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Saturday, February 26, 2011

EDITORIAL 25.02.11

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in 

 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month february 25, edition 000764, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. A FLAWED DECISION
  2. LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP
  3. UPHEAVAL IN ARABIA - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
  4. BUDGET WITH A HUMAN FACE - ARINDAM CHAUDHURI
  5. LIVES OF POOR COME CHEAP - ANURADHA DUTT
  6. ATTEMPT TO ARREST THE DRIFT - KALYANI SHANKAR
  7. RETHINKING INVESTMENT POLICY - VINAYSHIL GAUTAM

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. DON'T BLINK
  2. SAVE THE PAST
  3. THE HOUSE IN ORDER - RONOJOY SEN
  4. 'WE USED THE RTI ACT TO EXPOSE SEVERAL HOUSING FRAUDS'
  5. VIJU B
  6. KOLKATA ADDA - JUG SURAIYA

 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. GOVERNANCE DEFICIT FIRST
  2. A PALATABLE THOUGHT
  3. NOT A HARD WORD - RAJDEEP SARDESAI
  4. SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. LAZY, DANGEROUS
  2. IN FITS AND STARTS
  3. WRECKING TRAINS
  4. A BATTLE FOR PARLIAMENT - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
  5. THE CAPACITY FOR REFORM  - SARABJITSINGH
  6. A STADIUM CALLED GADDAFI - MURTAZA RAZVI
  7. MEDICAL EDUCATION: IT IS TIME FOR A HEALTH CHECK - SUJATHARAO
  8. JAMIA MILLIA ISLAMIA: QUOTA IS NOT THE ANSWER - FIROZ BAKHT AHMED
  9. TEACHING REBELS

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. WHAT THE RAILWAYS COST
  2. FAILURE TO LAUNCH
  3. INDIA'S FOOD FUTURE - NIRVIKAR SINGH
  4. LET A THOUSAND BUDGETS BLOOM - RISHI RAJ

THE HINDU

  1. THE KILLER AFTERSHOCK
  2. PARTNERSHIP FOR THE DEEP WATERS
  3. THE BATTLE LINES OVER ENCRYPTION  - APARNA VISWANATHAN
  4. ARAB UNREST PROPELS TEHRAN AS RIYADH'S INFLUENCE DECLINES - MICHAEL SLACKMAN
  5. NEW VIOLENCE AS IVORY COAST STRONGMAN FIGHTS OUSTER  - ADAM NOSSITER
  6. CONTEMPORARY INDIA IS A FERTILE AND BLOOMING OASIS'  - RUSSIAN MILITARY TO MAKE HUGE PURCHASES
  7. ALLEGED ZIMBABWE PLOTTERS TORTURED, SAY LAWYERS

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. A WAKE-UP CALL TO OIL PSUS
  2. HAISHA, HUISHA, THEY'LL ALL FALL DOWN - NIHAL SINGH
  3. LEGALLY SPEAKING - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
  4. HAISHA, HUISHA, THEY'LL ALL FALL DOWN - NIHAL SINGH

DNA

  1. YOU ALWAYS TAKE THE WEATHER WITH YOU - GAURI SINH
  2. SEEKING A STORE THAT SELLS XL SHIRTS -ANU PRABHAKAR
  3. MOMENTS THAT TRULY DESERVE ONE TIGHT SLAP - YOGESH PAWAR

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. WE WILL TALK NO TALK
  2. GODHRA JUDGMENT
  3. COMMUNAL VIOLENCE IN INDIA - BY TAVLEEN SINGH
  4. WILL JPC ADD TO WORRIES OF PM - BY LALIT SETHI
  5. 73rd amendment and Panchayati Raj Institutions - By Ramesh Arora

THE TRIBUNE

  1. THE CWG IMBROGLIO
  2. DASTARDLY CARNAGE
  3. SETTING RAPISTS FREE
  4. THE PHENOMENON OF JAT ASSERTION - BY D.R. CHAUDHRY
  5. LOVE AT THE LEVEL CROSSING - BY SURJIT SINGH
  6. FACELESS FETISH OR A SOCIAL REVOLUTION? - MOHIT SHARMA
  7. REVOLUTION GONE VIRTUAL – NOSHEEN KAPOOR

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. EVERY CITY ITS SEASON

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. JASMINE AND OIL
  2. AI'S FLIGHT PLIGHT
  3. AKASH PRAKASH: CONFRONTING THE FISCAL REALITY
  4. NOW, MADE FOR INDIA - BHUPESH BHANDARI
  5. HOW ARE YOU, DNA-WISE? - DEVANGSHU DATTA
  6. WALKING THE FISCAL TIGHTROPE - LAURA PAPI & JAMES P WALSH

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. SHORT-TERM DEBT
  2. AFTER THE VERDICT
  3. HOT HYBRIDS
  4. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
  5. FOUR FALLACIES OF THE CRISIS  - JAGDISH BHAGWATI
  6. NORTH-EAST DEMANDS FRESH THINKING  - MANOJ PANT

DECCAN  CHRONICALE

  1. A WAKE-UP CALL TO OIL PSUS
  2. HAISHA, HUISHA, THEY'LL ALL FALL DOWN  - BY NIHAL SINGH
  3. LEGALLY SPEAKING  - BY SWAPAN DASGUPTA
  4. THE TICK-TOCK-TICK OF JUSTICE  - BY SHIV VISVANATHAN
  5. IMAGINE YOUR OWN GOD  - BY FRANCIS GONSALVES
  6. ENERGY SECTOR WOES  - BY R.S. SHARMA

THE STATESMAN

  1. REPRIEVE IN DEOBAND
  2. JINXED CANNON
  3. DISORGANISED EXERCISE
  4. CORRUPTION THWARTS PROGRESS - SUSHILA RAMASWAMY
  5. CAPITAL QUANDARY  - BISWADEB CHATTERJEE
  6. MAKING A DIFFERENCE  - BHARAT DOGRA
  7. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY  
  8. OCCASIONAL NOTES

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. ODD TIMING
  2. SEPARATE WAYS
  3. IT CAN HAPPEN EVEN HERE  - ASHOK MITRA
  4. THE RULES THAT BIND  - BONAFIDE: MALVIKA SINGH

DECCAN HERALD

  1. HEAVY BURDEN
  2. GREAT POTENTIAL
  3. THE MALKANGIRI DRAMA  - N N SACHITANAND
  4. ISRAEL SHAKEN BY WEST ASIA DOMINOES  - STEVEN ERLANGER, NYT
  5. THE POWER OF MUSIC  - NAVARATNA LAXMAN

HAARETZ

  1. PATH OF PEACE IS ISRAEL'S ONLY CHOICE IN NEW MIDEAST - BY YOEL MARCUS
  2. THERE IS NO POLITICAL HOME  - BY ALEXANDER YAKOBSON
  3. LEFT CAN UNITE TO LEAD ISRAEL ONCE AGAIN - BY ZEEV STERNHELL
  4. MIDEAST UNREST MAY BE RARE OPPORTUNITY FOR HUMAN JUSTICE

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THE FOOD CRISIS
  2. GOV. CUOMO'S FRIEND
  3. STOLEN HISTORY
  4. RUN MITCH, RUN - BY DAVID BROOKS
  5. SHOCK DOCTRINE, U.S.A. - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  6. A SAUDI PRINCE'S PLEA FOR REFORM - BY ALWALEED BIN TALAL BIN ABDULAZIZ AL-SAUD
  7. STOPPING QADDAFI
  8. DRILLING FOR AN OIL CRISIS - BY MICHAEL C. LYNCH

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. WATER - BUT NOT EVERYWHERE!
  2. INTERFERENCE IN A STATE MATTER
  3. GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN? NO, BUT ...
  4. OBAMA - OR WHO - IN 2012?  
  5. A SHOCKING 'HONOR KILLING'

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - A PORTRAIT OF LEADERSHIP
  2. WHO CAN DARE ASK A QUESTION TO PM ERDOĞAN? - BARÇIN YİNANÇ
  3. ALL EYES ON THE 'EGYPTIAN MODEL' - SEMİH İDİZ
  4. OLD DETENTION CLASS VS NEW DETENTION CLASS - METİN MÜNİR
  5. 'BEST' AND 'WORST' SCENARIOS FOR NAGORNO-KARABAKH - ZAUR SHIRIYEV
  6. 'BILLAHI KEFAYA: THE MARCH OF THE BARBARIANS…' - BURAK BEKDİL
  7. TURKISH-AZERBAIJANI RELATIONS: REALITY CHECK - ELDAR MAMEDOV

THE NEWS

  1. SEEKING HELP
  2. TESTING TIMES
  3. NO GAS – NO BUS
  4. OH FOR A BIT OF ARAB DISORDER  - AYAZ AMIR
  5. AMERICA'S DOUBLE STANDARDS  - BRIAN CLOUGHLEY
  6. READY FOR CHANGE, AT LAST  - AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
  7. REVOLUTION ITSELF  - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  8. SIDE-EFFECT  - HARRIS KHALIQUE
  9. RULES OF THE GAME  - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. WILL INDIA'S "CULTURE OF IMMUNITY" END?
  2. M D NALAPAT
  3. ISI & CIA RELATIONS - SULTAN M HALI
  4. INDOCTRINATION - YAHYA AHMAD
  5. FRIDAY PRAYERS' IMPORTANCE
  6. THE SPIRIT OF ISLAM
  7. CAN FUGITIVES CLAIM DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY? - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
  8. WORSENING ECONOMY - YAHYA AHMAD
  9. FREEDOM IN WRONG HANDS – BURHANUDDIN HASAN

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. NO PLACE LIKE HOME FOR BOOMERS
  2. PROMOTING FAMILY RESPONSIBILITY
  3. OUR ANZAC MATES STAND STRONG IN MEETING DISASTER

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. THE FATE OF THE STATE
  2. DAIRY INDUSTRY FEELS THE SQUEEZE
  3. MYKI WAS NEVER THE MAIN PROBLEM
  4. CITY VIOLENCE DEMANDS CREATIVE THINKING

THE GUARDIAN

  1. WISCONSIN: LABORATORY OF REACTION
  2. SAUDI ARABIA: THE NEED TO CHANGE
  3. IN PRAISE OF … MANUSCRIPTS FOR THE NATION

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. SOFTER TOUCH WITH PANDAS
  2. RESCUE IN CHRISTCHURCH
  3. DECIPHERING RUSSIAN AIMS - BY KAZUO OGOURA

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. BIRD FLU STRIKES BACK
  2. UNDERSTANDING RIGHT TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM - HARISON CITRAWAN
  3. IN CULTURE WAR, WEB 2.0 OFFERS NEW HOPE FOR INDONESIA - ARY HERMAWAN
  4. POST-MUBARAK EGYPT AND POST-SOEHARTO INDONESIA - GEORGE JUNUS ADITJONDRO

DAILY MIRROR

  1. THE BLOODY RETREAT FROM VADUKODDAI TO NANDIKADAL - PART II
  2. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: FACTS, LEGISLATION AND REALITY
  3. INDIANS TRIP OVER PRICE LINE
  4. GOD SAVE PAKISTAN FROM ITS POWERFUL FRIEND

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. RIGHTS OF HOSTAGES   - BY JENNIFER GNANA  

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

A FLAWED DECISION

JAMIA CAN'T BE TAGGED MINORITY INSTITUTION


While the legality of the decision to grant Jamia Millia Islamia the status of a minority institution is yet to be tested — there are several intricacies involved in the process — what is jarring is that a Central university in a secular country such as ours should have a communal colour. Such institutions are symbols of an educational system that does not discriminate between religions and offers equal opportunities to all students, regardless of their caste, creed or faith. Now, because of an order by the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, Jamia Millia Islamia will have to do away with reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and offer priority admission to students belonging to the Muslim community. Clearly, this is not just a discriminatory step but also a move that will deny a level playing field to deserving students. The arguments put forth by the NCMEI and supporters of its decision that Jamia Millia Islamia always had a minority character and that it had been established for the stated purpose of imparting education to Muslims, does not hold water in the present circumstances. Nor does the assertion that since Jamia Millia Islamia existed even before the Constitution came into place, it clears the path to declare it a minority institution have any credibility. Simply because some organisation was created before the Constitution came into being is no reason for it to be above the Constitution. Jamia Millia Islamia may have been established to promote education among Muslims, but those were different times when the need to have such educational bodies was deeply felt. However, more than 60 years after independence when the education sector has grown to accommodate students from all religions and communities, such an imperative is misplaced.


In fact, the partisan move — besides harming society's educational interests — will only serve to deepen the communal schism. It is strange that despite the Union Government already allowing Jamia Millia Islamia to admit up to 50 per cent of students from the Muslim community, the institution should still seek minority status by way of right. Perhaps realising that the NCMEI's decision would end up opening a can of worms, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development had opposed the move. In a bid to buy time it had suggested that the decision be kept on the backburner pending the Supreme Court's verdict on the demand to confer minority status on Aligarh Muslim University. But now that the Ministry is faced with the NCMEI order, it will have to take some corrective measures. Can a minority institution continue to be a Central university that is governed by an Act of Parliament, some of whose provisions would be in conflict with the institution's legal status? It would also be relevant to find out that in case the minority tag clashes with the provisions of the law governing Central universities, whether Jamia Millia Islamia would be willing to forego the benefits that it has enjoyed until now. It would also be appropriate to take into account that the very leaders of the Khilafat movement who founded the Jamia Millia Islamia were secular in their approach to the Indian freedom movement, although they drew on the support of the minority community to further their goals.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP

THE CIA AND ISI ARE HAVING A LOVERS' TIFF


As the Raymond Davis thriller continues to unfold at the highest level of the global diplomatic scene, another story — that of a lovers' spat — is also being played out on the sidelines. An unreleased Press statement prepared by the ISI has made it clear that Pakistan's powerful spy agency is ready to call it quits with its long-time American ally, the CIA. The relationship had been going downhill for a while, and the Raymond Davis case might just have been the proverbial last nail in the coffin. Mr Davis, a United States national, shot dead two motorcyclists in Lahore on January 27 under mysterious circumstances, while an embassy vehicle rushing to his aid ran down a third bystander. Mr Davis who claims to have shot the men in self-defence — the motorcyclists were trying to rob him, he said — was promptly arrested by the local police, setting the stage for a blockbuster spy saga that has since threatened the world's most vital and equally vulnerable international alliance. At the core of the US-Pakistan diplomatic relationship is the CIA-ISI intelligence sharing nexus that is crucial to the US war effort in Afghanistan. But in the wake of the Raymond Davis affair, the ISI has expressed its frustration over pressure tactics used by its American counterpart. Recent news reports have revealed that Mr Davis is a CIA agent who carries out scouting missions as a security officer and was not just "our diplomat" as US President Barack Obama has claimed. As details of a covert CIA operation emerged, the ISI claimed to have no knowledge about Mr Davis's activities which included monitoring the movements of various Pakistani terrorist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba which has long-standing ties with the Pakistani establishment. American officials, on the other hand, have insisted that Mr Davis held a diplomatic passport and that local authorities were aware of his CIA affiliations. Either way, the disastrous episode has worsened the already frayed relationship between the two agencies.


It is an open secret that there has been trouble in diplomatic paradise for a while now — the result of a series of public disagreements. In December 2010, the identity of the CIA country chief in Pakistan was leaked in a lawsuit that charged him with killing civilians in a drone strike. A major violation of the unwritten spy code of conduct, the leak forced the CIA officer to ultimately leave the country. American officials believe that the act was in retribution for the ISI chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, being named in a New York City lawsuit while others claim that the CIA chief had fallen from grace. Recent efforts to improve the relationship have largely gone down the drain. The Pakistanis are still sulking over the CIA's bullying tendencies, though the Americans are more optimistic about a "healthy relationship" and believe that they can "work through" their issues.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

UPHEAVAL IN ARABIA

HIRANMAY KARLEKAR

 

The outcome of the war in Afghanistan will critically impact on events in the Arabian peninsula and north Africa.

The outcome of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan will critically affect the course of events in the Arabian peninsula and north Africa rocked by a massive popular upsurge for freedom. The danger of a Taliban-type of Islamist dispensation being imposed on the whole or a part of both regions will become very real if the United States and its allies are seen as defeated. Some may dismiss the idea saying that the movement, which ousted Tunisia's President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power on January 15, and then spread to Egypt, has been a huge explosion of mass anger involving vastly divergent elements like students, professionals, trade unions, academics and women. Fundamentalist Islamists were only one of the elements involved. Besides, the core demands have been not for sharia'h but democracy and an end to unemployment, corruption, nepotism, censorship and police excesses.


Those fearing the imposition of a Talibanised order point to the uncertainty of the final outcome. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are iconic figures among a large section of Muslims who also support the Taliban. Besides, many are apprehensive of the growing presence of the Jami'ah Al-Ikhwan Muslimeen or the Association of Muslim Brothers. Also known as the Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen or, commonly, just 'The Brotherhood', sent volunteers to fight in the 1948-49 war against Israel and has been accused of a number of serious acts of terrorist violence, including the assassination of Prime Minister Nurqushi Pasha in January 1948 and President Anwar Sadat in 1981.Bin Laden and Zawahiri had links with it. Two questions arise here: Can the Muslim Brotherhood take over the movement? If it does, what will follow?


The Brotherhood is the best-organised and most sophisticated Islamist organisation in the region which is present in 80 countries. It has been a late comer to the present upheaval, remaining in the background as the groundswell of protest began in Egypt with a rally at Cairo's historic Tahrir Square on January 25, and spread to other cities, finally leading to President Hosni Mubarak's ouster. The Muslim Brotherhood'ss activists had also started cautiously by distributing water bottles among demonstrators and performing similar innocuous tasks. They came out strongly on February 1 when Mr Mubarak's armed supporters launched their second attack on the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, and helped organise resistance. The role of its well-trained cadre, experienced in staging street demonstrations, made a major difference and was widely praised.


The Brotherhood has not looked back since then. It has been functioning openly and has announced the formation of a political organisation of its own, Justice and Freedom Party. While the chances of its being able to dominate the unfolding of events in Egypt and other affected countries is high, much will depend on its relationship with the diverse forces at work. It has started on an inclusive note. As David Kirkpatrick has reported in The New York Times, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an influential Sunni cleric and an important intellectual inspiration behind the Muslim Brotherhood, began his speech at the victory celebration at Tahrir Square on February 18 by addressing both Muslims and Copts. He lauded both communities for standing together in the Egyptian revolution and referred to Coptic Christians as "martyrs" who once fought the Romans and Byzantines. He emphasised the importance of democracy and pluralism, which was hardly surprising. He has long argued that Islamic law supported the idea of pluralistic, multi-party civil society. Sheikh Qaradawi's views are in complete harmony with those of the Muslim Brotherhood's founder, Hassan al-Banna, who, as his grandson, Tariq Ramadan, professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford, said in a recent article in The New York Times, "believed that the British parliamentary model represented the kind closest to Islamic principles."

While the Muslim Brotherhood stands for governance according to sharia'h and ordering the whole of the Muslim world according to Islamic principles, and has fairly strict dress codes, it believes in women's education and participation in politics, though it tends to draw the line at their becoming heads of state and Government. All this makes it a very different proposition from the Taliban and the Al Qaeda. In fact, it has strongly opposed the latter, condemned terrorism, 9/11, and the attack on a Christian church in Baghdad on November 6, 2010, as heinous and criminal and declared that Islam is a religion that only promotes peace and tolerance.

In another statement on February 9, Mr Khaled Hamza, the chief editor of the Muslim Brotherhood's website, www.ikhwanweb, strongly condemned statements by jihadi groups associated with Al Qaeda, calling for a violent jihad to topple the Egyptian regime. Confirming the Muslim Brotherhood's strong stance against the use of violence to achieve legitimate demands, he stressed that Egyptians were capable of solving their problems without intrusion, meddling and prying by foreign groups such as Al Qaeda advocating the use of violence. The current revolution in Egypt, Mr Hamza further stated, was a 'People's revolution' not an Islamic one, and included all sects, trends and religions. Egyptian men, women, children, Muslims and Christians had united in their call for freedom and democracy, and the Muslim Brotherhood had participated as part of the people. Prof Ramadan, however, has pointed out that "Islamism is a mosaic of widely differing trends and factions", adding that contradictory influences were at work behind "the unified, hierarchical façade" and that no one could tell which way the movement would go.


In this context, the growing strength of Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula and north Africa merits attention. Whether it will be able to oust the aging leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and emerge at the helm of the Islamist movement, led by its chairman, Mr Mohammed Badie, will depend on many factors. Perhaps the most important of these will be Al Qaeda's victory in Afghanistan which will give a massive boost to both its morale and image, just as its victory over the Soviet Union had done earlier. Its appeal will also increase sharply if events suggest that peaceful methods are useless against entrenched dictatorships. Those for democracy the world over have a responsibility to ensure that this does not happen. To begin with, they must engage the Muslim Brotherhood in a wide-ranging debate on ideology, strategy and the issue of Israel.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

BUDGET WITH A HUMAN FACE

ARINDAM CHAUDHURI


Over the years, farmers and the poor have not received due consideration in the Union Budget. With the stark realities of unemployment and poverty staring us in the face, the Government should allocate more funds to create jobs and improve infrastructure. The funds can be generated by legalising black money salted abroad


With the Budget about to be presented in Parliament, what concerns one is the shameful neglect of the agriculture sector in subsequent Budgets. In fact, farmers and the poor have been ignored not just by the Government of the day but most Ministers for Finance though they regularly paid lip service to their cause. Hence, there is need to have an alternative budget dedicated to India and its masses.


