of time which could include mental torture. While the act of the Panjim police in the case of Cipriano case is so heinous that there is no doubt about the torture angle, acts similar to that of the Bicholim police in the case of Geeta Pednekar, who became unconscious after being beaten by the Bicholim police in the first week of January, come under the purview of the Prevention of Torture Act 2010 when passed.  

The Goa government should know that centre has no choice but to look at torture, committed by those in authority seriously. The central government introduced the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010 to allow India to ratify the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The Lok Sabha passed it on May 6.

The Rajya Sabha however set up a select committee to relook at some of the provisions in the bill to make it more fool proof. The Rajya Sabha Select Committee's report attempts to correct some of the distortions in the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010. The bill seeks to provide punishment for torture inflicted by public servants or for torture with the consent or acquiescence of a public servant. As the Indian Penal Code (IPC) neither defines nor deals with torture, Clauses 3 and 4 of the bill aim to fill this gap. According to the bill, to amount to torture, an act must either cause grievous hurt or must cause mental or physical danger to life, limb or health. Article 1 of CAT, however, defines torture as 'severe pain or suffering whether physical or mental.' The Pre-Legislative Briefing Service (PLBS), a group of young legal experts consulted by the Rajya Sabha Select Committee, pointed out in its report that acts that in themselves may not constitute torture become so by reason of their repeated application. The PLBS pointed out that the term 'grievous hurt' set the bar too high, without any recourse for persons suffering slightly less but still severe hurt. In order to include many instances of torture within its ambit, the PLBS suggested that the words 'grievous hurt' and 'danger to life, limb or health' be replaced with 'severe pain or suffering' in line with CAT. The committee has accepted its suggestion and recommended that the definition of torture be suitably enlarged so as not to exclude acts generally known to be committed on persons in custody which cause severe physical and mental injury, pain, trauma, agony, and so on. The PLBS also revealed another anomaly in the bill. Clauses 3 and 4 of the bill indicate that only the person who actually committed the act of torture be punished. This implies that a public servant who abets, consents, acquiesces or conspires in an act of torture cannot be punished under the bill. It 'incentivises and legitimises the outsourcing of torture to private parties and provides the impunity for the public servant who planned or directed the torture," the PLBS reported. The select committee appears to have missed this subtle distinction between a public servant who commits torture and the one who simply abets or attempts it, and the need to punish both. The PLBS suggested that an act of torture committed by a public servant – in his public capacity – must be punishable regardless of the reason for which that act was committed. The punishment recommended is three years. While the punishment for the officers in the Cipriano case, if convicted will hopefully be much more than that, the Prevention of Torture Bill should become an act without any further delay to act as  further deterrent for the killer cops of Goa.








There are a few things that we need to look at when we talk about industry in Goa. For someone wanting to set up a manufacturing unit or any industry along those lines, it's not that easy. Lets look at a few main factors and how they contribute to the slow progress of Goa's economic growth.
Goa is neither a manufacturing destination nor a market place. With the result, all goods come from outside and our finished goods sell outside the state. The cost – transportation, raw material, goods and lifestyle – is much more expensive than elsewhere.

The cost of buying something is lower in Nagpur, Pune, Kolhapur, Nasik or Mumbai than it is in Goa, also the cost of transporting goods within a state is far cheaper there. We have not enough movement for trucks to go back with local goods, as a result they charge higher. The task of transfer of goods within the state is difficult.
This is a big anomaly; something that needs looking into by the government. They need to bring about a scheme that will eliminate these problems. Let's look at Maharashtra for instance. Within Maharashtra, if you set up a project in the backward districts, there is 60 per cent capital subsidy. Whatever taxes you pay, you retain them till the capital cost is covered. If you invest in backward, D or D plus districts, the cess on certain products is withdrawn and the power cost gets cut down – all these add up to making your investment more viable.
 Another problem we face is the constant threat of activism. We have people protesting for everything, without even bothering to check whether it is a benefit to the place or not. I am a firm believer that unless there is industry there will not be enough jobs. Large industries help eliminate and eradicate poverty faster. They help the poorer section to merge with mainstream economy. Goa has no jobs in many sectors. Engineering graduates, for instance, are going elsewhere because we're not able to retain them here with good jobs. Opportunities are very few and far between and so, we need to have more industries coming in here.

For that there must be an invitation but the SEZ scandal sent out negative sentiments leading to a negative response. Whatever decision the government takes it should be firm. But, we tend to flip flop - look at Verna Industrial Estate and the amount of plots lying unused. The land in Verna is sold for Rs750 and was aimed at starting economic activity. The idea of giving land to an industrialist to set up a project is not to sell him land but to create economic value out of that land.

Sell the land, create jobs – people who earn salaries there will spend half that money to boost local economy. This helps create a local economic boom.

 But when A sells land to B, B to C, C to D and so on, where's the benefit to the economy? – four people have  benefited but the economy hasn't. This will continue as long as the land fetches value. That was not the original idea. The IDC is holding land and people are holding up land. There is a task force now and hopefully something will come out of it, but the process is too slow.

The time required to get approvals is anybody's guess, because people keep opposing everything without doing a little research. So, no one wants to go look outside the industrial estates and buy land to set up industry. Within the industrial estates however, there is no more land available. This is the catch point situation!
Atul Pai Kane is one of the faces of the future of Goan industry. His company designs, manufactures and supplies power generation equipment. He is also a firm believer of investing and manufacturing in Goa, the right way.








T  here's no doubt that Goa is getting dirtier. There is so much garbage and litter lying all around. Waste is seen not only in the cities but also in our villages, along the streets, on the beaches, in the fields and water bodies. Our garbage disposal sites have turned into 'dumping' grounds and due to this people have become wary.
Nobody wants a garbage site in the village. The situation has become so serious that even the High Court too has taken 'suo-moto' cognizance of the matter. However, the situation shows no large signs of improvement, and life seems to go on as usual. Can we all just sit back and watch while our quality of life keeps deteriorating? 

How do we solve this problem? First of all let us consider this. Why would anyone want to take the trouble to burn or carry their garbage in their car or scooter to dump or fling it elsewhere, if the same was collected from their homes, hotels or establishments for proper treatment? Keeping this in mind and after a lot of brainstorming with a cross section of concerned citizens, we arrived at the conclusion that if a proper management system was put in place whereby the local body collects segregated waste at source for proper disposal, there would be no garbage dumped anywhere.

In order to take this idea forward the Chaka Chak GOA campaign was launched on Republic Day, 26 January 2011. Chaka Chak Goa is not only about sweeping and picking up people's garbage thrown on the streets, but it goes much beyond.

Chaka Chak Goa comprises a three pronged strategy.

l To work along with the local bodies specially the panchayats,  in order to help them put up a proper waste management system in place through segregation and collection of waste at source by making use of the existing schemes of the government, or work towards modification of the schemes if not found workable at the ground level.

l To exert pressure on the law enforcing agencies for enforcement of the prevailing acts/rules on garbage specially the Recycled Plastic Manufacture and Usage Rules.

l To create awareness about the problem through street clean-ups, door to door campaigns, community talks, street plays, electronic and print media, etc, as also educating youth on this aspect of cleanliness through schools and colleges. Our main partners in this campaign will be the government and the local bodies as we strongly believe that for this initiative to fructify Government–Citizen partnership is a must, and we are moving ahead in this direction.

Chaka Chak GOA is a campaign which has to snowball into a massive movement to clean up Goa for which each and everyone will have to lend his/her support in whatever way possible. We need all connected government departments, industry, hotels, corporates, local bodies, MPs and MLAs, religious groups, service clubs, schools, colleges, NGO's,  individual citizens and,  in the true sense, everybody to join in.

However challenging, however hard the job, let's do it for Goa.

Patricia Pinto is an Ex-Councillor of the erstwhile Panjim Municipal Council, Secretary of the People's Movement for Civic Action (PMCA)  and Campaign Coordinator of the Chaka Chak GOA - Let's do it campaign.










Pained at the criticism showered in recent times on Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi called it "despicable". Strong language unworthy of a Congress leader who holds both the reigns of office and the whip, but let that go. The tragedy is that, on the 125th anniversary of the birth of the party, it has no leadership worth the name. Dynasticism is becoming increasingly irrelevant as Sonia Gandhi must have realized following the Bihar elections to the State Legislature.

In the last six years of Congress rule at the Centre, the country has steadily been going to pieces and the Congress party has been unable to provide either moral or administrative leadership. It has been reduced to adopting mudslinging at the Opposition as a mission. That, if Sonia Gandhi does not mind being repeatedly told, is the problem.

William Butler Yeats put it just right when he wrote: "Things fall apart, the Centre cannot hold." This is not said in anger, but in despair. It is not just a charge against Dr Singh, though he may deserve it. It is a charge against a party that, after 125 years, has lost its way in the thicket of corruption, and thinks it can regain support through some of the most despicable behaviour of party stalwarts like its general secretary Digvijay Singh who had the nerve to indirectly suggest that the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (MATS) leader Hemant Karkare was done away by Hindu extremists.

Just as despicable is Digvijay Singh's likening of the RSS to the Nazis, betraying not just the man's ignorance of European history, but his lack of character. How many Muslims has the RSS put in the gas chamber? Singh is on record as saying that the RSS and the VHP are "insidious in their effort to break India", little realizing that it is through continuous weakness and cowardice shown towards minority terrorism that India's break-up is hastened.

How many more years do we have to wait until Afzal Guru is hanged, Home Minister P Chidambaram's pious explanations for delay notwithstanding? Running down the RSS is old hat. It is one more — and witless — way of pandering to Muslim communalism. Neither Digvijay Singh nor his party associate Rahul Gandhi knows anything about the RSS which has close to a century of record of public service. Ask the Hindus who were driven away under murderous offensive from Pakistan. Ask people who were in grievous trouble following several national calamities, as after the super-cyclone in Odisha. Ask who salvaged the bodies of victims after two planes collided midair a short distance from Delhi? All the dead were Muslims.

How many schools and development programmes does the Congress run in tribal areas? Forget Jayaprakash Narayan, of all people, who heaped praise on the RSS. Do the cheap politicians who run the Congress know that none other than Rahul Gandhi's great grandfather had invited the RSS to participate in the Republic Day Parade in 1963 for its unstinted assistance to the government during the 1962 war with China?

Has any Muslim body run such aid when India needed it so badly? The RSS raised the morale of the people. The RSS, goodness knows, may have its shortcomings, but its patriotism is incomparable. The Congress cannot hold a candle to the RSS which received the unqualified approbation from Jayaprakash Narayan, no less. If there is Hindu anger, it is out of disgust for the way the Congress has been kow-towing to the so-called 150 million strong 'minority' and that anger is not confined to the RSS but is widespread among Hindus within the Congress itself; only the likes of Digvijay Singh and Rahul Gandhi, surrounded as they are by sycophants, would not be aware of it.

Rahul Gandhi has described the demolition of the Babri Masjid as a "criminal act". How does he describe the demolition of scores of temples by Muslim rulers? As a ''social act''? The Muslim community showed a total lack of grace, being egged on by our 'secularists' not to give in to Hindu pleas.

There are lots of things that the Congress has done that one can only consider as despicable. Not having the portrait of PV Narasimha Rao among the banner of prime ministers' portraits exhibited behind the dais at the Congress session is despicable. The suicides across the country of 17,363 farmers during the UPA regime in Delhi is despicable. Maharashtra, governed by the Congress, is the worst State for farmers' suicide for the 10th successive year. Maharashtra has logged 42,276  farm suicides since 1997. What does that tell of Maharashtra's Congress-led governments?

The 2G spectrum scam resulting in the loss to the country of Rs 1.76 lakh crore is despicable. Has Sonia Gandhi heard of that? The inaction of the UPA government in regard to over $ 1,400 billion stashed in Swiss banks is despicable. That amount is about 13 times India's foreign debt. With this amount, 45 crore people can get Rs 1 lakh each for the mere asking. India's entire foreign debt can be repaid in 24 hours if that much money is recovered. India with $ 1.4 trillion in foreign banks has more money stashed away than the rest of the world combined. Can we call that despicable?

Through the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act (HRCE Act) of 1951, State governments have appointed managers to the boards of temples in the name of better administration, while mosques and churches are completely autonomous. According to a foreign author, Stephan Knapp, (Crimes Against India) "even the world famous sacred temple at Tirumala-Tirupati is not spared". It collects over Rs 3,100 crore every year and the State government has not denied the charge that as much as 85 per cent of this is transferred to the State exchequer much of which "goes to causes that are not connected with the Hindu community or Vedic temples".

The Andhra Pradesh government apparently allowed the demolition of at least 10 temples for the construction of a golf course. How does one describe it? As secular? Or as despicable? Worse still, it has allowed just one woman to destroy India's fair name. Who is responsible for that? Suresh Kalmadi is allowed one entire year before his homes are raided by the CBI. Are we to believe that in all those months he kept open damaging correspondence on his table for the CBI to take away? How does one describe  government action in this case? As despicable?

It is no pleasure to recall all these events. It is too bad that the Congress Party did not dissolve itself after independence, as Mahatma Gandhi wanted it to do. He knew his Congress even then. He must be crying in his heaven watching the depths to which Congress has demeaned itself in 60 years.

MV Kamath







Incredible winds of 'transparency' and 'accountability' are blowing in Assam as it goes to polls in a couple of months and as the Tarun Gogoi government, confronted with a gamut of allegations of corruption against it, has been forced to prove its commitment to the transparency promise it had made five years ago when it came back to power for a second consecutive term. We are talking of the disclosure of assets owned by the spouses of Assam's ministers — in the wake of the latter's revelation of their assets after a long period of uncertainty as to whether they would really do so as the Chief Minister informed the people that he could not break his cabinet colleagues' trust in him by putting the list of their assets with him in the public domain. On Wednesday, as the ministers' better halves went public with the property they own, one could not help wonder as to why the apparently pro-people move did not include an equally pro-people move of disclosing the sources of their incomes as well. Some of them are worth over a crore of rupees. But that would not surprise us if they were to inform us of the jobs they are in that helps them garner such wealth. No wonder then that people are labelling the whole exercise as a joke. A cruel joke is being played on the people of the State by their very own elected representatives in ministerial positions in the name of transparency and accountability just because they have to sustain the pretence that all they are concerned about is the cause of the people! What is stopping both the ministers and their spouses from clearly spelling out the sources of their incomes? Secondly, we do not know whether the assets are being listed in terms of their present market rates or the ones at which they were bought. This ambiguity only adds to the joke of the time. What people want to know from their ministers and their spouses is 1) the sources of their wealth generation and 2) the present market values of their assets. Both have been conveniently suppressed. Hence the cruel joke.


But such jokes are imperative when there is a fear of rebuke by the people if they come to know of the wealth generation reality of their elected representatives. It is merely for the sake of a regime of transparency and accountability that does not exist but that has been suitably modelled to hoodwink a gullible electorate comprising mostly people in rural areas who are more enthusiastic about casting votes than people in urban areas, that Assam's ministers and their spouses have declared their assets. If they are indeed concerned about what the people in a democracy deserve to know, why the suppression of their sources of incomes and the prevailing market rates of their assets? An answer is in order. It is another matter though that the many ''an answer is in order'' calls in this column to the Tarun Gogoi government have gone unheeded.






Welcome to the times of Bihar under the second Nitish Kumar dispensation. The news is that in a move that happens to be a first by any State in the country, Bihar's General Administration Department (GAD) has asked all government employees, including IAS and IPS officers, right from Chief Secretary to clerk, barring only peons, to make a signed declaration of both their movable and immovable assets to the State government by February 28 next, failing which their salary for their month will be withheld. And assets must be declared by their spouses and dependants as well. It has been learnt that the format for assets declaration has been prepared in such a manner that each employee ''cannot hide anything''. Readers would do well to know that IAS and IPS officers already have to declare their immovable assets via annual property return by January 31 every year, but this is the first time any State in the country has made it a must for them to declare their movable assets too. All information will be put up on the website of the State government. Presently the site has the declarations of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his ministerial colleagues. To quote Kumar, ''In an all-out war against corruption, we want transparency.  By March, all employees' assets details could be made public.'' Welcome, then, to the times of Bihar led by a chief minister who is determined to eliminate the virus of corruption from one of the most corrupt States of the country until he came to power with the promise of a war against corruption that he has kept so exemplarily. Kudos to this pro-people leader who means business, who is out to serve the masses who have mandated him with the hope that they might witness a revolution in their much-ridiculed State, who has proved to one and all in the country that given will, a chief minister can work out miracles as he has. Welcome, therefore, to the times of Bihar as it transits from poverty and backwardness, due chiefly to misrule coupled with corruption at every level during the Lalu raaj, to a new era of transparency, accountability and development — all a must for durable peace. Would Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi take a leaf out of the classic Nitish Kumar book? As of now, Assam is a pre-eminent member of the club of the most corrupt States of the country.




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



New York State spent more than $20 billion on Medicaid this fiscal year — or nearly a quarter of the total operating budget. With the state confronting a projected $10 billion deficit for next year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has little choice but to cut back the program. The challenge will be to do that in a way that causes the least possible harm to some of the state's most vulnerable citizens.

Mr. Cuomo's new budget seeks to reduce the state's share of Medicaid spending from a projected $20.8 billion to about $18 billion. That would trigger a loss in federal matching funds of about $2.7 billion, draining a total of more than $5.5 billion.

In coming weeks, the governor and the Legislature will have to decide where to find that money. None of the choices are easy or pretty.

Should the state cut payments to hospitals, nursing homes, and other providers that have already taken hits in previous budgets? Should it drop hundreds of thousands of people from the rolls, as Arizona plans to do? Should New York place even more of a burden on families by whittling down the hours of home care provided to people suffering from multiple chronic illnesses or the hours of personal care to help the elderly or disabled with bathing, dressing, eating and other daily tasks?

These are difficult decisions with huge potential human costs. There is no hope of doing this right unless Albany gets beyond its pay-to-play culture.

Politicians will have to finally push back against powerful lobbies and contributors — hospitals and health care workers, drug manufacturers and patient advocacy groups. They will have to change outmoded payment formulas that keep driving costs upward and change laws that stand in the way of needed reforms.

Here are some of the main cost drivers:

ELIGIBILITY AND "OPTIONS" New York's Medicaid program covers 4.9 million people. That is a quarter of the population and a higher percentage than in all but a few other states. Its $53 billion in combined federal, state and local annual spending is more than any other state spends, even California, with twice as many enrollees.

That is partly because the cost of medical care is very high in New York City, where two-thirds of all the enrollees live. New York also covers people ignored by many other states and provides additional benefits.

New York covers parents who earn up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $33,000 for a family of four; half the states only cover them below 50 percent of poverty. It includes childless adults up to the poverty level, or about $11,000 for a single adult. These are hardly generous levels.

The federal health reform law has provisions to deter states from dropping people from the rolls. Even if it were possible, it would be a mistake, especially in these very difficult times. The uninsured, especially the poor, often forgo routine medical care until they become very sick and their treatment is more costly. The state will end up bearing part of that burden when they show up in emergency rooms without coverage.

New York also provides a large menu of "optional benefits," including prescription drugs, dental and vision care, and, a particularly costly item, long-term care in nursing homes, community-based facilities and at home. That is good for the health of low-income residents, but savings will have to be found.

LEGAL STRAITJACKET To make reforms, New York will have to change the way it delivers some of its most expensive care and services. To do that, it will have to change laws that seem designed to drive up costs.

Two-thirds of the state's Medicaid enrollees are in managed care plans that hold down costs by bargaining hard with providers and, if run well, by ensuring that patients get the medical services they need and nothing more. But, by law, large categories of patients are exempt, including many who need mental health services, substance abuse treatment, or long-term care at home.

The state requires "prior authorization" before doctors can prescribe expensive drugs that are not on a preferred list. But important categories are exempt, including antidepressants and drugs to treat AIDS. These and other statutes need to be revised or eliminated.

LONG-TERM CARE This is the least-controlled and fastest-growing part of the state's Medicaid budget. In 2009, the latest year with audited data, New York covered more than 300,000 patients — the elderly, chronically ill, patients with mental illness, substance abuse and other difficult problems — at a cost of $23.1 billion or almost half of the state's total Medicaid spending that year.

The amount spent per patient receiving long-term care grew by 26 percent from 2003 to 2009. Nursing homes were by far the biggest expense (more than $49,000 per patient in 2009). But costs were rising most rapidly for care delivered in the home.

Care delivered at home by health aides trained to handle minor medical tasks grew by 90 percent per recipient from 2003 to 2009, to reach more than $15,500 a year. Personal services delivered by nonmedical attendants, such as assistance with dressing and bathing, grew by 38 percent, to reach almost $30,000 a year. Right now this care is mostly delivered on a fee-for-service basis with hours of care determined primarily by the providers who have an incentive to run up the bill with more and more services.

In the short term, there will have to be a reduction in the services provided and hours or visits allowed, throwing a bigger burden on hard-pressed families. In the long run, it is critically important to coordinate the treatment of these homebound patients, either through managed care plans or cooperating groups of doctors and hospitals.

FRAUD The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that, nationwide, Medicaid had an improper payment rate — fraud but also clerical and administrative errors — that averaged 9.4 percent over a three-year period ending in 2010. New York's latest error rate — for 2008 — was 7.8 percent.

New York appears to be trying hard to crack down on fraud and billing errors. It created a new inspector general's office (after a 2005 series in The Times documented serious abuses) and has expanded fraud prosecutions through the attorney general's office. The Cuomo administration expects to recover almost $1 billion in improper payments in the next fiscal year. We are skeptical it can recover that much, but it's worth trying.

TRAINING DOCTORS In 2009, New York's Medicaid program funneled $1.5 billion to teaching hospitals to support their training of medical residents. Some of these doctors go on to serve in doctor-short areas, but many go elsewhere to practice. In today's hard times, these payments look like a luxury we can't fully afford.

Governor Cuomo has appointed a Medicaid Redesign Team — with public officials and representatives of labor, hospitals, and other interest groups — to develop ideas to help close next year's budget gap and to come up with long-term changes to promote efficiency and a higher quality of care.

Budget analysts have already estimated that some of the initial proposals under consideration could yield roughly $2 billion in the first year, two-thirds of the way toward the goal of $2.85 billion.

The big savings for next year would mostly come from reducing payments to health care providers and, in the case of hospitals, also increasing an assessment to raise new revenues. The hits could total $480 million on hospitals, $400 million on home care providers and $220 million on nursing homes. Many of these reductions would be compounded by a comparable loss in federal matching funds.

Such reductions seem steep, but many providers are inefficient and well compensated; most should be able to absorb the loss. The risk is that some patients may suffer if providers reduce staff or stint on their treatment. The state must take care to protect the most vital safety net institutions that serve low-income areas.

Meanwhile, managed care plans could see state payments for profits and reserves cut by $94 million, which seems reasonable for a profitable industry.

In a move that could affect all payers, not just Medicaid, the state estimates it could save $234 million next year if laws were passed to cap medical malpractice awards and to set up an indemnity fund for neurologically impaired infants. The problem with caps is that they are typically set too low to fairly compensate the most grievously harmed patients. We urge the team to forget caps and look more closely at alternative ways to resolve malpractice disputes.

This is part of a series of editorials about the fiscal crisis in New York State and in other states around the country.






Last week, I moved to a new laptop. Because the new laptop is so fast and so baronially spacious, I went probing among the files to see if I could create a little more free space just for the fun of it. It was a nostalgic experience.

I had "migrated" the old computer to the new computer, which means that the new computer had transferred the contents of the old one. In fact, this was only the most recent in a series of migrations from one machine to the next.

"Migration" as a metaphor (this is Apple's term) is a little misleading. Birds migrate, but they don't bring their nests or the bits of down and eggshell that accumulate in them. Migrating is like moving from one house to another and bringing everything, including all the dust bunnies, the bent paper clip that fell in a crack between the floorboards, and the subscription blow-ins that didn't make it into the recycling bin.

Digging among the files on my new machine, I found the relics of software programs I'd deleted three laptops ago. Their names seemed only vaguely familiar — like the middle tier of one's Facebook friends — and I thought about systematically deleting them, someday.

It all reminded me of a much earlier time in my computing life — the mid-1980s. What you knew about your computer then was the structure of its files and their contents. If you didn't know that, you couldn't find anything. All you need to know about your computer now — content-wise — is how to find the global search program.

It hasn't been all migration from 1984 to the present. There have been spasmodic leaps — from Microsoft Windows to Apple's Mac OS X — that meant abandoning much of the past along the way. I find myself wishing now that I'd somehow preserved the final state of each computer I owned before it was jettisoned for the next one. It would mean a stack of 5.25-inch disks and 3.5-inch disks and zip disks and CDs and other formats I've surely forgotten. But my computing history would be coherent, all accounted for, if unreadable.

I removed the hard drive from my final Windows desktop (circa 1999) last week so I could recycle the hulk that contained it. That old drive sits beside my new laptop, an inert and minuscule paperweight (only 30 gigs!) — a reminder of a distant and now inaccessible past.






The House of Representatives has been cutting like crazy! Down with Planned Parenthood and PBS! We can't afford to worry about mercury contamination! Safety nets are too expensive!

But keep your hands off the Defense Department's budget to sponsor Nascar racers.

"It's a great public/private partnership," said Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican.

The Defense Department claims racecar sponsorships are an important recruiting tool for the Army. The House agreed — although this might be news to the Navy and Marines, which decided a while back that a Nascar presence wasn't worth the money.

"What makes U.S. Army's motorsports initiatives successful?" Ryan Newman, driver of No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet asked his Facebook readers as he urged a show of support for the program. "In a 2009 study among fans nationwide, 37% feel more positive about the Army due to its involvement in motorsports."

Let's stop right here and think about this posting. Is it likely that racing fans would think less of the Army for sponsoring racecars? Actually, wouldn't you expect the percentage to be higher? Also, how many of you believe Ryan Newman actually wrote those sentences. Can I see a show of hands?

Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota, who sponsored an amendment eliminating the military's Nascar connection, said it could save taxpayers "tens of millions of dollars." She got a flood of angry letters and one death threat. Also, her amendment was rejected, 148 to 281. The opponents didn't bother with much debate. "This amendment is about politics in certain districts for certain groups of people," said Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, a tad obliquely.