In the Union Budget for fiscal year 2010-11, Minister for Finance Pranab Mukherjee allocated a total of Rs 12,836 crore — up from Rs 10,527 crore in 2009-10 — for agriculture, allied activities and irrigation. Add to it 'rural development' and we get a total Budget allocation of about Rs 67,000 crore. This is less than 15 per cent of the total fund allocated by Mr Mukherjee in 2010-11 despite the UPA Government's stated concern regarding the distress and deprivation faced by the people in rural India.


Rural India, which is the real India, needs 150 million jobs. As a committed Government, the aim should be to achieve this in a span of five years and not 65 years. Thus, India has to create 30 million jobs a year. In absolute terms, a job can be created in rural India by investing about Rs 33,750 per job. This would require an additional fund of Rs 1,00,000 crore per year.


Therefore, in an alternative budget, there would be an increase of Rs 1,00,000 crore a year in the allocation for rural India, particularly for farmers. Half of the money would be invested every year towards improving basic infrastructure, which would include creating effective irrigation facilities, building better roads, setting up a network of cold storages and improving supply of electricity.


The other half would be spent towards improving social infrastructure — including better access to education, healthcare and sanitation. The first would lead to a dramatic improvement in productivity in rural India and result in vastly improving income levels for farmers. The second would lead to a dramatic improvement in human development indicators. And both will create jobs, eradicating the massive rural unemployment.


The poor in India also live in cities. So, one would suggest allocation of another Rs 1,20,000 crore for creating 25 million jobs for the urban poor. In urban India, the cost of creating a job dramatically multiplies to about Rs 2,40,000 per head. Thus, to create 5 million jobs a year, the Government would require the said amount.


Apart from employment, the urban poor need basic civic facilities. For that, we need to set aside additional Rs 24,000 crore per year for the next five years to build 15 million urban flats of 250 sq feet area.


Another burning issue, though it is not directly related to the poor, needs attention. It is rampant corruption. The only solution to stem corruption lies in a functional judicial system. Corruption and greed prevails around the world. However, it touches far less lives in the US than in India simply because the American judicial system is functional.

In America, they have 10 times more judges per million people than we have in India. If India has to achieve that standard, it needs to have about 1,00,000 more judges. It sounds impractical but is surely achievable over a span of five years. In order to have 20,000 additional judges per year, the country would need approximately Rs 6,000 crore per year, assuming conservatively that the expenses to be incurred for a judge and his office assistants would be around Rs 30,00,000 per year.


Hence, the total additional fund required is about Rs 2,50,000 crore. This fund should be made available from our existing Budget of more than Rs 6,00,000 crore since it would touch the lives of 85 per cent Indians. A huge amount of this fund can come from duplication of allocation in various schemes like NREGA etc. However, if we assume that the Government is not willing to spare the money and the entire fund has to be generated through new sources, then the question is how do we do that.


How the future will arrive: First, I will suggest one very simple and long overdue revenue raising proposal — just do away with the subsidies on LPG, kerosene and diesel. They have led to huge distortions in the economy and have not benefited the so-called beneficiaries for whom the subsidies are meant. Instead, there have seen cases of killing honest officials or burning them alive for trying to stop the theft of subsidised kerosene. In 2010-11, the combined subsidy for all three amounts to a little less than Rs 1,00,000 crore. If Mr Mukherjee takes a decision, after consultation with Ms Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it can happen.


The second source of generating funds would be by legalising the black money salted abroad — just give a simple 10 per cent tax offer, payable in five equal installments of mere two per cent. However, this must come with two key riders: First, that the Government will take serious steps to recover the money stashed in foreign banks and the money recovered after one year must be nationalised. Second, there should be strict measures in place to ensure that future generation of black money becomes almost impossible. This is possible with a functional judiciary.


With an estimated black money of Rs 75,00,000 crore stashed abroad, such a step would lead us to a new revenue stream of Rs 7,50,000 crore in five years — or Rs 1,50,000 crore per year — making up for the balance required to put the aforesaid proposals into action.


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

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

LIVES OF POOR COME CHEAP

ANURADHA DUTT


Blinded by profit, Bihar plans to open 12 asbestos factories


For policy-makers, industrial development, sometimes, entails jeopardising the health of citizens, who lack a voice and recourse to remedial action. The plan to set up 12 asbestos factories in Bihar falls in this category. Muzaffarpur, Bhojpur, Vaishali, Champaran and Madhubani are the sites for the plants, which will produce asbestos sheets and the like, using raw material imported from countries such as Canada, Russia, Kazakhastan and China. The health hazards posed by asbestos are widely known, with some types of cancer, among other maladies, being ascribed to the effects of the fibre, used to make roofs and walls in dwellings of the poor. But then, to recall a well-tested adage, the lives of the poor come cheap for those at the helm of power.

India is among the countries that have chosen to ignore warnings issued in this regard by World Health Organisation and International Labour Organisation, and allowed use of asbestos products even if mining was gradually phased out since 1989 under growing international pressure. Opponents are worried about concerted lobbying by the rich and powerful asbestos industry, here and abroad, to persuade the Indian Government to lift the ban on mining, and promote the use of the fibre. They are especially concerned that Canada, which is trying hard to revive its asbestos industry, has been focussing on India as a huge potential market and business ally. And local industrial collaborators, with many reported to be close to the Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre, have also been pushing for lifting the mining ban and encouraging use of the fibre.


Ban Asbestos Network of India, an alliance of civil society groups, which has been trying to highlight the issue and help other rights bodies mobilise people in Bihar against the setting up of the plants in their State, condemns Canada's duplicity. For, while seeking markets in India and other emerging economies, it has adopted a no home-use policy even as it decontaminates buildings. A memorandum of understanding was signed on December 31, 2010, between the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and the Indian Merchants' Chamber on the supposedly safe use of asbestos. This occurred just before a trade mission to India. The Indian Supreme Court, which is hearing a PIL to ban asbestos completely, has taken note of the fact that Canada strictly regulates the use of asbestos under its Hazardous Products Act and the Environmental Protection Act, but produced 1,80,000 tonnes of the mineral in 2009. An estimated 96 per cent was exported, according to the US Geological Survey. India constitutes a primary market.


It is not as if policy-makers here are unaware of the dangers posed by the fibre. As far back as the late 1960s, they took note of the fact. After 30 workers from Roro mines in Chaibasa, West Singhbhum district — in Jharkhand now — died of asbestosis. P Mazumdar, a trade union leader, campaigned for occupational health rights. The late Indrajit Gupta, CPI MP, raised the issue in Parliament. Opponents continued to draw attention to the dangers posed by asbestos and pushed for using safe alternatives, but industry lobbyists ensured that the ban on mining was not extended to the use of this fibre. Profit over principles is another well-tested adage. This explains India's ambivalence with regard to trade in asbestos. Mining is banned but import, manufacture and use of products is permitted. A People's Union for Civil Liberties report on the Bihar plants calls for an immediate halt to the work at all the sites, while stating that "Bihar cannot be made the dumping ground of hazardous production, exposing the people here to all kinds of risks because they are poor".


And that is the crux of the matter, with free trade, under the guise of economic liberalisation, being deliberately construed by commercial buccaneers and political underlings as license to ride roughshod over health concerns, human rights, land ownership issues and environmental imperatives. In the present instance, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is reported to have deflected blame on the Union Government for having approved the setting-up of the factories. In the wake of a six-month long campaign against the setting-up of a plant in Muzaffarpur's Chainpur-Bishunpur area, Mr Nitish Kumar attempted to clarify his Government's stand on the issue at a Press conference in New Delhi on February 2. He claimed not to have granted permission, and pressed for suspending asbestos factories throughout India. He rued the absence of a uniform policy in this regard.

According to BANI, clearance for the project has been granted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, State Pollution Control Board, State Investment Promotion Board and the State Industry Board. However, since health is a State subject, the Government of Bihar can certainly spike the plan. Opponents feel that industrial lobbies are at work to ensure that the project is not scrapped. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court wants Parliament to bring in a suitable law. The White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill is pending since 2009, and opponents are hoping that it will be taken up and the ban on the asbestos trade made legally binding.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

ATTEMPT TO ARREST THE DRIFT

KALYANI SHANKAR


Congress strategists are working overtime to post big victories in the coming Assembly polls in five States this year to silence the Opposition and win back public trust


The Congress is upbeat about winning elections in at least four of the five States going to polls in April-May this year. And this confidence is based on some critical pieces of arithmetic, according to party insiders. Even if the Congress manages to win three States out of the five, it will be a big morale booster for the party, which is plagued by scams and controversies. The party workers are demoralised with a belligerent Opposition taking on the Union Government in Parliament.


Stakes are high for the Congress in the upcoming elections — where it has direct fight with the Left in two States and will face a fractured Opposition in the other three States. The Congress strategists are working overtime to make sure that nothing goes wrong because the party wants to win big to silence the Opposition.


In West Bengal, where the Congress is a minor partner piggybacking on Trinamool Congress, it is in an advantageous position because the people are in a mood for change. The dwindling popularity of the Left Front Government, which has been ruling the State for more than three decades, has propped up the fortune of the Congress-TMC alliance. Although there may be some stiff bargain over seat-sharing between the two partners, both are in a mood to compromise to win the race to the Writer's Building.


In Kerala, the ruling CPI(M) is bogged down by internal squabbles. The Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and CPI(M) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan have been on a collision path for the past five years, which has now reached its crescendo. Moreover, Kerala witnesses anti-incumbency trend every five years — which means the Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front win every alternate election. Hence, the Congress-led UDF is quite confident that people's verdict will go against the ruling LDF this time.

In Assam, a Congress-ruled State, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is hoping to create history by winning the election for the third time in a row. The Congress managers are hopeful of pulling off this feat for two reasons: First, the ULFA leaders have come around to hold unconditional peace talks with the Union Government. Although no real talks would take place before the elections, the stand adopted by the ULFA leaders has raised hope for a peaceful solution.


Secondly, the Opposition in the State remains divided with the AGP and the BJP deciding to go to the polls alone. While the AGP's popularity is on the decline, the BJP has not gained much ground. Some leaders in the Congress are in favour of striking a deal with the Muslim front in the State but Mr Tarun Gogoi is opposing it. However, arithmetic seems to be in favour of the Congress and it may claim a victory and even improve its position in Assam.


The chances of the Congress coming back to power in Puducheri, which is currently a Congress-ruled State, looks bright with the Congress, the DMK and the PMK coming together and forming an alliance.

However, winning in Tamil Nadu will not be a cakewalk for the Congress this time. Although the alliance has been firmed up with the DMK, PMK, Viduthalai Chiruthai Katchi and other smaller parties, the Congress strategists are not sure which way the elections will go. While the PMK has settled for 31 seats, the seat-sharing between the Congress and the DMK is yet to be finalised. The Congress would like to contest from at least 65 seats but the DMK wants to keep 120 seats for itself. The other smaller parties will have to be given their share of seats. Hence, the Congress and the DMK leaders have a tough task ahead to work out this difficult arithmetic.

The AIADMK, led by Ms J Jayalalithaa, has already tied up with the CPI, CPI(M), MDMK and other smaller parties. It is on the verge of reaching an agreement with actor-turned-politician Vijay Kant's DMDK. If this happens, then the coalition arithmetic will be almost even and it will be advantage AIADMK because the 2G Spectrum muck has taken some sheen off the DMK.


The Congress, being a junior partner in the alliance, has left it to the DMK to win back the trust of the people and neutralise the negative campaign unleashed by the Opposition. The Congress has given the responsibility of working out the election strategy to wily DMK chief M Karunanidhi and is working towards improving its position in the State.


The bottom line is the Congress would like its major partners — the Trinamool Congress and the DMK — to win the elections but would try to contain them so that they do not become too powerful. How to achieve this task is what is puzzling the Congress strategists.


The Congress is looking for power sharing in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. The DMK chief Karunanidhi had resisted this so far and did not include the Congress MLAs in his Cabinet after the 2006 polls but this time even the Congress central leadership is keen on power sharing. The TMC, it seems, is ready to accept this formula in West Bengal.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

RETHINKING INVESTMENT POLICY

VINAYSHIL GAUTAM


India allows 100 per cent of Foreign Direct Investment in certain sectors with almost an automatic route. Therefore, a carefully calibrated policy becomes a critical need for FDI inflows


Despite talks of scams and black money salted abroad in every forum possible, the foreign direct investment and foreign institutional investment remain unaffected as long-term investors are not shying away. Indeed, the FDI is an international vote on the credibility of the governance and business processes of the recipient country.


In the case of India, there is also a direct correlation between the FDI and the liberalisation and reforms that are taking place in the financial sector. There are transaction costs and other related issues, apart from exchange rate and cross-border handling of technology that belie a simplistic interpretation.


A coherent tracking of the FDI in the post-liberalisation era is possible and there is a need to see the linkage between FDI inflows and different phases of growth policy related to FDI.


The FDI inflows in the last decade have been in excess of US$ 125 billion. It is substantially more than the inflow in the preceding decade, which was US$ 15 billion. Mauritius tops the list of countries from where investment pours into India, followed by Singapore, the US, the UK and Netherlands. Since the substantial portion of investment comes from the first three countries, it is worth reflecting on why the sources of origin of FDIs are not evenly spread across different regions of the world.


It is significant to note that within the country, the Mumbai region and the National Capital region witness a major flow of the FDI. The other destinations of emphasis are the Bangalore area and the Ahmedabad area. It shows that investments are unevenly spread within the country as well.


Further, only few sectors draw investors' interest. The recent interest in exploration of natural resources notwithstanding, computers, telecommunication and construction sectors are the leading areas that see investment interests.


Clearly, the policy dimension funnels and channelises these flows. Therefore, to attempt a correlation between the policy dimension and what happens on the ground would be an interesting analysis.


India allows 100 per cent FDI in certain sectors with almost an automatic route. A carefully calibrated policy, therefore, becomes a critical need for FDI inflows. The budget discussion would do well to develop the existing policies further to move in a forward direction.


Significantly, there is a strong value bias in the policy dimension. There are sectors in which no FDIs are allowed. These include lottery, retail trading (except single-branded product retailing), gambling, betting, atomic energy, business of chit fund, real estate etc.


The policy followed so far has some intrinsic strength but the conditions on the ground severely moderate it. Typically, investment in SEZ are exempted from all taxes but the fate of SEZ has itself been chequered. In fact, in the last year or so, no serious breakthrough has come in this area.


It is also not surprising that the use of automatic route is favoured by foreign investors and this further gives shape and pace to investments. More seasoned and reasoned view needs to be taken on policy dimensions. Further, there should be a regular periodic analysis undertaken to evaluate the kind of control needed to be exercised and to see whether they are being exercised.


It is true that several restrictive provisions, which were imposed earlier, have been removed and several procedures have been modified, but at times simple interventions are required to create a long-term effect. For instance, an effort to simplify forms, which have to be filled up for obtaining approval, would go a long way. Though restrictions on repatriation have been withdrawn, an interim view has to be taken of the repatriation regime till the full convertibility of rupees takes place.


There are different parameters on which the policy related to FDIs can be further improved. Inter-ministerial coordination between the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Industrial Development needs to be improved. The multiple caveats in the policy statement need to be reduced. The chain of repeat approvals needed from multiple Ministries, not to overlook the need for approval from States, need attention. Developing a formula for the routine would augur well.


Deliberately the words growth and development are being avoided in the policy formulation because both these words have become 'a motif' as they are being used by different people for different purposes.

There is also a clear need for reconciliation between economic intervention and management intervention. The present trend of finding management intervention for profitability and economic intervention for equity is not only unhelpful but unnecessary. Bridges need to be built between the two for raising the quotient of welfare and happiness.

The time has come to enrich historical extrapolation with contemporary scientific field analysis.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

DON'T BLINK

 

The hostage situation involving Malkangiri collector R Vineel Krishna holds out several important lessons for the government. In the immediate term, the authorities should leave no stone unturned to secure the release of the collector from his Maoist captors. However, a long-term strategy that clearly spells out the government's position in hostage situations is urgently required. Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi were abducted eight days ago by Maoists in the dense forests along the Orissa-Andhra Pradesh border. On Wednesday, Majhi was freed after the Orissa government conceded all 14 demands - including the release of jailed Maoists - put forth by the ultras. However, reneging on their word, the Maoists continue to hold Krishna captive until more of their jailed comrades are released: the terms of a fresh set of demands.


There are several lessons to be learned here. The popular outcry among locals for the release of Krishna demolishes the myth - prevalent among city-bred intellectuals of a radical persuasion - that local people in impoverished areas side with the Maoists and government officials are always hated figures. But equally importantly, in the absence of a coherent hostage negotiation policy, it is only natural for the Maoists to arm-twist the government. The implications are disastrous. Every time the government capitulates in a hostage situation it incentivises insurgents to resort to more of the same and to similar tactics in future.


Maoists prey on the grievances of the neglected and downtrodden. It is easy to see why a district collector with an impressive service record would be a Maoist target. The last thing that left-wing radicals want is for the government to hijack their development agenda. It is precisely for this reason that the government must keep up its efforts to improve the administrative machinery in backward areas. Security strategies to counter the Maoist threat are crucial to ushering in development. Kidnappings of public servants must be disincentivised, both before and after. While providing enough security to them, a tough and professional hostage negotiation policy is also in order. It is important for ultras to know that the government will not be intimidated by such tactics.

Having a cadre of special hostage negotiators to handle such situations is a requirement. During the height of the American military operations in
Iraq, trained hostage negotiators were able to free several non-combatants from the clutches of insurgents without conceding much ground. This proves the efficacy of a sound hostage negotiation strategy. Policy on hostages has to be factored into the anti-Maoist strategy matrix, otherwise it is going to fail.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

SAVE THE PAST

 

The modern has come to the rescue of the ancient in the case of the Centre's National Manuscript Mission (NMM). This massive six-year-old initiative to digitise India's five million odd manuscripts has taken a big step forward with the creation of standard guidelines to be applied across the project. Given India's civilisational heritage, it's not surprising so many of these manuscripts - in every field from religion to philosophy to literature - are scattered across the country. And it's even less surprising, given the usual lack of government focus on preserving heritage, that many of them are in danger of being lost irretrievably - mouldering as they are in the collections of various organisations and individuals who lack the capability or resources to preserve them. By starting the NMM in 2005, the government has gone some way towards rectifying that lack of focus.

By converting stone and wood tablets, palm leaves and scrolls to digital formats, the NMM has the opportunity to do something that goes beyond preservation. It can leapfrog the entire problem of the lack of public library and archive access that is prevalent in large swathes of the country, given the far greater accessibility of the digitised versions. It will have the added benefit of ease of cross-referencing of these manuscripts, valuable not just for academics but also commercial collectors. Roping in foreign institutional expertise - as has already been done in projects such as the restoration of the
Sarvamoola Grantha, a 700-year-old palm leaf manuscript - would be useful. With an annual outlay of just Rs 7.5 crore, rupee for rupee there are few government projects with greater potential benefits.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

THE HOUSE IN ORDER

RONOJOY SEN

After a wasted winter session - the first time in the history of Indian Parliament that almost an entire session was stalled - the Budget session has at least got off to a start with the government agreeing to set up a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the 2G scam.


JPCs are of a relatively recent origin. Beginning with the JPC in 1987 on the Bofors scandal, there have been two more in 1992 and 2001 to look into securities and stock market-related scams and another one in 2003 to investigate the allegations of pesticides in beverages. For the Bofors JPC though, the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government had also taken its time - nearly three months - to take a decision to set up a probe committee.

The reluctance of the government, despite the fact that the Bofors JPC hardly came up with any startling revelations, has got to do with two things. First, the JPC unlike the Public Accounts Committee, which was preferred by the government to inquire into the 2G scam, can call on anyone, including the prime minister, to testify. But second, and more importantly, the composition of the JPC, decided according to party strength in Parliament, is a worry for the government. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why the opposition demanded an increase in the size of the JPC from 21 to 30 members so that smaller parties could also have their seats at the table.

The JPC to inquire into Bofors was initially composed of 21 members, but later it was increased to 30. But the size hardly mattered since the committee was packed with Congress MPs and headed by a senior minister from the party, B Shankaranand. The JPC did not summon a single minister and got very little cooperation from Bofors. When the JPC report was presented to the House in 1988, it was a complete let-down. It exonerated everybody and was overshadowed by media reports exposing the web of pay-offs and middlemen involved in the Bofors deal.


Unlike in 1987, when the Congress had a brute majority, this time around the committee will have a fair sprinkling of opposition members which can make life uncomfortable for the government. The benefits of a relatively even spread of party strength was shown in the JPCs of 1992 and 2001 which came up with recommendations that helped in cleaning up and regulating the financial sector.

That parliamentary committees are prominently figuring in public discourse is encouraging. For obvious reasons Parliament doesn't have much of a reputation these days. Even if we leave aside the washout of the last session, frequent disruptions and walkouts have meant that the functioning of the House has hit an all-time low. The number of sittings in the Lok Sabha has come down from an annual average of 124 between 1952 and 1961 to 81 between 1992 and 2001. The time spent debating legislation has dipped dramatically with over 40% of the Bills, excluding financial Bills, being passed without any debate whatsoever. Survey after survey has shown that Parliament is rated way lower than institutions like the Supreme Court or the Election Commission. The image of Parliament perhaps reached its nadir when three MPs waved wads of cash during the no-trust vote in 2008 claiming that they had been bribed to vote for the government.


But the tumult on the floor of the House is not all that there is to Parliament. Behind the scenes there is a fairly elaborate committee structure that has its origins in the British era. Besides the three financial committees - estimates, public accounts and public undertakings - there are 24 departmentally related standing committees as well as standing committees related to conduct of business in the House. In addition, there are ad hoc committees set up for a specific task and expected to be wound up once they finish their work, such as the committee to inquire into the misconduct of MPs.


These committees have not worked as well as they should have. For one, the regularity of the meetings of committees, which are reconstituted every year, depends on the chairperson. For instance, the committee concerned with the Right to Education Bill met only twice to discuss the crucial piece of legislation. Two, recommendations of the committees are not only non-binding, the government is not even 7bound to give any reason for rejecting them. Three, the committees and the MPs lack adequate research staff. Reforms, such as a fixed number of meetings and better quality staff, could go some way in making the committee system more robust.

The other more visible systemic problems of Parliament are not going to go away soon. The tendency to create a ruckus inside the House is one of them. Many MPs believe this is a legitimate form of protest, and indeed one that can garner more attention than merely participating in debates. There are some MPs who have suggested changing the rules of the game so that parliamentary duties are rewarded. But then there are many more MPs who believe that work in the constituency is clearly more important than participation in Parliament.


While the JPC to probe the 2G scam might have got the House in order for the time being, there needs to be some serious rethinking of the place of Parliament in Indian democracy.


The writer is a visiting research fellow at ISAS, National University of Singapore.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q & A

'WE USED THE RTI ACT TO EXPOSE SEVERAL HOUSING FRAUDS'

VIJU B

 

Activist Simpreet Singh received the national RTI council award instituted by Arvind Kejriwal's Public Cause Research Foundation on behalf of the National Alliance for Peoples Movement (NAPM) which uses the RTI Act to expose fraud and misappropriation of public assets. NAPM used the RTI Act to investigate Adarsh, the tower meant for Kargil war widows, but usurped by state bureaucrats, politicians and defence personnel who had no role to play in Kargil. Singh spoke to Viju B about the scam:


How did you come to know that Adarsh towers were built illegally?

Six years ago, when the Maharashtra government said they will convert Mumbai into Shanghai and began doling out land reserved for the poor and homeless to developers, we began looking into this issue. It began as a social movement, but we could not get enough information. We then used the RTI Act to expose several housing frauds related to the slum rehabilitation scheme where land meant to house slum-dwellers was grabbed by builders with political consent. We found out that construction of a building had begun at the Backbay Reclamation in Colaba where many defence personnel and state bureaucrats were members.


What was your next step?

We filed about seven RTI queries, asking for details of file notings, sale of land and environmental clearances. The RTI queries were filed with the Mumbai collectorate, state revenue department, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, state urban development and environment department.

 

What was the information you got?

The RTI replies showed that the width of the road in front of the building was reduced from 70 metres to 19 metres. Though the area came under coastal regulation zone (CRZ)-1, it was changed to CRZ-2. The adjoining plot of Bombay Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) was used for granting additional floor space index. The building came without any environmental clearance and the then state urban development secretary P V Deshmukh used a communication from the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to show that Adarsh had its environmental clearance. The file notings also showed in chronological order how each minister and bureaucrat who got a flat in Adarsh was involved at some point or other in granting permits such as commencement and occupation certificates. The final list of 103 members showed that there were hardly any Kargil widows even amongst defence personnel who got flats.


How difficult was it to get information and how much did NAPM'S public interest litigation filed in 2010 help?
We had to wait for almost six months to get RTI responses, though under the RTI Act it is mandatory that they reply within 30 days of receiving the query. Our PIL relied on the RTI replies. If it was not for the RTI Act we would not have been able to crack the Adarsh scam.


Do you think the demolition order of Adarsh by the MoEF was the right move?

The demolition order acknowledged the fact that the building was illegal. We are happy about this. But MoEF is silent on the action to be taken against officials involved in the scam. The building did not come up on its own. Under Section 16 of the Environment Protection Act, department heads can be prosecuted for abetting a crime.

What other RTI successes has NAPM had?

We exposed the environment violations committed by the Lavasa group while constructing luxury apartments in Pune. We also exposed how 350 acres of prime land meant for middle and lower-middle class housing was given to a builder in Powai for just 40 paise per acre. They were liable to pay Rs 2,000 crore, but the government levied a fine of just Rs 200 crore. The PIL on this is still pending.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

KOLKATA ADDA

JUG SURAIYA

 

Last week i was in Kolkata - which i still think of as Calcutta - and am glad to report that it's much as it's always been. The old Howrah bridge is there, and the Victoria Memorial, and the Maidan with its vendors selling spicy jhaal moori flavoured with mustard oil, and puchkas - what north Indians called golgappas - flavoured with something you really don't want to know about. But what pleased me most was that the most Kolkatan thing about Kolkata - or indeed, all of Bengal - was not just in evidence but was obviously going from strength to strength: the institution of the adda.

 

Other communities pass the time in idle chatter and gossip. Not so the Bengali. There is nothing idle about his chatter or gossip, which goes by the local name of 'adda'. For the Bengali, adda is not mere time-pass; it is a timeless passion. It is a conversation devoutly to be wished, and the Bengali spends hours at it, convinced of the profound truth that adda is not a waste of time, but rather that time is a waste of adda. What is the topic of discussion at an adda? Anything and everything, from mountains to molehills, from the sublime genius of Manekda (Satyajit Ray to you) to the stepmotherly treatment meted out to Sourav Ganguly by the raskails (rascals) who run the IPL.

 

As Amartya Sen has noted, all Indians are argumentative. If we weren't, India wouldn't be the biggest and most vocal democracy in the world, because democracy is just another word for argument. And of all us argumentative Indians, we Bengalis (having spent most of my life in Calcutta i consider myself an honorary Bengali, or hon Bong) are the most argumentative.

 

Long ago we Bengalis realised that argument is the essence of adda, its life blood and its oxygen. If two, or more, people see the same thing from the same viewpoint, there's nothing more to say. But if two, or more, people see the same thing in two, or 200, different ways, there is twice, or 200 times, more to say. Twice, or 200 times, more adda, based on the scientific principle that every assertion must have an equal and opposite reassertion.

 

While i was there, the city witnessed two debates, one organised by a local newspaper and the other by the Saturday Club. The themes, respectively, were topical: Should politicians get out of government? And have scams kept up with inflation? The popularity of such events underscores the argumentative nature of Bengal, particularly of Kolkata. Given no other opportunity the Kolkatan will argue with himself. Shakespeare's Hamlet was a Kolkatan as his famous self-argument shows: To bhi or not to bhi,/ That eej thee kweschon/ Whethaar teej noblaar een thee mind/ To saafar thee sleengs and arrows oph outrajus phortune/ Or to take up arms against a sea oph troubles/And by oppojeeng, end them?

 

While, Hamlet-like, the local citizenry was busy arguing with itself, before you could say Siraj ud Daula, Clive had won the battle of Plassey and laid the foundation for 200 years of British rule. Like history, adda repeats itself. After 34 years in power, the Marxists got themselves so caught up in internal argument as to whether they were still communists or capitalist property brokers on behalf of industrialists in Singur and other places, that Mamata-di's Trinamool is all set to pulverise them in a political Kurukshetra that'll make Plassey look like a pie-fight.

 

And will Mamata-di be the last word in the never-ending argument that is Bengal? Certainly not. For everyone, starting with Mamata herself, will agree that there can be no end to argument. Which raises the further argument that if everyone, including Mamata, agrees that there's no end to argument, isn't that itself an end to argument? An arguable point, adda infinitum.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

GOVERNANCE DEFICIT FIRST

The UPA has finally got a chance to explain in Parliament what it is doing about corruption and inflation, two issues that will continue to cast a shadow over the budget session. The two issues figured prominently in President Pratibha Patil's address to lawmakers on the government's agenda for the next financial year, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday took pains to rebut individual allegations of graft and explain what was being done about them. The promised frontal assault on corruption though comes with the understanding that sleaze has not risen inordinately during the UPA's watch. Hence, a pledge to get back money stashed abroad and inquiries by the Central Bureau of Investigation and a Joint Parliamentary Committee.

On prices, the government is on surer ground.

The prime minister expects that headline inflation should come down to 7 per cent by March as the Reserve Bank of India's cycle of interest rate hikes begin to bear fruit.

The battle with the price line is, of course, tempered by the UPA's insistence on rapid economic growth, which will determine how much monetary and fiscal tightening will be acceptable. Food security legislation could help arrest non-core inflation although there is no getting around stagnant farm productivity and rising commodity, particularly oil, prices, internationally. The stock markets, however, kept on racing downhill over worries inflation could stall the spectacular run of the world's second fastest growing major economy.

The issues weighing heaviest on the government's mind do not make for an expansive economic agenda. Next week's budget is likely to incorporate many of these concerns as Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee grapples with the growth-inflation tradeoff. It might spring a surprise, though, in the amount of reformist noises made to deflect allegations of a governance deficit. Ms Patil has already flagged infrastructure as a focus area for the UPA as it steps into a new five year plan next year. India will need to double its infrastructure spending in the 12th Plan, and half the funds are expected to come in from the private sector, up from a third today. The government reckons it now has a working template to draw in nearly $500 billion from companies to build ports, highways and power plants.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

A PALATABLE THOUGHT

Do we work to eat or eat to work? While you tackle that enormously intellectual challenge, we will debate our lunch options for today. Will it be the watery seasonal subzi with roti or the greasy chicken curry and paranthas? Or maybe rajma-chawal/pav bhaji or vegetable Manchurian? Since taste is uniformly similar, it's not a difficult choice to make.

So are the prices on the menu card: always ahead of the inflation curve.

So when we heard that there's one cafeteria in the country that is always way behind the inflation curve, we decide to switch loyalties. But that was not to be: the Parliament cafeteria is an exclusive club for exclusive people. They need all the fuel they can get without too much strain on the wallet so they can work themselves to the bone for the people of this country. And so at the canteen they can nibble on chicken biryani at Rs51, chicken cutlets at Rs25 and a vegetarian thali at Rs18. They can top this off with tea at Rs2. We would like this café — like the ration shops — to be opened in every locality. After all, what's good for our leaders is good enough for us.

Now don't forget that with these rather lovely rates, our elected representatives could — and we do hope so — be doing another bit of national service. That of taking home enough to feed the family and friends. With smart thinking, they can get in a couple of courses per person at less than Rs50. And we say let them put their mouth where their money is. All we want is the trickle down effect, preferably of keema mattar at Rs30 a plate. After all, if we asked the local butcher for a similar quantity of meat for that price, he would either take a cleaver to us or laugh us out of his shop. Now if you'll excuse us, we are off to see if we can get our weekly treat of one onion from the local vendor.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

NOT A HARD WORD

RAJDEEP SARDESAI

Last week LK Advani did what is considered extremely unusual for an Indian politician: he said 'sorry'. Predictably, in a political environment not used to such courtesies, the BJP leader's apology letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi for having dragged her name into the black money tangle has proved controversial. The BJP has tied itself in semantics, claiming that a 'regret' is not an apology. The Congress has been celebratory, viewing Advani's remarks as a victory for its leadership. No one knows what prompted Advani to suddenly express regret, but whatever the motives, it did at least suggest a welcome return to decency in public life: after all, if you make a personal accusation without enough evidence then propriety demands that you issue a retraction.

Ironically, Advani himself has been at the receiving end of a lack of grace on the part of his political opponents. A couple of years ago, on the occasion of the release of his autobiography, not a single member of the UPA attended  the function, barring Sharad Pawar. The 'unofficial' boycott only confirmed how Indian politics had descended into a culture of political 'untouchability'. Sonia Gandhi too, has had to endure similar insults, especially when she first entered politics. The kind of public abuse she was subjected to would have worn down a less-determined personality, and reflected poorly on those who branded her a 'videshi' bahu while claiming to uphold 'Indian' culture.

It wasn't always like this. The first cabinet of Jawaharlal Nehru included some noted adversaries of the Congress like BR Ambedkar and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. The Mahatma never tired of reminding India's first prime minister, "Freedom has come to India, not to the Congress party!" A sage advice that Nehru remembered right through his prime ministership. In 1959, when Rajaji, by then the fiercest critic of Nehru's politics visited Delhi, Nehru made it a point to call on him at Rajaji's daughter's residence and pay his respects.

Where did it all change? Most political observers believe that the period leading up to the Emergency was the breaking point. Indira Gandhi's attempt to 'personalise' politics meant that she began to see political rivals as 'enemies'. Jayaprakash Narayan, with whom the Nehrus had shared an enduring bond (Indira's mother Kamala had been a great friend of JP's wife Prabhawati), became enemy number one. By imprisoning him and other Opposition leaders during the Emergency, Mrs Gandhi created the basis for a politics that was no longer fought according to the rules of the democratic game.

Unfortunately, no PM has since been able to arrest the slide. In the Rajiv years, a brute majority on one hand and a united Opposition on the other created a volatile situation, culminating in en masse resignations over the Bofors issue just weeks before the 1989 general elections. In the Rao years, the misuse of investigative agencies to slam charges against political opponents became a survival tactic. AB Vajpayee was cut in the Nehruvian cloth, but he did little to stop the campaign of calumny against Sonia when she took over as Congress leader.

What is true of national politics has been magnified in the context of regional politics, where the adversarial nature of relationships has touched an all-time low. A Mayawati and a Mulayam Singh won't share a cup of tea, Mamataa Banerjee won't attend a meeting presided over by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Narendra Modi is persona non grata for the state Congress, M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa are only looking to put each other in jail.

Sadly, a viciously polarised political climate makes it difficult to evolve a consensus on key issues of  state/national interest. When Tamil Nadu fishermen are attacked by the Sri Lankan navy, it should hardly be seen as an issue concerning an individual party, but one that involves the state. Yet, little attempt has been made to present a united front by the two Dravida parties. When the Bengal government was looking to keep the Tata Nano in the state, it was not the occasion to score political points but to see the investment as being in the interest of the state. Yet, sadly that didn't happen. Even a celebratory occasion like 50 years of Gujarat and Maharashtra has been marred by political one-upmanship. The result: a regrettable departure from the norms and basic courtesies of public life.

Perhaps, the assemblies are taking their cue from Parliament. Over the last few months, the fallout of the 2G scam has seen a near breakdown in the Opposition-government relationship. The Opposition may well believe that a boycott of the winter session of Parliament was necessary to force an obdurate government into accepting its demand for a joint parliamentary committee, but it's also set a dangerous precedent: if a ruling party decision isn't acceptable to the Opposition then a prolonged parliamentary standoff will be used as a weapon to ensure the government falls in line. Which is why it's important that Parliament now gets back to legislative business and looks beyond the acrimony. It's vital for the political leadership across party lines to evolve a bipartisan consensus on core issues without allowing personal agendas to take over. The line between a noisy democracy and a dysfunctional one is often very thin. Post-script: Now that Advani has set the trend, can we expect more such apologies in the future? Not just to each other, but maybe even apologies to the long-suffering Indian citizenry, which has endured corruption, mass violence and much more?

Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network n rajdeep.sardesai@network18online.com The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE

 

What is common between the 2G telecom scam and the one that has hit the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro)? In both cases, it's about spectrum. But beyond this, there is no similarity between the two cases. The 2G scam caused a 'presumptive loss' of Rs1.76 lakh crore and in the Isro 'scam' (though it's misleading), the loss is about R2 lakh crore. Till date, however, nothing has been proved against Isro or Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd.

Former Isro chairman G Madhavan Nair has questioned the present chairman K Radhakrishnan's statement on the need for a "five-fold change in the national and strategic needs" of S-band spectrum. Nair, who has been accused of under-valuing the spectrum, says 70 megahertz (MHz) of S-band spectrum is reserved for the defence establishment — more than what they want. It's true that Isro erred in not following some internal procedures. But its opaque functioning can't be the reason to haul it up. Crony capitalism and nepotism didn't seem to play a role in this case.

 

But if there is no scam, why did the government scrap the deal? This is because the 2G scam had hit the department of telecommunication. But in the case of Isro, the blame is at the door of the minister of space — the prime minister. Maybe this forced the knee-jerk reaction. But why did the strong Indian government have to invoke its 'sovereign right' to annul such a small agreement?

 

S-band spectrum is a range of radio frequency in the 2-4 Giga Hertz range and its usage decides its presumptive valuation. India has kept aside some S-band for its satellites and allied services; if reallocated, it can also be deployed for 3G-type mobile telephony. The former commands a much lower price, the risks are higher and customer base low. It has specialised use and some other factors make it very attractive for its use in remote areas like the Kargil peaks and the dense Maoist-controlled forests. The government can earn huge revenues from S-band only if it is released for mobile telephony in a terrestrial setting. But that may not happen very soon.

 

The Devas-Antrix (Isro's commercial arm) deal was for hiring transponders that came bundled with about 70 MHz of spectrum. But today it is being benchmarked against the high auction revenues of the 3G spectrum sale. There is a difference between the two: the 3G spectrum rates are for terrestrial use in mobile telephony — not the same as satellite use of S-band like the Devas-Antrix deal envisaged. But by comparing this with the 2G scam, we are comparing apples with oranges. Doesn't the annulment of the deal tarnish India's record as a reliable business partner? Considering that some mega nuclear deals are coming up, the scrapping of the deal has opened a legal Pandora's Box and has set a bad precedent. Can businesses with long gestation periods flourish in such an insecure environment? Moreover, thanks to this confusion, Isro's credibility has also taken a beating.

 

For the use of S-band in satellites, Devas was paying about Rs12 crore per year for leasing out each transponder. It was supposed get six transponders on the first satellite (GSAT-6), which would have come automatically bundled with spectrum. If you do the calculations right, the Devas deal, which was for 12 years, would have meant a loss or gain, whichever way you look at it, of about R1,000 crore. The astronomical 'presumptive' loss was deduced by erroneously linking it to the 3G sale figures.

Was the gross exaggeration of this presumptive loss made to make the Isro controversy look bigger than the 2G scam? In this question lies hidden the politics behind the fracas and the lynch mob mentality that scuttled the deal. Undoubtedly, the PM's clean image is priceless and, maybe, jettisoning the Antrix-Devas deal was only a small price to pay.

 

Pallava Bagla is the co-author of Destination Moon and correspondent, Science The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".

Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."

No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.

Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LAZY, DANGEROUS

 

What have the Orissa government and its interlocutors learnt from the "unexpected" jolt meted out by the abductors of Malkangiri collector R.V. Krishna? They were surprised, and complaining, that junior engineer Pabitra Majhi had been released — as a messenger communicating the Maoists' new demands. Why the new demands? Because they were emboldened by the soft front the state government put up. What's been at stake is not only an innocent life and promising career but also Krishna's brand of work. Beyond that, there is the question of ending the Maoist insurgency. But the lazy, submissive manner in which the Orissa government proceeded to negotiate the case has lost it ground to the insurgents.

Do Naveen Patnaik's administration and interlocutors think their efforts at negotiation secured Majhi's release? It was the spontaneous and large-scale public anger, right there in the tribal areas, at the popular collector's kidnapping that scared the Maoists into releasing Majhi and kept alive hopes that Krishna's release would be secured too. What the government's speedy capitulation to their original 14-point demands, backed by the interlocutors, produced was the new set of demands — that five additional Maoists in jail be released and that the interlocutors travel to the Malkingiri forest with released Maoists for a direct prisoner exchange. For the record, the Orissa government had ceased anti-Naxal combing operations in the immediate aftermath of Krishna's abduction; and among the set of demands agreed to is a mandate to Maoists for all practical purposes to question future encounters. This will certainly make it more difficult for security forces carrying out their operations.

Expressing his surprise, G. Haragopal, who leads the team of interlocutors, said they didn't expect additional demands to be made. This betrays the disconnect with the Maoist reality that some members of civil society continue to display, whether intellectual-moral sympathisers of Maoists, social activists, or those interfacing with the rebels on behalf of the government. Maoists are not fighting in behalf of deprived sections; they never were. They are waging a bloody, protracted war against the state and civilians — a war they had been losing ever since Operation Green Hunt gained momentum. The background to Krishna's abduction is a cornered Maoist organisation, desperate to do something to swing the scales again. The Orissa government's handling of the case seems to have given them just that opportunity.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

IN FITS AND STARTS

 

Peace and tranquillity have not quite broken out in Parliament after the government and opposition finally found agreement on a joint parliamentary committee on 2G spectrum. For successive days, MPs from Telangana forced adjournments, disrupting proceedings to demand a separate state. The incident seemed to have caught the Congress unawares. Party leaders drew their agitated MPs aside to calm them down with promises the issue would be revisited after the Union budget is presented.