McHenry was probably referring to the Democrats, who've often been branded by the Republicans as tennis-watching snobs. The Obamaites actually spend vast amounts of time and money trying to woo "Nascar dads," although given car racing's sinking popularity, it might make more sense to target some other fan base.

What about all the people who play games on their cellphones and iPads? Make 2012 the Year of the Angry Birds Dad or the Brickbreaker Aunt.

But I digress. On Friday, the House was working its way through 129 amendments to its continuing budget resolution. There would have been 130, but Representative Steve Womack of Arkansas retracted his proposal to cut off financing for President Obama's teleprompter.

The majority did vote, however, to eliminate money for a park in Nancy Pelosi's district. The former House speaker has been demonized to the point that it's safe to do anything to her short of kidnapping the family dog.

Let's give Speaker John Boehner credit for keeping his promise to give members more chance to debate and offer amendments. Really, if things get any more open, the members will start throwing themselves off the balcony. But not such high marks on consistency. The newly ascendant Republicans have been howling that the deficit is so big, so threatening, that no target for cutting is sacred. "Everything is on the table. We're broke," said Boehner.

But the table is mainly crowded with stuff the Republicans didn't like to begin with. Family-planning money and environmental protection, but not oil tax breaks or Nascar sponsorships. "Sesame Street" is fair game, but the Daytona 500 is untouchable.

"Spending is out of control," cried Jim Jordan, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, who argued for additional cuts in all nonsecurity discretionary spending — except aid to Israel.

In Wisconsin, the new Republican governor, Scott Walker, wants to strip state employees of their collective-bargaining rights because: "We're broke. We've been broke in this state for years."

Wisconsin's Democratic state senators went into hiding to deprive the Republican majority of the quorum they need to pass Walker's agenda. The Senate majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald — who happens to be the brother of the Assembly speaker, Jeff Fitzgerald — believes the governor is absolutely right about the need for draconian measures to cut spending in this crisis. So he's been sending state troopers out to look for the missing Democrats.

The troopers are under the direction of the new chief of the state patrol, Stephen Fitzgerald. He is the 68-year-old father of Jeff and Scott and was appointed to the $105,678 post this month by Governor Walker.

Perhaps the speaker's/majority leader's father was a super choice, and the fact that he was suddenly at liberty after having recently lost an election for county sheriff was simply a coincidence that allowed the governor to recruit the best possible person for the job. You'd still think that if things are so dire in Wisconsin, the Fitzgerald clan would want to set a better austerity example.

And if Big Bird goes, we can spare the U.S. Army Chevrolet, too.







It's time for us to stop lying to ourselves about this country.

America is great in many ways, but on a whole host of measures — some of which are shown in the accompanying chart — we have become the laggards of the industrialized world. Not only are we not No. 1 — "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" — we are among the worst of the worst.

Yet this reality and the urgency that it ushers in is too hard for many Americans to digest. They would prefer to continue to bathe in platitudes about America's greatness, to view our eroding empire through the gauzy vapors of past grandeur.

Republicans have even submitted a draconian budget that would make deep cuts into the tiny vein that is nonsecurity discretionary spending, cuts that would prove devastating to the poor and working class.

At the very time that many Americans — and the very country itself — are struggling to emerge from a very deep hole, the Republican proposal would simply throw the dirt in on top of us.

This cannot be. Financing for education and social services isn't simply about handouts to hardscrabble, it is about building an infrastructure that can produce healthy, engaged and well-educated citizens who can compete in an increasingly cutthroat global economy.

One of President Obama's new catchphrases is "win the future," but we can't win the future by ceding the present and romanticizing the past.






MANAMA, Bahrain

A column of peaceful, unarmed pro-democracy protesters marched through the streets here in modern, cosmopolitan Bahrain on Friday. They threatened no one, but their 21st-century aspirations collided with a medieval ruler — and the authorities opened fire without warning.

Michael Slackman and Sean Patrick Farrell of The New York Times were recording video, and a helicopter began firing in their direction. It was another example of Bahrain targeting journalists, as King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa attempts to intimidate or keep out witnesses to his repression.

The main hospital here was already in chaos because a police attack nearby was sending protesters rushing inside for refuge, along with tear gas fumes. On top of that, casualties from the shootings suddenly began pouring in. A few patients were screaming or sobbing, but most were unconscious or shocked into silence that their government should shoot them.

A man was rushed in on a stretcher with a shattered skull and a bullet lodged in his brain, bleeding profusely. A teenage girl lay writhing on a stretcher; doctors later said she had suffered a heavy blow or kick to her chest. A middle-age man was motionless on a stretcher. A young man had bullet wounds to both legs. A young man trying to escape had been run over by a car said to have government license plates.

Different doctors had different views (and perhaps not much expertise) about whether the bullets were metal or rubber, but there seemed to be some of each. Two X-rays that I saw both seemed to show metal bullets, according to doctors familiar with reading X-rays, and a surgeon told me that the wound he had treated had probably been caused by a metal bullet rather than a rubber one.

Several large emergency wards quickly filled up completely. Patients with lesser injuries or who had merely been overcome with tear gas lay outside.

It turns out that members of Bahrain's medical community have been reading my Twitter postings, and doctors and nurses rushed me from patient to patient so I could see and photograph the injuries and write messages to the world and get the news out right away. They knew that King Hamad's government would wrap its brutality in lies.

The doctors spoke in enormous frustration about what they termed butchery or massacres, but they encountered evidence of the danger of speaking publicly. In the midst of the crisis, a democracy activist staggered in for treatment from a fresh beating by security forces. He had made public statements about police brutality he had witnessed, and so, he said, the police had just kidnapped him and brutalized him all over again.

The hospital's ambulance drivers had been beaten on Thursday morning by Bahrain's army and police for attempting to rescue the dead and injured, and some had been warned that they would be executed if they tried again to help protesters. But they showed enormous courage in rushing to the scene of the carnage once again.

One ambulance paramedic, Yasser, was still recovering in the hospital from the beating he suffered the last time. But when he heard the call for all hands in the emergency room, he staggered over to the ambulance bay and went out to pick up the wounded.

"Those people needed help, and I had to go," he told me. "But when we got there, the police blocked us and wouldn't let us through."

Indeed, the army temporarily seized four ambulances and their crews, hospital staff said, although this time it apparently spared them beatings. The first ambulances on the scene had reported many, many casualties, and doctors were aghast at the idea that there were many injured who were not being treated. So a group of them decided to drive out to army lines and beg to be allowed to collect the dead or wounded. This was considered an extremely perilous mission, so they decided that only male doctors would participate. But several female doctors immediately clamored to go as well.

When our close ally behaves in such a way, America finds itself in a tough position, and that probably explains President Obama's very cautious statement saying that he is "deeply concerned." We value Bahrain as the host of the United States Navy's Fifth Fleet, we worry (probably too much) about Iranian influence, and it's not clear how much leverage we have. King Hamad has strong Saudi support and has so outraged his subjects that he may feel that his best hope for staying in power is to shoot his subjects.

But we should signal more clearly that we align ourselves with the 21st-century aspirations for freedom of Bahrainis rather than the brutality of their medieval monarch. I'm not just deeply "concerned" by what I've seen here. I'm outraged.






Manama, Bahrain

ON Wednesday evening, some Bahraini friends of mine decided to go to the Pearl Roundabout in the center of the capital to clean up antigovernment graffiti sprayed by youngsters there. It wasn't that they disagreed with the protesters; indeed, they supported the calls for reform. But they felt that removing the spray paint was a way to help ensure that demands for change were taken seriously and that protesters weren't dismissed as just a bunch of vandals.

I was curious about the camp that had been established on the Pearl Roundabout the day before, so I decided to go along. As a Briton who has lived here on and off for 10 years, I have always felt welcomed and part of Bahraini society. But other friends — not Bahrainis — were worried about how I would be perceived by the protesters; one person, probably assuming it was a conservative or religious environment, even asked if I was wearing an abaya, the black cloak that covers everything but the head. But I wasn't and knew I didn't need to. I was sure that being a foreigner would not present any problems; in my experience, Bahrainis are either welcoming or unconcerned when an outsider comes along to big events like this, never hostile.

Still, I normally avoid the Pearl Roundabout. It's a busy traffic circle where it's difficult to predict what road other drivers are going to exit on, which makes for some hair-raising moments. But that night, I was drawn there, along with thousands of others, those who were joining the protests and people, like me, who were simply interested in seeing what was going on.

The Pearl Roundabout was unrecognizable. Now it was full of people and full of positive energy — yes, to resort to a cliché, there was a carnival atmosphere. To me it felt as though there had been a great release, and that people were expressing themselves in a way that they had never been able to before. There were tents and large mats on the ground, men sprawled smoking water pipes, children being held on laps, people holding signs in Arabic and English, youngsters chanting slogans.

Everything seemed fairly coordinated, which was not a surprise; in Bahrain, community groups organize a lot of events, especially for religious occasions, so people are experienced at stepping in. Men were guiding traffic in the area and by the roundabout itself (somehow cars were still able to creep along a road that intersected on one side). There were electric generators, stalls with food and tea ("freedom tea," read one sign), an area to find lost children, a "media center," where journalists could get information, and projections of TV feeds onto screens and even onto the Pearl Monument. The central island of the roundabout, where most people were, had been roughly divided so that women who chose could sit in a women's area; but there were women in all the other areas as well.

I watched as the small group sprayed over the graffiti with an undercoat, then covered that with white paint. One of the young men involved in this told us how he'd been approached by a bunch of angry youngsters who assumed he was against the protests. They spent 10 minutes shouting at him but finally gave him a chance to explain his point of view. Once they heard it, some volunteered to help with the painting.

That night I couldn't sleep; I was still too caught up in the emotions of the past two days. I got out of bed at about 2 a.m. to check the news on Twitter (just about everyone in Bahrain seems to have signed up for a Twitter account this week) and, about an hour later, I saw a message that riot police were approaching the camp, and at the same moment, I heard explosions and yells. My apartment is not close to the roundabout, but the sounds were remarkably clear. The shouts and the bangs — apparently, from percussion bombs, tear gas canisters and gun shots — lasted for about half an hour. As I listened to the clamor, and to the noise of sirens and helicopters that soon accompanied it, I shook.

I finally went to bed at 6 a.m. and slept for a couple of hours. I had to teach an English class to a group of adults in the morning, though I guessed it would be canceled, or that no one would turn up. I was wrong; nearly all my students came, some having spent an hour in traffic, including one man whose cousin was in the hospital after being wounded during the night. All of them, Sunni and Shiite, were in shock; they couldn't understand how things had reached this point.

After class I dropped by a supermarket to pick up a few things, and was surprised to find it packed with people panic-buying as if they were going to be holed up in their homes for a long time. Indeed, a state of emergency was imposed later in the day, so Bahrain is now effectively under martial law. No curfew has been imposed and, to my knowledge, it is still possible to get around most areas, but I've been in my apartment since Thursday, as have all my friends I've spoken to.

On Friday, government forces again fired upon protesters; the crown prince, Sheik Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, however, has been given the task of starting a national dialogue that may help defuse this tense, uncertain situation. Everyone I know is in a state of disbelief that this has happened in Bahrain.

Ayesha Saldanha writes the blog Bint Battuta in Bahrain and contributes to Global Voices Online.







As President Barack Obama pushes for $53 billion in new taxes and borrowed money to promote a high-speed rail project, the governor of Florida has done something that politicians rarely do: He has refused billions of dollars in federal funding.


Gov. Rick Scott is rejecting $2.4 billion in already-approved funds from Washington for a high-speed rail project between Tampa and Orlando. That is particularly symbolic, because the president visited Florida last year specifically to announce the funding. As the St. Petersburg Times put it, "Florida was a flagship in the national [rail] plan ... ."


Well, the "flagship" just "jumped ship." Why? Because Florida's governor realizes all that federal money isn't "free." Residents of Florida might have to chip in $3 billion in taxes if the state accepts the money from Washington, he said, not to mention state subsidies that likely would be required to keep the project going. After all, federally run Amtrak has been in business for decades—taking untold billions of dollars in subsidies from taxpayers who never set foot on Amtrak trains—but it has yet to break even. Why would this latest federal push to expand train service suddenly be a success?


Fortunately, that reality is dawning on more and more people. Not only Florida's governor but the governors of Ohio and Wisconsin have now rejected money from Washington for the high-speed rail scheme, and more may do so.


Disgustingly, some members of Congress are trying to pass legislation to force Florida to accept the federal money. But the state's rejection of the funds is refreshing. For too long, it has been assumed that the federal government is a limitless source of cash for all sorts of unconstitutional projects. Now, with our nation more than $14 trillion in debt, it is painfully obvious that there is no free lunch—and no free train ride.







Members of Congress are supposed to be intelligent, mature, reasonable, responsible men and women—although political partisanship often makes us wonder. One example of that partisanship is on display in Congress now.


The federal government spends too much—surprised?—and is expected to run out of authorized money for most federal agencies in the next few weeks.


Republicans have proposed a bill that would keep government running through Sept. 30 while cutting spending by $61 billion. But Democrats oppose the cuts.


Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner said: "Read my lips. We're going to cut spending."


But Democrats are threatening to blame Republicans for a government "shutdown" if higher spending is not authorized.


We already have a national debt of more than $14 trillion.


Republicans believe voters will blame Democrats for irresponsibly spending more, while Democrats believe Republicans would be faulted for any ill effects of a possible government shutdown.


In reality, a shutdown is unlikely because small, temporary spending measures can be passed to keep government running. Still, this is a serious, disgusting game of political "chicken."


What to do? With the budget deficit expected to hit $1.65 trillion this year, and few people wanting to pay higher taxes, shouldn't reasonable voters insist on spending cuts?


Well, congressional Democrats and Republicans are calculating what they believe the people's political reaction will be.


Which side do you think is right?







It's important for the United States to have the very best fighter aircraft in the world.


That's why there's a lot of debate on the new F-35 fighter jet. Controversy has arisen over where the engines for the F-35s should be made. That's because many jobs and a lot of money will be involved. A program to build an alternative engine for the jet would cost $3 billion over several years—$450 million this year alone.


The competitors have been General Electric and Rolls-Royce in Ohio and Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut. Pratt & Whitney builds the main F-35 engine.


But having a second manufacturer of engines for the F-35 will increase costs at a time when Congress needs to be economizing.


Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen testified in the House, "I've been doing money a long time; I can't make sense out of a second engine."


And in a House vote, the pricey alternative-engine plan lost—at least for the time being.


Military equipment decisions should never be based on partisan politics or regional interests. Production decisions should be made on the ability to deliver high-quality equipment at the lowest cost and on the best time schedule.







Isn't it interesting that there were organizations of various kinds—and "others"—that were interested enough in the inauguration of our good, new Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam last month that they gave a total of $2.4 million for the festivities?


The gubernatorial inaugurations, and contributions, come every four years.


The Associated Press noted there were more than 300 donations from businesses, trade groups and political action committees. Individuals donated the rest. Corporations may not give money to candidates seeking election but may contribute up to $7,500 for inaugurations.


Most people are not opposed to some "pomp and circumstance" in connection with our political activities. Supporters of a governor don't want a parsimonious swearing in, with no gala celebrations. And donors want to show their "friendship."


But while most Tennesseans don't want to be "Bah, humbug!" Scrooges, and don't want a gubernatorial inauguration to look cheap, $2.4 million was a lot of money for a ceremonial occasion.


We hope everybody had a good time.







Most people properly do not want to inquire into or dictate adults' personal living arrangements. Still, most people also probably do not want a law to provide formal legal approval for "same-sex unions" equal to conventional marriages.


But a majority of Hawaii's legislators do. A same-sex union bill was passed by the Hawaii Legislature last year, but it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle. Hawaii legislators persisted, passed a same-sex union bill this year, and new Democrat Gov. Neil Abercrombie's office says he intends to sign it.


Hawaii then will become the seventh state to provide in effect the same legal status for unmarried couples as for those who are married.


Most states, meanwhile, have passed defense-of-marriage constitutional amendments.


There should be no legal discrimination against anyone, or legal inquiry into the personal and private arrangements of anyone. And too many traditional marriages do unfortunately end in divorce.


But legal action such as Hawaii's is distasteful to many.










Turkish President Abdullah Gül recently paid a state visit to Iran after years. On the first day of the visit, Iranian opposition tried to hold a protest in the streets of Tehran, a protestor was killed. On Tuesday, 200 deputies in support of the regime called for the death of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

During a press briefing and at his meeting with the religious leader, Ali Khamanei, Gül underlined the importance of popular legitimacy of governments. This is the whole support Turkey could give to Iranian dissidents! In the meantime, news was that Gül wanted to meet with the Iranian opposition, but his Iranian counterpart Ahmadinejad prevented the meeting. The news was denied later on. I wish it hadn't been. But when Egypt was the case, the government provided support – though late – to Egyptian protesters despite the demands of dissidents in both countries are very similar.

Demands of the Green Movement of Iran 

Demands voiced in the Iranian Reform Movement's manifesto signed by movement founder and scholar Abdolkarim Soroush, dissident cleric Mohsen Kadivar, former parliamentarian and Islamic Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani, journalist Akbar Ganji and Abdolali Bazargan, an Islamic thinker and son of former prime minister Mehdi Bazargan and published on the movement's website, Jaras (, read as follows:

1. Resignation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and holding a new presidential election under the supervision of neutral organs; abolish the vetting process of candidates by the Guardian Council and formation of an independent election commission that includes the representatives of the opposition and protestors, in order to draft the rules and regulations for holding free and fair elections.

2. Release of all the political prisoners, and investigating the torture and murder of the protestors over the past several months in open courts in the presence of a jury and the attorneys of their choice, and compensating those who have been hurt and their families.

3. Free means of mass communication, including the press, the Internet, radio and television; abolishing censorship and allowing banned publications, such as dailies to resume; expanding non-governmental TV and satellite channels; ending the filtering of the Internet and making it easily accessible to the public, and purging liars and provocateurs from national radio and television.

4. Recognizing the rights of all lawful political groups, university student and women movements, NGOs and civil organizations, and labor unions for lawful activities and the right to peaceful protest according to Article 27 of the constitution.

5. Independence of universities; running the universities democratically by the academics themselves; evacuating the military and paramilitary forces from the universities, and abolishing the illegal Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution that interferes in the affairs of the universities.

6. Putting on trial all those who have tortured and murdered people, and those who ordered past crimes, particularly over the past several months.

7. Independence of the judiciary by electing rather than appointing its head; abolishing illegal and special courts such as the Special Court for the Clergy; purging the judiciary from inequitable judges and banning judiciary officials from giving political speeches and carrying out orders of higher officials, i.e. the president and the Supreme Leader, instead of implementing laws fairly and neutrally.

8. Banning the military, police and security forces from intervening in politics, the economy and culture, and ordering them to act professionally.

9. Economic and political independence of the religious seminaries, and preventing politicizing the clerics to support the government, and banning the clerics to use Friday prayers sermons for issuing illegal and anti-religious preaches.

Demands of Egyptian opposition

1. Ending emergency law that suspends constitutional guarantees for human rights.

2. Releasing all political prisoners.

3. Dissolving both houses of parliament and forming an official committee comprising independent constitutional and legal experts to propose the required constitutional changes.

4. Shelving the current Constitution.

5. Forming a new government composed of independent and popular individuals and highly experienced executives /bureaucrats.

6. Forming a collective council for transition period.

7. Forming a working group to prepare a democratic constitutional draft to be put on a popular vote.

8. Abolishing all obstacles in front of formation of political parties that will to work in civilian, democratic and peaceful way.

9. Freedom of press.

10. Formation of labor unions and non-governmental organizations with no official permission required.

11. Abolishing all military courts and all past military court decisions regarding civilians.

Today's million-dollar question is: "What is the regional model for Arab countries following their revolutions?" What people have in mind is of course Turkey's Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and its transformation. But Turkey can make a difference in the neighborhood only by its democracy, not through its force or money.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his parliamentary group meeting last Tuesday empathized with the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq. Perfect! Now in line are the peoples of Iran, Syria, Sudan, Algeria, Libya and Cyprus. Go for it!






I was chatting with a foreign journalist a few days ago, and she said she was desperate to hear "an objective analysis" of what is happening in Turkey. "I am really sorry for you," I said, in return, "for there are probably no objective Turks in the world." 

I was exaggerating a bit — but not much. For the mind-boggling complexity of this country's politics is not just hard to get. It also polarizes its interpreters, and forces them to look through completely contradictory lenses.

So, I will suggest you to read every Turk, including me — and even every "Turkified expat" — with a grain of salt. And try to figure things out for your self.

Manufacturing consent

Now, with that in mind, let me tell you how I see the much-discussed "witch hunt" on Turkey's secularist media by the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government and its presumed allies.

A few facts first. Some 22 national newspapers are printed in Istanbul every single day, reflecting an amazing spectrum of ideological diversity: hard-line Islamists, moderate Islamics, moral conservatives, neo-Marxists, liberal leftists, illiberal leftists, "Ataturkists" and even the Maoists. They all have their voices.

At least half of these 22 papers represent a very critical editorial line against the current government. Most of their columnists, and even their headlines, bash the prime minister and his party almost everyday. The same is true for television and the Internet: you have dozens of proudly anti-AKP channels. And that is very good. That's what you should see in free country.

Yet, since 2007, a few journalists have been detained and put on trial as a part of the "Ergenekon" probe. Two of them, Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan, have been in prison now for many months.

I have written several times that they should be set free, for I don't support the common Turkish procedure of keeping people in prison while trying them — unless they are serial killers or something.

But please note that those two journalists are not arrested for criticizing the government. They are arrested for having covert meetings with some hotheaded generals who evidently made plans to overthrow the AKP government.

If this sounds fantastical to you, I would suggest looking back and seeing how previous coups in Turkey, especially the "post-modern coup" of 1997, was realized through an active cooperation with the military and its ideological allies in the media. The latter paved the way for the generals by publishing false news that provoked fear in the public about the elected government. In other words, that media, to borrow a term from Noam Chomsky, "manufactured consent" against democracy.

With this past in mind, and police intelligence documenting "a new coup effort" in its hands, the AKP could not have refrained from backing the Ergenekon probe politically. It was a matter of not just law, but also survival. Probably, it still is.

The Oda TV affair

Last week, a new "wave" came from Ergenekon prosecutors, who arrested Soner Yalçın, a famous pundit, and searched the office of his website, "Oda TV."

First, a few words about Yalçın: He is referred to as a journalist, but I would rather call him a conspiracy theorist. As a Maoist-turned-Kemalist, his books are full of speculations about how the CIA is mastering almost every evil in Turkey. His bestseller, "Efendi," was worse, for it promoted paranoia about how Turkey's "covert Jews" infiltrated everywhere. According to Rıfat Bali, a member of Turkey's Jewish community and an expert on anti-Semitism in this country, Yalçın's book simply "len[t] itself to Nazi-like racist and exclusionary demonstrations against persons because of their alleged origins or suspected beliefs."

So, for me, Yalçın is a delusional ultra-secular/nationalist. His Oda TV is worse; for it has launched hate campaigns against liberal and conservative intellectuals, with blatant insults and even sexual libels.

Yet, of course, none of these makes neither Yalçın nor his website criminal. Having an ideology that borders fascism, and promoting it aggressively, is distasteful. But even that should be free in a free country.

That's why I refused to join my colleagues who regarded Yalçın's arrest as good news. I also believe that his Oda TV should survive as it is — a fringe propaganda outlet.

But I also refuse to join the commentators who see this affair as an attack on media freedom. For Yalçın is accused not only for what he wrote, but, more importantly, his apparent connections with other members of the Ergenekon network. The accusation, in other words, is that he was among the group of people who intentionally worked to lay the ground for a military coup.

I admit that there is a gray area here: Not everybody who is a delusional ultra-secular/nationalist and friendly with Ergenekon members is a criminals. But they are the ones the prosecutors might see as suspects, and question accordingly.

My only objection is to the fact Yalçın will be tried while in custody. That helps neither the Ergenekon case, which is very important for Turkish democracy, nor the way it is perceived in society.







There are two sides to every story. No, three. After the police raided the offices of an Internet news portal Monday, debate broke out over press freedom and the alleged Ergenekon coup gang. Let's review the perspective from the two sides of the raid on the news portal. Then I'll show you why there is a third.

From one side, there is an alleged clandestine, cell-type terrorist organization that has its fingers in every dirty little state pie. Some cells are aware of each other, some are not. The theory is that Ergenekon is the Turkish version of NATO's "stay-behind" group in Italy called Gladio. Tens of thousands of unsolved murders in Turkey are on the gang's heads. This organization tried to topple the government, but failed and is now on trial. It sought to create chaos by terrorist attacks and assassinations and set the stage for a military coup. Such was the game before the 1980 military takeover. Naturally, the organization has a press arm and ultranationalist Oda TV is one of its fingers.

The counter perspective believes there is no Ergenekon. The indictment is a mess, the evidence is fabricated, the case is merely a tool used by the ruling party to silence opposition. Some suspects on trial have been behind bars for years while other obvious ones haven't even been questioned. The Ergenekon investigation has turned into a witch hunt like the communist hunt of the McCarthy Era in the U.S. This side says the military did not prepare secret plans for a takeover and there was no clandestine organization trying to provoke it. There actually is a "deep state," but its name is not Ergenekon. Rather, it is in the ruling party's secret agenda to transform Turkey into a fundamentalist state once the secularist opposition is dispatched. Oda TV was raided as a strong and fierce critic.

Now the third side. It is the bigger picture, it is both and it is neither. The first mention of an underground network called Ergenekon covering up "deep state" actions dates back more than a decade; way before the ruling party was even an idea. The book "Ergenekon," by journalists Can Dündar and Celal Kazdağlı, had its first print run in 1997. TV coverage of the material was aired in 1996 and is now at YouTube. Open calls to the military to take action against the government were made during the first term of the leading party. Some of the suspects in the case are people who have long been expected in court for shadowy dealings. The indictments are actually messy. But any lawyer will tell you this is routine in Turkey. However, two major points smell rotten.