Given that most MPs in Lok Sabha from Andhra Pradesh belong to the Congress — and that the party leads the government in the state too — it will fall upon its leaders to take the political edge off the issue. The Srikrishna Committee's report lays out a blueprint for meaningful consultation with different stakeholders in addressing the issue, and the government needs to retrieve a spirit of dialogue from the confrontation visible on the streets and in the legislatures. Whichever of the options is finally decided upon — statehood, status quo or an empowered council within a united AP — it needs to be arrived at in a spirit of consensus.

The opening days of the budget session have also demonstrated the fragility of Parliament's schedule, how easily business can be held up by a sufficiently agitated group of MPs. For good reason our legislatures have always been welcoming of the spontaneous outburst to reflect popular sentiment outside, and have desisted from rigidly enforcing the discipline the rule book allows them. However, after the washed-out winter session, there needs to be a serious debate on forced adjournments.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

WRECKING TRAINS

 

Indian Railways, one imagines, can take whatever a railway minister dishes out.

Indeed, under Lalu Prasad, the cost-return ratio — known as the operating ratio — even managed to drop down to a near-acceptable 76 per cent. But that didn't mean that a continual bending of priorities to suit the political ends of the minister in charge would leave the Railways unwarped. And now, when Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee stands up in Lok Sabha on Friday to present the railway budget for this year, it will be interesting to see whether she accepts the obvious, or takes refuge in denial. Because the glaring fact is this: the railways are close to disaster. As this newspaper reported on Wednesday, 10 out of 16 of IR's zones missed their operating ratio targets — which were already well over 100 per cent. Years of milking IR for populist schemes, of chronic underinvestment, mean the railways are, simply put, running out of resources.

Banerjee is much to blame for this scenario. She has been distracted by West Bengal politics, yes. But she has also subjected the railways to a particularly vicious philosophy of governance, in which the mai-baap state — or in this case, incredibly, a mai-baap railways — will set up everything from medical colleges to malls. In last year's budget, even as the signs of disaster were evident, the minister announced six new bottling plants for drinking water. Also 10 eco-parks. Five sports academies. And as if that was not farcical enough, a Tagore museum and academy. It isn't just that Banerjee treated her cabinet post less as an infrastructure ministry and more as a state-within-a-state — it's that her imaginary state was being run on outmoded 1950s socialist lines. And like in all such states, investment has come to a stop, efficiency is going down, and it's running off the rails.

Banerjee began her speech last year by saying that "The time has come when our economists and social philosophers will have to consider that... the old mindset of economic viability should be substituted by social viability." Social viability only works if the railways are making money. Under Banerjee, they are not.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

A BATTLE FOR PARLIAMENT

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA

 

For those who hold on to the quaint idea that there are few things more exalted than a representative assembly deliberating on matters of common concern, Parliament's return to business offers some small consolation. But it is, at best, only a small consolation. Parliament still has to surmount huge obstacles if it is to regain any measure of authority. The structural odds are against it.

Lament on the decline of Parliaments is not new. Michael Oakeshott once wrote that whenever a new book is published, one should go and read an old one. The chapter on "Decline of Legislatures" in James Bryce's Modern Democracies is extraordinarily prescient about the mechanisms by which the authority of legislatures is diminished. This was Bryce's starting point: "Every traveller who, curious in political affairs, inquires in the countries which he visits how their legislative bodies are working, receives from the elder men the same discouraging answer. They tell him, in terms much the same everywhere, that there is less brilliant speaking than in the days of their own youth, that the tone of manners has declined, that the best citizens are less disposed to enter the Chamber, that its proceedings are less fully reported and excite less interest, that a seat in it confers less social status, and that, for one reason or another, the respect felt for it has waned."

The most important mechanism that diminishes Parliament is the effacement of the individual legislator. Individual legislators are even more dependent upon the party hierarchy than in the past. No more than three or four leaders have any social base that allows them to be secure in the knowledge that they can stand their own ground against a party hierarchy. In some ways the rotation of constituencies is going to make individual MPs even more dependent upon the whims of the party hierarchy. The individuality of MPs has also been effaced by the anti-defection law, which has made party whips ubiquitous. Parliament can do itself a great favour by endorsing the sensible bill introduced by Manish Tewari, restricting whips to only certain classes of issues. This will allow the individuality of voices to emerge, and MPs can be judged on their record rather than a party whip. Otherwise individual MPs will remain hostage to the phenomenon Bryce so colourfully described: "Moreover, the so-called 'Party Machines', which have been wont to nominate candidates, and on whose pleasure depends the political future of a large proportion of the members, prevented the will of the people from prevailing, making many members feel themselves responsible rather to it than to their constituencies."

Four other mechanisms diminished legislatures. The first was what might be called a democratising effect. Much of the older esteem of Parliament, Bryce contended, was because parliamentarians were considered to be social superiors. But as the composition of Parliament changed and social hierarchies broke down, people were less inclined to treat legislators with deference. In India, this mechanism is exacerbated by the fact that in social elites there is an ignorant social contempt for many MPs based on class or caste origin.

The second mechanism, already operative in Bryce's day, was the asymmetry between politics and the media. "Just as the increased volume of platform speaking by leading politicians has lessened the importance of the part which parliamentary debate used to play in forming public opinion, so has the growth of the newspaper press encroached on the province of the parliamentary orator... The average legislator fears the newspaper, but the newspaper does not fear the legislator, and the citizen who perceives this draws his own conclusions." Two things are at work here. Debates are simply less important. But equally, in a media age, it is difficult for sober politicians to control the message and be self-possessed.

The third mechanism was schizophrenic constituent expectations. "The virtue of members had so often succumbed to temptations proceeding from powerful incorporated companies, and the habit of effecting jobs for local interests was so common, that a general suspicion had attached itself to their action." Bryce's point was that we have a paradoxical attitude towards MPs. On the one hand, we want MPs to serve our particular interest: our constituency, our special interest, our job. On the other, we are contemptuous of them precisely for this reason.

The fourth mechanism was complexity and temptation. "The issues of policy which now occupy legislatures are more complex and difficult than those of half a century ago. The strife of classes and formation of class parties were not foreseen, nor the vast scale on which economic problems would present themselves, nor the constant additions to the functions of governments, nor that immense increase of wealth which has in some countries exposed legislators to temptations more severe than any that had assailed their predecessors. Never was it clearer than it is today that Nature shows no disposition to produce men with a greatness proportioned to the scale of the problems they have to solve." The challenge of complexity requires that MPs have the right kind of institutional support. But we deny appropriate support to our MPs. As for temptation, parliamentary oversight itself is the only final answer.

A democracy has to believe that the only fate worse than being ruled by politicians is not being ruled by them. But even those who do esteem politicians focus on leaders; we shower praise on politicians who effectively sideline legislatures. In states, it would not be an exaggeration to say that we have almost a presidential form of government. Most state legislatures are in tatters. While this has made it easier for some chief ministers to govern in the short run, its consequences for democracy in the long run are not entirely clear.

There are now two other proximate dangers. Parliament is taken seriously when leaders take it seriously; the House of Commons retains interest because the prime minister directly answers questions. We underestimate how much Nehru's personal presence in Parliament elevated it. The second temptation is this: as the TRS legislators hinted, after the JPC episode, every party is now learning the lesson that blocking Parliament is an effective way of getting an obdurate government to respond.

Whether Parliament can effectively battle these dangers is an open question. Something dramatic will have to happen to break the vicious cycle that was Bryce's nightmare: "The defect perpetuates itself, because men are apt to live up to no higher standard than that which they find. The less the country respects them, the less they respect themselves."

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE CAPACITY FOR REFORM

SARABJITSINGH

 

It is unlikely that the railway minister will give any indication in her budget speech how she hopes to turn around the railways and make them a dynamic engine of India's transport system. They need to transport much more than they do, yet severe capacity constraints are preventing them from doing so. With the economy growing near 9 per cent, Indian Railways need to grow at 11 per cent to keep pace. Unfortunately, IR's growth rate is about 5 per cent, resulting in a continuous fall in market share.

What is of deep concern is that even for the nine bulk commodities, where IR enjoys a natural advantage, roads move 50 per cent of bulk traffic against 47 per cent by rail. The share of passenger traffic too has steadily fallen. In 1950-51, it was 74 per cent; today, it is no more than 12 per cent. Even for environmental reasons the economy cannot sustain such movement away from rail to road. It also leads to congestion of already overburdened highways.

Notwithstanding the fact that every new passenger train hits freight movement, the minister has been adding new trains. In her last budget, she announced 52 new trains, and 40 more have been added this year. In all likelihood she will announce some more in the new budget. Since passenger trains do not cover their costs of operation and have to be cross-subsidised from freight earning, any additional passenger train pushes IR's finances into the red.

The Vision 2020 document presented to Parliament by Mamata Banerjee in 2009 recognises the need to add capacity and proposes to achieve this by doubling and quadrupling of lines, segregating passenger and freight movement on high-density routes and raising the present speed of trains from 110-130 kmph to 160-200 kmph. However, IR has failed to complete any substantial project in the last five years. The dedicated freight corridor was expected to be finished by 2011-12; but not a single kilometre of track has been constructed. IR's vision of building 25,000 km of new tracks by 2020 is unlikely to become reality simply because the Railway Board has failed to complete sanctioned projects and the ministry has been unsuccessful in generating the legal and economic conditions for attracting private capital. The PPP route for constructing new lines has failed to take off.

If new capacity is not brought on-line, as soon as possible, IR faces internal collapse. IR must get projects moving, so that in about five years the tide starts to turn. In the meantime the existing capacity has to be used more intensively. On all high-density routes the railways have installed automatic-colour light signalling. Chinese railways are able to utilise it to the extent of about 120 trains in 24 hours. IR has difficulty in running 70 to 80 trains every day.

There are three reasons for this. Unlike IR, they have no speed restrictions, which are typically imposed by track engineers to slow down trains when the condition of the track has deteriorated, making it unsafe for higher speeds. These are lifted once the track has been brought up to the proper condition. Second, locomotives, wagons, passenger coaches and signalling systems are extremely reliable, unlike on IR where failures are commonplace. Third, the operating culture is more disciplined. It collects all freight trains in a holding yard and then moves them in a convoy, in a three-hour daily band. The rest of the time is then available for passenger movement. They maintain very strict driver discipline. The driver is expected to be in the cab and push off the moment the signal turns green. They are thus able to utilise nearly every available path.

IR can do the same; however, they need to take some difficult policy decisions. Track and signalling maintenance resources will have to be deployed in a radically different manner so that a policy of no-speed-restriction becomes the norm. Similarly, maintenance quality will have to be upgraded.

However, the change that will bring in immediate and large gains is moving freight trains in convoys, for which yards have to be created capable of starting 10 to 11 trains in a span of 70 minutes or so. Presently, IR can start a maximum of four trains at a time. Drivers will have to be motivated to ensure that they do not waste any time in moving a train once the signal becomes green. By these simple and doable actions IR should be able to double the number of trains it moves over these sections.

Railway ministers have had the difficult task of balancing economic and political requirements and have been inclined to focus on the social aspects. The question of who will pay for the programmes can no longer be avoided; IR is reaching a state of collapse from years of inadequate investment. The real challenge before the railway minister and IR management is how to transform an essentially 19th century system into a 21st century railway.

The writer is a former general manager of Indian Railways

express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A STADIUM CALLED GADDAFI

MURTAZA RAZVI

 

The Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore is Pakistan's Lord's or Eden Gardens, no less. It is one of the best-equipped cricket grounds in the world, a symbol of national pride, which hosted the 1996 World Cup final. But this being Pakistan, it follows, as if as a rule, that this national structure too be blemished somehow. And it has got enough infamy to its credit in recent years.

First came the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in the vicinity of the ground on March 3, 2009, as they were making their way to the stadium for a fixture there, and now it is the very name that earns it another, perhaps bigger, infamy after all these years. Not that the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was a much-liked character in the recent past, as he supported terrorism directed against Western and other targets, including those of the Moro Muslim rebels in the Philippines.

Besides being alleged to facilitate the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, Gaddafi has in the past extended support to acts of terrorism in Pakistan itself after the overthrow of the Bhutto regime in 1977 by General Zia-ul-Haq. He allegedly funded terrorists belonging to Al Zulfikar, a pro-PPP terrorist outfit that hijacked a PIA airliner in March 1981, which finally landed in Damascus via Kabul. The 13-day-long hostage drama saw a Pakistani diplomat travelling in the plane shot dead and some 55 PPP political prisoners released by the Zia regime in the final settlement. The hijackers named Tripoli as the destination of the released prisoners. However, Gaddafi being Gaddafi, changed his mind at the last minute as the plane carrying the prisoners approached Tripoli. It was diverted to Damascus instead.

Later, through much of the 1980s, Libyan diplomatic and trade missions in Islamabad and Karachi were consistently linked with anti-Zia regime terrorist activities, and Pakistan-Libya relations were at their lowest ebb. The number of professional Pakistani expats serving in Libya also dwindled and virtually came to a naught. How the two countries managed to keep their embassy staff in the respective capitals was no less than a mystery. Perhaps the centrality in the Pakistan foreign policy of the principle of avoiding conflict with a Muslim country was the major factor behind the restraint.

It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as the prime minister, who embarked on the policy of looking west to the Arab world for bonding and the obvious financial benefits that would accrue to Pakistan by being a player in the petrodollar economy of the Arab states, even if they were run by despotic autocrats. In 1974, Bhutto hosted the heads of Muslim states in Lahore for the Organisation of Islamic Conference summit, which included such adversaries as the reigning sheikhs of the oil-rich Gulf and Arab revolutionaries like Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat. The occasion was chosen to elicit support for Pakistan's nuclear programme, as India was all set to go nuclear, and Gaddafi fitted the bill. In a grand ceremony at the Lahore Stadium, Bhutto announced the renaming of the cricket ground after the man whom he came to call one of his best friends.

Only Bhutto could have got away with feting and feasting such pro- and anti-US leaders as the Gulf sheikhs and the Shah of Iran on the one hand, and the Syrian, the Libyan and Palestinian leaders on the other, at the same table. At the Lahore summit, there were no walkouts by Gaddafi or other revolutionaries from the proceedings, as was and has been the norm at OIC summits held before and after 1974.

Lahoris cherished the grand mela that was being held in their city and broke into spontaneous dance at the sight of a visiting dignitary's convoy. It was in such spirited bonhomie that they lost their stadium to the man called Gaddafi, although they have a long history of resisting any change of names, be it the city roads, neighbourhoods or landmarks. Pre-Partition names are still the currency in a city that celebrates history, and so Dhani Ram and Chet Ram roads, Krishan Nagar and Bharat Nagar, Qilla Gujjar Singh, Qilla Lakshman Singh, Ganga Ram Road (and Hospital and Mansion), Ram Gali 1, 2, 3, and so on, and innumerable others have stayed, despite concerted efforts by the Zia regime's Islamisation process that officially renamed all of these after Muslim heroes.

Colonial names are also held on to as a matter of city's heritage, although each was given a parallel Muslim name that never took off. The Mall remains The Mall and not Shahrah-e-Quaid-i-Azam, and so does Queen's Road which was renamed after Fatima Jinnah. Bus stops are still called Charing Cross, and not Faisal Chowk (after King Faisal of Saudi Arabia). But Gaddafi Stadium somehow was accepted, maybe because it was built only in 1959 and was called simply Lahore Stadium until 1974, and was not named after a Lawrence, a McLeod or a Ganga Ram.

The writer is an editor with 'Dawn', Karachi

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

MEDICAL EDUCATION: IT IS TIME FOR A HEALTH CHECK

SUJATHARAO

 

India lacks a comprehensive policy to address the acute shortage of human resources in healthcare, which is a key driver of health costs and a huge constraint on scaling up public-health programmes. There are three reasons for the present-day crisis. One, a flawed public policy, which focuses on promoting private sector in the field of medical education. Two, poor governance, with the result that there is no standardisation of health-care providers in a manner that is relevant to the country's needs. Three, corruption, an outcome of unregulated privatisation of medical education, that has severely compromised its quality.

In the 1990s, medical education was opened up to private investment without putting in place appropriate systems and institutional mechanisms for enforcing quality and standards. During 1995-2006, of the 106 medical colleges established, 84 were private. Today, there are 313 medical colleges, of which 163 are in the private sector; 31 are deemed universities, with some reportedly misusing their autonomy by "guaranteeing" degrees for a price (Yashpal Committee). Considering the high premium on medical degrees in India, establishing a medical college has become a lucrative business opportunity, resulting in several non-serious players with political clout entering the area.

Medical colleges in the private sector have high tuition fees. This results in admissions being denied to meritorious students interested in medicine as a career option, since the criterion becomes the ability to pay capitation fees rumoured to be around Rs 50 lakh for an MBBS seat and Rs 2 crore for a post-graduate seat. For those students who get admitted to such colleges, recouping the investment becomes the key concern, pushing them to go abroad or practise in private hospitals and urban centres, or even resort to unethical practices. Combined with this is a highly decentralised, extremely chaotic admission procedure that requires a student to take eight-nine entrance exams. The result is a sharp reduction in the number of students opting for the medical profession, and almost one-third of seats not being filled.

The commercialisation of medical education has made qualities such as dedication, compassion and a strong sense of public service — once considered a doctor's prerequisites — secondary. Instead, it has led to a fall in ethical standards, evident in doctors prescribing unnecessary tests and providing sub-standard treatment at a high cost, particularly in private-sector hospitals.

In 2010, to restore public confidence in the Medical Council of India, its elected body was replaced by a body of six experts through an ordinance. Several steps were taken to relax the norms and standards required for setting up medical colleges. Nineteen new courses were notified and a draft bill was prepared for establishing a National Commission for Human Resources for Health (NCHRH). The NCHRH is expected to revamp the regulatory authority by separating the three key functions of examination and standards setting; accreditation of colleges; and governance of medical practice. The overall objective of this reform is to ensure that one should feel the same level of comfort being treated by a doctor in a private college in Uttar Pradesh or Karnataka as in AIIMS in Delhi.

Reform in medical education is not easy due to entrenched interests but is urgently needed. The key areas that require attention are: establishing the NCHRH; instituting a nation-wide examination to determine college admissions; earmarking medical and nursing education for public investment, making private capital an exception; increasing the remuneration of teaching faculty and expanding their gross availability by inviting foreign faculty alongside increased use of technology; working out a fair fee structure for private medical education; creating new cadres of health professionals who are trained to address the needs of the rural population. There is, equally, a need to review the current fee structure in government medical colleges, as the monthly fee of Rs 200 is a scandal, particularly when students are under no obligation to serve the country or meet public health needs. This needs to be corrected by making a three-year service in public hospitals mandatory in return for subsidised education, a policy that should be extended to private colleges as well.

Shortage of doctors affects the poor who do not have easy access to healthcare services. Policy pronouncements and intentions to provide universal healthcare can be just wishful thinking unless backed by a political will to make education affordable and accessible to all.

The writer is former secretary, ministry of health and family welfare

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

JAMIA MILLIA ISLAMIA: QUOTA IS NOT THE ANSWER

FIROZ BAKHT AHMED

 

With Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) getting the "minority" tag through the quasi-judicial body NCMEI (National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions), Muslims across the nation are jubilant, as they think they have won a big legal war. But quotas based on religion are unconstitutional. If at all reservations are to be there, these must go to the category of have-nots, no matter what their religion.

Muslims have not even won a small battle, let alone a war. These quotas are going to alienate them further. There is a potential threat of the historic Jamia falling into the clutches of fundamentalists. Merit will take a back seat as well.

If we go on politically appeasing each and every section of the population on the basis of caste, creed and religion, India will be a divided house. I pity the majority community, which, after 22 per cent SC/ST reservation, 27.9 per cent OBC reservation, Kashmiri migrants reservation, army personnel reservation and now 50 per cent Jamia-like reservation, has actually become the victimised "minority" instead of the "majority".

Reservations are no more than crutches for Muslims as the only solution lies in competing and making a mark in the field of merit. There's a message for all the so-called "friends" of Muslims howling for reservations that an ostrich mentality is never going to help them. Moreover, they must not fall into the vote-bank trap of the Congress.

The very fact that the secular character of Jamia is enshrined in its basic Act contradicts this decision to declare it a minority institution. It was mooted at the behest of Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar together, and nowhere is it mentioned that Jamia was created by the Muslims and for the Muslims only.

As a law-abiding and educated Indian Muslim, I feel reservation — a word misused by one political party or the other to cajole and fool Muslims — based on religion should end. In fact, it is time Muslims are dissuaded from reservation and persuaded to launch themselves into the mainstream by hard work.

I want the minorities to have an honourable place by no longer looking for charity in the form of quota and accepting the challenges of a competitive life.

Reservation degrades the universal concept of merit, logically as well as ethically. Reservation on the basis of religion is uncalled for in a secular polity. Let us not harm our future because of unequal treatment in the past. In light of their past contribution to the nation, be it in the field of sport, art or architecture or during the freedom struggle, Muslims must ask themselves what they can give to the nation and not just vice-versa.

However, it should be clear that Muslims are among the most disadvantaged and backward of all the underprivileged sections of society. According to a survey by Friends for Education, an NGO, almost 52 per cent Muslims live below the poverty line, compared to about 25 per cent of all Indians. Of every 100 Muslim students admitted at the primary level, only four pass out of high school while only one makes it to college.

In the armed forces, the percentage is just 2.4 while in judiciary departments all over the country, it doesn't go beyond 3.1. In the last civil services exam, only 11 Muslims were among 422 successful candidates. The situation continues to be the same in other walks of life. Reservation cannot bring any change in this pathetic state of affairs; only a sincere and concerted effort to uplift Muslims educationally can do that.

Jawaharlal Nehru, addressing a session of the Constituent Assembly on May 26, 1949, said, "If you seek to give safeguards to a minority, you isolate it. Maybe you protect it to a slight extent, but at what cost? At the cost of isolating and keeping it away from the main current."

It would be worth examining what the founding fathers say about reservation. Sardar Patel supported the charter providing political safeguards to minorities, under Articles 292 and 294 of the Draft Constitution, but five out of seven leaders, namely Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hifzur Rehman, Begum Aizaz Rasul, Hussainbhoy Laljee and Tajammul Hussain, opposed it.

Can jobs against a quota end their woes? How can the educational, economic and social condition of 15 per cent of a billion people be expected to change with a few seats in a university or some government jobs? Those who are really interested in the uplift of Muslims should vigorously support the inbuilt social reform current growing in the community, promote literacy and education campaigns, insist on gender equality in family and inheritance laws, educate the girl child and create opportunities for hapless Muslims so that they empower themselves through education and the acquisition of new skills.

Firoz Bakht Ahmed is a Delhi-based writer

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

TEACHING REBELS

 

Many observers of the current turmoil that has gripped the Arab world agree on one thing: It was largely unexpected. While currents of dissatisfaction against the incumbent strongmen have always been swirling, few foresaw that such an uprising was imminent or predicted the scale of the demonstrations. But several visible factors, related to education, demography, and the lack of economic opportunities, had been pointing for some time to an increasing degree of political instability in the region.

While much of the narrative about the uprising in Egypt has been about a "youth revolution", it seems to underplay the critical impact that the rising level of education among young Egyptians played in prompting harsh criticism of the entrenched regimes.

We have little doubt that the participants in the large protests represented a broad swath of Egyptian society. But one cannot but notice that engineers, doctors, university students and even management executives figured prominently in the opposition movement.

This actually dovetails with one of the most widely documented facts in political science — educated people are more likely to participate in all forms of political activities, ranging from the basic act of voting to demonstrations.

The precise reasons for this are not always well understood. Perhaps educated people are more critical observers of political developments and less willing to accept the mistakes of an unaccountable autocrat.

Our own research has emphasised how this connection between education and political participation is often influenced by the availability of opportunities in the labour market for educated people. Put simply, the skills acquired through education lead to an increased willingness to engage in politics, as well as the effectiveness of this involvement (think about how the tech-savvy can marshal Facebook and Twitter to their cause).

If the educated are well-rewarded and remunerated in their professional pursuits, they are naturally less inclined to use their time and energies for political purposes. Countries where economic opportunities for the skilled are abundant tend to exhibit less political engagement on the part of educated people.

The Arab world has not been a model of economic dynamism. The region's economies are not geared to labour activities that effectively leverage human capital acquired through education.

Less recognised is the fact that several of these Arab countries are among those that have invested the most in education. Recent data compiled for 104 countries show that between 1980 and 1999, Egypt was the fifth fastest-growing country in the world in terms of average years of schooling, more than doubling them, from just 2.3 years to 5.5. Tunisia is not far behind, with an increase from 2.5 to 5 years of schooling on average for the population.

There is thus a scenario in which large numbers of Arab youth have become much more educated than their parents and grandparents. In the absence of promising job prospects, they are more likely to devote the skills they have acquired to political activities, from maintaining political blogs to organising protests in Tahrir Square. Since they find no democratic outlet, they can eventually destabilise regimes that until very recently appeared in complete control.

Investing in educating is a good thing in its own right. Ironically, though, by investing in education without providing sufficient economic opportunities, the Arab autocrats contributed greatly to the situation that now afflicts them.

We can surely hope that the democratic transition now under way can deliver the growth and jobs that are needed to realise the full economic potential of these countries.

FILIPE CAMPANTE is assistant professor of public policy, Harvard Kennedy School. DAVIN CHOR is assistant professor, Singapore Management University.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WHAT THE RAILWAYS COST

When railway minister Mamata Banerjee unveils her budget proposals later today, much will be made of how she refused to bite the bullet on subsidies, of how she continues to subsidise passenger traffic, possibly even the details of the trains she will start from West Bengal will be flagged. As will be her inability to pay dividends this year, possibly the inability to provide for depreciation, the worsening operating ratio; even her clout in the UPA will be under scrutiny, to see if she gets the budgetary support she has asked for—Rs 39,600 crore as compared to the Rs 15,875 crore in the last general budget. Attention will also be focused on the sharp fall in the efficiency of capital used—the capital output ratio, or capital employed for each NTKM (net tonne kilometre), has gone up by almost a third in the period between March 2005 and March 2009, which indicates that the efficiency in the use of capital has declined. The NTKM per employee, which shows the manpower productivity rates in freight haulage, in Indian Railways was only 0.34 million in 2007 as compared to 1.07 million in China and 15.08 million in the US. And the NTKM per wagon day, an indicator of asset utlisation, also compares poorly with India's number being just 6,344 million as compared to 10,608 million in China and 16,251 in the US.

All of this is very important, but what invariably gets missed out in this analysis is the heavy cost the Railways are extracting from India Inc. Even though the Railways are running at a loss, the lion's share of the passenger subsidy, and the operating inefficiencies, are borne by India Inc, which pays a much higher freight rate than is justified—this, of course, is the main reason why the Railways is losing market share to road, from a 53% share two decades ago to just 30% today. Since the Railways lose heavily on passenger traffic (the ratio of passenger tariff to freight tariff in India is 0.33 in comparison with 1.3 for China, 3.07 for Germany and 11.06 for the US), this is made up by overcharging on freight (on average, Indian freight rates are twice that of China, and productivity a third). In the case of coal, for instance, the Railways charged Rs 13,134 crore as freight a few years ago on a total of Rs 30,660 crore of coal produced by Coal India, making this one of the most expensive forms of freight anywhere in the world. Put another way, you could argue that if the Railways didn't overcharge on freight, Coal India would be a healthy company, and Indian coal would actually be economical to use. It is this burden that should be the yardstick to judge the Railways by.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

FAILURE TO LAUNCH

While finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is likely to allocate Rs 3,000 crore on Monday as his contribution towards Air India's turnaround plan, he'd do well to take a closer look at whether he's just throwing good money after bad. Many argued Air India should have been closed down years ago, given its falling market share and increased capital needs, but for whatever reason, the government decided it would give the airline one more chance—one could be that if Air India was closed down, it wouldn't have been able to place Rs 50,000 crore of orders for new planes. Once the government took a decision to keep it afloat, it has to be said, it seemed serious about it. So, a rarity in a PSU milieu, was the decision to appoint a professional COO (and a foreigner at that). Though Air India has a long way to go—its domestic market share slipped to 15.8% in January as against 17.6% a year ago, and its seat factor last month was 69% compared to IndiGo's 88.6%—it has been making cash profits for three months now.

Another turnaround plan has been finalised and the airline's board is to meet to approve it within three weeks; the government seems more committed to give it the much-needed funds (equity and some loan writeoffs). But the turnaround team is on the verge of quitting. After Gustav Baldauf was appointed COO, he appointed a chief training officer (about 8-10% of Air India's pilots aren't certified to fly on the new planes) and a COO for the low-cost airline. Vicious boardroom politics ensured the low-cost airline COO was asked to go, the training officer has put in his papers, and Air India has been asked to give a written explanation for why Baldauf gave interviews criticising the politicking that was going on—insiders feel it is a matter of time before Baldauf too puts in his papers. The new aviation minister Vayalar Ravi, who met all 14 of the airline's unions last fortnight, needs to be asked what his turnaround plan is, and who he thinks will spearhead this.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

INDIA'S FOOD FUTURE
NIRVIKAR SINGH

February has finally brought some relief in the rise in India's food prices. The government has some breathing room in this dimension—just as well when it is beset by multiple corruption scandals. It is easy to get excited about blatant corruption, or even mismanagement of a specific sporting event or allocation of spectrum. And of course it is justified. It is somewhat harder to achieve the same level of concern about governance of an entire sector, food and agriculture—especially when there are so many possible external villains.

Food price inflation can always be blamed on the weather, on globalisation, on evil speculators, and now also on faster growth in poorer countries. Some of these factors do matter, but they divert attention from past policy failures and from what needs to be done going forward. All of the usual suspects may not be guilty, and the others have been in plain view for some time, so policy making should have already taken them into account.

Economic theory suggests that "speculation" would typically stabilise prices, and recent empirical work (in particular, a 2009 paper by Scott Irwin, Dwight Sanders and Robert Merrin) supports this view for recent global commodity price rises. Similarly, globalisation, in the form of increased trade, should smooth out local price fluctuations, to the extent that it allows food to move from places where it is relatively abundant to where it is scarce. Of course, abundance and scarcity depend on purchasing power, but then the policy response should be to make sure that the poor can afford to purchase enough food, which is different from just ensuring physical availability. India's inefficient and wasteful system of procuring food grains, storing them, and distributing them to those in need is much more to blame for food price inflation than speculation or trade.

Climate change, in the form of more variable weather patterns, and global economic growth are more plausible causes of global food price inflation, but these are two factors which we have known about for years, and which should have been planned for by Indian policy makers. The fact that agriculture in India has been stagnating suggests that whatever attention has been given to it has been inadequate and ineffective. The failure to reform and innovate in the agricultural sector is squarely behind Indian food price inflation, and the problems will get worse if action is not taken.

Here are the problems with Indian agriculture that have been caused by faulty policies. Fertiliser, water and electricity (used for pumping water) are subsidised in ways that lead to significant waste, as well as to poor choices of crops. There is insufficient investment in irrigation infrastructure and irrigation techniques, development of new crop varieties, innovation in farming methods, and in diffusing what knowledge already exists. On the financial side, credit is not provided efficiently, nor coupled with insurance against crop failures. Mechanisms for selling crops are costly and subject to the control of powerful intermediaries. Storage, transportation and distribution of many agricultural products are still primitive, because of lack of government investment, and failures to enable private investment in areas where it could be financially viable.

The result of faulty policies is agricultural productivity that is much lower than it should be, and an equilibrium that is more fragile than it ought to be—dependent on wasteful use of water and fertiliser, growing crops that do not necessarily match emerging demands of consumers, and unnecessarily vulnerable to weather and market shocks. All this is fixable without tackling the deeper problems of small and fragmented landholdings and lack of alternative employment through growth in labour-intensive manufacturing. But fixing faulty policies will require coordination between the Centre and the states, the latter having primary responsibility for agriculture. The Centre and states have worked out ways of coordinating sales taxes. National missions in health and education have also improved Centre-state coordination in those areas to some extent. But agriculture remains relatively backward, trapped in outmoded ways of thinking.

If agricultural policy reform, coordinated across the national and state levels, does not take place in India, the result will be worse than just the relative stagnation that has characterised the sector in recent years. Productivity will decline as water tables fall, river flows decline and soils are exhausted. Food will become like oil is now—an expensive import subject to the priorities of foreign producers and price rises driven by growing global demand. A food future of bread riots and falling governments will obviously have a severe impact on growth, and on basic social order.

Seen in the light of these risks, the debate about growth takes on a different cast. The need for reforms in other areas of the economy is not diminished: power, transport, manufacturing, land acquisition, competition policy, international trade and investment, all require attention for continued rapid growth. But without food (and water), none of them will matter.

The author is professor of economics, University of California, Santa Cruz

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

LET A THOUSAND BUDGETS BLOOM
RISHI RAJ

Today is once again that day in February, a couple of days before the presentation of the Budget in Parliament by the finance minister, when the railway minister will rise and deliver a nearly two-hour monologue on how clean she plans to make the toilets in railway coaches, how all trains will start running on time, have drinking water facility and security of the passengers would be of utmost concern and how several more trains will be started between certain destinations and, of course, how her heart bleeds for the aam aadmi so there will be no hike in passenger fares. In between the monologue, when the minister will come to the point of starting new trains, expect loud noises from fellow MPs, who, after calculating the number of new trains bypassing their constituencies, will start protesting. As the ensuing cacophony will make everything inaudible, the minister will read the state of finances of the Indian Railways—the largest employer in the government.

In short, this is the significance of the Railway Budget these days. However, all TV news channels will telecast it live. Not really their fault if the government still thinks it proper to have a separate Railway Budget, a practice started in the colonial days.

Makes one wonder why the railway minister gets the opportunity to present a Budget while, say, the telecom minister doesn't get the same prime-time to tell the nation how cheap it has become to make telephone calls and have Internet connections? Or a power minister is deprived of the opportunity to tell the nation that there will be no more long hours of load shedding? The ones who should feel the most discriminated against should be the road transport minister and the civil aviation minister, for why should their modes not be given a similar chance?

To answer the question, we need to go back into history—why do we have a separate Railway Budget and not the same for any other department? It is just a convention that has carried on from the days of the British Raj, which required separating the working of the commercial departments from the revenue side. Railways was the biggest commercial department in those days, having a budgetary support of around 75%, which has now come down to 20-25%. So a separate Railway Budget is merely a convention and is not backed by any law. The government, if it so wishes, can abolish it anytime and it should think in that direction now, for the exercise serves no useful purpose.

If abolishing the Railway Budget and aligning it with the general Budget seems harsh on the railway minister, the least that can be done is restrict it to just presenting the financial health of the organisation. No more of cleanliness, safety, punctuality and new trains bit since these are basic features of any service organisation. Why should precious money of taxpayers and valuable time of Parliament be wasted in rattling year after year which new trains would be launched and how clean their toilets would be?

Proponents of a separate Railway Budget, though they are shrinking with every passing day, argue that the organisation is one of the largest in the world, is owned by the people and so there should be a larger discussion around it. True, but there are equally important and large ministries and departments in the government these days and, going by that logic, matters relating to them should deserve equal if not more attention.

Till about a couple of years ago there was still some consumer interest in the Railway Budget to know if passenger fares are increasing or decreasing. However, in the last few years, the whole paradigm of travel has changed. Bookings have significantly moved to the Internet. Low-fare airlines have come and their tariffs keep changing with seasonality. Luxury bus services have come up that are preferred to railways for short distances. Even on the freight side, with the distance between centres of production and consumption getting closer, road transport has started carrying the bulk traffic comprising consumer goods and even foodgrains to an extent. In short, one does not need to wait for a year to make changes in freight and passenger fares. In fact, the railways have now increasingly started making changes in freight rates throughout the year.

Similarly, why wait for the Budget to announce new trains when it can be done anytime of the year? Last but not the least, which railway minister will not play to the gallery if given the chance to speak for more than an hour on TV while the whole nation watches?

If the NDA switched from the colonial practice of presenting the general Budget from 5 pm to 11 am, let the UPA take the initiative to scrap the practice of having a separate Railway Budget.

rishi.raj@expressindia.com

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

THE KILLER AFTERSHOCK

Barely six months after Christchurch, New Zealand's second largest city, was struck by a 7 magnitude earthquake, the city was the target of another quake of 6.3 magnitude on Tuesday. This one, the sixth aftershock of last year's tremor, turned out to be a killer. Prime Minister John Key has warned that the total number of deaths will almost certainly exceed 200: the confirmed death toll is 98 and 226 people are still reported missing. This makes it the country's deadliest quake in the last 80 years. The tremor of September 4, 2010 damaged buildings but, mercifully, did not kill anybody. Though the February 22 aftershock was nearly ten times weaker, many died as the epicentre was very close to the city; last year's was about 45 km west of Christchurch. The shallow focus of the aftershock was another reason. Occurring at a depth of about 5 km from the surface, it struck the city hard. The September quake was at a depth of about 10 km from the surface. According to Nature, the earthquake had a directional thrust towards the surface, and "the amount of acceleration felt at the epicentre was almost 1.9 times the force of gravity."

There was another factor that played an important role in accentuating the shaking process of buildings. Unlike many other quake-prone regions around the world, Christchurch sits atop loosely packed soil. The sand, silt, and gravel that make up the soil, when saturated with groundwater, behave more like a liquid than a solid during earthquakes. The liquefaction repacks the soil to make it compact and denser, and in the process leads to subsidence in some areas. Differential subsidence at the site of buildings can adversely affect the structures, causing walls to crack and even collapse. The February 22 quake typifies the fact that magnitude alone does not determine the killer nature of a tremor. While such a lethal combination would have proved catastrophic in a developing country, buildings in Christchurch faced relatively less damage with fewer deaths. This is primarily because structures in New Zealand are designed and built in compliance with one of the best building codes in the world. Such codes have become necessary as New Zealand is located in one of the most tectonically active regions. It is at the margin of a subduction zone where the Australian plate overrides the diving Pacific plate northeast from the North Island to Samoa. It suddenly changes to become a transform fault south of the North Island where the Australian and Pacific plates move past each other without one diving under the other. Additionally, a third major fault called the Alpine Fault runs along the South Island itself. Under the circumstances, New Zealand has done well not to let Nature wreak greater devastation.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

PARTNERSHIP FOR THE DEEP WATERS

The BP-Reliance Industries (RIL) partnership announced on Monday is significant in many ways. Its very size makes it one of the largest foreign direct investments in the country and by far the largest in the hydrocarbon sector. BP will initially invest $7.2 billion for a 30 per cent stake in each of the 23 blocks of oil and gas controlled by RIL. With performance-related payments of up to $1.8 billion and other investments by BP, the deal could be worth as much as $20 billion. BP will contribute to a better exploitation of the 23 blocks, only one of which is now in production. All of them lie offshore, mainly off India's east coast and at depths ranging from 400 metres to more than 3,000 metres. BP's proven expertise in deep water exploration, more than its ability to invest huge sums of money, has been the major attraction for RIL. The BP-RIL partnership also envisages a 50-50 joint venture for the outsourcing and marketing of gas in India. Clearly the focus of the new venture is on supplying the domestic market where natural gas counts for a small but growing share of energy consumption. Reliance, though a strong player in the upstream business, should still benefit from the partnership with BP.

For BP, the deal with RIL marks a new stage in its recovery from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill which cost it an estimated $20 billion to settle the clean up and related claims besides being an inestimably large public relations disaster. That, along with a belief that the epicentre of the natural gas industry — both production and consumption — is shifting to the emerging markets, has driven the company to conclude mega deals in these countries with significant domestic players. The BP-RIL deal closely follows a $16 billion share swap deal with Rosneft, a Russian government-owned company. The investment by BP is a reaffirmation by global investors of India's potential and capacity to grow at a fast pace. Deals such as this should help reverse the recent declining trend in foreign direct investment. India could do even better by infusing consistency and transparency in the regulatory process governing key sectors. Foreign investors are apt to read wrong signals from the stalling of the London-listed Vedanta's efforts to buy the Indian assets of Cairn Energy. Again, it was the opaque pricing policies relating to natural gas that was one of the key factors behind the well-publicised legal battle between the two Ambani brothers.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

THE BATTLE LINES OVER ENCRYPTION

THE DRAFT INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY RULES PROVIDE THE KEY TO THE BACK DOOR SOUGHT BY THE GOVERNMENT, AND LEAVE NO DOUBT THAT SECURITY CONCERNS WILL PREVAIL OVER PRIVACY.

APARNA VISWANATHAN

The draft "Information Technology (Due Diligence observed by intermediaries guidelines) Rules, 2011 circulated by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology on February 10, 2011, address the issue of the liability of internet service providers (ISPs) and other intermediaries, an issue which achieved public notoriety through the Baazee.com case in 2004. In one master stroke, the Draft Rules settle the dispute raging over the last year, regarding the use of encryption techniques by the customers of BlackBerry, Google, Skype and MSN. Yet, while doing so, the Draft Rules also reveal the fundamental shortcomings of the IT Act even after the 2008 amendments.

The case, Avnish Bajaj v State arose out of the sale of a video clip on the website of Baazee.com, shot on a mobile phone in MMS form, depicting two schoolchildren indulging in an explicit sexual act. Although the Bazee.com case was ultimately decided under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, the critical legal issue in civil law is to what extent ISPs can be held liable for the content transmitted through their network. The question, which was initially addressed by California courts in the mid-1990s, was whether ISPs should be treated in the same manner as newspapers or magazines publishing content and, therefore, made potentially liable for copyright infringement, defamation, obscenity and other civil/criminal liability, or as telephone companies which are not liable for the content of the communications they transmit.

Since the seminal 1995 judgment of the District Court of Northern California in the Netcom case, the view in the U.S. has been that an ISP is a passive service provider much like a telephone company and cannot be held liable for the content transmitted through its server. This legal position changed in the U.S. with the passage of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), which provided a "safe harbour" for ISPs, conferring exemption from copyright liability. However, the exemption is subject to the ISP meeting certain conditions. The ISP must not have the actual knowledge that the material is infringing, must not be aware of the facts and circumstances from which the infringing activity is apparent and, in the event of having such knowledge, must act expeditiously to disable such material. In order to avail himself of the exemption from liability, the service provider must also not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity.