The first is that there is a real problem with unearthing thousands of political murder victims in southeastern Turkey because the role of the "deep state" in the region is obvious. The second is the culpability of top officers. You need a military to stage a military coup. I lost faith in the investigation long ago when force commanders were questioned and not charged. The diary of one is the main piece of evidence in the case, which excited everyone when it was leaked to the press. But today, it is not even included as evidence. People mentioned in the diary are now under arrest within the scope of another coup attempt case called "Balyoz" (Sledgehammer), but the two are not related. My honest opinion, as one who has read the indictments and followed the trial, is that although Ergenekon might be very real, this case is no longer the sword that can slay that dragon.

Now let us come to Oda TV itself. It is among the harshest critics of the president and the prime minister. Since opening in 2007, Oda TV has had a slogan, "Special news only." Its  "special news" is special for one thing: It is all anti-government. Which is fine, advocacy journalism is not a crime and other forms of it exist in Turkey. The Oda TV staff was detained with the prosecutors' suspicions of links to terrorism, but some in the public are suspicious that the accusations are just an excuse to silence an irritating voice. Without some semblance of charges backed with evidence, the raid would be a direct assault on the freedom of the press.

Those are the three sides to this story. Mine own is actually a fourth. I perceive Oda TV as a source of hate speech targeting beliefs, political views and ethnicity. Factless strings of text considered as news stories are often direct, verbal insults against people who Oda TV staff disagree with. It does not shy away from publishing lists of these people, which in one case included me. Under different circumstances, the staff might well be on trial for hate crimes. But Turkey's laws against "inciting people to hatred and animosity" are outdated far short of  international standards.

A recent example from Oda TV's archives is its coverage of the release of a 2011 pocket calendar that was published with the theme of "Racism, discrimination and hate crime." When it was released, a bookstore chain refused to sell the calendar because it had a picture of a peeing kid on each page, including on the anniversary of Atatürk's death, which the chain said was insulting to his memory. Then members of an extreme right-wing political party began threatening other stores that continued to sell the calendar. In protest of the threats against these stores, people will gather Saturday outside Istanbul's Galatasaray High School and sell the calendar themselves. In this already tense atmosphere, Oda TV decided to run a story titled "Nobody has seen this" and pointed out to everyone that the calendar listed the "Armenian genocide" alongside the Holocaust and slaughters in Bosnia and Rwanda. Oda TV "broke the story" by seeking out an aspect that could be manipulated for ultra-nationalist purposes, then of course did not hesitate to dump gasoline on the fire when it found one.

Whether Oda TV aids a terrorist organization, or is simply a bunch of journalists who oppose the government, it is now a matter for the courts and the public opinion. However, it is hardly the team of white knights for press freedom that many suggest.






When you live abroad and visit Turkey, it amazes you how fast the country is changing. However for the last 10 years, the growth in the country is recognized even if you live in it and observe daily developments. This nearby economic vitality is quite important for aging and slowing down Europe. It also constitutes a role model for the Middle East and North Africa. 

Istanbul is still the locomotive of the country, however many Anatolian cities are emerging to be the centers of growth for different sectors. Hopefully this will also eventually slow down the immigration from Anatolia to Istanbul. Trade councils of these cities are very active. They cooperate with the local municipalities to develop infrastructure, establish international contacts and try to become production centers for specific sectors.

One important thing to mention is that these movements are highly supported by the large companies and organizations of Istanbul. The Turkish Industry and Business Association, or TÜSİAD, has been very active to transfer know-how and establish relations with Anatolia to enhance growth. There are also individual efforts from some Istanbul companies. Garanti Bank is one of them. Under the name "Anadolu Sohbetleri" (Anatolia Talks), top management and guest speakers travel to different Anatolian cities to transfer know-how and exchange information. The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey, or TOBB, is also very active with efforts to support establishments for healthy growth. Obviously, governments have been very supportive with incentive programs to orchestrate these developments.

In the earlier days, international visitors used to visit only Istanbul and maybe Ankara if they had government-related businesses. Now they travel everywhere. Anatolian cities have nice airports and hotels. Local food and restaurants are highly appreciated so as the service and the prices. The second and third generations of the tigers are educated at international standards. The investment in machinery and skilled labor enables these organizations to produce good quality with decent pricing. Being next to Europe is an important factor for exports next to a 70-plus million domestic market. With the initiatives and support of the government, which has been signing trade agreements and abolishing visas with nearby countries from Russia to Africa, new horizons are opened up.

Like their big brothers and sisters in Istanbul, Anatolian tigers are all family-owned. Family type organizations start to require a moderate corporate approach after they reach a certain size. Unfortunately, experienced staff that can add value is still located in big cities. Attracting executives from macro markets to live in small cities will not be easy in the near future. However, yet again things are changing so fast. With an increasing interest from investors, funds and private equity, we will see new developments and Anatolian history will once again repeat itself and act as crossroads for various cultural mixes. 

* Zafer Parlar is the founder of istventures (, which supports international companies in their market entries and development in Turkey, as well as Turkish companies in their local operations and international expansion plans.






Turkey's political parties are beginning to hammer down their main points ahead of the June 12 elections.

The biggest trump-card of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, will be a "new constitution;" the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, will take messages on unemployment, poverty, bans and family insurance to the people; the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, is trumpeting its bread and butter, nationalism, as it responds to predictions that it will not surpass the 10 percent electoral threshold.

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, meanwhile, has promised a new constitution of its own.

The BDP's position is important for the elections. The party will join the race not as a political party, but through independent candidates determined by the party headquarters.

Speaking to the Diplomacy Correspondents' Association earlier this week, BDP Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş drew attention to the possibility of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, ending its period of "inaction" on March 1 but added that the BDP was in favor of maintaining the "ceasefire."

"We have no chance to directly tell anyone anything," said Demirtaş, underlining that it was at the government's discretion to maintain the ceasefire. It seems the BDP does not plan to take any direct initiative at this point. The pro-Kurdish party, signaling that it will follow a policy in line with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan's attitude, seems to be satisfied with making remarks to reinforce Öcalan's hand.

If tension rises in Southeast Anatolia, all the parties with high expectations in the region will be hit hard. A shaky election process might create a tsunami effect in the entire country and trigger unexpected results.

Demirtaş has said they don't know whether or not a possible end to the ceasefire could lead to a new period of conflicts, but it could cause a political dead-end, and that could be dangerous. This is an important warning to which people should pay a great deal of attention.

What would be the BDP's aim if the ceasefire continues? Speaking with a few leading figures in the party, it seems the BDP will have two trump-cards for the elections: The first is a new constitution from scratch and the second is independent candidates to be prepared for the race.

This time, the BDP plans to have at least 35 or 50 independent candidates. Surprising and important names are being uttered at the moment, including intellectuals, artists and human rights advocates. There are rumors that some of the imprisoned suspects of the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, could be nominated.

For this election, campaigning in Kurdish is not banned, and this will help Kurdish politicians.

BDP Co-chairs Demirtaş and Gülten Kışanak will camp for the election in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır and will visit villages in order to reach their target.

But, how will the BDP manage to reach the target? Could they seek collaboration with religious groups, for instance?

Demirtaş says they don't have any direct contact with the Fethullah Gülen Movement and neither has ever discussed any alliance. The co-chair, however, has stressed that the party doesn't have any "problem" with the group.

Demirtaş has implied that no alliance will be considered with other political parties, including the CHP, either today or tomorrow. The BDP will be very strong in some certain provinces. But obviously they won't have enough votes in the region to reach the 35 or 50 independent candidate target.

In the BDP's stronghold of Diyarbakır, there are six deputies from the AKP and four from the BDP. In the July 22, 2007, general elections the BDP barely managed to elect 21 deputies and form a parliamentary group.

The BDP this time aims to have more votes in other regions. In fact, they have already decided on several provinces.

The BDP plans to have at least three deputies in Istanbul, which has a heavy Kurdish population. Sebahat Tuncel of the BDP was elected from Istanbul in the 2007 elections. And the pro-Kurdish party in fact supported the socialist Ufuk Uras from Istanbul. The BDP also plans to have one or two deputies from the southern province of Adana, one from Mersin, one from İzmir, and one from Antalya, although they did not have one in the 2007 elections.

The BDP's goal seems realistic and clearly achieving this directly depends on the continuation of the ceasefire.

A 'right-hand' inspection for Baykal

Former Republican People's People, or CHP, leader Deniz Baykal will head to Antalya, his hometown, to launch his election campaign on March 1.

CHP Istanbul Deputy Mehmet Sevigen was also sent to the city as a "party inspector" to check up on the inadequacies of the Antalya provincial administration.

What is interesting is that Sevigen is fond of Baykal – that's why he is known as Baykal's "right-hand man." Let's see what results from the "right-hand man's inspection"…






Turkish nationals are paying the price for complacency in Iraq. Three Turks were abducted by armed men in Kirkuk on Feb. 15, highlighting the risk that kidnapping still poses to foreign nationals but also exposing the risk of ignoring basic precautions.

According to the chief of police in Kirkuk, the victims were not registered with the authorities. Their employer is also believed to have implemented only minimal security measures for staff members working in the country. Evidently someone assumed the staff were not at risk.

Kirkuk has had simmering inter-communal tensions for years, so it would be irresponsible to assume that security measures are not required. The previous foreigner abducted in Iraq was a U.S. translator of Iraqi origin, seized in central Baghdad in January 2010, while recent months have seen several consular messages warning foreigners of the danger of kidnapping.

Kirkuk in particular has seen a worrying increase in violence over the past week in particular. Three Iraqis were kidnapped several days before the Turks. This alone should have prompted a safety review by those responsible for the victims' safety.

At present, around four to five Iraqis are abducted and held for ransom every week, across the country, from Mosul in the north to Basrah in the south. Most are held for a few days, although foreigners are likely to be held a lot longer – unless they are rescued by the security forces.

A positive trend in Iraq has been the increased success rate of police crack-downs on kidnap groups. Once, a large number of policemen were actively involved in the kidnap-for-ransom trade so this improvement is significant and demonstrates rising professionalism among the Iraqi authorities. Nonetheless, rescue operations can be dangerous.

The alternative is to pay the ransom. Current settlement figures stand at around $50,000 per person, although this is the going rate for an Iraqi. A foreigner is likely to fetch a higher price and, in some cases, will be held until the authorities release political prisoners from jail.

One positive aspect for the many Turkish firms doing $7 billion-worth of business in Iraq is the fact that some 720 of them are based in the Kurdish-governed provinces of Arbil, Dahuk and Sulaymaniyah. This part of the country sees no abductions and a much lower level of risk: the Kurdish Peshmerga security forces ensure that security (and business) conditions are much better than other parts of the country.

Elsewhere in Iraq, however, companies should be taking adequate steps to ensure the safety of their staff. It remains hazardous to travel into many parts of the country without protection. This does not need to include armed bodyguards and a convoy of armored cars. Indeed, lower-profile security is often preferable and is likely to be more useful for Turkish companies and staff who will probably be able to blend into the local environment much better than many Westerners.

The probability of being kidnapped in Iraq is statistically low but Turkish firms must still protect themselves and their staff intelligently and evaluate the different risks in different places.

*John Drake is a senior risk analyst, based in Baghdad and London, for AKE, an international security and intelligence firm based in the U.K.






We have met with the big guns of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, this week.

CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, vice presidents, Umut Oran, Faik Öztrak and Sencer Ayata, were in Istanbul to brief us about "Family Insurance," which is regarded as the No. 1 trump-card of the party for the approaching general elections.

"Family Insurance" stipulates 600-1,250 Turkish Liras financial aid to poor families. According to the CHP chairman, the "Family Insurance" is like a message "We are with you," to the slums, where the opposition had not make its presence felt during the previous election period.

"The perception is that only the rich vote for the CHP and that we cannot reach out to the slums. We will change the perception," says Kılıçdaroğlu.

The "Family Insurance," or "financial aid," could be very helpful to reduce poverty, compared to random aids provided by a total of 14 institutions today in Turkey.

If we look at the data announced in early January by the Turkish Statistical Institute, or TurkStat, there are 12.7 million poor people in the country; a significant increase compared to previous years.

It means Turkey seriously faces a poverty problem.

And this cannot be lowered by distribution of coal, pasta or non-systematic financial aids, which are termed as "alms."

14 billion in 2009

If it were, the 14 billion Turkish Liras that Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said was distributed among the poor in 2009 would've helped.

The CHP's "Family Insurance" move to provide systematic and, more importantly, transparent financial aid to the poor receives support from academic circles.

For instance, one of the founders of the "Social Policy Forum" at Boğaziçi University and has been studying on poverty for years, Professor Ayşe Buğra is one of those that give importance to the "Family Insurance."

She says the "cash transfer" to the poor implemented in the European Union, South America, Asia and Africa reaches its target.

According to Buğra, cash transfer causes a 10-point drop in the poverty figures.

The CHP's "Family Insurance" program is an implementation to pull the concept of "social services experts" to the fore, which is unfortunately not very common in Turkey yet.

Social services experts determine which family needs how much assistance.

Currently, aid is distributed randomly upon a request by a village or neighborhood head or neighbors of the poor.

Personal development support to youth

One of the important obstacles before the CHP's "Family Insurance" is the lack of social services specialists. The total number of them in Turkey is only 5,000.

With this figure, it is impossible to fully apply the program.

As far as I see, however, the CHP plans to provide training in order to close the gap.

Another leg of Kılıçdaroğlu's election moves is about the youth.

The day after the announcement of the "Family Insurance," the CHP announced "GenceArtı" (A Plus for the Youth) project to create jobs for the youth.

The project is being conducted by one of the leading businesswomen in Ankara and also a CHP Party Assembly member, Aylin Nazlıaka.

The other day, Nazlıaka invited me to the province of Düzce, where the project is given a start. She says "personal development" seminars will be organized for the youth, who need jobs in 30 cities.

The "GenceArtı" project seems to support our education system to raise the next generations with self-confidence.

Similar programs to the "Family Insurance" and "GenceArtı" will be announced in the upcoming days, says Kılıçdaroğlu.

Will we see how the CHP's social state move will be reflected in the ballot box?







The Davis Affair is exposing the weaknesses at the heart of governance. The federal government, at every juncture since the fatal shooting in Lahore on January 27, has done all in its power to not take a stand. It has ducked and dodged and eventually 'handed off' the problem of defining immunity for Davis to the courts. Our Foreign Office, who might reasonably be thought to be the repository of expertise and knowledge regarding matters diplomatic, begged the court for three weeks in which to make a reply and come up with a working definition of immunity in respect of Davis. Three weeks? This is information that they should have at their fingertips, enshrined in manuals of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's). This is the information that should have been immediately, within hours of the shooting, have been transmitted to the foreign minister, the prime minister and the president. It should have defined our position and response, have been unambiguous and determined, once in the hands of those whose job it is to lead us, the 'line' to be taken.

Instead of clarity and a defined and determined stand in respect of a man who beyond dispute killed two of our citizens in broad daylight and was instrumental in the death of one other; we have obfuscation and confusion. The Americans have pounced on this ineptitude, further muddied the waters and managed to portray us as somehow in the wrong both for detaining Davis and subjecting him to due process of law. Interestingly, there is a ringing silence from the wider diplomatic community in terms of support for the American position. A foreign diplomat speaking off the record to this newspaper several days ago was of the opinion that the American stance may put at risk other diplomats in other parts of the world. Possibly so. We now arrive at a position where, because of the adoption of a principled stance, a foreign secretary has lost his job. Much further down the pecking order, Fauzia Wahab may lose her job as spokesperson for the PPP for her own bumbling intervention on the immunity issue. Hers could hardly be called a principled position, more a carefully-aimed shot in the foot. A three-line whip has been imposed on cabinet members in terms of who may and who may not make public statements on the Davis Affair. The judiciary may decide not to play along with the government and lob the 'definition' ball back into the government side of the court. And all this brouhaha for the lack of a defined and sustained position that should have been our starting point less than twenty-four hours after the incident. If the Americans bully us into compliance it will be because our government lacked the guts to take a stand at the outset.






A week on from the fall of Hosni Mubarak and the crowds are back in Tahrir square, Cairo. The army is in control of the country with a commitment to revision of the constitution and free and fair elections at some future date. Colonel Gaddafi has toured the streets of Tripoli, capital of Libya in an attempt to rally loyalists to his side. He has spent 40 years at the helm and the cracks are beginning to show. In Bahrain, perhaps as many as 20,000 people attended the funeral of Mahmood Abu Taki, killed when the army broke up protests against the government on February 17. In Yemen, photographers and cameramen covering anti-government protests were targeted by security men. In Saudi Arabia, a wider public is waking up to the turmoil and change around them; and their government looks a little nervously over its shoulder at Kuwait, where the fermentation process is bubbling.

There can be little doubt that the events which brought about the downfall of the Tunisian government, rippled across the Maghreb to Egypt and saw the ouster of President Mubarak, and now start to trigger reaction in the Gulf States are part of a pan-Arab phenomenon. There is scarcely a corner of the Arab world that is not touched by events of the last eight weeks and we are in a time of change unlike any other since the demise of the colonial powers in the wake of World War II. Many of the regimes that now feel the 21st century knocking at their door are reaching the end of dynastic or single-leader domination, and they would have ended anyway as key figures sickened and eventually died. But the pent-up rage is no longer containable. The populations that for decades have suffered autocratic rule are discovering that they have in their hands the tools to bring about change. It will cost lives, bloodless revolutions are rare anywhere, and those still in shaky power will use repressive means at their disposal to cling to power as long as they can. And when they have toppled whichever demagogue has made their lives a misery what chance do they have of a better one? Egypt and Tunisia will be the yardsticks by which the Freedom Road is measured in coming months.







Just as matters seem to be calming down between institutions, a new front appears to have opened up. The Supreme Court's suspension of a decision by the Parliamentary Committee rejecting the names of four additional judges of the Lahore High Court recommended by the Judicial Commission for an extension in service highlights, in the first place, the flaws in the new method of appointment of judges laid down under the 18th Amendment Bill. For months, many have been predicting a stand-off between the judiciary and the Parliamentary Committee regarding this matter.

The key reason for the decision by the two member SC bench is that the Parliamentary Committee failed to offer any reasons for rejecting the judges. The Attorney General has said this will be done, but the offer comes rather late in the day. The names of 20 other judges have been accepted but it is clear that the damage has already been done. Differences over this issue could, in future, assume far more serious dimensions creating the kind of rift between institutions that we have been trying, month after month, to ward off. This case also highlights the issue of judicial independence and constitutional guarantees that the institution will enjoy independent status. The fact that the committee had failed to explain why the recommendations were not accepted also raises further questions about how matters will proceed in future. In order for institutions to work smoothly together, the system in place needs to work efficiently. This does not seem to be the case at present. The risks posed by this situation are many and raise all kinds of questions about the future. These need to be sorted out. The very last thing we need at this juncture is a clash between key institutions. The latter would be a disaster for our country.








WASHINGTON: After four and a half hours of listening recently in Washington DC to South Asia specialists on three different panels divining Pakistan's future and the US role, Moeed Yusuf, of the US Institute of Peace (USIP), a Pakistani native and a convener of the marathon session, concluded with a sigh of relief: "At least no one suggested Pakistan and the US go their separate ways."

His remark actually conjured up what is essentially that mythical elephant in the room. For such a pessimistic and as yet unspoken option lurked beneath the much of the gloomy analysis of some of the most knowledgeable commentators of the region. If Pakistan and the US were a married couple instead of being strategic players (if not partners), counselors would recommend at least a long, trial separation, if not total divorce.

The occasion was a full morning entitled "The future of Pakistan" at the DC headquarters of the think tank USIP, co-sponsored by another eminent think tank, the Brookings Institute and its South Asia specialist, Stephen P Cohen. It might have been more realistic to adopt the title used by the Heritage Foundation, another DC think tank, which offered a discussion on Pakistan and the US under the title, "Deadly embrace".

About 300 listeners jammed the conference hall, with an overflow accommodated in another hall linked by closed-circuit TV. Most of the audience was Washington DC suits. With only a sprinkling of Pakistanis and other Asians, suggesting the large and vital Pakistani community in the region may have known something of the outcome that the Americans attending did not.

Washington hosts what appears to be an endless fascination that borders on fantasy about the Pakistan-US relationship. Hardly a week goes by without some specialists gathering on panels to examine the entrails of that relationship, especially now as it relates to US combat in Afghanistan, another subject that often descends to fantasy.

Among weighty think tanks dealing with international relations, Pakistan pops up as a subject far more often than almost any other Asian concern, such as India, North Korea or even China. As for the latter, right-wing (or conservative) think tanks such as Heritage or the American Enterprise Institute, fortified, I suspect, by generous donations from Taiwan, most often deal with China but too often in the context of cross-strait relations, suggesting an irrational equation between Taiwan and the mainland.

Such sessions I attend are mainstream affairs, never postulating an end to military support or action or, heaven forbid, a withdrawal of US interest to let the players sort out the problems themselves.

Much of the DC hand wringing about Pakistan often focuses on what the US must do to save its relationship with that benighted country. The concern lately has spread to Afghanistan but few worry as much about other South Asian players, such as India, Bangladesh (an intellectual desert as far as DC think tanks are concerned) or Nepal. I suspect the nervousness over saving Pakistan is rooted more than 60 years ago when the notorious China lobby of Henry Luce and others branded those Mao-influenced diplomats in the State Department as traitors for losing Chiang kai-Shek's China to Mao ze-Dong. None now wants the distinction of losing Pakistan even if Pakistanis are doing a good job of it themselves.

To their credit, at least two of the panelists gazing into the future at the USIP concluded that 'it was not America that was going to save Pakistan. It will be Pakistanis who will save Pakistan," although without specifying exactly how this feat was to be accomplished.

There is so much to chew over in the US-Pakistan relationship, which since the 1950s has been beset by one misunderstanding after another, from the time Ayub Khan saw the US as a steady supplier of arms to use against India and John Foster Dulles saw Pakistan as a jigsaw piece for building a containing wall in Central Asia against the Soviet Union.

In all these panel discussions, there is much use of words such as 'partnership' and 'ally', without examining why Pakistan permits itself to be the safe haven for forces fighting American soldiers in Afghanistan or even why dispatching an aircraft carrier to the Bay of Bengal was the best the US could do to save Pakistan from splitting in two in 1971. I have not heard any suggestion that in fact Pakistan, like Egypt or Israel, is more of an American client state than allies, a more realistic definition of the relationship that might produce more realistic policies.

I attend these sessions eagerly, now that I no longer have to write spot stories for deadlines, in the hope of seeing good friends, staying up to date, learning more, particularly searching for fresh insight that indicates some progress in thinking since I became involved with Pakistan after I opened the first Associated Press bureau there in 1969. In my attendance at these sessions as with my visits to Pakistan, I find myself meeting the sons and daughters of the men and women I met in the early 70s and find they are making the same mistakes as their elders.

Not much new rose out of the USIP panels. Wendy Chamberlin, who was US ambassador to Pakistan at the time of 9/11 and now heads of the Middle East Institute in Washington, provoked a gasp if not a titter when she suggested sex as a factor in the Pakistan imbroglio. She went on to explain that mis-directed, runaway testosterone played a role in the persistent violence there. I have often made similar suggestions when in Pakistan about Pakistani men not having enough orgasm, a remark that usually provokes very funny looks my way.

The conversations dealt with familiar topics, the disconnect between the US and Pakistani public opinion, the power of religion and so on. Christine Fair, a young professor at Georgetown University, insisted: "We need to see Pakistan as it is and deal with it on its terms." She also had a good word for the appeal of Sharia law on the basis of what she said was its aim for good governance and its stand against corruption.

The role of fundamentalist Islam in Pakistan still seems to arouse relatively little concern among Pakistanis, although I notice rising apprehension among my friends there. Educated Pakistanis long ago surrendered the control of the religion to a noisy if fringe leadership. Do you encounter anyone from the well-educated classes actually serving as imams or in other positions of influence in Islam? That state is unlikely to change unless Islamist power threatens the military, the bureaucracy and an elite business class satisfied to earn high profits using cheap labour and paying little or no taxes.

The panels displayed concern about Pakistan's perilous economic state without reference to its thriving black economy (just ride through Defense Society in Karachi or the Cantonment in Lahore). Huma Yusuf, a young reporter for a Karachi-based newspaper, now on a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in DC as well as a graduate of Harvard and a program at MIT, served on a panel, representing, whether she wanted to or not, young, well-educated Pakistan. I asked her after her speaking stint where her generation was in Pakistan. She replied sadly, they are all trying to get out of Pakistan.

The above-mentioned Moeed Yusuf thought that the years of coalition government to which Pakistan is doomed eventually might create a democracy similar to that enjoyed in India, a view that seems very long-term. As for the future of Pakistan, those interested may read Stephen Cohen's summary of papers on the subject produced by scholars last year in the placid surroundings of Bellagio, Italy at the Brookings Institute web site. Otherwise, after four and a half hours, no big idea emerged, the future of Pakistan remained as murky as ever.

The writer served as the first AP Bureau chief in Islamabad in 1969 and was a close friend of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He later set up a library in Karachi named after his late wife.







Against all odds, this government has completed sixty per cent of its term. But what price has the country had to pay for this achievement, which is the result of its politically expedient compromises?

A prime example is the strategy of consensus-building on critical financial issues. In working parliamentary democracies, governments take the budget to parliament, backed by a Finance Bill and after consultations with all the relevant stakeholders. The government falls if it still cannot get the Finance Bill approved. That is how important financial matters are in a working democracy.

The government was convinced that a VAT had to be imposed and had borrowed money from the IMF on the premise that a value-added tax was going to be levied for an increase in the tax base. It chickened out during the budget and, for almost eight months, has been postponing the imposition of the newly concocted RGST. While politically everyone is claiming credit for new taxes not being imposed and the common man thus being "saved," nobody is telling the man on the street that the resultant deficit is reducing his buying power by the day. Because of politically expedient decision-making and the consequent need to print more notes to finance the deficit, the economy is running into the ground and life for the common man is becoming still more unbearable.

Meanwhile, with the global oil prices going up, the government does not have the courage to charge the actual cost of petrol from the public, again opting to print more currency notes to keep things going. The government's objective is staying in power and completing its term, regardless of what the country's condition is going to be at the end of that term.

Despite the unending printing of new currency notes, the federal government Is in such financial straits that it is difficult to arrange the payment of salaries to government servants. The army is short of operational money, with reports that helicopters being used in anti-terrorist efforts have had to be grounded because of shortage of fuel.

The casualness of financial decision-making is mind-blowing. No one bothered to determine whether the provincial governments, where the bulk of government servants are, can afford a fifty-per-cent increase in salaries in one go, when the normal increments of only 7.5 per cent were already increasing the financial burden every year. By one uninformed decision the cabinet wiped out the benefits of the much trumpeted additional money being transferred to the provinces following the NFC Award, which transferred additional responsibilities to them.

The contagious trend of market salary for government servants started from the success story of the Motorway Police and spread to the rest of the police, and to the army and all other departments. So while salaries, and consequently pensions, doubled in the last few years, nobody has bothered to evaluate whether the delivery doubled as well in terms of the scale and quality of work, or even improved marginally.

Rather than coming down, corruption has gone up, if the media and Transparency International are to be believed. The success of the Motorway Police was due not just to better salary but to a culture of efficiency which the department adopted right from the start. You can't improve the efficiency of a normal government department simply by doubling the salaries without improving the work culture.

Because of this overspending on salaries, hardly anything is left for other things so essential to the effective use of the services of the staff, like money for utilities, travelling, and other contingencies. The development budget, meant to be spent on strengthening infrastructure, among other things, is being slashed at an unprecedented scale.

How do you improve things if this same government is to lead the country for another two years? The logical answer is: change the team running the government. When the dissolution of the cabinet was announced, there was hope that members of the team who had performed badly would be replaced and the government would find competent and honest persons in their place. But what actually happened was that only four new faces were introduced, and two of the better ministers in the cabinet were dropped, while 18 old ministers continued. This obviously implies that the prime minister and his "new" team are the best the present government has. In that case, God help Pakistan.

The government continues to borrow with abandon and has doubled the national debt in only three years. What gives the right even to an elected government to pursue an unsustainable agenda by not levying taxes and indulging in direct subsidy, with political motives (for example, the Benazir Income Support Programme is an example)? The Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act, 2005, enacted to limit this kind of irresponsible behaviour has gone out the window. The issue of galloping indebtedness is not even an issue with the media.

Amid such incompetent decision-making, can we afford another two years with the same team? Perhaps Raza Rabbani's committee should do one more good deed for this nation and amend the Constitution through a 20th Amendment to reduce the government's term to four years, so that general elections become due in March.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:








 I was both amazed and amused at the statement made by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir in which he placed himself in the unenviable position of Raymond Allen Davis, a US Special Forces soldier, who is "on contract" with the Department of Defence and was sent on a "special mission" to Pakistan. According to the US embassy, he had diplomatic status and thereby "enjoyed diplomatic immunity from criminal jurisdiction" for the crime he committed. However, according to the US embassy again, the cold-blooded shooting was in "self-defence" because Davis thought the two Pakistanis he shot in the congested Mozang area were trying to rob him.

Salman Bashir reportedly said that had he been in Davis' position, he would not have sought immunity. Salman Bashir can say this because he knows that he would have never been involved in an incident like this. As a diplomat on foreign duty, he could have been in an accident causing death or injury to someone, but never in a shoot-to-kill incident--even in self-defence. No Pakistani diplomat is trained to use, or even allowed to carry, a handgun. In Davis' case, we are talking of the Glock, one of the most sophisticated small weapons. The Glock is used only by professional killers in the special security services of the most technologically advanced military powers of the world.

As a seasoned diplomat, Salman Bashir couldn't even imagine being part of a gung-ho battalion, as Davis is. His brother may be a naval chief, but he himself could not even dream of commanding a Foreign Office with a special guerrilla wing for overseas diplomatic "killer" assignments. Therefore, he shouldn't make even a hypothetical comparison with Davis, someone of questionable diplomatic credentials, who was involved in that gory incident which ultimately resulted in the killing of a third young Pakistani and the suicide by the widow of one of the other two youths.

The very nature of this case has sparked a great deal of curiosity about diplomacy. And it has raised questions as to what the hell we professional diplomats do in this chaotic world. No doubt, many misconceptions prevail about diplomacy. To some, it could be a mysterious activity conducted by "clever and suspicious" persons about whom little is known or understood. To others, it could be a useless and irrelevant activity that should have no role in today's world; an expensive luxury and a waste of time.

The options available to sovereign states in dealing with each other need to be examined here. To put it simply, states can either retreat into isolation or refuse to have anything to do with the rest of the world. Or they can try to impose their wills through force and coercion on other states. On the other hand, they can also pursue their national interests through dialogue, mutual engagement and cooperation. Surely, the third option is the only desirable one.

There is no substitute for dialogue and cooperation. This is not only common sense but also a norm that has been validated over time as a universally accepted principle of inter-state relations. That is why diplomacy is an instrument of statecraft for the conduct of relations with other states.

The time of sending warriors as couriers on behalf of sovereign princes is long gone. After the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, states opted out of "the province of military contractors and theologians," leaving their disputes to be resolved through professional diplomats. Before the Westphalia settlement, there was no recognisable diplomatic profession. Soldiers used to be led by private entrepreneurs as contractors, who garnered pay from their own estates or from the lands they plundered. Armed warrior messengers and heralds citing scripture or handing out declamations were the usual route that princes chose to convey their demands to each other, or to announce the start of a war.

After the Treaty of Westphalia, diplomats and warriors began to share a kind of regulatory synergy. They sought less a "victory" and more a "favourable peace." War, after Westphalia, as the great observer Carl von Clausewitz put it, became a "stronger form of diplomacy," making the battlefield an extension of the "conference chamber." With the passage of time, as inter-state relations became more and more expansive and complex, modern diplomacy also acquired multitudinous dimensions, both in nature and scope.

In a system of sovereign entities, a state may enhance its power at the expense of its rivals through duress or violent coercion, or through negotiation and diplomatic engagement even though it may well involve bargaining, trickery and misrepresentation. The end is the same. The means differ, depending upon the circumstances. Diplomacy ends where war begins, and begins where war ends. Also at times, diplomacy itself becomes war, and wars are fought as a means of diplomacy.

Diplomacy is the employment of tact to gain strategic advantage over one's rival or interlocutor, or through the phrasing of statements in a non-confrontational, polite or social manner. In essence, however, diplomacy is a well-resourced and skilful political activity taking place between and among states in pursuit of their respective foreign policy goals, typically without resort to force, propaganda or legal means. But at the end of the day, modern diplomacy, like military force, is an instrument for the enhancement of state power. That is what we are witnessing now. States continue to resort to brutal force.

We are now witnessing the revival of pre-17th century diplomacy. Now trained, Glock-carrying "on-contract" warriors are sent on diplomatic missions to kill. They might soon render redundant polite, soft-spoken and sociable professional diplomats like Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and Ambassador Cameron Munter. The first and the last lines of defence are now getting blurred. History my soon begin recording the names of today's warrior-diplomats like Raymond Allen Davis as one of the most distinguished and renowned US diplomats.

The galaxy of American diplomats includes people like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Franklin Benjamin, Averill Harriman, Adlai Stevenson, George F Kennan, John Kenneth Galbraith, Joseph P Kennedy, Bahamian-American Sir Sidney Poitier, Shirley Jane Temple, George H W Bush, Madeline Albright, Bill Richardson, and Richard Holbrooke. Welcome to the exclusive gallery of American diplomats, Mr Raymond Davis, or whoever you actually are by name.

The question of Davis' status has surely been mishandled by both the American and Pakistani governments. It was a simple legal issue involving interpretation of the Vienna Convention that could have been easily resolved at the level of Pakistan's Foreign Office. Unfortunately, the Foreign Office was kept sitting at the outer fences of the government, and did not play the central role that it should have played. If anything, this was a challenge for Salman Bashir as the foreign secretary of the "receiving" state and Mr Cameron Munter as ambassador of the "dispatching" state to have addressed by using their diplomatic skills, in which both are well trained.

Unfortunately, as in the case of the Kerry-Lugar Bill fiasco, both sides have once again messed up the whole issue by abnegating their responsibility and leaving the media to do everything on their behalf. The resultant situation now seems to be causing new strains in the already troubled Pakistan-US relationship. The matter did not belong to the court, but it has now been forced on it. And again, it is the Foreign Office that holds the key.

The problem in Pakistan is the corrupt, deceptive politics that reigns supreme. As Wikileaks made it clear, everybody is playing politics with each other. Ironically, the same politicians who have shown scant regard for the judiciary's decisions on the NRO and other high-profile corruption cases are now looking at the court as a shield for their own weaknesses and failures in handling the Raymond Davis case in conformity with the Vienna Convention. In the process, the country once again is a laughingstock the world over.

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email:








Rolled into one category of bigotry, brute power, duplicity and hypocrisy, the United States of America, Britain, France, and Germany together form the nexus of power which now rules the Muslim world through a neo-colonial set up which remains little studied and far less understood. This neo-colonial structure is pervasive; in fact, one cannot even begin to enumerate and identify the far-reaching impact of this cobweb of power with its ultimate centre in Washington DC.

To be sure, there is a certain amount of diffusion of this power and each of these four countries has a certain degree of independence in their foreign policy, but when it comes to dealing with the Muslim world, they work in unison: they collude, cooperate, and attack. If anyone has any doubt about it, the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq should be sufficient proof. Now, even the so-called prime source, the Iraqi defector who was used as the main proof of the alleged secret biological weapons program of Saddam Hussein has admitted that he lied. Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials, has confessed: he cooked up the whole story. But it is not conceivable that the Americans and Germans were so gullible to believe what Rafid said on face value. They simply used him, just as he used them to get money and asylum and together they brought death and destruction to millions of Iraqis.

The leadership of the neo-colonial quartet has many common characteristics not the least of which is that they all show utter contempt for Muslims, their faith, beliefs and practices if one can see the true meaning behind their sweet words. This is the same power mafia which has kept hordes of dictators alive in the Muslim world for decades and these are also the people who change overnight: one day Hosni Mubarak is a friend, even a sage ruling Egypt with wisdom, the next day, he must go to make room for the next person selected to be king.


The neo-colonial setup is based on the same basic policy which allowed France, Germany, and Britain to rule a very large part of the world during the classical era of colonisation. The building blocks of this system are the local traitors, memorably codified by Iqbal in his Javed Nama through two arch-traitors – Mir Jafar of Bengal and Mir Sadiq of Decca – who were instrumental in the defeat and death of Nawab Siraj-Ud-Daulah of Bengal and Tipu Sultan of Mysore respectively. They were the reason their country was shackled by slavery for years to come. There is no shortage of Mir Jafars and Mir Sadiqs in the Muslim world even today. These men and now women are willing to sell their nations to foreigners for personal benefit.

The entire edifice of neo-colonialism rests on this foundation. With their enormous wealth, bigotry, and sheer brute power, the neo-coloniser quartet is able to buy Mir Jafars and Mir Sadiqs everywhere. This has produced small ruling cliques in lands as far apart as Yemen and Morocco. These chosen and selected people act as surrogate rulers for the western quartet. In a way, this structure is an outgrowth of the colonial era; the only major difference is that now the military also serves as a base from which the rulers of the Muslim world are drawn by the quartet.

Unlike the nineteenth century, neo-colonisers of the Muslim world now, they do not insist on direct rule; rather, they work with multiple – and often mutually opposing – local warlords and political groups, but always keeping their own interest in focus. Thus, they can pitch a Pervez Musharraf and a Zardari in the field, just as they can do the same for a Suleiman and Mubarak. But in the end, all serve their interests.

There is, however, a new factor which has recently emerged in the Muslim world. The neo-colonial edifice of proxy rule is becoming increasingly difficult because the masses are awakening and beginning to understand what is happening to them. Thus, as the general public becomes more aware of the nature of this heinous game, the lifetime of local proxy rulers is shortening. It is fruitful to understand how this change is taking place for therein lie the hope that neo-colonialism will one day fail.

The change now underway all over the world has – as its driving force – a small group of intelligent people who are able to tell the masses what is going on. In certain Muslim countries, there is an additional factor – judiciary – but for all practical purposes, this is still a nascent factor which has not yet made its impact on the overall equation. For all practical purposes, the change is being driven by young intellectuals, who simply refuse to live with terror, and honest and brave journalists who have carved out a major role for themselves through electronic media which does not require reading ability which is still lacking in vast areas of the Muslim world. This new force – young men and women, intellectuals and journalists – has no power base; it is the sheer will of these people and their intelligence that is the real power which is threatening neo-colonialism of the western quartet.

The challenge posed by this new force to proxy rulers has made life very difficult in the Muslim world. There is constant strife and struggle. The ruling cliques, which are not necessary from among them (they just look like them), are pitched against their own people. These men and women, who ape their masters in everything they do, are thoroughly corrupt and can only stay in power with the blessings of the western quartet and in turn, they serve the interests of these powers. This marriage of convenience is evident all over the Muslim world and requires no more proof than the recent events in Egypt, which are bound to yield nothing substantial as one brute dictator will simply be replaced with a new set up which will guarantee continuation of neo-colonialism, albeit in a new disguise.


The writer is a freelance columnist.









The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

I was pleasantly surprised when Rahul Kulsheshtra, the affable Indian deputy High Commissioner in Pakistan, advised that the process of getting a medical visa for India would not take more than a day. We had been forced to withdraw my mother's application for a UK visa because despite our urgency and my mother's frail health she was required to personally visit the High Commission (despite being bedridden) for an interview and biometrics to qualify for a medical visa. Seeking an exemption from this process would have taken a week at a stage when we didn't have time on our side. It is inexplicable that our good old British friends won't create a process for immediate issuance of visas in Islamabad even for medical emergencies and insist on sending all applications to Abu Dhabi.

China, the other option, was most confusing. The Chinese embassy in Pakistan doesn't offer medical visas. You have to falsely state that you need a business or visit visa and then pay off a Pakistani intermediary to get the visa stamped. The other complexity is that foreigners are not authorised to get transplants in China. They do, but the whole thing works on a don't-ask-don't-tell basis. But China remains an attractive option for other reasons. There are two types of liver transplants: a cadaveric (or full-organ) transplant where the liver comes from someone who is no longer alive and has donated the organ; and a live donor transplant, where a living person offers the larger lobe of his liver to the patient whose cirrhotic liver is replaced with such graft.

The medical cost of living donor transplant in China is around $70,000. But if you can dish out $200,000 and not worry about legality, you could possibly buy yourself the cadaveric option. When confronted with a life-and-death situation of a loved one, you don't lose much sleep over the legality of your choices. That is why it is imperative for countries to have in place procedures and checks that simply don't present illegal and unethical options to desperate families. Pakistan has a transplant law meant to prevent organ harvesting. But most people who head to China for a living donor transplant have the option of purchasing a liver graft from an indigent donor in Pakistan for less than a million rupees. Pakistan's foreign office issues documents certifying that the donor is a relative of the recipient and the patient and donor can thus proceed to China for a transplant.

It is hard to draw ethical lines when it comes to issues of life and death. People donate blood to benefit patients they don't know. But it ought to be unethical for an eligible donor to buy blood. The same logic must apply to liver transplants. We need organ donation programmes in Pakistan so that people passing on to the other world can give the gift of life to those still here. We also need an ethical mechanism that allows you, as a living person, to offer the same gift of life to others on a philanthropic basis, if you can and wish to, even when you are not related to the patient. But to be able to purchase life saving organs from one coerced by destitution, especially when you are an eligible donor and just want to protect yourself from the risk that any donor faces, is definitely conduct that must be legally and socially proscribed.

India until recently was a haven for organ harvesting. But it has made amends. In transplant centres such as Apollo, each donor is required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, a DNA test and a panel interview to determine the legitimacy of the transplant and its voluntary nature. Other than these logistic, legal and ethical advantages of opting for India, a place like Apollo offers liver transplant expertise that favourably competes with the best facilities around the globe. Dr Subash Gupta, who heads the liver transplant centre at Apollo, has performed over 500 transplants. An overwhelming majority of these are living donor transplants that Pakistanis need (as opposed to cadaveric transplants available to citizens in western countries). India is also attractive because in comparison to China or Taiwan there are no cultural or linguistic barriers.

The Indian High Commission issued us visas the same day we submitted our applications. Shahid Malik, our capable, solicitous and thoughtful High Commissioner in India, had made arrangements to facilitate our arrival at Delhi airport. The Indian immigration staff was professional and courteous. Satvik Varma, friend and noted lawyer in Delhi (and our life-line through this journey), was at the airport to drive us to Apollo. Within two and a half hours of leaving Pakistan we were sitting in front of Dr Subash Gupta. A few minutes into the conversation it was obvious that this man knew his job exceptionally well. It took a few days to fully appreciate the meticulousness of the team he has put together, his strength as a leader and his compassion as a human being.

The standard of care we received was astounding. We were briefed on the course of my mother's treatment. In my capacity as liver donor I was apprised of the surgical process and how I would feel after surgery. When I gained consciousness Dr Gupta was present in the recovery room to reassure me that my mother's and my surgery had both been successful. On a Sunday morning during the first week after surgery when I was still in choppy waters, Dr Gupta called to check how I was doing and offered to swing by the hospital. The nursing staff at Apollo wasn't any less impressive: it had professionalism of the West wedded with the courtesy and mannerism of the East.

India is confronted with many of the challenges that Pakistan faces: poverty, illiteracy, corruption. But amidst such difficulties and the attendant chaos it has managed to create centres of excellence such as Apollo. Dr Gupta says he would be happy to welcome a couple of young Pakistani surgeons, who possess basic training and skill, to join his transplant team for a period of six months, participate in around a 100 surgeries and their pre- and post-transplant management, and then head home to afford Pakistanis the benefit of their expertise and experience.

Here is an invaluable opportunity for a health facility in Pakistan to enter into a partnership with Apollo and Dr Gupta's team to establish a credible liver transplant facility in Pakistan and hit the ground running. A team comprising surgeons, anaesthesiologists and nurses could join Dr Gupta's setup for a while and maybe a similar team of experienced transplant professionals from Apollo could be convinced to spend an equal amount of time in Pakistan. Here is an opening to build bridges of peace and trust between Pakistan and India by joining hands to establish a facility that will offer end-stage liver patients the gift of life within Pakistan that they are presently denied.

It is a part of our folklore that good neighbours are a blessing for they are the first ones to show up in moments of celebration as well as distress. Delhi and Apollo turned out to be a house of angels in our time of distress. Having experienced such care, consideration, hospitality and compassion at the hands of professionals and ordinary citizens alike, one realises that it will be such experiences of ordinary folks that will serve as foundations of peace and not memories from 1947, 1965 or 1971. We cannot erase our history and the bitterness and suspicion it brings along. But we can certainly create new memories that underline the humanism, industry and sense of humour that Indians and Pakistanis share. Let us give the people of these estranged countries the opportunity to freely interact with one another and build peace by discovering the similarities that overshadow their stated differences.










The Davis case has become even more crucial now that US President Barak Obama has spoken publicly in support of Raymond Davis. Obama also sent John Kerry to Lahore on a damage-control mission with the offer of investigating the Davis case under the US legal system.

This development clearly indicates that Davis is no ordinary figure and this realisation reinforces the point that the Pakistani political leadership and establishment have mishandled the Davis case and driven the country to a point where humiliation is may be hard to avoid.

What is clear is that the movement of Raymond Davis was not in the knowledge of the government. This explains why he was on the streets of Lahore without official security arrangements. It is also clear that his case will revolve around arguments of self-defence and diplomatic immunity. Detailed information regarding Davis' presence on Lahore's streets might have provided an opportunity to improve communication between our authorities and US officials working in Pakistan.

The damage-control mission started a bit late when emotions were already running high. A delay in the government's response has created confusion among the people. Already, Davis is being perceived as the pre-partition gora-sahab. The government has refrained from commenting on Davis' status. It has been trying to throw the burden of resolving the issue on the judiciary instead.

The Foreign Office, the authority that should have clarified Davis' status, has remained silent. Its silence has given the right-wingers (but not just them) an opportunity to mould public opinion along populist lines. The issue pertaining to Shah Mehmood Qureshi has added fuel to fire.

American officials have subsequently gone into a state of panic. Their frenzied diplomatic efforts made it appear as though Davis would be executed overnight. In its panic, the US administration adopted an imperialist tone, threatening Pakistan and reminding its leadership that the financial support they depend upon comes from America.

Gradually, the Davis case has become a matter of pride for both countries involved. It was against this backdrop that Senator John Kerry landed in Lahore, apparently for damage-control. His views were clear: Raymond enjoys diplomatic immunity but will be tried under the American legal system.

He also mentioned that this matter could affect the 'strong relationship' between the two countries. The stick and carrot policy approach emerged central to Senator Kerry's damage-control strategy.

The issue has divided the media too. One camp is playing up the emotional aspect of the situation and the other is apparently trying to speak reason. Public opinion, already against the US because of drone attacks and America's alleged imperialist policies, has swung in favour of the more emotional, indignant approach.

Things would not have come to this had the Pakistani government kept the issue focused on Davis' activities. Also, if the US establishment had remained silent and had dealt with the case through proper channels rather than going public, the situation might not have worsened.

For now, the only solution lies in giving the issue more time. Rigidity in diplomacy always brings out negative results. Sanity will only prevail once emotions subside. America's efforts to impose its will through threats will feed extremists enough material to manipulate moderate minds. In the long run, a charged atmosphere will be harmful for the Pak-US relationship.

The writer is a freelancer.








UNFORTUNATELY, there is a worldwide perception linking extremism to Islam and Pakistan because of the coherent and sustained propaganda campaign unleashed by some Western countries and India. But the fact remains that in India extremism is found in its worst form and this is manifested regularly by hate policies and actions of parties and groups like Shiv Sena and RSS against minorities including Muslims and Christians.

Latest in the series is a threat hurled by Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray that he will interfere if Pakistan cricket team reached the final of the ICC World Cup 2011. This is not mere gossip as it came from the mouth of former Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi who told reporters in Mumbai "Bal Thackeray will decide whether to allow Pakistan team to play or not". This is not for the first time that such an extreme view has been expressed by Shiv Sena and other similar groups as in the past as well even pitches were dug up to stop India from playing cricket against Pakistan. Memories are still afresh on how Shiv Sena conducted itself when famous Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan spoke in favour of Pakistan following IPL3 auction. Earlier, in January 2009, prominent Pakistan stage actor Shakeel Siddiqui was beaten up by Hindu extremist elements in Mumbai where he had gone to perform in 'Comedy Circus'. The BJP is rightly called a party of hatred and India's version of the Taliban. Under its leadership in the state of Gujarat, over 1,000 Muslims were hacked to pieces and burned alive in 2002 - the BJP Chief Minister incited the riots and is thought to have been responsible for allowing police to partake in the massacres. BJP is also linked to Hindu extremist groups like the RSS, the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which mount hate campaigns and sometimes violent attacks against religious minorities and demand that Hinduism dominates society and politics. The RSS is now perhaps the world's largest paramilitary organisation, with millions of members who unleash violence against minorities especially Muslims every now and then. These are only a few examples and the fact remains that even Union and State Governments have a number of laws that restrict the rights of minorities to practise their religion freely or construct places of worship. The world should, therefore, take note of extremist tendencies in India as well, otherwise Muslims would be justified to think that they are being singled out for obvious motives.








PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday invited the leading business houses of the country to convene a meeting of all political parties from their platform on the issue of economic reforms to put the economy on a solid footing and ensure continuity of the policies. During a presentation by Pakistan Business Council he also offered Presidency as the venue of the roundtable meeting, adding that he would participate in it as Co-Chairman of the ruling Party.

It is good of the President to have diverted his attention to one of the most crucial challenges confronting the country – deteriorating economic conditions that also weaken our political sovereignty and make the country vulnerable to all sorts of pressure tactics by some of our foreign friends. Economic strength is the concrete foundation on which the entire edifice of a State rests but unfortunately this aspect remained neglected over decades because of overwhelming focus on politics and divisive issues. Though some governments in the past did launch several laudable initiatives that had the potential to bring about a significant change in the situation, they fell victim to political instability and change of governments. We honestly believe that factors contributing to economic mess are fully known to the Government and experts like Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh have the required vision to address them but they only need political backing and commitment, which are lacking at the moment. Things have also been discussed threadbare by the Government and the PML(N) teams during their dialogue on economic reforms but the question arises who will implement them. While we appreciate the idea of the President for RTC on economic reforms we would also emphasize that the moot can yield positive results only if the Government expresses its complete readiness to implement its recommendations without ifs and buts as has been the case so far.







THE 10th Cricket World Cup opened in Dhaka Thursday in a blaze of colour with captains of the 14 competing teams parading through the stadium and host country's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declaring the tournament open. The second mega event of Cricket in South Asia is being played in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, but unfortunately Pakistan which was originally among the hosts has been excluded due to security concerns thus denying the cricket fans to throng the grounds and enjoy the game of the gentlemen.

The tournament is the world's fourth largest and most viewed sporting event and according to the ICC, it is the most important tournament and the pinnacle of achievement in the sport. Cricket lovers are very much excited about the upcoming cricket world cup and eagerly awaiting for the team matches starting from today (19th February) with a match between two of the host nations Bangladesh and India. Fourteen teams will be competing in the tournament's 49 matches. Cricket experts are pinning hopes on different teams but as it is said Cricket is a game of chance and on many occasions there had been upsets when the top ranking teams could not qualify for even the semifinals. This also happened with Pakistan in the last World Cup in the West Indies when they were unable to make the last four. People in Pakistan, like others in South Asia watch cricket matches more than any other sports but regrettably they would do so over TV screens or listen over the Radio waves this time as the ICC despite all the assurances did not agree to stage the share of matches in Pakistan. As if that was not enough, three of its key players were banned from the sports who would have given much needed strength to the team and tough going to the opponents particularly the two world class bowlers Aamir and Asif. Anyhow Pakistani team is known for showing better performance when the going is difficult. Pakistan upset the odds at the 1992 World Cup as they lifted the trophy in Australia with victory over England in the final. It was one of the biggest days in Pakistan cricket history. With all Pakistani eyes on the green shirts, we hope they would repeat the performance of 1992 to silence the critics and provide a much-needed moment of joy to the nation.