The legal position in India is similar to the DMCA in that the exemption from liability is not absolute but is subject to meeting certain conditions. Following the 2008 amendments, Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000 provides that an intermediary will not be held liable for any third party information, data or communication link made available or hosted by him. However, this exemption will apply only if the following conditions are met.

First, the function of the intermediary must be limited to providing access to a communication system over which information made available by third parties is transmitted or temporarily stored or hosted. Second, the intermediary does not initiate the transmission, select the receiver or select/modify the information contained in the transmission. In other words, the ISP acts like a telephone company and not like a newspaper editor who can select or edit the information provided. The exemption will also not be applicable if the ISP has conspired, aided, abetted or induced the commission of the unlawful act; or upon receiving actual knowledge that any information, data or communication link residing in or connected to a computer resource controlled by the intermediary is being used to commit the unlawful act, the intermediary fails to expeditiously remove or disable access to that material. The last two conditions are similar to those imposed under the DMCA in the U.S.

Furthermore, in order to avail himself of the exemption under Section 79, the intermediary must "observe due diligence" while discharging his duties under the IT Act, 2000 and also observe other guidelines which the Central government may prescribe in this behalf. For the first time, since the 2008 amendments came into force, on February 10, 2011, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology circulated draft rules regarding due diligence by intermediaries (the "Draft Rules").

Sub-rule (2) of the Draft Rules lists the types of infringing information which should not be transmitted by the intermediary, including information which is 1) abusive, blasphemous, obscene, vulgar etc., 2) infringing of IPRs, 3) sensitive personal information, and 4) information which threatens the unity, security or sovereignty of India. However, sub-rule (2) then tries to add in the offences which are the instruments of modern cyber crime. The list includes any information which impersonates another person, that is, identity theft and deceiving or misleading the addressee about the origin of electronic messages more commonly known as phishing. However, this list comprising identity theft and phishing is entirely inadequate as these are only a few methods of modern cyber crime/war. The list ignores, for example, the installation of a program which allows an attacker to remotely control the targeted computer otherwise known as "BOTNETS." Another common tool of cyber crime is the use of a software program or a device designed to secretly monitor and log all keystrokes otherwise known as "keyloggers." However, neither the remote access of a computer nor the secret monitoring of a computer resource is mentioned in sub-rule (2).

The Draft Rules also introduce a definition of "cyber security incident" as any real or suspected adverse event in relation to cyber security that violates an explicitly or implicitly applicable security policy resulting in unauthorised access, denial of service or disruption, unauthorised use of a computer resource for processing or storage of information or changes to data, information without authorisation. In fact, the need to include the concepts of modern cyber crime and a definition as basic and critical as "cyber security incident" in Draft Rules on due diligence by intermediaries shows that there is a fundamental lacuna in the IT Act itself, namely, that it ignores the concepts of modern cyber war altogether and is limited to the outdated concerns of theft of software code through hacking.

The partial attempt to bring in the concepts of modern cyber crime under the purview of the IT Act distracts attention from what is perhaps the main objective of the Draft Rules, that is, to codify the government's position towards service providers such as BlackBerry, Google, Skype, and MSN Hotmail which has recently attracted much attention. Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian company, which operates BlackBerry, provides its customers with their own encryption key and does not possess a master key. According to RIM, in its system, there is no "back door" through which either RIM or any third party can gain access to the key or the customer's data.

However, the Indian government was concerned that this level of encryption makes it impossible to monitor BlackBerry messages for national security purposes and that BlackBerrry's strong encryption technology could be used for terrorist or criminal activity. As per newspaper reports, on August 31, 2010, the Government of India accepted RIM's proposal for "lawful access by law enforcement agencies" of encrypted BlackBerry data. In December 2010, RIM reportedly provided the government a cloud computing-based system which would enable security agencies to lawfully intercept BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) messages in a comprehensible format but not BlackBerry Enterprise Service, that is, corporate emails.

The Draft Rules incorporate the government's stand vis-à-vis BlackBerry into law because they require an intermediary to provide information to government agencies, which are lawfully authorised for investigative, protective, cyber security or intelligence activity. In sum, the Draft Rules provide the key to the back door long sought after by the government and leave no doubt that security concerns will prevail in law over the interest in privacy through use of encryption by civil society.

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

ARAB UNREST PROPELS TEHRAN AS RIYADH'S INFLUENCE DECLINES

'IRAN HAS SHOWN THAT IT IS VERY CAPABLE OF TAKING ADVANTAGE OF REGIONAL INSTABILITY.'

MICHAEL SLACKMAN

The popular revolts shaking the Arab world have begun to shift the balance of power in the region, bolstering Iran's position while weakening and unnerving its rival, Saudi Arabia, regional experts said.

While it is far too soon to write the final chapter on the uprisings' impact, Iran has already benefitted from the ouster or undermining of Arab leaders who were its strong adversaries and has begun to project its growing influence, the analysts said. This week Iran sent two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since its revolution in 1979, and Egypt's new military leaders allowed them to pass.

Saudi Arabia, an American ally and a Sunni nation that jousts with Shiite Iran for regional influence, has been shaken. King Abdullah on February 23 signalled his concern by announcing a $10 billion increase in welfare spending to help young people, buy homes and open businesses, a gesture seen as trying to head off the kind of unrest that fuelled protests around the region.

King Abdullah then met with the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, to discuss ways to contain the political uprising by the Shiite majority there. The Sunni leaders in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain accuse their Shiite populations of loyalty to Iran, a charge rejected by Shiites who say it is intended to stoke sectarian tensions and justify opposition to democracy.

The uprisings are driven by domestic concerns. But they have already shredded a regional paradigm in which a trio of states aligned with the West supported engaging Israel and containing Israel's enemies, including Hamas and Hezbollah, experts said. The pro-engagement camp of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia is now in tatters. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has been forced to resign, King Abdullah of Jordan is struggling to control discontent in his kingdom and Saudi Arabia has been left alone to face a rising challenge to its regional role.

'Iran the big winner'

"I think the Saudis are worried that they're encircled — Iraq, Syria, Lebanon; Yemen is unstable; Bahrain is very uncertain," said Alireza Nader, an expert in international affairs with the [Research ANd Development] RAND Corporation. "They worry that the region is ripe for Iranian exploitation. Iran has shown that it is very capable of taking advantage of regional instability."

"Iran is the big winner here," said a regional adviser to the United States government who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters.

Iran's circumstances could change, experts cautioned, if it overplayed its hand or if popular Arab movements came to resent Iranian interference in the region. And it is by no means assured that pro-Iranian groups would dominate politics in Egypt, Tunisia or elsewhere.

For now, Iran and Syria are emboldened. Qatar and Oman are tilting toward Iran, and Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen are in play.

"If these 'pro-American' Arab political orders currently being challenged by significant protest movements become at all more representative of their populations, they will for sure become less enthusiastic about strategic cooperation with the United States," Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, former National Security Council staff members, wrote in an e-mail. They added that at the moment, Iran's leaders saw that "the regional balance is shifting, in potentially decisive ways, against their American adversary and in favour of the Islamic Republic." Iran's standing is stronger in spite of its challenges at home, with a troubled economy, high unemployment and a determined political opposition.

The United States may also face challenges in pressing its case against Iran's nuclear programmes, some experts asserted.

"Recent events have also taken the focus away from Iran's nuclear programme and may make regional and international consensus on sanctions even harder to achieve," Mr. Nader said. Iran's growing confidence is based on a gradual realignment that began with the aftershocks of the September 11 attacks. By ousting the Taliban in Afghanistan, and then Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the United States removed two of Iran's regional enemies who worked to contain its ambitions. Today, Iran is a major player in both nations, an unintended consequence.

Iran demonstrated its emboldened attitude this year in Lebanon when its ally, Hezbollah, forced the collapse of the pro-Western government of Saad Hariri. Mr. Hariri was replaced with a prime minister backed by Hezbollah, a bold move that analysts say was undertaken with Iran's support.

"Iraq and Lebanon are now in Iran's sphere of influence with groups that have been supported by the hard-liners for decades," said Muhammad Sahimi, an Iran expert in Los Angeles who frequently writes about Iranian politics. "Iran is a major player in Afghanistan. Any regime that eventually emerges in Egypt will not be as hostile to Hamas as Mubarak was, and Hamas has been supported by Iran. That may help Iran to increase its influence there even more."

Iran could also benefit from the growing assertiveness of Shiites in general. Shiism is hardly monolithic, and Iran does not speak on behalf of all Shiites. But members of that sect are linked by faith and by their strong sense that they have been victims of discrimination by the Sunni majority. Events in Bahrain illustrate that connection well.

In Bahrain

Bahrain has about 5,00,000 citizens, 70 per cent of them Shiite. The nation has been ruled by a Sunni family since it was captured from the Persians in the 18th century. The Shiites have long argued that they are discriminated against in work, education and politics. Last week, they began a public uprising calling for democracy, which would bring them power. The government at first used lethal force to try to stop the opposition, killing seven. It is now calling for a dialogue while the protesters, turning out in huge numbers, are demanding the government's resignation.

But demonstrators have maintained their loyalty to Bahrain. The head of the largest Shiite party, Al Wefaq, said that the party rejected Iran's type of Islamic government. On February 22, a leading member of the party, Khalil Ebrahim al-Marzooq, said he was afraid that the king was trying to transform the political dispute into a sectarian one. He said there were rumors the king would open the border with Saudi Arabia and let Sunni extremists into the country to attack the demonstrators.

"The moment that any border opens by the government, means the other borders will open," he said. "You don't expect people will see their similar sect being killed and not interfere. We will not call them."

But, he said, they will come. ( Nadim Audi contributed reporting.)

— © New York Times News Service

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THE HINDU

NEW VIOLENCE AS IVORY COAST STRONGMAN FIGHTS OUSTER

ADAM NOSSITER

The muscular efforts by the Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo to remain in office after losing an election appeared to be intensifying this week, with assaults by his troops on a neighbourhood of Abidjan, the country's commercial capital, and deaths among soldiers and civilians in several other districts of the city.

On February 23, the Abobo neighbourhood, which supports Mr. Gbagbo's rival, came under renewed attack by Mr. Gbagbo's forces, according to residents reached by telephone and news agency reports. One resident said that Mr. Gbagbo's tanks had arrived in mid-afternoon and that the area was under sustained assault by rocket launchers.

"It's not the Kalashnikovs anymore," said the resident, Ahmed Fofana, referring to the assault rifles favoured by Mr. Gbagbo's forces. "It's rocket launchers. We can't go out anymore, it's too dangerous." Mr. Fofana said civilians had died and several houses had been destroyed.

Economy is collapsing

The violence reflected a deteriorating situation in what was once West Africa's commercial hub, as well as a possible prelude to a civil war that had been feared since the November presidential election, when Mr. Gbagbo's rival, Alassane Ouattara, was recognised as the winner by the international community. The initial tough line taken by African nations against Mr. Gbagbo's effort to hold on to power has weakened, with a number of influential nations, including South Africa and Angola, edging away from the regional position that he must go. Ivory Coast was seen as a test case in the continental commitment to enforcing democracy.

Meanwhile, Ivory Coast's economy is collapsing under the weight of international sanctions. Major banks in Abidjan, a normally bustling seaport of around four million people, have closed in the past two weeks, and the incumbent's diplomatic isolation outside Africa is almost total. There was renewed talk on February 23 by a former mediator in the crisis, Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya, of a possible operation to remove Mr. Gbagbo by force.

The violence came after several days of clashes in Abobo and two other neighbourhoods. On February 22, several of Mr. Gbagbo's forces were killed in an ambush in Abobo, according to various reports. The number was difficult to verify; a Gbagbo spokesman, Alain Toussaint, said by phone that three soldiers died in the attack and that seven "terrorists" were "neutralised," while local newspapers and news agency reports said 10 members of Mr. Gbagbo's armed forces were killed.

On February 21, 12 civilians in the Koumassi and Treichville neighbourhoods were killed by forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo, according to a statement released by Mr. Ouattara.

The deaths came as the latest of numerous resolution efforts by African leaders ended: the Presidents of Chad, Mauritania, South Africa and Tanzania were leaving Abidjan to the sound of gunfire after meeting with Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Ouattara on February 21-22. A fifth leader named as a mediator by the African Union, President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, was blocked from going to Abidjan following hostile demonstrations against him by the Young Patriots, a violent youth militia loyal to Mr. Gbagbo.

Mr. Gbagbo has maintained power by continuing to pay the salaries of soldiers and key civil servants. But it is unclear how much longer he can do so. His access to the country's accounts at the regional central bank has been curtailed since mid-January.

Mr. Gbagbo subsequently announced that he would "take control" of the local operations of some of the banks that had been shut. What that might mean in practice is unclear, since accounts are generally controlled electronically from outside the country.

© New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

CONTEMPORARY INDIA IS A FERTILE AND BLOOMING OASIS'

While the Kings College initiative in creating an India Centre, and Professor Khilnani's return to the U.K. are to be welcomed, the situation that he described in his interview for The Hindu was, happily, far from accurate ("U.K. universities lack focus on modern India," Op-Ed, Feb. 17).

While the word 'modern' may refer to the last 500 years in South Asian studies, it is simply untrue to say that we in the U.K. and Europe neglect 'contemporary', post-1947 India in favour of ancient Indology, colonial history or what

The Hindu calls "post-colonial 'stuff'". To find this out for himself, we invite Prof. Khilnani to join the British Association for South Asian Studies (BASAS), which numbers around 200 members, http://www.basas.org.uk/. Celebrating its quarter century this year, BASAS's annual conference this year is devoted to research on Forms of Power. Throughout its life BASAS has been deeply engaged with policy debates.

The British Academy's South Asia Panel was also formed for this purpose, and provides support for networks on contemporary South Asia, and for conferences and workshops. Last autumn the BA mounted a flagship conference on China and India's economy and society. The next BA South Asia conference will be of non-economists meeting to argue over the persistence of poverty.

Kings will be joining a strong group of universities with post-graduate courses in contemporary South Asian studies: School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Edinburgh have entire masters; many more have South Asia options — for example Bristol's politics and Cambridge's geography, while in 2008 Oxford created the first multidisciplinary masters in Contemporary India in the world — and it's going strong!

European universities are also buzzing with activity. Contemporary South Asia used to be the preserve of the SAS-net sociologists in Lund, the Asian centres in Leiden and Amsterdam and the renowned South Asia Institute at Heidelberg. But in the last few years new specialist centres have come to life — Warsaw University's India programme reaches out to Eastern Europe with backing from Brussels, the Copenhagen Business School has an India Centre, Gottingen has a centre for Modern Indian Studies, Turin University has an India Summer School — to name but a few. All of these are multidisciplinary projects creating synergy by developing knowledge in new ways relevant for the 21st century.

And while Prof Khilnani calls for Indian government and private sector support — we could all do with it — the U.K.-India Education and Research Initiative already unites the two governments in support for joint research projects.

It has been a 'resounding success': http://www.ukieri.org/.

We are glad that Prof. Khilnani is joining us but despite the crisis of British Universities, Contemporary India is a fertile and blooming oasis and not the desert he describes.

Professor Barbara Harriss-White,

Director,

Oxford University's Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme

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THE HINDU

RUSSIAN MILITARY TO MAKE HUGE PURCHASES

Russia will spend $650 billion to equip its dilapidated military with 600 new warplanes, 100 ships and 1,000 helicopters by 2020, Defence Ministry officials were quoted as saying on February 24.

The ambitious weapons procurement programme also envisages eight new nuclear submarines and two Mistral amphibious helicopter carrier assault and command ships in addition to the two that Russia is buying from France, Russian news agencies quoted First Deputy Defence Minister Vladimir Popovkin as saying.

His announcement comes during a large-scale streamlining of personnel in Russia's bloated and poorly equipped armed forces. The unpopular reforms of Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov have seen as many as 200,000 officers lose their jobs and nine of every 10 army units disbanded.

Though the programme foresees spending on strategic forces, analysts hailed the massive order of conventional arms, saying it would lower Russia's dependence on its nuclear arsenal. But they warned it could only be a success if there was a professional and efficient military to use the new equipment.

"Russia needs a professional non-commissioned officers core to train specialists who can really put these arms to effective use," said Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst. "This spending necessitates a whole new kind of military."

Last week, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin promised that from next year 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product would be spent on army modernisation, military pay and other defence spending. He said the country currently allocates 0.5 per cent of the GDP.

Chief among the aviation procurements are the modern Su-34 and Su-35 fighters and the Mi-26 transport and Mi-8 gunship helicopters, Popovkin said.

The Navy's orders include 20 submarines, of which eight are to be armed with the Bulava nuclear missile, which has experienced years of glitch-stricken tests, 35 corvettes and 15 frigates, Popovkin said.

The Mistral, which could carry up to 16 helicopters and dozens of armoured vehicles, would allow Russia to land hundreds of troops quickly on foreign soil. Popovkin said Russia would build two Mistrals domestically on top of the two it had ordered from France. The carriers will all feature Russian-only weaponry, he said.

Several hundred modern mobile S-400 and S-500 air defence missile systems also are on order.

— AP

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THE HINDU

 

ALLEGED ZIMBABWE PLOTTERS TORTURED, SAY LAWYERS

Lawyers for 46 people facing treason charges for allegedly plotting an Egyptian-style uprising in Zimbabwe said on February 24 that some members of the group were tortured by police.

Defence lawyer Alec Muchadehama told a Harare court that 12 suspects told lawyers they were beaten with broomsticks on their bodies and the soles of their feet. They were arrested on February 19 for attending a lecture on North African anti-government protests.

He said others were denied medication and access to lawyers. Treason can be punishable by death.

State prosecutors allege the group of labour and social activists held the meeting to plan a revolt against long-time authoritarian ruler President Robert Mugabe.

The group says the meeting on February 19 was an academic study session and denies wrongdoing.

Muchadehama told magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi that delays in bringing the group to their first court appearance on February 23 were illegal because Zimbabwean law says suspects must be arraigned within 48 hours of arrest.

Prosecutors allege the group watched videos of the Egyptian revolt that brought down Hosni Mubarak after nearly three decades in power. Prosecutors also claimed the Zimbabwean participants took turns making speeches calling for a revolt against Mugabe.

Muchadehama said there were no grounds for treason charges.

"What happened in Egypt and Tunisia is that people gathered and demonstrated and their leaders resigned or abdicated their seats," he said. "No treason was committed in the two countries."

But authorities loyal to Mugabe were "so paranoid," he said, that anything seen to challenge Mugabe was termed treason and subversion.

Prosecutors claim that former opposition lawmaker Munyaradzi Gwisai, head of the local branch of the International Socialist Organization, and the other participants/civic activists were conducting the meeting to "organise, strategise and implement the removal of the constitutional government of Zimbabwe ... the Egyptian way."

Mugabe has been in power since independence in 1980, and once declared in 2008 that "Zimbabwe is mine."

Critics accuse him of violently suppressing opposition and destroying the country's economy through a land redistribution programme.

While he entered in a power-sharing deal with the country's long-time opposition leader after the violence-plagued 2008 elections, Mugabe has said he has the power to unilaterally call elections this year to end the fragile unity government.

Security authorities have said they will clamp down on any alleged plotters of "destabilisation."

    AP

     

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

A WAKE-UP CALL TO OIL PSUS

The landmark Reliance Industries-BP deal, for an initial $7.2 billion, billed as the largest single foreign direct investment in the country, could not have been at a more opportune moment. Apart from its benefits for the two players directly involved, it has a wider implications for the country as a whole. For one, it shows global oil giants need India, particularly in the current geopolitical turmoil roiling the entire belt from Libya to Afghanistan; that the Cairn-Vedanta holdup has in no way dimmed this country as an oil-gas exploration destination; that the new exploration licensing policy is no longer a benchmark that reflects India's potential to attract big names; and, most significant, that ONGC and Oil India should gear up and devise a strategy to increase production from their oilfields and not be content with enjoying high crude prices.