A Pakistani court has given the government three weeks to decide whether Raymond Davis, a US official accused of killing two Pakistanis, has diplomatic immunity. Since Raymond Davis shot dead to Pakistanis, there has been tremendous pressure from the US officials and lately President Barack Obama in a press conference urged Pakistan to release the murderer, as he enjoys diplomatic immunity. According to legal experts, all diplomats do not enjoy blanket immunity, and it has yet to be established whether he is a diplomat or member of the technical staff or contractors' employee. Though, the US administration itself did no say in so many words, yet it conveyed the message through its media and law makers' statements. Representative John Kline, a member of the three-member delegation of House of Representatives, had also said that many lawmakers would support cutting aid if the American, who the United States insists has diplomatic immunity, is not freed. Already, trilateral talks between the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan due later this month have been postponed, which is reflective of strained US ties with Islamabad.

Earlier, the US had threatened Pakistan of severing diplomatic relations and cutting US aid to Pakistan if Raymond Davis, who was arrested on 27th January after shooting dead two Pakistan motorcyclists, was not released immediately. It is difficult to comprehend why the US goes to the extent of snapping diplomatic ties with Pakistan and also put everything at stake especially in view of its ongoing war in Afghanistan? Senator John Kerry had insisted that Raymond Davis enjoys diplomatic immunity under Vienna Convention, to which Pakistan is a signatory, adding that the courts have no jurisdiction so far as this case is concerned. But the problem is that it is already in the court, and it is up to American government and Pakistan's foreign office to prove that he is eligible for diplomatic immunity. Americans have to understand that Pakistani courts are as independent as American courts, though in latter case there are Indian caucus and Jewish lobby who have been instrumental in using sentiments of families of the American Jewish citizens killed in Mumbai attack in 2008.

The issue of summons for ISI chief and members of LeT by New York court in Brooklyn speak volumes about it. The orders were part of a case filed by an injured US citizen and the heirs of the four others, who were killed in the terror strike on 26th November, 2008. DG ISI Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, his predecessor Lt General (R) Nadeem Taj, Major Ali and Major Iqbal are among the Pakistani officials who have been summoned. Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi are also among the list. The counsel, for assassinated Jews Rabbi Gabriel Holtzberg, a US-Israeli citizen and his wife Rivka, said: "Summons already issued, and they will have to appear before the court in person or through a lawyer. I have told my clients that the case may take years before any verdict but they are ready to take the matter to its logical end," the counsel said, adding that they wanted a proper compensation".

The question is whether David Patraeus and Mike Mullen could also be summoned and tried by Pakistani courts because those killed in drone attacks have filed petitions in Pakistani court. America should remember that Pakistan is neither the 51st state of the US nor it is a banana republic. Anyhow, the summons for ISI chief and others from American court could arguably be the result of ineptness of Pakistan's foreign office and the government that did not seek access to Headley, whereas India by having access to Headly used as a propaganda tool against Pakistan. If a case against the terrorists was in Indian court, so was a case registered against terrorists who are under trial in Pakistani court. It is unfortunate that Pakistani leadership seems to have no concept of national dignity and self-respect, and one would not know how long it would continue taking insult heaped on Pakistan by members of US administration, which even a banana republic's leadership would not tolerate?
It is generally believed that the major cause for our national woes and miseries is corrupt, unimaginative, wishy-washy and namby-pamby leadership, which has been victim of self-contradiction, self-abnegation and self-abasement in its thoughts and actions. Since 1950s, almost all governments, whether democratic or military, failed to make this resourceful country into a self-reliant country, which is the primary reason for dependency on America and others. Perhaps, it will not be an exaggeration to say that almost all rulers in the past remained in office at the pleasure of the US - till the time they looked after the American interests. And whenever any one of them became unpopular because of the flawed policies, he was disowned by America. Of course, Pakistan's leadership is responsible in equal measure for signing the defemce pacts in 1950s whereby the US and the West had committed to help only in case of communist aggression.

From President Obama to late Richard Holbrook to US Generals, all considered Pakistan as epicenter of terrorism, but they always conveniently forgot that the US was also equally responsible for creating the spectre of terrorism, and therefore it should share the blame and the responsibility. Before 9/11, Pakistan was not familiar with terrorism and suicide bombings, and one did not see terror in any form or manifestation before the Afghan jihad in 1980s. It was the United States and its cohorts who introduced this predominantly moderate polity to the dangerous phenomenon when they were fighting a proxy war against the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan. Apart from roping in zealots in hordes from all over the world and disgorging them in Pakistan to cross over to the Afghanistan battlefields, bagfuls of greenbacks and petrodollars were unloaded here by America's CIA for religious radicalization. This created fanatics locally as well to fight this proxy war that they had labeled as Afghan Jihad and its fighters mujahideen. Osama bin Laden was projected by international media as a great mujahid who had sacrificed every comfort of life and all his wealth for the sake of jihad.

There is no doubt that Pakistan should have good relations with the US and other countries of the world, but a line has to be drawn beyond which Pakistan should not go. Tomorrow, if the US invokes its active policy of containing China and wants Pakistan to be a part of the alliance, Pakistan should say no to any such suggestion because Pakistan cannot afford to be a part of big game. There is a perception that Pakistan was disintegrated by becoming part of Seato and Cento against former USSR in 1950s. But it should also be remembered that flawed domestic policies, lack of socio-economic justice and unequal development of the regions were equally responsible for the break-up of our motherland. And our allies had acted as silent spectators which was act of criminal negligence and betrayal.

But there is a long list of the US betrayals of this country over the past six decades, and this list is becoming lengthier with the passage of every decade. In the coming decades too, predictably the list will continue expanding, as Pakistan invariably comes to every US administration as a sacrificial goat to be exploited, manipulated and used, and then ditched to the abattoir when found no use of.








The outbreak of popular protest on the 25th January in the wake of similar protests in Tunisia is being hailed as an Egyptian revolution by the international media and the Western governments at large. The Tahrir square of Cairo and also other public places in Alexandria and Port Said were witnessing mass demonstrations of Egyptian youth, middle class and poor people for all together eighteen consecutive days demanding the resignation of their president who had been ruling their country for the last thirty years with the active political, financial and military support of the US and other Western powers including Germany & Israel. While the West was quoting human rights considerations when acting against Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan there was never a single voice raised out of any such considerations by those warriors for democracy and human rights with regard to Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Jordan for that matter.

Basically one should share the overwhelming joy of the Egyptian people who stood fast against the threats of an undecided army waiting for their dictator's fall and then against a horde of paid pro-regime loyalists who went on rampage killing several hundred of the protesters. The protesters refused to budge an inch or run away and give up their minimum demand of resignation of Mubarak in the face of violence, of half hearted reforms and even of Mubarak's last ditch effort to survive while ceding his powers to his newly appointed vice president, who is among others famous for damaging the Palestinian cause in Gaza . Nothing less than Mubarak regime's ouster would have silenced them and that was why Mubarak finally had to go. But what ever has what happened at the end of the day seems to be part of a well thought conspiracy against the people of Egypt . Surely, the refusal of the Egyptian army to side with Mubarak was a well thought deciding element in the equation. But another element was and is the role which the US kept playing during all that time of upheaval. At all stages the US administration was kept informed and was actively interfering into the course of events to

secure their own vested interest. The 6th April youth movement started in 2008 in Egypt under the umbrella of Western countries has played some active role in igniting this uproar for face changing. It is crystal clear how far this intervention has been reaching to defuse genuine out come. The newly appointed vice-president Suleiman was surely an American choice. How far is the Egyptian army under US influence, has become visible now when the constitution and fundamental rights have already been suspended to perpetuate the army in power or install another US puppet to ease out Israel?

It has been quite telling that the West is most concerned about the role that the Muslim Brotherhood has been playing in the uprising and what role it would be able to play in any future set-up coming as a result of elections. One of the first reasons for this is the fate of the peace agreement with Israel that had been the cause of former president Sadat's death and which since then has been upheld with an iron hand by Mubarak. The peace treaty with Israel which has been a major obstacle in the Palestinian cause is therefore the central concern of the Israel friendly US administration. A second concern would of course be a feared strengthening of influence of Islamist forces in a future political set-up in Egypt . Given the level of US and Western interference in this 'revolution' so far and the western interests that are at stake in the region one wonders if this revolution will really turn out to be pro public one or if it will be again totally hijacked by the West and thus turn into launching a new stooge government. Much will depend on the degree of independence, if any, which the Egyptian army will be able to display and if there will be really free and fair elections within the stipulated short period of time so as not to let go the drive for change.

Looking back at the twist and turns in history of Cleopatra's Egyptian empire we remember that in 1820, the Egyptian Ruler Muhammad Ali Pasha invaded and conquered northern Sudan . The region had longstanding linguistic, cultural, religious, and economic ties with Egypt and had been partially under the same government at intermittent periods since the times of the pharaohs. Muhammad Ali was aggressively pursuing a policy of expanding his power with a view to possibly supplanting the Ottoman Empire to which he technically owed fealty and saw Sudan as a valuable addition to his Egyptian dominions. During his reign and that of his successors, Egypt and Sudan came to be administered as one political entity, with all ruling members of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty seeking to preserve and extend the "unity of the Nile Valley ".

This policy was expanded and intensified most notably by Muhammad Ali's grandson, Ismail Pasha, under whose reign most of the remainder of modern-day Sudan was conquered. When British assumed control and made Egypt their protectorate, then people's hardship started and different underground movements took birth ultimately resulting in British liberalizing their control when the Unilateral Declaration of Egyptian Independence was issued by the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on 28 February 1922. Through this declaration, the British government unilaterally ended its protectorate over Egypt and granted it nominal independence with the exception of four "reserved" areas: foreign relations, communications, the military and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

The declaration was preceded by a period of inconclusive negotiations between the Egyptian and British governments. Areas of disagreement included Egypt 's position on the issues of the protectorate and of its future role in Sudan . Egyptian prime minister Adli Yakan Pasha and moderate Egyptian nationalists managed to obtain the agreement of British High Commissioner Edmund Allenby to secure the more general issue of Egypt 's independence.

The government of Liberal British Prime Minister Lloyd George wanted to maintain the protectorate over Egypt . However, High Commissioner Allenby threatened to resign. His actions brought the issue of Egyptian independence to public discussion and led to a quick official response: two weeks later when the declaration was issued British army remained in Egypt . With the popular support of Egyptian nation Zaghlul Pasha's Wafd party got 90% seats in the 1924 election held under 1923 constitution but the timid King Faud did not allow him to rule for more then 9 months, the peoples mandate was trampled and Zaghlul Pasha was dislodged within 9 months in November 1924, this was the patron of Western support for democracy in Muslim countries, which remains the same even today. In spite of 1922 Unilateral declaration Egyptian people were not given freedom by the British. Wafd party won the elections again in 1928 with its new leader, Nahas Pasha who then became prime minister of Egypt.

The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 was a treaty signed between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Egypt ; it is officially known as The Treaty of Alliance between His Majesty, in Respect of the United Kingdom , and His Majesty, the King of Egypt. Under the terms of the treaty, the United Kingdom was required to withdraw all its troops from Egypt , except those necessary to protect the Suez Canal and its surroundings, numbering 10,000 troops plus auxiliary personnel. Additionally, the United Kingdom would supply and train Egypt 's army and assist in its defense in case of foreign aggression.

That is the reason, why Pakistan is in dire need of a revolution as well or even more than Egypt . May be if the murderer Davis is surrendered to the US this would give the needed push to a real revolution. MQM leadership is also supportive of a future revolution to change the destiny of 98% Pakistanis who are living in sub human conditions like herds of cattle's, but history teaches that a revolution does not fall from heaven, it has to be brought about and suffered for by the people and the upcoming leaders together. As a revolutionary leader or a Messiah is always produced by the ashes of the revolution. It is amazing to see the hypocrisy of Western media and experts how they sell the happenings in Egypt as a 'revolution' while Obama and CIA had all the decision making in their hands all these 18 days. One wish that as a result of this movement Ikhwan ul Muslameen would come into power and scrap the Sadat's camp David agreement to declare the Balford declaration of 1917 as redundant and let the people of Palestine live in peace.








It is not over. We are mistaken. We all are standing at the Tahrir Square helplessly. Without being able to remove the rule of Hosni Mubaraks. These are those Hosni Mubaraks who have been in power for over "thirty years" – actually generations. These are none other than ourselves. We are clinging to our prejudices, preconceived notions, respective schools of thought and outdated ideas more strongly than Hosni Mubarak clung to power. Some of us are clinging to them from a much earlier age. Some of us are still not relenting while Hosni Mubarak actually did. Hosni Mubarak proved to be more flexible and accommodating. Having studied in Jami'atul Falah I know many of my Falahi friends. A big number of them find it extremely abhorrent to hear anything different – different from what they have grown older with. This defeats the very purpose of the existence of Jami'atul Falah (if some of the words have some meaning). When I see that they have become followers, it hurts. When I see that they make fun of the same methodology which they have learnt, then it pains. When I see that they are not willing to see beyond, then I wonder. When I see their giant Hosni Mubaraks then I aspire for many more Tahir Squares.

Am fortunate to know many AMU alumni. For them their preconceived notions and gravely mistaken ideas about 'the nearest life (al-hayaat al-dunyaa)' and 'the way of life (al-deen)' – which they have relentlessly clung to for many generations under severe conditioning effects – are far louder than all the clamouring on the Square. They give a deaf year to the protests. They are not listening to the teeming millions who have swarmed the streets of Cairo. Their rule of "thirty years" is not coming to an end. Not in the near future.

Our arrogance is the greatest Hosni Mubarak. When I find arrogance it only means that truth is eluding us the seeking of which is our career on earth – to the best of our capacities and with utmost humbleness. How can we afford not to relent when faced with truth? How can we be arrogant and the seeker of truth – both at the same time? If we still cannot see the difference then we need to go back to Makkah and analyze the characters – who was arrogant and why and who wasn't and why not?

We have been against one Hosni Mubarak mistaking him all this while to be somewhere farther away from ourselves. But the one which is the real one and is constantly in the mirror we do not worry about him. And we allow him to perpetuate his tyrannical rule as long as he wishes. The struggle for deposing these Hosni Mubaraks has to continue – all the life. Unless we depose them we will not see the real and lasting change which we are aspiring to and are deservedly excited about. We expect change from masses and then the Governments. We think that the change in regime is a precondition for the change within. But then what and why do we teach? How will we justify the existence of so many educational institutions? The day we sincerely work on ourselves and send our own selves to Sharm El Sheikhs (or anywhere else) we will see a new dawn. We will see a changed world around us. Congratulations for removing one Hosni Mubarak. There are many more.

Some of them I recently met during a study circle of Qur'an. The friends had reached to the concluding rukoo' of Soorah al-Baqarah. On being asked to comment, I protested on the Tahrir Square that "My pace of studying Qur'an is very slow and I haven't reached the end of Soorah al-Baqarah as I am still stuck with 'Show us the Straight Path' in Soorah al-Faatihah because when I contrast it with our situation then I hardly find any Path or anything Straight". But my protest was brutally crushed.I have seen them in the emails on our Forums. I come across them in my daily conversations.

I see them in our directionlessness and complete disorientation. I see them in our mistaken priorities. I see them in our frequent 'assertion' that "Jirgah apni jagah par lekin parnaalah wahee (n) giray gaa". I see them in our love for speed and distaste for direction. I see them in our notion that we cannot do anything unless the regime changes. I see them in blaming all others for our ills and evils. We have to depose all these Hosni Mubaraks – one by one.








Propelled by the happenings in Tunisia , the youth of Egypt decided to take to the streets. Protests started in Cairo on 25 January and soon spread to Alexandria and other cities. Police and paramilitary forces resorted to brutal actions to disperse the crowds and killed and injured people in dozens but the strength of protestors kept swelling. Their main slogans were 'go Mubarak go' and 'liberation and democracy'. When fatalities reached the figure of over 300 and hundreds got injured, Mubarak handed over security to the Army and curfew was imposed. Defying the curfew, on 4 February one million people gathered at Tahrir Square in Cairo and camped there saying that they would not vacate it till President Mubarak resigned. Saturation of Tahrir with sea of people paralyzed the flow of traffic. The Egyptian Army emulated Tunis Army's example and refused to shoot at the surging crowds and was satisfied that no anti-Army slogan was raised by the protesters.


82-year old Hosni dug his heels and refused to abdicate power despite surging pressure of the people and USA and key western countries veering away from him. His pledge to quit in September to ensure orderly transition was neither welcomed by the protesting Egyptians nor the world leaders including Obama. All favored swift and credible transition to democracy. His nomination of Lt Gen Suleiman Omar as his vice president on 29 January, dissolution of cabinet and recreation of fresh cabinet under new PM and his promise to carryout reforms didn't calm down the people.

When Hosni addressed the nation late night on 10 February, contrary to the expectations of all that he will announce his resignation, he expressed his resolve not to quit till election of new president. After jeering at him the whole night, when the crowds started moving towards the presidential palace in Heliopolis menacingly, Hosni decided to throw in the towel, hand over the reins to Omar and to shift to his private residence in Sharm el Sheikh. The 18-day revolt of the youth launched with a revolutionary zeal without the support of a political party or a central leader ended on a victorious note on 11th night.

There were countrywide celebrations which are still continuing. While bulk has moved out of Tahrir Square under constant goading by the army, the diehards are not ready to move out till completion of transition to democracy. They say that they had not made sacrifices to replace a dictator with another one. The parliament has been dissolved and the constitution suspended. The situation is still in a flux since the army is taking its time and wants to continue with Hosni's policies till completion of transition and formation of new government. The people are demanding release of political prisoners, lifting of state of emergency, closure of military courts, fair and free elections and swift handover of power to civil government.

Throughout the popular uprising, the US helplessly watched the unfolding events and made no effort to defuse the crisis. The west took a similar stance and asked Hosni to hasten the process of transition. Rather, it kept pressing Hosni for speedy and fulsome reforms and asked the Army to show restraint. It was apparent that America had given up aging president and was looking for a younger and fresh replacement.

Irrespective of its stance taken, fall of America 's protégés in Tunisia and in Egypt in a space of one month has consternated the Americans. One of the pillars of the US Middle East twin-pillar policy based on Saudi Arabia and Iran had crashed in March 1979 and ever since Iran is anti-America. It's most trusted ally Turkey has started to distance itself from USA , EU and Israel and is moving towards the east after seeing double standards of the west in response to Peace Flotilla episode near Gaza coast. Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon have emerged as serious challenges to its strategic partner Israel while Iran is hastening to become a nuclear power.

Saudi Arabia 's King is also unhappy over the US dubious role in Egyptian crisis and is having second thoughts that like Hosni he too could be ditched by USA in case such a situation occurs in his country. In protest, he has extended a hand of friendship to Iran . Israel too is displeased since it kept urging Washington to play a pro-active role to save Hosni. It can ill-afford to have anti-Israeli regime in Cairo supportive of Hamas and can also not afford to lose oil and gas supply from El-Arish in Egypt 's North Sinai to Ashkelon on cheaper rates.

Under the circumstances, the US can ill-afford to lose the most populous and powerful Arab country which has proved to be a reliable ally. Egypt is strategically important since it controls vital Suez Canal which acts as a transition point between the Mediterranean and Red Sea; Ras Banas Base provides excellent landing facilities to US Special Forces to tackle any untoward situation in vital Middle East region; it is a secular state and is anti-Islamists and bounded by a peace treaty with Israel; it has influence both in Arab and African world. The US as well as Israel cannot afford to have an anti-American regime in Cairo since their stakes in Middle East are very high. Now that the heat of popular revolt has subsided, The US will try to hijack the movement and bring in a protégé of its choice.

The prospects of oppressed political parties in Egypt that had a small presence in the legislature to form next government have brightened up. These include Akhwan al Muslimeen which is the largest Islamic party in the Arab world, centre-right Wafd, the left-wing Progressive Unionist Party, centre-left Nasserite Party, Al-Ghad, and Kifaya. No sooner these conservative parties gain power and National Democratic Party occupies opposition seats, Camp David Accord will breathe its last and old antagonism between the two countries will reappear and will make Middle East politics more explosive. It would also heighten pressure on uncompromising Israel under right wing extremist coalition led by Netanyahu to stop illegal settlement on occupied Arab lands and to arrive at a negotiated settlement of Palestinian dispute. In case Israel continues with its dogmatism and persecution of Palestinians, possibility of 4th round of Arab-Israeli conflict would increase.

Possibilities open are that Vice President Omar takes over power. Army rule will be unacceptable to the people since Omar was responsible for unleashing brutal oppression against Islamists. The other is that Omar delays general elections till September and lets the same system to continue by propping up a civilian leader like Amr Musa or ElBaradei acceptable to senior leadership of the Army, the US and Israel, co-opt part of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as well as other friendly political parties/groups as junior coalition partners of NDP. This may also not work since with little prospects of change, the MB will not accept the offer and the people will reject it. The third is to carryout essential constitutional and electoral reforms and hold free and fair elections in next three months time and let all parties to take part in elections. This option if exercised will calm down the people and will be welcomed but it may not be acceptable to USA and Israel if the Islamists win the elections. The Army instead of catering for American interests would do what is best is in Egypt 's national interest.

—The writer is a retired Brig and a defence and security analyst.









It does not behave the PPP ministers to castigate and revile their former counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, holding the prestigious portfolio of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. These foul mouthing ministers retaken in the cabinet are no angels themselves. I wonder if these guys including Babar Awan, Fauzia Wahab, and Ahmad Mukhatar possess an iota of dignity and honorable conduct as to heap indignities and diatribe on Shah Mehmood whose ouster was patently not on the basis of certain pious principles but for ulterior motives that are now well known.

A respectable colleague is now being branded as villain and unwanted simply because he did not agree with questionable postures of the prime minister and the president of Pakistan on certain foreign policy issues notably that of Raymond Davis who killed two Pakistan citizens, Even if someone like Mr. Qureshi who has been and is still a party loyalist cannot concord with certain decisions of the party command or the prime minister, he should be given a warm, hearty and honorable send off. Has Shah Sahib's personality undergone a metamorphosis in a matter of a few days that he is being vilified and despised with bitter acrimony and scathing remarks? By doing so the minions of the PPP in power are demeaning themselves and not Shah Sahib.

If the PPP high command is sending a message that whosoever takes an independent stand would be shown the exit door, then it is a sordid attempt on self defacing and shows shallowness of the prime minister and his cabinet ministers. The condemnation of Shah Sahib by the PPP ministers does not lower his stature and rather it has been glorified further. If Shah Sahib takes a tough stand against the Indian duplicitous attitude towards Pakistan and also cannot endorse that Raymond was a diplomat and enjoyed the diplomatic immunity, then instead of punishing him by way of relieving him of his post, he should be praised and commended for a highly moral, principled and rightful stand.

There must be enormous pressure on the president and the prime minister from America for dispensing with Mr. Qureshi. The sacking of Shah Mehmood Qureshi bears out the unpalatable fact that a person now under trial for killing Pakistani citizens was more powerful and important than the foreign minister of Pakistan who is also a member of the ruling party with resolute loyalty and unflinching commitment.

It appears that the PPP high command treats its ministers as garbage to be disposed off if it becomes too burdensome. The PPP is being run on personal whims, likes and dislikes and with vendettas against the dissenting voices within the party. The critics no matter how sincere and well-intentioned they may be are being penalized for offering saner and sound counsels.

The PPP"s revolutionary fervor has been down sliding ever since the incumbent lot of this party came into power. It is one of the incomprehensible enigmas of the present times that a person who is overburdened by serious allegations of corruption and money laundering is now the president of Pakistan as well as an all powerful chairman of his party. That he takes the crucial decisions about the destiny of Pakistan and makes high profile appointments of ministers, ambassadors and the chief executives of the state corporations is simply mind-boggling. He has such worthies in his retina of power and glory who not long ago were treated as the scum of the earth, bootleggers, and were running errands of bureaucrats for small favors. The law minister is the worst enemy of law and the defense minister is a past master in all such matters that ruin the security and imperil the safety of the citizens of this hapless nation. These pygmies in power have no fear of God and openly defy and ridicule the rulings of the superior judiciary. The level and dimension of misappropriations of national wealth and pulling all the dirty tricks and immodest machinations for self-enrichment have never been as frightening and limitless as of now. Every good plan or suggestion is sidetracked and every vicious and self perpetuating scheme is floated. The uproars of the masses suffering due to myriads counts, be it power outrages, the scarcity of water, lawlessness, travesty of justice, unemployment, health and education hazards, the poverty and poor utilities the government seems to be impervious. Even in case of Haj scandals certain questionable and inappropriate appointments were made in haste to scuttle the due process of law.

The PIA scandal that entailed colossal financial loss to the country and immense sufferings and hardship to the air passengers was taken lightly and no timely remedial action was taken one of which was to remove the controversial MD of the airlines.

So in case of Raymond Davis, the PPP government is bent upon taking the side of the culprit who killed Pakistani citizens in cold blood for no compelling reasons. To argue that he is a diplomat and therefore should be released I would bet that if a Pakistan diplomat kills even one person in a western country he will not be allowed to go his home country. Let all the diplomats carry arms, kill at will and with abandon in a host country and then be released because of the diplomatic status they enjoy under the Vienna Convention.

The diplomats seldom carry firearms on their body and roam in the crowded suburbs where the ordinary people live. Let a Pakistani diplomat kill a Saudi national for very pressing reasons and just watch what happens to him. The incumbent Pakistani government is weak, morally bankrupt and unable to withstand the external pressures because it has no popular support or legitimate domestic locus standi. It is a kind of a stooge that can lower itself to any depth even if it means sullying the national honor. What about the devastated families of three young men who lost their lives and what about Shumaila who committed suicide as she could not bear the shock and loss of her husband Faheems's gruesome murder?

Do we have an iota of feelings about the young bride who embraced death in a state of sheer mental agony and utter helplessness? Even after her death there is no national mourning that she deserves. The people in power have stony hearts.

Senator John Kerry now in Islamabad is a friend of Pakistan. He along with Senator Lugar sponsored the so called Kerry-Lugar bill for allocation of $ 7.5 billion aid to Pakistan over a period of five years. During his press conference in Islamabad with regard to Raymond Davis case, he maintained a low and humble profile. He quoted the sayings of Prophet Hazrat Muhammad in order to appease Pakistanis and solicit support by way of pardoning the American citizen. But at the same time he weighed the adverse implications for Pakistan in case Raymond was nor freed.

His main thrust of the argument was that by virtue of his diplomatic status Raymond was entitled to be released and handed over to the United States for the American courts to try him. He also argued that it was not an infringement of the laws of Pakistan if Raymond was released under the provision of diplomatic immunity.

The Raymond case puts Pakistan in a very tight corner and it would be interesting to watch how Pakistan government can accommodate American request or pressure for release of Raymond Davis and simultaneously justify it before the people of Pakistan as well as meet the imperatives of Pakistani laws.

—The writer is a Dallas-based freelance journalist and a former diplomat writing mostly on International Affairs...









Steve Bracks and John Faulkner looked a tad desperate yesterday as they pleaded with the young and the alienated to come back to Labor. The review that they and Bob Carr conducted into the last federal election has decided that Labor's future is a numbers game. Like Barack Obama and British Labour's Ed Miliband, they want to rebuild their base. Labor no longer cuts it with a generation of "progressive voters", so the idea is to establish a GetUp! of its own, an outreach organisation, with an online presence and a "place to organise progressive campaigns". It's a recognition many voters are no longer enamoured of traditional parties and are increasingly inspired by single-issue campaigns. But Labor should be careful not to think the loudest voices on the internet are the most representative.

There's value in the plan for voters to help choose candidates through a "primaries" contest. This approach would lock in a role for unionists, who would have 20 per cent of the votes, with another 20 per cent from Labor supporters, and 60 per cent from local party members. The move cements union power but recognises Labor will never jettison its industrial wing. Overall, the report is designed to regenerate the party. ALP membership is in a death spiral and the party built on the backs of the working class must find a way to engage Australians more broadly if it is to survive as a community-based organisation.

If only it were as simple as building the numbers. The reality is that Labor's problems go well beyond a crisis in membership. The review's detailed analysis of what went wrong in August, when Julia Gillard failed to win power in her own right, has not been released. But there is no mystery about why Labor struggled last year and now sits on a primary vote of only 32 per cent. The answer lies in its failure to know what it stands for and who it truly represents. It is a challenge Ms Gillard has not yet met. Unlike John Howard, who knew when he won power in 1996 what he stood for -- an underpinning philosophy of choice -- Labor still does not have a clear guiding principle.

The party was once the champion of working people, focused on creating jobs for Australians and opportunities for their children. But the last election showed it has not grasped the changes in the electorate and the emergence of an enterprise class not much interested in crude class warfare, or for that matter whacky green politics. The party's challenge now is to find a way to reconnect with this heartland -- not through the wild language of the Australian Workers Union, but by championing the interests of workers through an open, productive economy and value-for-money service delivery in areas such as health and education.

This week the battle for the party's soul was played out in technicolour as tensions between the old Left and the modernisers erupted over a burst of anti-business rhetoric from the AWU. It did nothing to improve Labor's stock with middle Australia where government is won. As it moves to broaden its base, Labor must negotiate a path through the competing voices arguing over the direction of the party. Kowtowing to the AWU will not solve Labor's identity problem, but neither will it win power through playing to the GetUp! crowd or the inner-urban professionals.







As Gillard government ministers relax at the weekend with a good coffee or glass of wine while browsing the new titles at their favourite bookstores, they should consider that their adherence to old-fashioned protectionism is jeopardising the future of such shops, which are an important part of our social fabric. By rejecting the Productivity Commission's advice to scrap parallel import restrictions in 2009, the government is preventing bookshops importing and selling books at lower prices.

These are tough times for booksellers, with online competition, e-books and fresh distractions to draw young people, in particular, away from reading. In Britain, the trade is so tough that retailers are giving away one million free books by top authors next month to encourage potential customers to rediscover the habit of reading. In such an environment, Australian booksellers should not be saddled with an unnecessary, expensive handicap. Under the rules, Australian publishers, many of which are British-owned anyway, as former NSW premier and Dymocks board member Bob Carr points out, have 30 days to publish a local edition of new foreign books. If an Australian edition is published, booksellers may not import the foreign edition, which is often cheaper. In the meantime, many customers will have bought it online. The owners of Australia's largest bookstore chain, Angus & Robertson, blamed such protectionism, as well as tax-free online shopping, for the company's collapse into administration on Thursday, along with the Australian chain of Borders. As Mr Carr said, protection for Australian publishing was designed to save a factory with 300 employees in country Victoria. But it is putting thousands of retail jobs at risk and forcing readers to pay more.

Such a regressive application of 19th-century protectionism to an industry competing in a 21st-century global market place suggests that for all its enthusiasm for the $36 billion National Broadband Network, the Gillard government has not thought through the policy implications. Fast internet is forcing a wide range of businesses to compete with overseas rivals as never before, to the benefit of consumers -- fashion designers, general retailers, jewellers, television stations and newspapers. This is as it should be. But import restrictions designed to protect our literary culture are tearing it down by putting bookshops out of business.







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.








THE Coalition's immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, has broken new ground with his implicit questioning of multiculturalism and its future. By suggesting to shadow cabinet that the Coalition exploit community concern about Muslims, Morrison appears to have ended the consensus - shaky at times but substantial nonetheless - which has underpinned multiculturalism in Australia until now.

There will be plenty of accusations of racism, and some in his party have grave doubts about his tactics and whether they fit at all in the liberal tradition his party fundamentally subscribes to, but Morrison is right to raise the issue of Islamist extremism, which concerns Australians as it does others around the world. Though it may not look like it at times and from some perspectives, the debate is essentially healthy.

Whether Morrison has shown political skill, though, is a different matter. By questioning the government's decision to pay for bereaved family members from the Christmas Island shipwreck to travel to Sydney to attend the funerals of their drowned relatives, Morrison has made himself and his party look both mean and inhumane. By raising a far broader and more important question about multiculturalism in the same week, he has muddied and undermined the debate on it. From the comments of his colleague, Senator Cory Bernardi, which we report today, it appears it is part of a concerted push against the policy from within the Coalition.

Multiculturalism in Australia works reasonably well because of this country's easygoing outlook, and the greater effort Australia has invested in bringing diverse groups into the mainstream. Its success, though, has pushed multiculturalism almost beyond criticism or analysis: There seems to be an assumption if the multicultural ideal is examined too closely, it will vanish. Instead it must be followed without question. That is not healthy. Issues and pressures can build up under this well-intended consensus which, if left unventilated, will eventually burst. Islamic extremism is one of those.

Muslims in Australia are a diverse group but also a distinct one - the latter as a result of Australia's allegiances following the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Most Muslims obviously are peaceable and want no part of terrorism, or even activism. Some, it is true, coming to Australia from deeply troubled countries, and with backgrounds and upbringings disturbed by violence, find it difficult to settle into an open, Western society with secular values based in part on sexual equality and liberation. The misfortune of all Muslims is that a tiny minority of their co-religionists are motivated by an extreme version of Islam and seek to promote a narrow and fascistic interpretation of its ideals by violence - casting suspicion on all.

In this country, that suspicion is easily roused. In Australia racism runs deep: it was a founding ideal of the constitution, and one of the original sources of our national unity. That is a regrettable aspect of our history, but it cannot be wished away. National prosperity and the gradual introduction of non-white immigration after World War II have done much to diminish it. Multiculturalism, introduced under Gough Whitlam and confirmed by the government of Malcolm Fraser, was an entirely justifiable attempt to put a cap on that wellspring of national feeling. It is wishful thinking to assume that racism disappeared with multiculturalism's arrival, as the rise of populist right-wing movements such as One Nation shows.

As Coalition leader John Howard dealt skilfully with the threat One Nation represented: appealing to its followers while undermining it as a political opponent. He managed to steer a potentially poisonous strand of thinking on the right of politics back into the mainstream where it was diluted and rendered mostly harmless. Though he got no credit for it at the time - he was criticised for pandering to Australians' racist tendencies - it was a substantial achievement as well as a neat political trick.

Despite the almost value-free relativism which multiculturalism implies and which is its most grating aspect, it is a necessary dogma in a modern, globalised economy. Australia's booming mining sector will need thousands of workers in coming years if it is to maintain the momentum of growth. Some will come from non-English-speaking countries, some of them Muslim. This is not a new or unfamiliar pattern: it is the story of Australia's economic growth since World War II. Multiculturalism ensures newcomers can find a place, and that the pattern can continue peacefully into the future.

Scott Morrison's attempt to pick at one fraying thread in the pattern in order to garner populist support for the opposition is surprisingly gauche. It is even more so coming from someone who is supposedly a slick political professional.






NORMALLY we resist the temptation to say rude things about people younger than the Herald, but this time, we confess, self-control fails us. Members of generations Y and possibly Z, it appears from recent research, are refusing to get their driver's licences as early as they can. Refusing, readers! Instead, they sit around looking glum expecting members of generation X or (God forbid) baby boomers to drive them where they want to go. Of course they claim they catch public transport - but as anyone who has actually tried to catch public transport in Sydney knows, this must be a lie. There isn't any. Frankly, their casual disregard of driving culture should appal right-thinking people everywhere. Have they no respect? Don't they realise the essentially character-building nature of driving round a parking station for half an hour looking for a vacant space? Or crawling down the F3 as the sparkling morning air around you turns brown with exhaust and the clock slowly ticks past the time of your dental appointment? Oh - let us not mention the perfumed joy of the M5 East tunnel at peak hour. Let us instead drive them into it and make them walk home.







It is just one extraordinary week since the fall of the Egyptian president. For 30 years Hosni Mubarak had been the region's representative figure of the west's way of doing business. Like the ocean after an earthquake, the shock waves of his fall have grown in violence until now they are rocking despotic regimes from Algiers to Damascus. Some of the UK's closest allies – old friends in Gulf states like Bahrain and new ones like Libya's Colonel Gaddafi – are brutally repressing protests, potentially using teargas and other material legitimately imported from British companies. This looks like a street-level Arab revolt, each uprising different in origin but all sharing the common denominator of youth and the inspiration of Tunis and Cairo relayed by text message and internet. The protesters are confronting rulers who have been courted by generations of western politicians. The result is an almost unprecedented challenge to postwar foreign policy. It demands a response which recognises that there will be no return to business as usual, and that the conversation can no longer be restricted to a narrow elite. It is time to substitute a new era of shared values for the old one of national interest.

It is too soon to try to say how that response should be framed. At least the foreign secretary, William Hague, and his minister Alistair Burt have promised that export licences will be closely scrutinised from now on. They have rightly called on Arab leaders to show restraint and reform, but the real power lies in Washington, where the dilemma of how far and how fast to withdraw support is visibly straining the administration. All the same, the events of the past month have once again drawn attention to the seamier side of the realpolitik that has always shaped Britain's approach to the Middle East. As the former foreign office minister Kim Howells has argued, the flip side of supporting stability is repressing democracy. Focused on the threat of Islam, we have, it appears, been too slow to appreciate the simmering secular unrest, let alone to try to pre-empt it.

If it is too soon to be prescriptive, however, one thing is clear. It is barely a month since the BBC announced that its Arabic short-wave service would, with Russian language services, bear the brunt of overseas cuts. Happily, it is a decision it is not too late to reverse. Meanwhile, tough new controls on the number of overseas students will mean fewer young people able to take advantage of higher education in the UK. The British Council faces cuts too. Yet we can no longer sustain our strategic interests through the barrel of a gun. Britain is in a unique position to project soft power. It is only part of the answer. But it has to be a reasonable starting point for a new Middle East policy.






There was a time when the concept of tax justice might have been one to interest serious vicars and brown-bread socialists. But times change. Activists operating under the banner UK Uncut have taken to occupying stores whose owners and bosses have been avoiding tax. Today they move on to the organisation of a "bail-in" of Barclays branches, setting up schools, forests and libraries within the banks – an agitprop gesture to highlight the link between threatened services and the financiers that activists reckon could save them by paying their fair share.

It is a simple equation, and may not be an easy one for Whitehall to implement. But the Guardian's Tax Gap series meticulously documented squillions of pounds in avoidance, establishing beyond doubt that the seepage of revenue was on a scale that constituted a pressing public concern. Fixing the leaks may not save every last swimming pool, but it could make a big difference. Barclays is an iconic case for making the point, seeing as bankers' determination to minimise their contribution to public funds is matched by the lavishness of the benefits they have enjoyed at public expense.

Barclays did not, it is true, sell shares directly to HM Treasury during the great crash, preferring to punt them at the Qatari authorities instead. Nonetheless, it has benefited from all manner of subsidies and guarantees, whose total value to the sector the Bank of England estimates to have been worth more than £100bn in 2009. Like most of the banks, Barclays would be deep in the dustbin of history were it not for this state support. Two years on, taxpayers stare on in disbelief as Barclays' investment banking arm pushes up average pay – that's right, average – to £236,000, and chief executive Bob Diamond is rumoured to be in line for a £9m bonus.

Up in front of disgruntled MPs last month, Mr Diamond suggested that much of the bounty would trickle down for the common good. He pointed out, accurately, that Barclays had handed £2bn to the Revenue last year, a figure that sounds respectable enough in the context of pre-tax profits of £6.1bn for 2010. What he did not point out, but we have now gleaned thanks to some forensic digging by the impressive young MP Chuka Umunna, is that just £113m of that £2bn was corporation tax, a 2% drop in the ocean of the company's global profits. The rest was paid through other levies which scarcely touched profits and were largely paid by employees.

The banks might maintain that it does not much matter who pays the tax, so long as it gets paid. It is after all not so much financial corporations as their senior staff who have been taking us for a ride. Only yesterday a Financial Times analysis suggested bankers' pay was squeezing shareholders, particularly at Barclays. And perhaps it is indeed as a result of their own greed that managers are forced to scramble so frenetically to reduce corporate tax. Not even Barclays would pretend that its mind-boggling structure – with 30 subsidiaries in the Isle of Man, 38 in Jersey and 181 in the Cayman Islands – is unconnected with tax. There is still the technocratic argument that the only thing that can pay a tax in the end is a person, so we should not worry about how much is stumped up from behind the corporate veil. But this case simply collapses when companies routinely reshape themselves to avoid tax in a manner which no mere human taxpayer could match.

It was the high priest of free markets, Adam Smith, who warned that joint stock companies encourage negligence. Limited liability is a terrific privilege for which companies ought to expect to contribute generously to the community's coffers. Many fail to do so, including banks that have only recently drawn heavily on a common resource. Whatever the spin, they are coming to be seen – in another of Smith's phrases – as "a conspiracy against the public".






As devotees of transparency, the coalition created an Office for Budget Responsibility to assess and where necessary challenge ministers' fiscal forecasts. If only such an organisation had existed in Gordon Brown's day, it was said, he might have been rumbled earlier. Yet if that is true, the same principle surely deserves a more general application. There were claims to be heard on Wednesday that no one would lose from welfare reforms. But as our own Patrick Wintour has written, that would only be true at a point of transition to the new scheme, thanks to a special fund set up to temporarily compensate those whose benefits are being cut. Less noise was made about that. Several other potentially nasty consequences – some unintended, most easily overlooked – have been noted elsewhere in the paper. Take the assumptions attached to Andrew Lansley's reforms of the NHS – as deconstructed a week ago by that Savonarola of dodgy pretensions, Ben Goldacre. Of course claims and forecasts will always be challenged, but mostly by groups – the opposition, or critical newspapers – which ministers can dismiss as partial. If an Office for Budget Responsibility is as therapeutic for the woebegone reputation of politics as its inventors claim, then a wider Office of Governmental Responsibility is surely warranted. An acronym sounding like Ogre might put suitable fear into ministerial malefactors. You wouldn't need to give it a name that fully revealed its purpose – Mendacitywatch, for instance.






Several governors and mayors are calling for the creation of new, powerful local governments that differ from existing structures at the prefectural and city level. These officials are apparently frustrated over the slow progress of devolution as well as the overlapping administrative functions between prefectures and major cities. They are vocal, but their ideas lack form and are short on detail.

Gov. Toru Hashimoto of Osaka Prefecture urges the creation of an Osaka metropolitan government. The thrust of his idea is to dismantle the Osaka city government. He faces harsh criticism from Osaka Mayor Kunio Hiramatsu. He seems frustrated by the power the city wields over such matters as urban development, traffic and city water projects, which hinders his own initiatives.

Mr. Hashimoto's advisory panel came up with a proposal that does not necessarily sync with his idea. Noting that it is unclear which — the city or prefectural government — has responsibility for urban management, it proposes that the two governments first create a consultation framework to discuss unified strategy and policy coordination. The proposal highlights the need for Mr. Hashimoto to develop a strategy to deepen cooperation with the city government, rather than trying to dismantle it.

In Aichi Prefecture, new Gov. Hideaki Omura of Aichi and Mayor Takashi Kawamura of Nagoya call for merging the prefectural government and the Nagoya city government to create a Chukyo metropolitan government. In Niigata Prefecture, Gov. Hirohiko Izumida and Mayor Akira Shinoda of Niigata propose establishing a Niigata state government by integrating the prefectural government and the Niigata city government.

These ideas fail to convey a clear picture of how the proposed governments will improve people's lives. It is unclear why a drastic change to the present system is necessary. Even without such a change, there should be more room for prefectural and city governments to establish close cooperation to solve problems. Also, it would be difficult for citizens to monitor large local governments as proposed by those governors and mayors.





Sixteen Democratic Party of Japan members of the Lower House on Thursday threatened to leave the DPJ's parliamentary group in the chamber. The lawmakers, supporters of former party chief Ichiro Ozawa, submitted a written statement of their intent to the DPJ, but they say that they won't leave the party itself. Still, their move could devastate the ruling party, which lacks the two-thirds Lower House majority needed to override votes by the opposition-controlled Upper House.

A factor that apparently led to their rebellion is the DPJ leadership's move to suspend the party membership of Mr. Ozawa over a funds reporting scandal. More important, though, they are protesting against Prime Minister Naoto Kan's lack of enthusiasm in making good on the DPJ's manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election, which brought the party to power.

Given the difficult financial conditions, it is clear that the party cannot implement all the election pledges. Some of the pledges are not well thought out. But Mr. Kan clearly has failed to show a strong will in translating into action the DPJ's slogan "People's lives come first." In fact, he dropped the slogan from the party manifesto for the July Upper House election.

Mr. Kan caused his party to be defeated in the Upper House election by suddenly proposing a hike in the consumption tax. His remarks showed that he had made no careful preparations on the issue. Tax increases may be unavoidable in the future. But he is paying the price for his lack of seriousness to move the DPJ closer to implementing the 2009 party manifesto, even in a minuscule step under constraints, and for his careless handling of the consumption tax issue.

Technically the 16 DPJ members cannot leave the DPJ parliamentary group unless they get approval from DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada, who heads the group. But if they rebel against the party in voting, it will without fail kill budget implementation bills, causing turmoil in Japan's politics and possibly damaging the economy. The rebels must give thought to protecting overall public interests. Mr. Kan must show decisive leadership to enable his party to overcome its internal rift.







ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's domestic situation is becoming increasingly precarious. Indeed, serious questions are being raised as to whether the country can survive in its present form.

Such questions stem from a growing fear that Islamist groups might once again make a serious bid to capture the levers of power in the country. If that is not possible because of the presence of a large and disciplined military, the Islamic fundamentalists might attempt to carve out some space for themselves in which to establish a separate system of governance more fully aligned with what they view as the principles of their religion.

Islamist groups' previous attempt to create such a space was successfully countered by the military in 2009, when it drove insurgent forces from the sensitive district of Swat and the tribal agency of South Waziristan.

Today, however, Pakistan's military may not be prepared to act with the force and conviction it showed last time. Its resolve to counter the Islamists' growing influence has been weakened by two unfortunate events: the recent assassination of Salman Tasser, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, and the deaths last month of two young men allegedly at the hands of an American official named Raymond Davis.

Taseer's murder led to large public displays of support for the alleged assassin on the grounds that he had taken the life of a politician who had questioned the content of the "Hudood ordinances." These laws, originally promulgated by the British in colonial India and made more Draconian by a succession of Pakistani administrations, make any comment considered to be disrespectful toward Islam or the prophet Muhammad an offense punishable by death.

A Christian woman who was alleged to have made such a disparaging comment was the latest target of the ordinances. Taseer had given his word that he would not allow the woman's death sentence to be carried out.

The Davis case further complicated Pakistan's relations with the United States, which were already strained because of the military's reluctance to move into North Waziristan — a mini-state within Pakistan from which the Taliban have launched operations in Afghanistan against U.S. forces. With the Pakistani street now demanding action against the "murderer" of two young men in Lahore, it was unlikely that the military would move in any way that could be seen as a response to pressure from the Obama administration.

Even before Pakistan's ruling elite was shaken by the killings in Pakistan's streets and the turmoil in Tunisia and Egypt, it had begun to plan measures aimed at mollifying an increasingly restive citizenry. Moreover, several senior members of President Asif Ali Zardari's government have concluded that the developments in Tunisia and Egypt could not be replicated in Pakistan.

"Our institutions are working and democracy is functional," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told members of the Western press. He could have added that the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League, was content to let him govern until the country went back to the polls sometime in late 2012 or early 2013. There were also clear indications that the military was not inclined to venture into politics once again, as it has done many times in the past.

But Gilani was not entirely unruffled. As Hosni Mubarak's Egyptian regime unraveled, Gilani decided to call for the resignation of his entire Cabinet. Led by Senior Minister Amin Fahim from the province of Sindh, all Cabinet members submitted their resignations to the prime minister on Feb. 4.

On the same day, the Central Executive Committee of the Pakistan People's Party "authorized the prime minister to reappoint a smaller Cabinet with fewer ministers enjoying reputation of integrity, competence, and efficiency." The final move in that direction came on February 9, when, at a farewell lunch for his large Cabinet, Gilani sent his ministers packing. A new, smaller Cabinet was sworn in two days later.

Gilani's step was taken in response not only to the developments in the Middle East, but also in recognition of how little the return to democracy has done for Pakistan's citizens. Officials are also aware that a change in the Cabinet will be seen as mere window dressing unless people are shown that the government has a plan to rescue the economy from collapse and alleviate the burdens faced by ordinary people.

Indeed, Pakistan's rate of economic growth is the slowest on the South Asian mainland — one-half that of Bangladesh and one-third that of India. A sharp increase in the prices of essential commodities means that the real income of the bottom 60 percent of the population has declined.

Sluggish economic activity has increased the rate of urban unemployment to an estimated 34 percent of the labor force. While a functioning democratic system and a vibrant media may have provided outlets for people to vent their frustration with the state of the economy and the quality of governance, the political elite now recognizes that many ingredients in the Pakistani situation were present in those Middle Eastern countries where street politics have reached the boiling point.

The message is clear: democracy that does not deliver tangible benefits will not prevent Pakistan's people from demanding radical change. The question is whether the political class has the wherewithal to act accordingly.

Shahid Javed Burki, former finance minister of Pakistan and vice president of the World Bank, is currently chairman of the Institute of Public Policy, Lahore. © 2011 Project Syndicate







LONDON — Two centuries ago, Napoleon's arrival in Egypt heralded the advent of the modern Middle East. Now, almost 90 years after the demise of the Ottoman Empire, 50 years after the end of colonialism, and eight years after the Iraq war began, the revolutionary protests in Cairo suggest that another shift may well be under way.

The three pillars upon which Western influence in the Middle East was built — a strong military presence, commercial ties and a string of dollar-dependent states — are crumbling. As a result, the Middle East that emerges in the weeks and months ahead may become much harder for the West to influence.

The first pillar — military presence — dates back to French and British occupation of parts of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, and was reinforced by the Cold War-era military links forged by the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1955, the West was even strong enough to sign up a remarkable cast of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan in a kind of West Asian NATO known as the Baghdad Pact.

The Yom Kippur War in 1973 was a neat illustration of the Western and Soviet military influence. The Egyptian Army fired Czechoslovak 130-mm rockets while Syrian MIGs fought Israeli Skyhawks over the Golan Heights. But American and Soviet influence was not confined to the battlefield, as both countries made their presence felt high up the military chain of command. More recently, military installations in the Persian Gulf protected the oil supplies of the Cold War alliance and deterred both Ba'athist Iraq and Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini's Iran from grabbing the prized oil wells or choking off export routes.

But this military pillar has been steadily eroded. An early sign was the failure of "Operation Eagle Claw" to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran in 1980. Another crack appeared with the 1983 Hezbollah attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, which triggered an abrupt U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. forces have withdrawn from Saudi Arabia and discovered that their conventional military potency does not necessarily translate into impact on the ground.

The second pillar of the West's Middle East role — commercial ties — has also been weakened. America used to be the essential trade partner for the Gulf countries, but this has now changed. In 2009, Saudi Arabia exported 57 percent of its 2009 crude oil to the Far East, and just 14 percent to the U.S. Responding to this underlying shift, King Abdullah has been pursuing a "look East" policy since 2005, resulting in trade worth more than $60 billion.

This eastward shift has made China a bigger trading partner than the U.S. for both Qatar and the UAE. And almost a quarter of Qatar's trade is with China, compared to just over 5 percent with the U.S. Likewise, 37 percent of the UAE's trade is with China, India and South Korea. To many Middle East states, what China wants is now just as important as U.S. interests.

Finally, the U.S. no longer has a string of relatively stable clients in the region. The U.S. believed that the massive amounts of aid that it doled out to Egypt, Israel and Jordan guaranteed both stability and cooperation on issues of American interest. This worked for three decades, but now the link is weakening.

The pace of the decline of Western influence seems to have accelerated over the past decade. The Saudis made it clear in 2003 that they could no longer host U.S. military installations. In both his first and second terms as Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu refused to follow the U.S. script on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. And, despite hosting a huge U.S. military base, Qatar maintains close links to Syria and Iran.

To this must now be added the revolt in Egypt. Former President Hosni Mubarak was the linchpin of the West's policy: he was uncompromising with potential U.S. enemies; he could be relied upon to appear at peace talks with the Israelis; and he could be used to add weight to the American position on Iran. Now the U.S.-Egyptian alliance is under threat, and with it American policy for the entire Middle East.

As the three pillars of Western Middle East policy crumble, a new Middle East is taking shape, buffeted by Pacific trade winds and owing allegiance to more than one power. Its geopolitical architecture is being shaped by the North African revolutions, Turkish assertiveness, Iranian intransigence and the Iraq debacle. The West will not find the resulting strategic terrain easy to navigate.