India, which has to import 70-80 per cent of its oil needs, cannot depend forever on West Asian oil. One report claims that our demand for oil will grow by 115 per cent in the next 20 years. This cannot be met by fossil fuels alone. ONGC, Oil India and Gail will have to work seriously to develop alternative sources of fuel and renewable energy. This is still negligible in India, though the scope for solar, geo-thermal and wind energy is immense. It would be such a waste if we fail to make effective use of the natural resources we already possess to generate power. And while we cannot go back to the Indira Gandhi mantra of "self-reliance" in its entirety, mainly as today's globalised world bears little similarity to the India of the 1970s-'80s, the public sector oil giants would do well to treat the Reliance-BP deal as a wake-up call. Perhaps the new oil minister could get them to pool both resources and expertise to devise future exploration and exploitation strategies. Reliance and BP together is a formidable combine, and the Indian consumer will only benefit if it is kept on its toes by aggressive competition.
BP has got access to a big chunk (30 per cent) of a significant hydrocarbon area on India's east coast known as the KG Basin, of which it will certainly take utmost advantage. It has the best of technology at its command, and this will presumably be available to RIL, which had reached a plateau as far as deep sea drilling is concerned.
The West Asian and Arab region, in which Western oil giants have immense investments, is now in a troubled state; India — by default — appears calm, stable and comparatively peaceful as an investment destination. The BP deal could well herald additional FDI across sectors. Commerce minister Anand Sharma recently advised retail giants like Wal-Mart, which are extremely keen to enter India, to first put up infrastructure such as warehousing and cold storages before being permitted entry into retail proper. This sounds fair, and with the West's options somewhat narrowing, the prospect of more FDI looks bright. At the same time, the government needs to keep up its resolve to rigorously monitor all major investments to ensure the country's interests are protected, and not be influenced by campaigns by large multinationals. It is in fact to its credit that the government has so far managed to resist the subtle propaganda that it is blocking proposals that would benefit the people of this country, and stood firm in insisting that all deals must be transparent and follow the due processes of law.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

HAISHA, HUISHA, THEY'LL ALL FALL DOWN

NIHAL SINGH

The one lesson that emerges from the tsunami that is sweeping across the Arab space is that in today's inter-connected world no nation can remain an island any longer.

Much of the Arab world was in a pressure cooker for decades and as the sparks of the revolt in Tunisia against an autocratic ruler were lit, amplified in graphic detail by the Al Jazeera Arabic channel, it singed the traditional, though deflated, leader of the Arab world, Egypt, and then there was no stopping the flames.

As revolts have spread to Jordan, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, Bahrain, Libya and even Iran, circumstances vary as do the scale of the regimes' repression. But the common themes have been a struggle against autocracy, rising food prices, unemployment, nepotism and corruption, and the blatant unequal distribution of wealth, with the ruling elite feathering its nest. And there were repeated reminders that these countries have predominantly young populations.

There is no need to belabour the point that the Cold War, the major powers' interests and the oil and gas riches of the region, together with the need to protect Israel's war booty of 1967 under the US umbrella, made autocracy not merely sustainable but a flourishing mode of governance. What ultimately titled the scales were the impatience of the youth and food inflation. Once the brave Tunisians demonstrated that a long-time dictator could be miraculously dethroned by people power in a matter of days, Egyptians said if Tunisians could do it, so could they.

Each nation has its own peculiarities and problems. The Saudi advice in the beginning was to use the big stick. When the Tunisian leader fell, Hosni Mubarak heeded the Saudi advice after demonstrators took over the central Tahrir Square in Cairo by unleashing armed supporters of the regime and thugs, but the Army demurred and, after offering concessions, Mr Mubarak followed the Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In Yemen, the picture is complicated by the rivalries between the North and the South and tribal equations while the state receives US' help to fight Al Qaeda even as Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in an effort to avert public anger, promised not to stand for re-election or have his son succeed him. Bahrain poses another kind of problem: a Sunni elite ruling a Shia majority and after trying the Saudi prescription of using force to disperse the demonstrators from the central Pearl Square — protesters copying the Egyptian example — better sense prevailed on Bahrain's King Hamad al-Khalifa, who opted for a dialogue whose efficacy remains to be determined. Shias are demanding fair play.

In Morocco, the demand is for political reforms and greater powers for the people, rather than the abolition of the monarchy of the young king, Mohammed VI. Algeria has led a troubled existence, with the electoral process stymied by the Army many years ago after the first round of elections for fear of Islamists coming to power. President of Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika is holding the fort in the traditional Arab mould of ruler. Jordan's King Abdullah II immediately brought in a new Cabinet, but in a country with a Palestinian majority and the only Arab nation other than Egypt with a peace treaty with Israel, there are mounting political uncertainties.
The focus at present is very much on Libya, with the longest serving ruler, Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi, with a record of 42 years, known as much for his eccentricities as for anything else. He has built a state with a stronger personal militia than the Army and rules with his seven sons of whom Seif al-Islam el-Gaddafi gave a preview on television of the fire and brimstone to come, with the leader himself promising retribution for demonstrators in a marathon television speech. Judging by the fire power armed men and mercenaries have used so far, the scale of the bloodshed has been horrendous and Col. Gaddafi seems determined to follow the Saudi advice even as the eastern region is in the hands of the Opposition. It seems a question of when, rather than whether, the leader goes, although the intense tribal antagonisms between the East and the West will remain a factor.
Changes in these countries swept by the wave of revolts are bound to be uneven. Iran, the regional heavyweight and non-Arab state, will follow a different trajectory; the protests in 2009 after the controversial presidential election were put down with a heavy hand and the new post-Tunisian protests were stymied. The rash of protests in the Arab world will not die down. Al Jazeera has been a source of inspiration as the channel, the new bible in much of the Arab world, has brought to millions in their homes the taste of how revolts are staged and how two stalwarts of the Arab world have been laid low. Equally, the ongoing revolution has, in a measure, brought distress to the US and Israel. While US President Barack Obama has been rather critical of Libyan developments, he has been cautious in relation to Bahrain, the home of the Fifth Fleet, and has treaded tepidly on Jordan. For Israel, the certainties of the last 30 years are over, with Egypt serving as the Arab policeman for keeping the Gaza Strip bottled up in exchange for some $1.5 billion in US economic and military assistance every year. The rest of the world will pay for the turmoil in the Arab world by higher petrol prices at the pump — for a worthy cause.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

LEGALLY SPEAKING

SWAPAN DASGUPTA

There was something eerily predictable about the reactions to February 22 special court verdict on the gruesome Godhra killings of February 26, 2002 — the incident that triggered the equally horrible communal riots in Gujarat.

For a few days before Justice P.R. Patil delivered his 815-page judgment that led to the conviction of 31 of the 134 Muslims charged with either conspiracy or participation in the arson attack on coach S6 of the Sabarmati Express, the less restrained section of the media had been speculating on the possible implications of a "guilty" verdict. Would it inflame communal passions? Was justice at all possible in "Narendra Modi's Gujarat"? The implications were obvious: The cause of communal harmony and justice would be best served if the entire case was thrown out.

If the questions were predictably tendentious — the special court had been set up in April 2009 on a Supreme Court directive and had no relation with the state government's administration of justice — the post-verdict reactions followed the "activist" template. Father Cedric Prakash, an activist clergyman who runs an NGO, was quick to denounce Justice Patel's judgment as a "miscarriage of justice"; Prashant Bhushan, who was briefly amicus curie in the Gulbarga Housing Society case, called the verdict a "travesty of justice"; lawyer Mukul Sinha who had contested the 2007 Assembly election and lost his deposit, described the conviction of 31 people as based on "concocted evidence" and "falsehood"; and Teesta Setalvad, herself under scrutiny by the Special Investigation team for allegedly presenting dodgy affidavits, debunked any "conspiracy" to attack the train.
True, Bharatiya Janata Party's Jaynarayan Vyas, the Gujarat government spokesperson, did proffer a pugnacious reply to the sceptics. He gloated that "the verdict comes as a slap on the face of all those so-called NGOs who were busy maligning Gujarat". But his seemed an odd, contrarian voice amid the multiplicity of well-heeled "activists" feigning outrage. Any citizen unaware of the backgrounds of the sceptics or the convoluted course of the inquiry and legal proceedings would be forgiven for harbouring the suspicion that the special court in Ahmedabad had been driven by an underlying political agenda.
It is understandable that there will be litigants and activists dissatisfied by a court verdict on the ground of either evidence or interpretation of the law. They have an inalienable right to approach a higher court for relief and, presumably, the Godhra case will go to the high court. What is disturbing, however, is not the exercise of the right of appeal but the readiness with which any judgment with political overtones is rubbished in the public domain. Indian democracy offers litigants, activists and commentators a generous space to dissect judgments and court proceedings. Indeed, more often than not, lawyers and others tend to treat TV studios and newspapers columns as a substitute for arguments in the appellate courts.

On the face of it, this may appear to be a worthless and even self-defeating exercise since judges are expected to be swayed by arguments in the courtroom and not by spirited exchanges in TV studios. The judiciary, however, is not detached from society and judges don't live in ivory towers. Like any other citizen, they too are prone to being influenced by their immediate environment. The purpose behind activists using the media to argue points of law and evidence (without having to bother about the opposing counsel) is simple: create a climate of opinion favourable to the cause they are espousing and portray other perspectives (including court judgments) as a travesty.
In the past six months, the no-holds-barred attacks on court orders have become an epidemic. In September last year, there were shrill denunciations of the Allahabad high court judgment on the Ayodhya dispute, including suggestions of communal bias. Ironically, the loudest protests came from those who were in the forefront of demanding a judicial resolution of a very complex religio-political dispute that has defied resolution for centuries.
This was followed three months ago by the breast-beating after the conviction of Dr Binayak Sen on a sedition charge by a sessions court in Chhattisgarh. The spectacle was repeated some weeks ago when the Chhattisgarh high court turned down Dr Sen's bail application.

Dr Sen's case is an eye-opener for all those concerned about the larger civic culture surrounding judicial proceedings. In an article written after Dr Sen's conviction, an outraged Amartya Sen wrote that "if the high court has its thinking straight and unbiased it will overturn the decision". Anything else, he argued, would imply that "as happened in Gujarat — justice is difficult to get in the state which is under the control of a political regime that is keen on justifying its policies, some of which are very deeply problematic, rather than bringing justice to a people living in Chhattisgarh…" This was followed by an appeal signed by scores of Nobel Prize winners, with little familiarity of either India or the specific circumstances of the case, pressing for Dr Sen's release.

Actually, it is Amartya Sen's pronouncement that is deeply problematic. If the integrity of the judiciary is made hostage to politically correct, rather than judicially tenable, judgments, India will lose its status as a democracy where the rule of law prevails.

In establishing pre-meditation, the special court in Ahmedabad relied on forensic evidence; the Allahabad high court relied on archaeological evidence to suggest that a grand temple predated the Babri mosque in Ayodhya; and the Chhattisgarh government relied on witness testimony and seizure records to suggest Dr Sen's Maoist links. The conclusions of the judges were governed by evidence — a reason why 63 of the accused were acquitted in the Godhra case —and their refutation has to be based on technicalities, not on the strength of rhetoric.
A battle is either fought in the political arena or in the courts. The two can't happen simultaneously.

Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

HAISHA, HUISHA, THEY'LL ALL FALL DOWN

NIHAL SINGH

The one lesson that emerges from the tsunami that is sweeping across the Arab space is that in today's inter-connected world no nation can remain an island any longer.

Much of the Arab world was in a pressure cooker for decades and as the sparks of the revolt in Tunisia against an autocratic ruler were lit, amplified in graphic detail by the Al Jazeera Arabic channel, it singed the traditional, though deflated, leader of the Arab world, Egypt, and then there was no stopping the flames.

As revolts have spread to Jordan, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, Bahrain, Libya and even Iran, circumstances vary as do the scale of the regimes' repression. But the common themes have been a struggle against autocracy, rising food prices, unemployment, nepotism and corruption, and the blatant unequal distribution of wealth, with the ruling elite feathering its nest. And there were repeated reminders that these countries have predominantly young populations.

There is no need to belabour the point that the Cold War, the major powers' interests and the oil and gas riches of the region, together with the need to protect Israel's war booty of 1967 under the US umbrella, made autocracy not merely sustainable but a flourishing mode of governance. What ultimately titled the scales were the impatience of the youth and food inflation. Once the brave Tunisians demonstrated that a long-time dictator could be miraculously dethroned by people power in a matter of days, Egyptians said if Tunisians could do it, so could they.

Each nation has its own peculiarities and problems. The Saudi advice in the beginning was to use the big stick. When the Tunisian leader fell, Hosni Mubarak heeded the Saudi advice after demonstrators took over the central Tahrir Square in Cairo by unleashing armed supporters of the regime and thugs, but the Army demurred and, after offering concessions, Mr Mubarak followed the Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In Yemen, the picture is complicated by the rivalries between the North and the South and tribal equations while the state receives US' help to fight Al Qaeda even as Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in an effort to avert public anger, promised not to stand for re-election or have his son succeed him. Bahrain poses another kind of problem: a Sunni elite ruling a Shia majority and after trying the Saudi prescription of using force to disperse the demonstrators from the central Pearl Square — protesters copying the Egyptian example — better sense prevailed on Bahrain's King Hamad al-Khalifa, who opted for a dialogue whose efficacy remains to be determined. Shias are demanding fair play.

In Morocco, the demand is for political reforms and greater powers for the people, rather than the abolition of the monarchy of the young king, Mohammed VI. Algeria has led a troubled existence, with the electoral process stymied by the Army many years ago after the first round of elections for fear of Islamists coming to power. President of Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika is holding the fort in the traditional Arab mould of ruler. Jordan's King Abdullah II immediately brought in a new Cabinet, but in a country with a Palestinian majority and the only Arab nation other than Egypt with a peace treaty with Israel, there are mounting political uncertainties.
The focus at present is very much on Libya, with the longest serving ruler, Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi, with a record of 42 years, known as much for his eccentricities as for anything else. He has built a state with a stronger personal militia than the Army and rules with his seven sons of whom Seif al-Islam el-Gaddafi gave a preview on television of the fire and brimstone to come, with the leader himself promising retribution for demonstrators in a marathon television speech. Judging by the fire power armed men and mercenaries have used so far, the scale of the bloodshed has been horrendous and Col. Gaddafi seems determined to follow the Saudi advice even as the eastern region is in the hands of the Opposition. It seems a question of when, rather than whether, the leader goes, although the intense tribal antagonisms between the East and the West will remain a factor.
Changes in these countries swept by the wave of revolts are bound to be uneven. Iran, the regional heavyweight and non-Arab state, will follow a different trajectory; the protests in 2009 after the controversial presidential election were put down with a heavy hand and the new post-Tunisian protests were stymied. The rash of protests in the Arab world will not die down. Al Jazeera has been a source of inspiration as the channel, the new bible in much of the Arab world, has brought to millions in their homes the taste of how revolts are staged and how two stalwarts of the Arab world have been laid low. Equally, the ongoing revolution has, in a measure, brought distress to the US and Israel. While US President Barack Obama has been rather critical of Libyan developments, he has been cautious in relation to Bahrain, the home of the Fifth Fleet, and has treaded tepidly on Jordan. For Israel, the certainties of the last 30 years are over, with Egypt serving as the Arab policeman for keeping the Gaza Strip bottled up in exchange for some $1.5 billion in US economic and military assistance every year. The rest of the world will pay for the turmoil in the Arab world by higher petrol prices at the pump — for a worthy cause.

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DNA

 

YOU ALWAYS TAKE THE WEATHER WITH YOU

GAURI SINH

 

Unusual weather in the city, you must've noticed. Days are warm, nights are chilly. The Met department attributes this to disturbances over the north — possible, since the capital saw heavy rains over the week-end. Blow hot, blow cold. A little like the central characters in the big movies which are the flavour of the entertainment world at present. In B-Town, Priyanka Chopra's new film, where she plays a woman, starry eyed in search of love — who morphs into a black widow as her mates show they're fallible.

 

In Hollywood, Black Swan, which has Natalie Portman as frontrunner for Best Actress in the Oscar race. Set in the world of ballet — grace, beauty, pink tutus, you'd think, but even candy floss has a stickier side, as Natalie's character in the movie attests, embracing the demons within. Nothing like the big screen highlighting our darker halves to tide over the surfeit of sweetness and light post Awards season and Valentine's.

 

Andtalking of temperamental weather, the earthquake in New Zealand also has tinseltown under a dark cloud — many movies in production have recently wrapped in Kiwiland and sentimental B-Town feels for the plight of the people who played host when they shot there.

 

Meanwhile popular culture has come up with a new

 

survey: apparently just 50 minutes on a cellphone can alter brain activity, says a recent report. Whether harmful or not, scientists are yet unclear, but you don't need a survey to underline the addictive properties of cells. A fashion model friend from the Big Apple stayed with me two weeks recently. And in our conversations, we made eye contact maybe five times. Because all the while she used to be looking at her phone, checking to see who to 'connect' with. Overlooking the real live 'connect' in front of her. It didn't matter that I got irritated, sullen, caustic by turn, even accused my much-married buddy of courting a secret lover. The cell's charm was greater than mine. And scarily, this seems to be the case all around the glamour world at present. At a recent high profile event, all the celeb invitees were seated at their tables distractedly checking their cells whilst smiling into their mobiles at conversation around them. Or recall Saif Ali Khan telling

 

audiences on national TV that Bebo's addiction to her phone was so great he messaged her for her input on something whilst in the same room, because she was not listening, she was on the phone! On-the-move B-Town has always been about instant communication, there are in-group jokes about filmmakers and actors with multiple mobiles, and spot boys hired only for the express purpose of ferrying those mobiles, but nowadays it seems a conversation with a real live person has transgressed into the realm of novelty. Society-in-transition, time for a reality check?

 

And finally, whilst on the topic of addictions, if cricket has not yet overrun your lives, prepare yourself — Sunday sees India take on England in Bangalore.

 

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DNA

SEEKING A STORE THAT SELLS XL SHIRTS

ANU PRABHAKAR

 

I hate shopping. It takes a gaping tear at a very visible spot on my pair of jeans to make me even consider shopping. But when a haughty co-passenger on the local train smirked, "This is the FIRST class compartment", I decided it just might be time to upgrade my wardrobe. Besides, having just moved into the city, I hoped my first shopping experience in Mumbai would be a revelation of sorts.

 

So while at a mall in Vashi, I stayed away from the bigger and well-known stores for I didn't fancy wrestling with women by the changing room on a Sunday morning (where they are at their feisty best), only to end up looking like a mass produced good.

 

At one of the more obscure shops, I picked up a beautifully designed shirt. Mental images of me sashaying down the office corridor in my brand new shirt started playing out in quick succession while I rushed to the changing room. The shirt didn't fit. I asked for a larger size and the saleswoman shook her head apologetically.

 

The same happened in the next shop. And the next five shops. At one point during the entire nightmare, I did find a shirt that I could slip into but made me look like a potato sack. "Nothing that a few alterations can't fix," I convinced myself at the billing counter. "Congratulations," the lady there (who I kind of knew) whispered as she handed over the receipt to me. As late realisation dawned, I frantically turned the shirt to check the label and sure enough, it said 'maternity wear' in delicate writing. I abandoned the shirt at the entrance.

 

Why is it that I am not able to find smart, Western wear for large-sized women that actually make them want to carry their excess weight gracefully and not hide it behind curtains of fabric? Yes, I know of Fashion Street but I am not psyched about travelling all the way to south Mumbai on my only day off. No, I do not want to buy from a store that markets itself as a store for XL-sized people. I want to be able to get the same shirt that Ms Super-thin from work got from a specific unknown small store, except in a larger size. And no, I do not want to be a regular at high class, branded stores. Though many store owners seem to believe so, wealth and weight are NOT directly proportional to each other.

 

However, I did reach a few conclusions. One: It's Mumbai. There must be a perfect store out there. Two: Find it. And Three: In the meantime, there is nothing like patchwork to fix a pair of torn jeans.

 

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DNA

MOMENTS THAT TRULY DESERVE ONE TIGHT SLAP

YOGESH PAWAR

 

One tight slap! That's what the ticket collector deserved. These aren't the sentiments of a ticketless traveller.

 

These are the feelings of a fellow traveller incensed to see the TC in question chewing gutkha on duty and thinking nothing of spitting from the door of the compartment.

 

The Parsi gentleman (his accent a dead give away) seemed to be the only one who was incensed, while others (including yours faithfully) were disturbed briefly and went back to their reading/sleeping unmindful of what we've come to expect as an everyday occurrence. Of course people keep spitting and relieving themselves all over. We just look away. What to do we are like this only.

 

Regardless of our quiet, the senior Parsi admonished us for saying nothing and went back to berating the TC who was now angry. The moment he threatened the Parsi, the quiet crowd suddenly found its voice. "Show us your card," "We'll report you,"

 

"You should be ashamed" and so on and so forth. Sensing the mood change rapidly between Matunga Road and Dadar, the TC quietly slunk off…

 

I began thinking of who else deserves a tight slap and came up with this list:

 

The Dwarpals: You can see the space over their shoulders in the compartment but nothing will move these two legged obstacles from the train door. When they let you squeeze by, they look like they've done you the biggest obligation ever.

 

The Family Planners: These gentlemen come armed with brief cases which they wield with the dexterity of a gladiator with a lance. As they make lightning moves with their weapons from the knee upwards you wonder why abdomen guards have not been made mandatory for train travel yet.

 

The Footsie Players: This species believes the compartment is their drawing room and love to sprawl. One minute you are reading your newspaper and the next you find a whole pair legs between yours.

 

The Vithobas: Inspired by the deity these people have to stand even on the most crowded platforms (Dombivli / Jogeshwari) with their hands on their hips.

 

Everyone who has to go past them has to ensure that they make space for that much more.

 

The Great Gamblers: These groups believe that earmarked spaces are their birthright. No matter how crowded the train gets they will not let you stand between seats. Worse if they stand they ensure that there is enough space in the middle even if others are in danger of getting their family jewels squashed.

 

The Caressers: They have great affection for all fellow beings and think it is necessary to caress their faces and even jab their eyes with newspaper and magazine pages as they read.