Daniel Korski is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Ben Judah is a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. © 2011 Project Syndicate








Relocation, demolition and eviction are commonplace in the quickly changing urban life people in Jakarta have been witnessing. The policy makers call them logical consequences of city development, which those affected will resist albeit to no avail.

So goes the story of Lebak Bulus Stadium in South Jakarta, which will soon disappear after 31 years of existence. The Jakarta administration has planned to build a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) terminal that will cover the area where the sports facility now stands.

The stadium, once the home base of professional soccer clubs Pelita Jaya and Persija, will become history to make way for a bigger construction work that the Jakarta government claims will benefit all.

It will be the second time in less than five years that the Jakarta administration demolishes a stadium. In 2006, the historic Menteng Stadium in Central Jakarta was bulldozed to pave the way for a public park.

Another historic stadium, the 106-year-old UMS in West Jakarta, will follow suit if the city government materializes its plan to buy the facility from its legitimate owner.

The decision to flatten Lebak Bulus Stadium was a result of a change in the initial design for the MRT, which now covers 1 square hectares, up from the previous 7,000 square meters. Governor Fauzi Bowo said his administration would build a new, bigger stadium not too far from Lebak Bulus on Jl. T.B. Simatupang.

Still, despite its noble goals, the project begs questions particularly given the ongoing controversy surrounding the stadium's demolition plan, which would not have occurred had it been discussed and familiarized with all stakeholders.

That Youth and Sports Minister Andi Mallarangeng and Fauzi have been embroiled in a public debate over the project should raise many eyebrows. Coordination within the government appears to be a problem which the two officials may have overlooked. It looks simple but people with great powers like them cannot take it for granted, merely because any decision they make could affect many lives.

It's just hard to understand, too, how such a war of words between Andi and Fauzi surfaced despite the fact that they both are seated in the same party, the ruling Democratic Party, as patrons.

Like Andi, the Lebak Bulus stadium authorities have expressed bewilderment concerning the impending removal of the sports facility. The stadium's administrator, Sri Wigiati, said she had not been informed of the demolition plan.

If the city administration failed to communicate the plan to high-ranking officials, how can we expect them to consult the public?

Public consultation as part of transparency and accountability in this democratic era is imperative when it comes to government policies that will impact on society.





The proposal to apply counterflow lanes for TransJakarta buses is worth considering as it could become an effective way to discourage motorists from entering the supposedly restricted lanes. Yet, the proposal needs to be critically examined, especially the potential for increasing the risk of traffic accidents along the corridors of the bus rapid transit (BRT), also known as busway.

The safety of road users is the main issue here, particularly in light of the reckless behavior of motorists in the capital city, whose tendency to ignore traffic signs often ends in fatal accidents. The operation of counterflow lanes, no doubt, would increase the risk of traffic accidents. Therefore, the authorities need to comprehensively study the safety of the planned system.

The idea to apply counterflow lanes for TransJakarta buses is not new. It was considered before the busway started operating in 2004. But it was dropped largely due to the assumption that motorists would abide by the traffic regulations. The Jakarta city police revived the idea recently and Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo has given it the green light.

Governor Fauzi may be right if the objective is to discourage motorists from entering the lanes. But the counterflow lanes, which have been in place in many developed cities, may turn into lanes of death if traffic safety is ignored.

Traffic experts stressed the need to pay attention to locations with a high risk of traffic accidents including areas near entrance lanes, U-turns, roundabouts, traffic lights and intersections. They also call for clear dividers between regular bus and busway lanes.

Besides the risks, we believe that the counterflow lanes will not significantly contribute to the effort to solve the severe traffic problems in the city. Many motorists have been forced to enter busway lanes because they are frustrated with traffic gridlocks, which have worsened due to the busway.

The counterflow lanes will only spark more suffering for motorists unless there are efforts to optimize the busway lanes. Experience has shown that motorists are tempted to enter busway lanes if they see only a few buses operating.

Therefore, deployment of more buses should accompany the operation of the counterflow lane system. With more buses running along the restricted lanes, more motorists are expected to turn to public transportation.

It has never been enough to introduce a single policy to solve the already acute transportation problem in the city. Introducing the counterflow system could be a good policy if it is accompanied with commitment to make maximum use of the busway lanes, firm law enforcement and seriousness in improving other modes of public transportation.






The attacks against Ahmadis on Feb. 6, 2011 and the riots in Temanggung two days later bring into sharp focus the need to be clear regarding the practice and value of freedom of religion in Indonesia.

The events at Cikeusik are tragic: The murder of three Ahmadis is unjustifiable. The perpetrators of the violence acted outside of the law, outside the teachings of Islam, and outside the values enshrined in the Indonesian constitution and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights — of which Indonesia is a signatory.

There is nothing natural, inevitable or accidental about these attacks. These are attacks that could have and should have been stopped. The police had forewarning of the movement of the attackers.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has stated that there was as much as two days warning of an impending attack of some 1-2,000 people. Other attacks against Ahmadiyah could have also informed the police as to the possible violence of the attack.

That the police were overwhelmed and impotent in countering the attackers indicates a degree of culpability. Yet, it is not just the law enforcement agencies that are implicated. The efforts of many public Muslim intellectuals in Indonesia are yet to gain widespread public legitimacy.

In the post-Gus Dur and post-Nurcholish Madjid era, the strong advocacy of intellectuals such as Luthfi Assyaukanie and Ulil Abshar Abdalla remain too easily lost in the louder din of leaders and officials who either promote a rigid orthodoxy or are not able to stand against it.

These attacks do not add further evidence to debates about whether or not Islam is a tolerant religion. Instead, these attacks show the power of some state institutions — i.e. the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the Religious Affairs Ministry — in shaping discourses on what is acceptable Islamic practice. The fatwa against secularism, liberalism and pluralism issued by the MUI in July 2005, and their fatwas against the Ahmadiyah in 1980 and 2008 have been met with some resistance, but, as evidenced by the ongoing attacks against Ahmadis, they have been widely accepted as being reasonable and reflective of many people's attitudes.

Some comments in the wake of the events show that some politicians are blaming the victims for the practicing of a 'deviant' interpretation of Islam. There are still repeated calls for Ahmadiyah to be disbanded.

Organizations such as The Wahid Institute and The Setara Institute, have, in the yearly reports, found an increase in violations of religious freedom as well as acts of intolerance. These acts of intolerance include demonstrations against the building of churches, efforts to remove Ahmadi communities, attacks on churches and mosques. As a recent report by International Crisis Group has argued, religious intolerance has increased due to governmental inability to prosecute those who violate laws, growth of vigilante groups, an increase in proselytization and a reluctance to prosecute hate speech (Indonesia: "Christianization" and Intolerance, Nov. 24, 2010).

The SKB (Surat Keputusan Bersama — Joint Decree) of 2008 issued by the Religious Affairs Ministry (Suryadharma Ali), the Home  Ministry (Gamawan Fauzi) and the Attorney General (Hendarman Supandji) limited the freedom of Ahmadis to spread their religion and to practice it in an open manner. In the eyes of many, Ahmadiyah is deviant, as some of its followers accept that the founder of the movement, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is also a prophet. This goes against general Islamic orthodoxy that the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet of Islam.

The Nation of Islam, a politically oriented African-American religious movement, also accepted that
their founder, Wallace D. Fard Muhammad was also a prophet. The belief of Ahmadiyah in the prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is unacceptable to many Muslims in Indonesia — as it is to many Muslims elsewhere.

Many contributors to polemics against Ahmadiyah have stated their displeasure that Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims. Difference of religion, however, is a part of everyday life in Indonesia.

Moreover, Indonesian law accepts freedom of belief and conviction.

The problem is not whether or not Ahmadiyah is acceptable as a faith or not, but, the shifting tendency in public religious discourses to allow less and less space for tolerance of 'the other', or indeed, engagement and acceptance of 'the other' — whether this otherness be based on religion or interpretation of a particular religion.

There is no shortage of intellectuals who argue for freedom of religion and the rights of individuals to believe in their convictions. In a recent article in Kompas (Jan. 9, 2011), Sukidi (a PhD student at Harvard University) argues that: "every citizen must be treated equally and without discrimination."

"Every citizen has the right to worship, be free to embrace their beliefs and to establish places of worship without difficulty." While on the same day, Saiful Mujani (of UIN Jakarta) argued in Tempo that "with the SKB of 2008, it is clear that Ahmadis lost their most fundamental human rights as citizens — that is the freedom of belief and the right to practice their beliefs".

Elsewhere, a two-volume publication of interviews with over 70 Muslim intellectuals defending freedom of religion can be found in Budhy Munawar-Rachman (ed.), Membela Kebebasan Beragama (Jakarta: LSAF, 2010).

The events of the Feb. 6 represent a black and tragic moment in the interaction of different faith communities. The killing of Ahmadis was an act of denial of otherness, difference and plurality. This occurred not only at the level of discourse, but entered the physical realm: The bodies of three Ahmadis were violated in the most base and gruesome manner. Subsequently, their corpses were mutilated.

In such moments, there is no space left for dialogue, there is no space left for ideas espoused by Muslim leaders the world over. What speaks is anger, the sense of being threatened, the sense of a challenge from the other and the will to deny the other.

But again, these acts were neither natural nor inevitable. The aggressors were not locals and had pre-arranged the attacks.

Just as anywhere else, the acts of individuals are a result of a complex set of processes and forces that cannot be reduced to either nationality or religion. The acts of Muslims cannot be reduced and limited back to the Koran — the Holy Scripture of Islamic faith. Muslims, like others of other faiths or of no faith, interpret texts based on their own understanding (whether that understanding being enlightened or prejudiced) in complement with more public discourses on religious faith and practice.

Unfortunately, recently, there have been tendencies that give too much legitimacy to discourses on
Islam that promote strong distinctions between what is legitimate Islamic practice and what is not.

Tragically, those who feel that they are 'legitimate' have felt it their right to kill those who are 'deviant'. The act of visitation of violence upon Ahmadis — no more than a minority religious group — in Cikeusik, need not be repeated. Nor should it be taken as evidence of the imagined intolerant nature of Islam.

The strong advocacy of intellectuals remain too easily lost in the louder din of leaders and officials who either promote a rigid orthodoxy.

Dr. Andy Fuller is a research fellow at Freedom Institute (Jakarta) and a researcher at The University of Melbourne.






The Jakarta government has long planned to construct six inner city toll roads, although currently it plans to build the non-toll flyovers connecting Jl. Antasari and Blok M and between Casablanca and Tanah Abang first.

Unlike the plan to construct the flyovers, which is relatively free from resistance, the planned development of the turnpikes has continued to face opposition from those who care about the environment. Because it was not communicated to the public, the public does not know about the construction plan, and once it starts there is no way to stop it.

For those who reject the plan, the six toll roads will only create a new disaster for Jakarta as they will worsen traffic congestion, air pollution and the high rate of fatal traffic accidents.

It is not the case in Surabaya, the second biggest city after Jakarta. The central government through the Ministry of Public Works with support from the East Java provincial government intended to construct inner toll roads, as the idea had been debated during the Soeharto era. The plan was abandoned only because of his downfall. In fact, the plan was opposed by the Surabaya city government and its residents.

Unlike in Jakarta, where the planned toll road construction was met with opposition from several people who expressed their opinions through the mass media, protesting residents in Surabaya held mass demonstrations outside the municipal legislative council. Most Surabaya residents support Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini who rejects the plan.

The construction of inner city toll roads or flyovers in Jakarta is in reality an irrational policy in city infrastructure construction, especially when we relate it with the perspectives of environmentally conscious development and the limitation of gasoline consumption. In constructing new transportation infrastructure, one must ask if it will harm the environment and whether the existence of such infrastructure will further damage the environment.

The inner city toll roads and non-toll flyovers will certainly damage the environment because they will sacrifice thousand of trees in Jakarta and Surabaya.

The construction of toll streets in Antasari will force the developer to cut more than 500 trees, while in Surabaya the project will evict more than 6,500 families (not just 4,500 families as some have stated) and remove thousands of trees between Waru and Perak areas.

In the long run, the existence of the infrastructure will further damage the environment in two ways: Aggravating the air and sound pollution and the soaring consumption of gasoline, because the streets will only accommodate fuel- and space-hungry private vehicles. Buses and other public transportation means will not suit these streets because they cannot drop off or pick up passengers there.

In other words, the construction of inner city toll road and non-toll flyovers runs counter the government's commitment to curbing carbon emissions from vehicles and the spirit of energy conservation.

The irrationality of the projects is apparent when we connect them with the government's policy to limit consumption of subsidized gasoline, which is expected to start on April 1. The philosophy behind this fuel restriction policy is based on two issues. First, from the perspective of supply, our oil deposits are dwindling, and hence we need to conserve energy to sustain our life in the future. Second, from the financial perspective, uncontrolled use of gasoline will affect the state budget allocated for fuel subsidy. The construction of inner city toll roads and non-toll flyovers will lure people to drive their private cars rather than to encourage them to shift to public transportations.

Considering the disagreement between the road infrastructure development and the energy conservation policy, the Jakarta government's stubbornness to go ahead with the projects should become a cause for concern. It is difficult to fathom logically how the same regime applies contradictory policies at the same time (contradictio interminis). On one hand, it wants to limit consumption of gasoline and promote an environmentally friendly development program, but on the other hand it encourages prodigal consumption of energy and pollutes the environment.

If one examines further, the source of policy irrationality is in the central government, in this case the Public Works Ministry, because even though this is the era of regional autonomy, the plan to construct the inner city toll roads will not surface without the ministry's consent.

Therefore, the key is in the hands of the Public Works Ministry.

Unfortunately, for the past 10 years, the ministry has been adopting the paradigm of creating projects. It learned to create projects, and not to review them from various perspectives, let alone moral consideration. It does not care whether a project will evict thousands of families, because what matters is the project must be conducted according to the plan.

It comes as no surprise then when it ignores such fundamental aspects as environmental conservation and social welfare. This is reflected in its formal legal arguments when it comes to a dispute. In the case of the plan to construct the controversial inner city toll road in Surabaya, the Public Works Ministry simply said "It is under contract already. We respect the sanctity of the contract."

Learning from the controversy, development of transportation infrastructure should take into consideration the global warming and climate change issues. Floods in Australia, Brazil, and even Jakarta must be causes to reflect on choosing appropriate transportation infrastructures.

Frankly, I dream of a time in the current term of the second United Indonesian Cabinet the Public Works Ministry builds special non-motorized lanes (bicycles, wagons, horse carts, and pedestrians) which are proven safe and secure. Instead, the ministry has abolished such lanes, as happened to the non-motorized lanes between Solo and Yogyakarta. The ministry has also closed down railways to pave the way for more streets.

It seems that the ministry is friendly only to the automotive industry rather than the welfare of the general public.

Without changing the paradigm, the ministry will speed up global warming due to the liberal fossil fuel energy consumption, especially when the TransJava toll road materializes.

The writer is deputy chairman of the MTI (Indonesian Transportation Community).






Just over a year ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a global commitment to Internet Freedom. Based on the universal human rights framework, Internet Freedom — or as Secretary Clinton deemed the freedom to connect — applies the freedoms of assembly, expression and association to cyberspace.

Today, as we look around at world events, this commitment is more important than ever. By preserving these rights in the digital era, we preserve the promise and the possibility of the Internet as a platform for ideas, innovation, connection, and economic growth.

Against the backdrop of Egypt and the largest Internet shutdown of our time, we have heard numerous calls to honor the freedom to connect, in particular to seek and share information over the Internet, from President Obama and Secretary Clinton and leaders around the world.

The Internet has become the public sphere of the 21st century – it is the global town square.

Indonesia is shining example of this phenomenon.  Indonesians live in a free country where the constitution guarantees individual freedoms such as the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression.  As a result, Indonesians — regardless of gender, religious, ethnic, or economic background — have open Internet access through which to access information, express opinions, and come together online. 

The kind of peaceful civic activism we have seen in Tahrir Square or in Tunis over the course of the past weeks or through the Indonesia Unite for Coins for Prita movements occurs increasingly on the Internet in parallel and in coordination with rallies in the streets.

People around the world come together every day on the Internet to connect to one another, sample a universe of news and information, or make their voices heard. And through this discourse, be it online or in person, new dimensions of debates that we have been having for centuries re-emerge: How best to govern, administer justice, pursue prosperity, and create the conditions for long-term progress, both within and across borders. The connectivity that the digital age fosters has only added new urgency to how we reconcile these age-old issues. The choices governments make today will determine the face of the Internet in the future and they will not be easily made.

The choices we face are familiar, but the space in which we confront them is not. How do we protect liberty and security, transparency and confidentiality, freedom of expression while fostering tolerance and harmony?

First, too often liberty and security are seen as mutually exclusive, but we must have both to have either, both online and offline. We are reminded daily of both the promise and the peril of the information age.  We must have enough security to enable our freedoms, but not so much as to endanger them. In the balance between liberty and security, the fulcrum is the rule of law. Our allegiance to it does not vanish in cyberspace. Neither does our commitment to civil liberties. The United States is equally determined to track and stop terrorists and criminal activity online and offline.

In both spheres, we pursue this goal in accordance with our values.

 It is no secret that "security" is often invoked as a justification for harsh crackdowns on Internet freedom. Governments that arrest bloggers, pry into the peaceful activities of their citizens, and limit or close off access to information under the guise of maintaining security are fooling no one. Silencing ideas does not make them go away. 

Second, we must protect both transparency and confidentiality. Transparency is critical.  We can and should give citizens information about their governments and open the doors to commerce historically closed off to most people. But confidentiality is also paramount. It protects the ability of organizations and governments to carry out their missions and best serve the public interest.

Governments do have a higher standard to meet when invoking confidentiality, because they serve the public.  But all governments require some degree of confidentiality when dealing with matters such as public safety and national security.  For example, it would not be sensible to publish on the Internet details of sensitive negotiations between countries on how to locate and dispose of nuclear materials or how to combat the violence of drug cartels.

Third, we must seek to protect free expression while at the same time fostering tolerance. Just like a town square, the Internet is home to every kind of speech:  False, offensive, constructive and innovative. With an online population of more than 2 billion people that is rapidly growing, the varied nature of speech online will only proliferate. 

There is no question, in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all people have the right to freedom of expression. The challenge is to fulfill a commitment to freedom of expression online while emphasizing the importance of harnessing the capacity of the Internet to advance tolerance and peace. We believe the best way to do this is to promote more speech not to limit it. Exposing and challenging offensive speech, rather than suppressing it, allows for public scrutiny and response.  In the marketplace of ideas, those ideas with merit will become stronger and those without merit will in time fade away.

Through Internet freedom, we have the rare opportunity to tie together a human rights issue with our aspirations for mutual economic prosperity.  The principles of Internet freedom are rooted in the openness of the platform so that the Internet can remain an engine of ideas, innovation, and economic growth. Open markets for new products and services catalyze entrepreneurship, innovation, and investment. We have seen investment and innovation in the global Internet marketplace flow to those nations that seek to make openness the hallmark of their Internet policy.

As we move forward and the universal town square of the Internet continues to flourish, we are confident that we can protect and advance the principles of liberty and security; transparency and confidentiality; and free speech and tolerance. Together they comprise the foundation of a free and open Internet.

We must have enough security to enable our freedoms, but not so much as to endanger them.

The author is US Ambassador to Indonesia.






There are two important lessons we can learn from the oil spill case in Mexico Bay in the United States last year: Out-of-court settlement and President Barack Obama's quick response as an integral part of crisis management in the US administration.

Out-of-court settlement means that goodwill from all stakeholders are the key words. It is implied that two parties agree with the adagio that goodwill builds and runs business to improve society's welfare.

So when a major crisis strikes, the corporate sector will join forces with other stakeholders to deal with it.

Owner of the Montara oil rig in Timor Sea, Thailand-based PTTEP, and the government of Indonesia as regulator have taken a couple of steps based on this good will, to negotiate and solve the impacts of Timor Sea oil spills two years ago.

The litigation process, often used in resolving disputes among business entities with other stakeholders, is strongly associated with the Western way of being direct and certain, coupled with the specific characteristic of involving the third party (the court) to resolve the disputes between two conflicting parties. In reality, litigation has never been the first option in business particularly in Eastern culture.

Businesspeople in Eastern countries decline to see their colleagues lose their faces in a zero-sum game played in court, especially when the one defeated is the regulator or the government that supposedly represents the will of the nation. This option make businesspeople uneasy as their business existence and sustainability depends on the regulations produced by this government regime.

If the Montara case were brought to the international court, the legal formal instruments are in place: The 2006 presidential decree on emergency response on oil spills at sea. Yet, there is no specific instrument to regulate compensation from oil spills resulting from oil drilling activities, and therefore out-of-court settlement is still the best option. Even the United States, equipped with four laws to regulate oil spills in the sea, including laws on settlement and compensation, still favors the non-litigation mechanism. Cost of the damage is difficult to prove as the process is intricate and lengthy, since the figure proposed by the government changes frequently and requires independent verification.

The negotiation of the Montara case, in fact, covers the weakness of the government of Indonesia in extracting the second lesson learned in the Mexico Bay environmental crisis: Inadequate environmental crisis management to respond to major cases. Ten days after Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU), operated by Transocean for BP, exploded in Macondo Prospect oil plant on April 20, 2010, President Obama instructed a thorough investigation. On May 22, Obama signed the Executive Order 13543 as the basis for the establishment of a bi-partisan national team to handle the case. Valuation data on natural resources in the bay was made available quickly, and the executive order laid out who was doing what, so the process to clean up oil spills, the localization of the disaster and compensation — all was resolved within weeks, and after four months, the leak was completely shut down.

Meanwhile, official responses to the oil spills of the Montara rig in Timor Sea came when the Indonesian government established the Advocacy Team on Timor Sea Oil Spills only on July 15, 2010. The first sample, extracted by East Nusa Tenggara provincial government in October 2009 from Timor Sea, concluded that oil spills had entered Indonesian territory. The Indonesian government lost to US-based gold miner PT Newmont Minahasa Raya in 2007, in a trial related to allegations that the company had polluted Buyat Bay. The government also took over corporate responsibility in the case of the Lapindo mudflow in Sidoarjo, East Java. Both cases reflect weakness in evidence.

The belated response to the Montara case results in loss of complete and systematic documentation that leads to difficulties in proving claims of damage. The complete sets of data are owned only by PTTEP and the government of Australia because both have conducted research and collected samples from the first days of the disaster. The biggest loss from this delayed response is another delay, in preventive and curative actions that lead to failure in avoiding another bigger loss.

The objective conditions of the geo-politics, eco-politics and the reality as a tropical country, a country like Indonesia needs to have an adequate and suitable environmental emergency and crises responses, because in spite of its huge potential, Indonesia is also vulnerable to the environmental crises.

Indonesia's environmental crisis management approach should include eight lithoral countries with which Indonesia shares sea borders as active partners. The crisis management designed should include impacts of environmental crises that might be caused by activities in sea borders — such as oil drilling activities in Timor Sea, South China Sea, Malacca Straits, Philippines Sea and Indian or Pacific oceans. Without clear identification on possible impacts which might occur in the borders, cases like the Montara oil spill will recur.

Geographical and geological realities of Indonesia lead to a relatively high probability of environmental crises as compared to other countries in the world. Combined with low levels of sensitivity and response to environmental crises, a series of tectonic and volcanic vulnerability factors and impacts of environment inter-component interaction will lead to a major environmental disaster in Indonesia. A small localized environmental crisis, if it is not managed well and detected early, can catapult into a major catastrophe that can shove Indonesia into the brink of a failed state.

The writer is executive director of The Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists (SIEJ).








In these editorial columns yesterday, we focused on a vital aspect of life – health. We stressed the need for legislation to make some structural adjustments so that Sri Lanka could restore a health service where the well-being of the patients is given top priority both in public hospitals and in private hospitals or dispensaries.

Today we focus on another important factor in life – education. Essentially and in a deeper sense education is not just a matter of passing examinations and getting degrees but more so a growth in virtue and character. Education needs to give us a selfless nature and character so that, as Kipling said we could keep our heads above our shoulders while others are losing theirs and blaming it on us. Education needs to create and build within us a sincere nature that is service oriented and sacrificial so that we could trust ourselves even when others doubt us and make allowance for their doubting too. Education also needs to give us the courage and determination to fill every unforgiving hour with 60 minutes of work well done or a race well run.

As another poet put it, the heights reached by great people, reached and kept, were not attained by sudden flight; but they while their colleagues slept were toiling upward in the night. If the philosophy of education or the hardware is in proper shape then the practicals or the software will also work well. It is in this context that we refer today to the proposal made by the generally controversial Higher Education Minister S. B. Dissanayake to make English a compulsory subject for university admission. After Mr. Dissanayake took over this post he set off a political bombshell by proposing the setting up of private universities in collaboration with foreign universities. Now he has set off another controversy by proposing that English be made a compulsory subject for university admission.

The Ceylon Teachers Service Union (CTSU) said this week the move to make English compulsory for university entrance from this year was a grave threat to the principal of free education. The teachers said a large number of issues needed to be resolved regarding the teaching of English in several schools countrywide and any hasty move might lead to another revolution. 

English is essential because in the global village today it is the gateway to a treasure of knowledge through the information and communication technology, especially internet and search engines like Google.

But repairing the damage caused during the three decades when the English stream was scrapped will take time and making English compulsory now may do more damage with dangerous consequences. Instead our children need to be encouraged to read more because it is mainly through reading that they improve their English including spelling, syntax and grammar. Watching television as most children do helps them to speak well but not write well. As for tuition classes, it is known that some English teachers cannot match the noun with the verb in a compound sentence. So to improve the standards of English, one important factor is to encourage children to read more, not just Shakespeare but even detective fiction novels where the substance may not be deep but the writing is good and powerful. Thus a wise move on the part of the government to improve overall standards of English would be to reduce the tax on imported books and the tax on newsprint so that more books would be printed locally as India does.





 (JVP) Somawansa Amarasinghe at his party's convention held on February 10 at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium on federalism are yet to be answered. One is as to what prompted the JVP leader to touch upon a highly sensitive issue like federalism, especially at a time when an election is ahead. Federalism is not a topic among politicians nowadays, nor does it seem to become one in the near future.

The second question, a highly surprising one that crops up out of the JVP leader's statement is as to why the two main parties did not attempt to use Amarasinghe's remarks on federalism to attack his party by inciting racial sentiments in Sinhalese. Federalism is anathema to the majority of Sinhalese, despite its length and width being unknown to the majority of the people in the country.

Amarasinghe said at his party's sixth congress that the JVP was not against federalism, as many people believe, so long as the system was meant for the unification of the country. Many Tamil political parties had hailed the JVP leader for his change of stance in spite of the deafening silence maintained by the two major parties.

The JVP leader attempts to give an impression that his party had been taking this stand all along. However, it is common knowledge that the JVP has been dead against even  the very concept of federalism; leave alone  whether the system is meant for unification or division of the country. It has also been discordant even with the idea of devolution of power which is the basic prerequisite for the federal system of governance.

The JVP, as many political parties in the country, has been vacillating on many issues that revolve around the ethnic problem since its inception. In spite of the dedication and the commitment of the JVP cadres towards the party activities which is a phenomenon incomparable in the southern parts of the country, the party had taken a racist attitude before its 1971 insurrection. The party leaders tutored five lectures or "classes," as they were commonly called to the newcomers to the party, of which the second "class"  "Indian expansionism" included many racial incitements.

However, the JVP had had a self-appraisal while its leaders were in prison after the 1971 insurrection and the party took a U turn towards accepting even Tamil people's right to secede and to carve out a separate State, while advising them not to do so. But again it shifted its stance soon after it was proscribed in 1983 and its founder leader late Rohana Wijeweera in 1985 declared that his party was no longer supporting the idea of self-determination.

Since then JVP has championed the idea of "unitary state" and vehemently opposed the concepts of devolution of power, provincial councils and federalism. Hence, Amarasinghe's pronouncement last week supporting federalism, though with a tag "unifying" might have surprised many.

However, it is illogical to attempt to differentiate between "unifying" federalism and "dividing" federalism, as the very concept of federalism has popped up throughout the history as a unifying political tool between two or more territories that had either already been separate political entities or territories within a country that were on the brink of separation.

In a moral point of view the two main political parties do not have the right to exploit the situation by criticizing the JVP for its acceptance of federalism, since both parties had been doing the same. The UNP since 1987 was advocating the idea of devolution till Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power in 1994 since when the party did everything possible to scuttle the efforts by Kumaratunga's party to bring about federal models of governance.

However, it was the UNP that had gone farthest in the direction of devolution and federalism during the peace talks between the UNF/UNP government and the LTTE in 2002/2003. "Both parties had decided to explore a political solution based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka" at the third round of talks held in the Norwegian capital Oslo in October/November, 2002.

Being the main constituent party of the PA and the UPFA, the SLFP too had accepted the federalism through its famous "package" in 1995 and its new draft constitution in 2000 and by Kumaratunga's support to the UNF-LTTE agreement on federalism in 2002.

JVP's acceptance of federalism follows its many similar moves to pacify the Tamil people lately such as voicing for the IDPs and campaigning against the registration of Tamils in the north. Whatever its motive might be, these could be treated as positive moves towards reconciliation.





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 of 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 Hindu





"Thus the violence of the oppressor silenced the non-violence of the oppressed; the armed might of Sinhala chauvinism crushed the ahimsa of the Tamils. This historical event marked the beginning of a political experience that was crucial to the Tamil natonal struggle, an experience that taught the Tamils that the moral power of non-violence could not consume the military power of a violent oppressor whose racial hatred transcends all ethical norms of humaneness and civilized behaviour. To the oppressor this event encouraged the view that military terrorism is the only answer to the Tamil demand and that the non-violent foundation of the Tamil political agitation is a weak and impotent structure against the barrel of the gun." 

-  Anton  Balasingham in LTTE booklet "Liberation Tigers and Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle"

 February 20th 1961 is a very important date in the history of the Sri Lankan Tamil political struggle to regain  lost rights .

It was on this day,  fifty years ago that the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) known in English as the Federal Party (FP) led by SJV  Chelvanayakam commenced a non – violent direct action campaign against the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Government headed by the world's first woman Prime minister Sirima Bandaranaike.

  Years and years of witnessing a brutal armed struggle by Tamil militants has created an impression in the minds of many that the nature of Tamil politics in this country has been intrinsically violent. This violence has even served vested interests to dismiss the justice of the Tamil cause and portray the "problem" as being an issue concerning law and order only.

  What is forgotten, ignored or conveniently overlooked is the fact that for over three decades in post – Independence Sri Lanka the  Tamil political struggle was basically non – violent and adhered to the noble doctrine of "Ahimsa" (avoidance of injury/violence) enunciated by that great apostle of non – violence Mahatma Gandhi.

It has been argued by many that it was the failure of the non –violent Tamil struggle to remedy prevailing political maladies that paved the way for an emerging, frustrated generation of Tamil youth to take to the gun.

Whatever the merits or otherwise of this argument there is no denying that the third quarter of the twentieth century is replete with instances of non – violent political dissent and protest conducted by the Sri Lankan Tamils. Hartals, Satyagrahas, black flag demonstrations, marches, processions, mass demonstrations, protest fasts, days of mourning, civil disobedience, civil resistance, boycotts, etc were a regular feature of Tamil politics in those days.

The high watermark of this politics of non – violent protest was the great "Satyagraha" campaign launched on February 20th in 1961.

 It is an event that the Tamils of Sri Lanka can be proud of as an achievement where a small, unarmed, defenceless people through united effort and dedication paralysed the administrative machinery of the Colombo government for nearly two months in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka until military repression was unleashed.


The deployment of the armed forces  was in a way a harbinger of the future of  the Tamil  dominated Northern Province and Tamil majority Eastern Province  where increased radicalization was met by increased militarization.

 Today there is a pervasive presence of the armed forces in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Representative politics is in a state of decline and decay in those provinces.

 The 1961 Satyagraha despite its fundamental non – violent nature also displayed signs of  the future course of Tamil politics. The impatience displayed by some youths who engaged in acts of defiance indicated the  possible rise of militancy. Also the acts of civil disobedience like running a  parallel postal service during the campaign were straws in the wind pointing towards flourishing separatism of the future.

 What is sadly noteworthy about the entire exercise is the fact that the FP was an electoral ally of the SLFP in the 1960 July elections that propelled Mrs. Bandaranaike to power.

 Despite this positive feature,  events took a turn for the worse and within a year the chief political parties of the Sinhala and Tamil people were at loggerheads with each other. This political breakdown resulted in the politics of confrontation  and culminated  in the 1961 Satyagraha.


  In order to understand this state of affairs it is necessary to delve deep into the two general elections of March and July 1960 where the FP played a significant role in unmaking and making the governments of Dudley Senanayake and Sirima Bandaranaike. What led the FP to throw in its lot with the SLFP against the UNP  and what caused the rupture in  this SLFP – FP  relationship are developments worthy of detailed scrutiny in this respect.  An analysis  of those by -  gone events are necessary at this juncture to appreciate fully the backdrop against which the 1961 Satyagraha was staged.

Intricate political negotiations were   on between the March and July elections of 1960. The FP played a prominent role in these behind the scene moves. These matters need to be examined more closely in order to comprehend the political environment which paved the way for the 1961 Satyagraha.

 The vehemence and determination shown by the SLFP govt and opposition FP during the Satyagraha turmoil can be contextually understood only if the political foreplay between March –July 1960 is scrutinized.

The assassination of SWRD Bandaranaike in September 1959 saw  the maverick W. Dahanayake becoming Prime minister. His tenure however was short lived and fresh elections were  conducted in March 1960. For the first time polling in all parts of the country from Paruthithurai to Devinuwara were held on a single day.

The number of seats in Parliament increased from 101 to 157. Six of these were appointed MP's while 151 were elected from 145 electorates. The constituencies of Colombo South, Akurana, Batticaloa and Mutur had two Members each while Colombo Central had three.


Dudley Senanayake who had gone into voluntary retirement in 1953 had re-entered politics in 1957. He led the United National Party (UNP) in the 1960 Polls. The SLFP was led by CP de Silva .  SWRD's widow Sirima did not take the centre stage when  the  election campaign got underway but got involved in canvassing at a later stage

Other Prime ministerial aspirants were Philip Gunewardene of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP)Dr. NM Perera of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and of course the outgoing caretaker PM Wijayananda Dahanayake of the Lanka Prajathanthrawadi Peramuna (LPP).

 When results were announced it was a hung Parliament. The UNP had 50 and the SLFP 46. The LSSP and MEP had 10 each. The third largest party was the FP with 15 seats. It appeared that the FP held the balance of power in the new Parliament

The party had won the seats of Kankesanthurai(KKS), Vaddukkoddai, Nallur, Chavakachcheri,  Point Pedro,Uduvil, Kayts,Kopay,Kilinochchi and Mannar in the Northern Province and the electorates of  Batticaloa, Paddiruppu, Kalkudah, Trincomalee and Mutur in the Eastern Province.

Governor – General Sir Oliver Goonetillleke regarded as partisan towards the UNP called upon Dudley Senanayake to form a new government as the party had the most number of seats in Parliament. It was however doubtful whether Dudley could cobble together the majority required to form a stable government.

 Even with the aid of the six appointed MP"s nominated by the new Premier and the support of a few Independent MP's and crossers over  from the LPP , Dudley had only 60-61 out of 157. But if he could get the 15 seat support from the FP the UNP leader was optimistic of garnering  further support from more Independent MP's and by weaning away some breakaways from smaller parties.


 Thus the support of Chelvanayakam was crucial for Senanayake to form a viable government.Likewise the Support of the FP was equally important for the SLFP if it was requested to form an alternative govt

So when the  victorious FP leader Chelvanayakam  flew from Palaly to Ratmalana he was a much desired person politically.

 Eminent persons such as ex –Prime minister Sir John Kotelawela, former state councillor Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva, retd.chief justice Sir Edward Jayatilleka and former Justice minister and Senate leader Sir Lalitha Rajapaksa wooed Chelvanayakam ardently on behalf of the UNP and set up meetings with Dudley Senanayake.

 But the SLFP had an ace up its sleeve which the UNP could not compete against.

That was the agreement signed by SWRD Bandaranaike and  SJV Chelvanayakam in June 1957 known as the Banda – Chelva or B-C pact.

  This pact agreed to set up one regional council for the North and two for the east with provision to amalgamate. It also agreed for positive measures on  the use of Tamil  in administration and in courts and set out guidelines on colonization.

 Opposition to the BC pact by the UNP and sections of the Buddhist clergy had compelled Bandaranaike to abrogate the pact unilaterally.

 Chelvanayakam  had a surprise visitor  when he landed at Ratmalana. This was none other than former Up Country Tamil MP D.Ramanujan.

He was there representing Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman the president of the Ceylon Workers Congress. With Dudley Senanayake being close towards Plantation Tamil leader SP Vaithilingam, the resourceful Thondaman was moving closer to the SLFP at that time. 

The CWC had reached a general understanding with the FP that the Sri Lankan Tamil party should also espouse the cause of Up Country Tamils in negotiations with any government in power. As such there was political affinity between both parties.

 Ramanujam persuaded Chelvanayakam to drop in at Thondaman's CWC office  to meet with a surprise guest. Chelvanayakam obliged. Waiting for him with Thondaman  was Dr. Badi – ud- din Mahmood the  educationist.

 Dr. Mahmood who later became Education minister in Mrs.Bandaranaike's govt was very close to the Bandaranaike family and was one of those who played a role in bringing her to active politics.


  Dr. Mahmood told Chelvanayakam that the SLFP was prepared to resurrect the Banda –Chelva  pact and set up Regional Councils with even more powers  over lands and colonization if the FP refrained from supporting the UNP .

He also promised progressive concessionary measures for  the use of Tamil in the administrative and legal spheres. The shrewd Mahmood pointed out that the UNP could not grant the B-C pact  to the FP.

Thus Chelvanayakam was fortified with the knowledge that the B-C pact was in the pipeline when he engaged in talks with Dudley Senanayake.

 Besides, the FP was also miffed at pre-mature  media reports that Dudley Senanayake had informed the Governor –General of the FP's support even before negotiations had commenced.

 At discussions with Dudley Senanayake the FP leader placed four broad demands orally. One was that Regional Councils as envisaged by the BC pact be set up with powers over land alienation and development.

The second  was parity of status for Tamil as a language of administration and courts.  

The third was for amendments to the Ceylon citizenship act no. 18 of 1948  enabling speedier ,enhanced registration of  de- citizenised and disenfranchised Up Country Tamils.

 The fourth demand was that four of the six Appointed MP slots be given to Up Country Tamil representatives

 Chelvanayakam informed Senanayake that the FP was prepared to compromise slightly on the  demands if necessary. The party would support the UNP if Senanayake would make a genuine effort in alleviating the travails experienced by Tamils.

  The meeting ended without Senanayake inquiring  about demands Chelvanayakam was willing to whittle down. The next meeting was scheduled for March 26th.

Again the SLFP moved fast and outsmarted Dudley.


  Chelvanayakam had a young visitor on March 23rd. This was Felix R Dias Bandaranaike -  the nephew of SWRD Bandaranaike -  elected from Dompe.

 The brilliant young lawyer was the rising star in the SLFP. Felix's father the Supreme court Judge was a close friend of Chelvanayakam. 

Felix assured Chelvanayakam that the SLFP would  follow  the measures agreed between SWRD Bandaranaike and SJV Chelvanayakam in 1957. The B-C pact would be implemented in full and regional councils set up. Felix also told Chelva that the SLFP would make a policy declaration on this in presenting the throne speech.

 When Senanayake met Chelvanayakam on March 26th, the UNP leader outlined his difficulties in acceding to FP demands. He requested Chelvanayakam to tone down the demands if possible.

SJV then told Dudley that the FP would drop its demand for parity of status between the Sinhala and Tamil languages. The FP would be satisfied with provisions for use of Tamil as an official language in the North and East and for reasonable usage in the administrative and legal spheres.

The FP was also ready to accept one Plantation Tamil representative to be appointed MP instead of four as demanded.

 The party however was not ready to compromise  on the other two demands pertaining to the regional councils and citizenship act. Senanayake then asked the FP to submit the final demands in writing. This was done on the same day.  

On March 27th morning , Senanayake contacted Chelvanayakam and asked for his support in electing a UNP candidate as Speaker. Chelvanayakam declined saying the party had pledged support to the opposition candidate.

  Subsequently the opposition nominee TB Subasinghe defeated the govt nominee Sir Albert Peiris.

 Senanayake met with Chelvanayakam again on March 27th evening.


  On that occasion, Senanayake candidly informed Chelvanayakam that he could not help set up regional councils as envisaged by the B- C pact as the UNP had opposed it vehemently as a stepping stone for separation.

Instead he asked the FP to trust him and promised that he would not act detrimentally towards Tamils. He also offered ministerial portfolios to the FP.

 Chelvanayakam declined the portfolios and withdrew from discussions. It was apparent that the talks had collapsed.

Nevertheless there was constant pressure by prominent Colombo Tamils on the FP in general and Chelvanayakam in particular that Dudley Senanayake as a "gentleman in politics" should be unconditionally supported.

The FP remained firm in resisting these pressures

An important reason for the FP stance was because  the party had already arrived at an "understanding" with the SLFP on matters concerned.

Apart from the preliminary "talks" between Chelva and Felix an official  SLFP delegation comprising CP de Silva, Maithripala Senanayake, AP Jayasuriya and Felix Dias Bandaranaike  also met with a FP team led by Chelvanayakam.

Chelvanayakam placed the same four demands submitted to the UNP to the SLFP also. The SLFP at the outset declared that the party would not enter into a formal agreement with the FP.

Given the history of Sinhala opposition to the B-C pact it was not practical to forge another official pact again. But the SLFP proposed to make an explicit policy statement on issues raised by the FP when it presented its own throne speech if and when asked to form a government after the anticipated fall of the UNP govt.


On the four demands raised the SLFP  delegation led by CP de Silva deviated  slightly from the position articulated by Felix Bandaranaike.

The  SLFP was transparently frank  in saying  that it too was opposed to the setting up of regional councils for the North and East. Notwithstanding SWRD's readiness to set up regional councils , subsequent events had  eroded that concept.

 The SLFP said it was not possible to make special arrangements for the Tamil majority in the North and East alone. That would lead to a Sinhala backlash. What the SLFP proposed instead was the setting up of District Councils for each administrative or revenue district. There were 22 then. Each district council would in essence have the powers and functions as envisaged for the Regional council.

The Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Batticaloa councils would have Tamil dominated administrations. The SLFP re-iterated that the basic powers of the Regional council would be available under the District council also.

 On the question of Language the SLFP  was not prepared for parity of status. It was however ready to introduce and implement measures enabling Tamil to be used for administrative purposes  and in courts in the North and East. Provision for reasonable  use of Tamil outside the north and east would also be made.

 The Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act presented by SWRD Bandaranaike and approved by Parliament in August 1958 would set out the guidelines in this.

The SLFP however rejected any amendment to the citizenship act. It was inflexible on that count but agreed to nominate two Plantation Tamils as appointed MP's.

 The SLFP also said that the CWC's Thondaman would be nominated as appointed MP and that issues concerning Up Country Tamils would be ironed out with him

The SLFP stated that all assurances and pledges on these issues would be given concrete form as a statement of policy  in the throne speech. There would however be no pact or agreement in written form.

After laying out its cards openly the SLFP told the FP that if the Sinhala party defaulted on its assurances the Tamil party always had the option of voting against it after  the throne speech debate.

Without FP support the SLFP govt would fall. As such, the party cannot afford to dishonour its promises it was pointed out. Despite the SLFP position being non – conciliatory on certain aspects, the FP decided then to extend support towards it and vote against the UNP.

 The proposed implementation of the  essential aspects of the agreement reached with SWRD Bandaranaike proved irresistible.

There was also the antipathy towards the UNP for its role in opposing and scuttling the B-C pact. The UNP fate was sealed. Parliament ceremonially opened on April 19th. The Throne speech debate commenced on April 20th. On the third and final day Chelvanayakam addressed the house and attacked the UNP harshly.

 "The real enemy of the Tamil speaking people is not the SLFP but the UNP. It was the UNP Bhikkus who pressured Mr. Bandaranaike to tear up the B-C pact" charged Chelvanayakam.

 When the vote was taken on April 22nd the Federal Party voted along with the opposition against the UNP govt. The Throne speech was defeated by 25 votes. The Govt had 61 and opposition 86 with 08 abstentions.

After an emergency meeting of cabinet Dudley Senanayake  recommended to the Governor –General that Parliament be dissolved and fresh polls held.

Sir Oliver however summoned the heads of all opposition political parties and told them that he was exploring prospects of forming an alternative  government instead of  holding elections.  It was now the turn of the SLFP with 46 seats to have a go at govt. formation.


 The SLFP leader CP de Silva then called upon the Governor –General and urged that he be given an opportunity to form a government. He said he had the required numbers and was confident of securing FP support.

Thereafter Sir Oliver asked SJV Chelvanayakam to call over at Queens House to ascertain whether the FP was indeed extending support to the SLFP. On his way to Fort from his Alfred House Gardens residence in Kollupitiya, Chelvanayakam dropped in at Felix's house in Mahanuge Gardens. Waiting there were CP de Silva and AP Jayasuriya.

Once again Chelvanayakam queried whether the assurances given by the SLFP were valid still. The answer was in the affirmative. Then Chelva asked whether the essence of the B-C pact would be implemented as promised. Again the answer was positive.

At this stage Chelvanayakam looked at fellow old Thomian and potential premier CP de Silva and asked him point blank "what guarantee is there that you would honour these assurances"? To which CP de Silva gave a characteristic response. "I drive a hard bargain and when I've made it,I keep it", CP replied.

 A satisfied Chelva left for Queen's House while CP de Silva  awaited his tryst with destiny. Alas! Fate decreed otherwise!

Sir Oliver Goonetilleke received Chelvanayakam and told him that he was trying to ascertain whether CP de Silva could form an alternative   government. If the SLFP did not have the required numbers he was going to dissolve Parliament.


Stating that the support of the FP was crucial in this respect the Governor – General asked the FP leader categorically whether the  FP would  provide "unqualified" support  to  the SLFP led alternative government for a minimum period of two years.

 Sir Oliver had stressed on "unqualified" support because he felt that the FP could be forced to withdraw support quickly  if the SLFP reneged on its pledges to the party. Therefore he wanted to satisfy himself of it's  stability  by eliciting a firm guarantee from Chelvanayakam.  

But the lawyer in Chelvanayakam balked at the prospect of pledging "unqualified" support as requested by the G-G.  

Being an honourable politician, Chelvanayakam  realised that he and the FP would be firmly bound for two years if he stated so to Sir Oliver. At the same time he could not take the political risk of extending unqualified support for 24 months if the SLFP dishonoured its assurances. In a bid to  extricate himself from this tricky situation, Chelvanayakam  gave what could be termed a "smart" answer.

 Chelvanayakam replied that the FP had arrived at an understanding with the SLFP and that his party  would support the SLFP led govt not merely for two years but for its full term.

By this answer, Chelvanayakam had avoided giving a categorical assurance about extending "unqualified support." But the politically sagacious Sir Oliver cited this perceived reluctance on the part of the FP leader to explicitly  guarantee unqualified support as proof of the proposed government's "fragility".

  Stating that he was dissatisfied by Chelvanayakam's answer the Governor – General went ahead and dissolved Parliament.


 It is widely believed that Sir Oliver's  bias towards the UNP was the cause for this and that the Governor – General had made Chelvanayakam the "scapegoat" for this.  

But there is also a less charitable explanation for Sir Oliver's conduct.

   According to Chelvanayakam's son-in-law and political scientist AJ Wilson the real reason was "caste". CP de Silva belonged to the "Salagama" caste. Wilson quotes Dr.N.M Perera as having been told by Sir Oliver "How can I appoint a Salagama man"?

 Although the concept of caste is frowned upon in polite  Sri Lankan society and is tabooed as being politically incorrect,  a harsh reality of politics and arranged marriages is the role of  the caste factor  in both spheres.

 It is an incontrovertible  fact of  contemporary history that all the Governor – Generals, Prime Ministers and Presidents of Sri Lanka have been from the Govigama caste with the singular exception/aberration of Ranasinghe Premadasa.

 Whatever the reason governing the Governor – General's action  the immediate consequence was dissolution and the staging of fresh elections.

 All the opposition parties including the FP protested against Sir Oliver's action and wrote a letter criticizing the move. Nevertheless new elections were held in July 1960.

 As the election campaign began it soon became clear that a re-furbished SLFP would  do better than it did at the March elections.


  The main reason for this was the campaigning by Sirima Bandaranaike. Dubbed as the "weeping widow" by sections of the media Mrs. Bandaranaike drew unprecedented crowds at meetings.

Many of the leaders and influential segments of the SLFP who had broken away after SWRD's death now returned to party folds. Supporters who voted for the MEP and LPP in March were also returning to the SLFP.

 The SLFP also entered into a no contest pact with the Samasamajists and Communists. Thus fragmentation of the left vote was prevented. Apart from these factors the unwritten understanding with the FP created a situation where the leading Tamil party was an "indirect" electoral ally of the SLFP.

 Given the fractured verdict of March 1960 it was assumed that July 1960 too would result in a hung Parliament with the SLFP having the most amount of seats. The support of the FP was seen as crucial for govt formation.

 The FP expected the SLFP to implement the promises made earlier after  victory at the July elections.

 Chelvanayakam met Mrs. Bandaranaike in a brief, unpublicised meeting along with Felix Bandaranaike where she assured the FP leader that she would abide by the assurances given to the FP by the delegation led by CP de Silva.

Strengthened by that assurance the FP hitched its wagon to the SLFP star.

 While Chelvanayakam elicited an assurance from the SLFP over implementation the party failed to obtain guarantees in a vital respect.


 Professor Wilson the biographer of Chelvanayakam points out that the FP did not obtain assurances from the SLFP as to whether the pledges would be binding on the party even if it won the polls with a comfortable majority and did not have to depend on FP support.

Apparently Chelvanayakam interpreted the assurances as being of a binding nature on the SLFP even if it had an absolute majority and did not need FP support. But this was only Chelvanayakam's interpretation says his son-in-law.

 No explicit guarantee on this had been sought or obtained.  This lapse by the FP indicated that the party was  politically  naive to say the least.

 Despite the absence of such a concrete guarantee the FP took a leap of faith and backed the SLFP. It appealed to Tamil voters in electorates not contested by the party to vote for the SLFP.

 The FP also told crowds at political meetings that the party had arrived at an understanding with the SLFP and that the BC pact would be implemented. This in turn resulted in the UNP launching a vicious campaign against the SLFP – FP alignment. The UNP accused the SLFP of conspiring with the FP to divide the country. A highlight of this campaign was the widespread  display of a colourful poster portraying the Island of Ceylon as a gigantic cake.

The poster showed Mrs. Bandaranaike slicing up the North and East of the cake with CP de Silva looking on. Chelvanayakam waits with an outstretched tray for his slice with his deputy EMV Naganathan standing behind.


The UNP allegation that a secret deal had been worked out between the SLFP and FP put the former on the defensive. Felix Dias Bandaranaike urged the FP    to deny publicly that there was a SLFP- FP agreement.

Chelvanayakam  obliged reluctantly by issuing a statement where he said the FP had supported the  SLFP without obtaining any agreement. He re-iterated this position in media interviews. This in turn had the FP's chief rival the All Ceylon Tamil Congress led by GG Ponnambalam criticizing the party for missing a golden opportunity in not supporting the UNP and instead supporting the SLFP without any guarantees.

 It was in this atmosphere that the SLFP and FP faced the hustings in July 1960. Despite the alignment of convenience the SLFP could not admit to it publicly due to fear of alienating the Sinhala constituency.

 The FP was in an unenviable position of being unable to acknowledge the unwritten understanding in deference to SLFP wishes. In spite of these difficulties the FP once again romped home the winner in Tamil majority electorates. It retained all 15 electorates won by the party in March. In addition the FP also won the Muslim majority electorate of Kalmunai where MC Ahamed was returned on the House symbol.

 The FP had 16 seats in a Parliament of 157 and was once again the third largest political party. The UNP came second with 30 seats. The SLFP was first with 75 seats.


 Together with the six appointed MP's and support from a few Independents the party now had a slender yet stable majority. More importantly it was not dependent on FP  support. History was made when Mrs. Bandaranaike became Prime