 

The Cacaophony Club: When not ensuring the whole compartment benefits from the dhinchak number on their mobile, they raise a din with devotional songs or chants that would make the Gods shudder.

 

Would love to know of more categories … So do write in to tell us who else deserves one tight slap!

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

WE WILL TALK NO TALK

 

Some local papers flashed on the front page of their issue of Thursday the news of Shabir Ahmad Shah, president of Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) and senior Hurriyat Conference (M) leader rejecting invitation by the team interlocutors for talks. The Interlocutors, too, said they wanted the dissidents including the Hurriyat come forward for talks with them. Shabir Shah's statement at the press conference is replete with contradictions and controversies that indicate Hurriyat lack of clarity on the question of talking to the team of interlocutors. For example, Shah says "who should we talk to?" Then in the same breath, he wants intervention by the United Nations without the intermediary of the Union or the State Government. A team interlocutor is duly constituted by the Union Government with clear terms of reference that are amply known to all stakeholders including the Hurriyat. Its agenda is to find what ails Kashmir and what remedy should be suggested to alleviate the suffering of the people. Since the separatists and dissenters, including the Hurriyat and its affiliates, have been complaining on various counts and bringing out protest rallies, the Government, conscious of its duties and responsibilities, responded by appointing a Committee to go into the complaints and submit its recommendations about how these would be redressed. Prior to that, an All Party Parliamentary delegation also did some exercise to apprise the Government how they assessed the situation. Team Interlocutors is a duly and formally accredited team and enjoys the powers to make on spot assessment of the situation and make its recommendations. It is a different matter whether the Government or the stakeholders accept the recommendations or not, but team's legitimacy and status cannot be challenged. The team is conducting its business on the clear and irrevocable understanding that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian Union and that it has some internal problems which need to be sorted out. It is this objective that has necessitated constitution of a conduit. This provides very reasonable ground for all stakeholders to ventilate their grievances and make suggestions. The Government is not bound to put a halt to the process of normalization if some groups and parties stick to their negative and non-cooperative approach to the process.
Again Shah says that they are not against talks and do not want to give the impression that they stick to denial mood. "From Lal Chowk to Chandni Chowk, we (Hurriyat) leaders are ready for talks", says Shabir, but at the same time he will talk only if the Hurriyat's five point proposal is accepted by the Union Government. The interlocutors have not put any condition to talks whereas the Hurriyat comes up with the package of conditions. This means they want to talk no talk. Despite all the exercise going on at various levels and at various times, Shabir thinks that "there is no fun in meeting as India shows no seriousness." What seriousness have Hurriyat groups shown in normalizing the situation? They have been stoking the embers by prompting people to go on strikes, lockouts and protest rallies? He wants UN's intervention forgetting that way back in 1998 when the then Secretary General Kofi Annan was on a visit to Pakistan he gave a statement that Security Council Resolutions of 1948 and 1949 could not be implemented as these had legal and technical flaw. This was reported by the Dawn of Pakistan. Apart from that, the UN General Secretaries have steadfastly held on to the position that Kashmir issue is to be resolved bilaterally and that the UN has no role in it. While Shabir has declined to talk to the interlocutors, he has welcomed their statement of finding a roadmap for the solution of Kashmir issue. Certainly the Union Government will welcome the roadmap that lays down the means and methods of taking back the part of the state illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947 and also the part she ceded to China in 1963. This is what the team of interlocutors is preoccupied with. This is the crux of Kashmir dispute.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

GODHRA JUDGMENT

 

The special court on Tuesday held 31 people guilty of burning the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002. 59 passengers, most of whom Kar Sevaks returning from Ayodhya, were burnt alive in the arson. Godhra tragedy exerted immense negative impact on domestic politics of the country. Stakeholders in national politics including the foremost mainstream party, tried to derive maximum political mileage out of the tragedy to showdown a strong regional political rival. Fake NGOs did not lag behind in exacerbating communal tension in the context of the incident. Polarization of national political institution was complete. The worst was that the former Railway Minister instituted a departmental enquiry by a judge not altogether impartial and unbiased. Such demeaning exercise battered our secular legacy and clouded communal harmony among the people of India. Quoting Godhra in support of or against one's argument became the fashion of the day. Look at the fallout of Godhra tragedy in the recent case of the Vice Chancellor of Deoband Darul-Ulum who had suggested that Muslims should move beyond 2002 and look at the development that was underway in Gujarat. Godhra remained a stain on our secular image. But now the judgment has come from a special court whose integrity is above board. Facts of the tragedy have been established after proper judicial process and placed before the nation. It is time that we make some introspection and see where we have faltered. Let this chapter be closed once for all and never talked about at any forum political and non political. It is sheer intransigence to determine who won or who lost out of this judgment. It has to be taken as a lesson that such man-made tragedy is a sign that denies us any claim to be called a civilized nation. Such events bring us defamation. Today India is accepted as a fast developing nation poised for a big leap forward. The time is not far off when India will be an economic power. In this scenario, when we are struggling hard to wriggle out of age-old poverty, backwardness and deprivation, should we do or think of things that will spill cold water on all these efforts and aspirations. Let us consign Godhra happening to forgotten pages of history, pray for the peace to the souls of the victims and resolve to restore mutual trust.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

COMMUNAL VIOLENCE IN INDIA

ON THE SPOT

BY TAVLEEN SINGH

 

Will verdict on Godhra bring closure in Gujarat? Probably not. But, it is time that it did if only because communal violence of that kind is something that is no longer possible in India. Had Narendra Modi understood this he would perhaps not have allowed the violence to spread and would have been even more careful about allowing Hindu fanatics from his own party to get away with what he did. As a novice chief minister at the time he appears to have been fooled into believing that if Rajiv Gandhi could emerge unscathed even after justifying the pogroms against the Sikhs in his first few days as prime minister then a few dead Muslims should leave him equally unmarked. It is worth remembering here that the Congress Party goons in Delhi were more efficient than the Bajrang Dal killers in Ahmedabad. The Congress Party was avenging the assassination of a prime minister (not 59 nameless kar sewaks) so what happened in Delhi in the first three days of November 1984 was a proper pogrom. More than 3000 Sikhs were massacred and not a single Hindu life was lost. In Gujarat both Hindus and Muslims were killed in the violence although many more Muslims died than Hindus. And, yet most Indians remember Rajiv as a 'secular' hero and despise Modi for being communal. Why is this?


For one reason and one reason alone. In November 1984 there were no private news channels in India and Doordarshan never showed pictures of communal violence. By the time the Sabarmati Express was attacked nine years ago on February 27, 2002 there were enough 24-hour news channels to cover the violence in details. Images of horror and death were beamed into homes across India and most Indians were disgusted by what they saw. The stories that came out of Gujarat were so compelling that feature films were made on the violence. Taking their cue from television newspapers in India covered the violence in more detail than they had ever covered other communal riots. The end result of all this was that Narendra Modi was seen as a wicked man not just by most Indians but by the international community as well. He continues to be denied entry to the United States and from time to time there is talk of taking the Gujarat violence up before the International Court of Justice in the Hague where other tyrants have been brought to book.


What happened in Gujarat was wrong. Very wrong. But, as someone who spent most of my reporting years covering communal violence I have been amazed by the amount of censure Modi has faced, in the media and in general, while we have quietly overlooked the horrible reality that under 'secular' Congress chief ministers we have seen some of the most sickening violence. We have forgotten that under supposedly secular leaders like Rajiv and Indira Gandhi there have been massacres and pogroms at the rate of one a year. From the time I became a reporter in the seventies I remember vividly the horrors of Nellie, Bhagalpur, Moradabad, Maliana, Hashimpura and then of course Delhi in 1984 which of all these horrible stories was the worst because it was the only pogrom.


When two communities fight the state can absolve itself of responsibility by saying that it tried to stop the violence but failed. When there is a pogrom it is the apparatus of the state that is used to conduct the violence and the only time this ever happened was when the Sikhs were killed in 1984. Those of us who were in Delhi during those three terrible days can confirm that the police, Congress politicians and officials down the line were complicit in the violence. I remember clearly the day that they decided that enough blood had been shed and the police were given shoot at sight orders. It took less than half a day for the killer mobs to vanish completely.


What happened in Gujarat was almost a pogrom but not quite. Narendra Modi allowed the Bajrang Dal to unleash its most vicious killers against the Muslims and his policemen were either incompetent or complicit but there were riots in which Hindus died along with Muslims. It was the death of 59 Hindus in the Sabarmati Express that started the violence and we now have a special court confirming that they were murdered and did not die in an accident. The Gujarat violence had another unique feature. It is probably the only time that the violence spread to villages and as someone who traveled to these villages a year after the violence I can report that I met killers who boasted that they could never be punished as long as Modi was chief minister. I saw villages in which Muslim areas remained uninhabited because people were too scared to return and I saw villages in which Hindu fanatics openly boasted about their hatred of Muslims. It was an ugly experience but in my view no uglier than meeting survivors of the Hashimpura massacre in 1987 in which the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) opened fire on a truck filled with Muslims they had taken into custody. Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister and Uttar Pradesh was ruled by a Congress chief minister at the time and as far as I know nobody has been punished for what happened.


What is important today is to make our political leaders aware that it is no longer possible to organize communal violence on a large scale. The media has made it impossible. It is equally important to point out that almost not a single state government in India has taken strict measures to ensure that communal violence is stopped before it happens. This can be done by holding officials and security personnel accountable for all violence that occurs on their watch and by giving policemen the authority to shoot rioters dead before they can perpetrate their evil deeds. So far the only reason why there has not been a major incident of communal violence since Gujarat is because of the media. It has to be sadly admitted that the Indian state for its part has done nothing. This is not good enough at a time when Islamists are doing their evil best to ensure that India explodes once more into an orgy of communal violence. This is why temples have been attacked across India and this is why 26/11 happened.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

WILL JPC ADD TO WORRIES OF PM

BY LALIT SETHI

 

The Joint Parliamentary Committee may be unprecedented in the plans to summon the Prime Minister for the first time in history to such a forum. Is it so because of the unprecedented alleged corruption and presumed unprecedented loss to the exchequer or is it that the seeds of this were sown more than ten years ago and nobody could then, or until recently, perceive that a great scam was in the making? Dr. Manmohan Singh is ready to be quizzed in any forum, be it the Public Accounts Committee or the Joint Parliamentary Committee in the face of the perceived sins of a coalition partner's nominee to the Union Cabinet, who is already in custody and has been questioned at length, the un-repenting A. Raja.


The Prime Minister is not quitting even as the shenanigans of the DMK, much written about in the media and seen on news screens, have caused tension, misery and agony beyond his wildest imagination. All these emotions were visible in the television Press conference. He was not on the verge of tears, nor angry, but apparently shocked beyond belief for something he had not done. But could he have stopped it? Could he have stopped a lot of things that go on in the name of government day in and day out, minute after minute? Is he answerable for everything because he is the man at the top, the leader of the nation? Even though almost all orders are issued in the name of the President, the head of State is not directly responsible in the scheme of the Constitution. But the Prime Minister is often blamed even when he cannot be present at every point. That is a fact of life. The body language of the Prime Minister at the televised Press conference was unmistakably saddening. It was not the man full of beans at his first Press conference in New Delhi's Vigyan Bhavan, who had offered himself as a pigeon to be thrown to a bunch of cats just about six years ago. Many other interactions with journalists, whether in flights or in different cities in the country or around the world or at parties or weddings, had revealed a man full of confidence and banter. This time round, he was ready to talk for 70 minutes instead of the planned 40, but when the questioning became strident, his media adviser intervened to stop what was described as interrogatory. He took a heavy toll; even as the ageing process showed, he appeared to be in good health and took the rough with the smooth, in fact, most of it was rough.


Not even the man believed to possess exceptional foresight and insight and himself a one-time Telecom Minister, Mr. Arun Shourie, is batting an eyelid yet. He may have already spoken to the investigators and is allegedly holier than the holiest of men and has been a technocrat-turned politician with World Bank credentials and the "father" of disinvestment. Was it not he who sold the public sector Modern Bakery for a song to a multinational, which shut it down and recovered presumptuous losses from the high-value real estate many times. Was it not the first disinvestment by the National Democratic Alliance or BJP, about which no eyebrows have been raised, yet it rankles and one is entitled to believe that this was one investment in prime land, which the Government could have put to better use by shutting the bakery first. Nobody has ever asked any questions of Mr. Arun Shourie because he is lucky, because he could not nor will do any wrong. Is it because he is or was also a high profile investigative journalist as well as an economist, who assisted a not too famous politician to become Prime Minister in the late 1980s for less than a year?


Nor need one ask Mr. Arun Shourie why he did not look into the activities of the playboy Minister, a fellowman in his own Cabinet, the late Mr. Pramod Mahajan, who started it all, the telecom rackets of sorts when the super new technology was brought to India. But the political reality and ethic of governance is that one does not pick on fellow party men if they don't cross your path, if they don't tread on your toes even if he works out of a personal gym better than any in the land and teaches a party professing and pretending to "renounce" high life, wining and dining in live in highly and excessively seven-star luxury hotel suits and meet at soundproof splendorous conference rooms. But that is all passé and an issue of the moment, which has caused extreme anguish to a Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, who is ready to face any parliamentary forum even though Prime Ministers are not hauled there, nor are they supposed to be. But without saying: "To hell with it all", he is ready to face it and speak up and stand up and be counted.


Yet the new JPC will take a long time to conclude its work even as the investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation take their time to fix the blame and prosecute the suspects, already in custody, with a possible confession by one of the officials, who is one of the accused to help speed up the trial, which is bound to be prolonged, no matter how quick the proceedings.


Since the Congress and United Progressive Alliance representatives from the two Houses of Parliament will be in a majority in the JPC and the Chairperson will be theirs, is it possible to speculate that the final report, no matter how long it takes, will go against the Prime Minister? Or will the Opposition record their dissenting opinion? Is this how the Budget Session of Parliament being saved from being wasted like the Winter Session? Perhaps, that is how it is. What will be the end result? Time will tell or will it fail to tell? (NPA)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

73rd amendment and Panchayati Raj Institutions

By Ramesh Arora

 

Democracy is a system of involvement of a common man in decision making process. Decentralization of power is the basic ingredient and power comes from public in political circles and has to go back in public by election system at different levels.


Especially, when we talk of Panchayati Raj Institutions Constitution 73rd amendment Act 1992 has great significance. Consequent to the 73rd constitution amendment act political decentralization has taken place in many states, where elections have been held in the country. However, progress on fiscal and functional decentralization has been mixed. There are states which have taken steps to devolve funds, functions and functionaries to the Panchayati Raj Institutions. State Finance Commission is to be constituted under the 73rd amendment by Governor of the State.


State Finance Commissions of different states have submitted their recommendations but very few states have taken the steps to ensure fiscal viability of the Panchayati Raj Institutions.


The Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act received the assent of Governor on 8th July 1989. The Act provide for constitution Halqa Panchayats, Block Development Councils and district planning and development boards.


In preface it was observed that it is expedient to promote and develop Panchayati Raj in the state as an instrument of vigorous local self-government to secure the effective participation of the people in decision making process and for over seeing implementation of developmental programmes.


But this intention expressed in the Act is not implemented in sprit. 73rd amendment is a step towards more decentralization of powers. Why our state is not ready to take experience of other states?


Except for Assam,, Arunanchal Pradesh, Bihar and Pondicherry Panchayats have been constituted in most of the states in India where they were to be set up according to the new provision after 73rd amendment.
Jammu and Kashmir government has not decided so far although these are proposals. Mr. Abdul Rahim Rathar Minister for Finance says that our Act is better and there is no need to adopt 73rd amendment which deals with Panchayats and 74th amendment which deals with local bodies Municipalities etc. But the facts are otherwise infact our state government do not want to part with political and financial powers.


Infact after 73rd amendment and as a result of elections to Panchayati Raj Institutions in different states and Union Territories 2,27,698 Panchayats at village level, 5906 Panchayasts at intermediate level and 474 Panchayats at the District level have been constituted in the country. These Panchayats are being manned at about 34 lakh elected representatives at all levels of them one third are women. This is the broadest representatives base that exists in any country in the world. Why Jammu and Kashmir is not part to it.
Under the provisions of 73rd amendment states have to constitute State Finance Commissions. Except for Sikkim and Goa State Finance Commission constituted after the amendment have submitted their report to their respective state governments.


Recommendations of the state finance commission has been accepted in toto by ten states including Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. While Andra Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur, Haryana and Maharashtra, the state governments. In Gujrat, the report is yet to be placed before State Legislature. The Government of Assam has accepted in part and same is the case of Orissa government.


The above subjects, maximum states have not attracted serious attention.


In fact experience says that resource mobilization by the Panchayati Raj Institutions is generally limited, it is imperative to provide Panchayati Raj Institution with revenue raising powers of their own in order to reduce their excessive dependence on the state and Centre government. In fact till such time they are Financially dependent on funds from the state, the State Budgets should specify the amount earmarked for District Sector plan under Panchayati Raj and also their distribution among three tiers.


In state like Gujrat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tripura, Orissa, UP and West Bengal detail instructions has already been issued and many departmental functionaries have been placed with the Panchayats. The Govt. of Madhya Pradesh has transferred 18 departments. Panchayati Raj Institution with administrative control over class III and IV employees deputed to the Panchayats.


The Govt. of Kerala has transferred Agriculture, Health, Veterinary and Primary Education Deptts. To the Panchayats.


But state of Jammu and Kashmir is not serious to implement 73rd amendment. Autonomy is demanded but if we will implement the 73rd amendment in real spirit it will be a step toward greater Autonomy.
73rd amendment contain provision of Gram Sabha and Gram Sabha may exercise such powers and perform such functions at the village level as the legislature of a state may provide by law.


All the seats of Panchayat shall be filled by person chosen by direct election. 73rd amendment also provide reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It further has the provision for reservation of seats for women belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.


The Governor of a state shall as soon as may be within one year from the commencement of the 73rd amendment Act 1992 and thereafter at the expiration of every fifth year, constitution a Finance Commission to review the Financial Position of the Panchayats and make recommendations to the Governor.


Different subject are to be considered by these commission including distribution between the state and the Panchayats of net proceeds of the taxes, duties, tolls and fee livable by the state etc.


Infact we have our own act but most of the subjects indicated in 73rd amendment act are missing. We were not able to spent 260 crore rupees due to non-existence of Panchayati Raj system.


Let the state take initiative and go ahead with 73rd amendment as same is demand of BJP and Congress also and even NC and PDP has also favoured decentralization of power.


It will be autonomy in real sense and a substitute to the demand of autonomy of NC and self-rule of PDP.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

THE CWG IMBROGLIO

NEW ARRESTS BUT MUCH WORK STILL REMAINS

 

Faced with a barrage of criticism that the big fish in the Commonwealth Games scam are managing to get away while relatively smaller fry were arrested more as an eyewash, the arrests of two key aides of the erstwhile organizing committee chief Suresh Kalmadi — former secretary general Lalit Bhanot and former director-general V.K. Verma — deserve a cautious welcome. The two aides have been charged for criminal conspirary, cheating and under various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act for a Rs 107 crore deal with a Swiss firm. Considering that both of them have been consistently saying that all decisions on contracts were taken by the executive board keeping the chairman in the picture, it would be surprising if Mr Kalmadi is not called to account adequately. But so much time has elapsed since the scam first came into the open that it is hard to believe that the evidence would not have been tampered with in the intervening months.

 

Besides, Mr Kalmadi is no pushover. His assertion that he could be deemed to be accountable for only five per cent of the total expenditure incurred for the Games (since the organizing committee budget was only five per cent of the total) and that for the rest it was the Delhi government and the Central government that should be answerable is indicative of his combative mood. Though his demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee into the Commonwealth Games scam has been cold-shouldered, the pressure on the CBI to bring politicians and bureaucrats who were connected with various sanctions and contracts under scrutiny would be difficult to resist. Whatever may have been Kalmadi's culpability, his assertion that all the decisions related to the Games were taken collectively and there were also government nominees overseeing every process cannot be brushed aside.

 

The ball is now in the CBI's court. It has to convince the media and people at large that it means business, that it is not pandering to vested interests and that it is earnest in its desire to bring the culprits to book regardless of their political clout or status. Failure to do so would not only damage its own credibility but also that of the UPA government.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

DASTARDLY CARNAGE

JUSTICE DELAYED, BUT SHOULD NOT BE DENIED

 

Reports of massacre of some 20 Sikhs, including women and children, at Chhillar village of Rewari district have caused an understandable public outrage. Equally shocking is the state-sponsored cover-up of the heinous crime against innocent people by the then Congress government headed by Bhajan Lal. According to the FIR lodged at Haryana's Jatusana police station, 20 persons lost their lives in the killings at Chhillar village. Official connivance is evident from the fact that even the FIR lodged by the then sarpanch of the village about the massacre on November 2, 1984, is untraceable. The fate of post-mortem reports is uncertain. The state government records claim only three Sikhs were killed in Haryana in the 1984 mob attacks on the community.

 

It is not that the massacre was previously unknown. According to a report in a Jalandhar-based Punjabi daily, the issue was raised in the Haryana assembly on March 25, 1985, by Lok Dal member Sujan Singh, who alleged the death of 17 people. No follow-up action was taken. Earlier, the Bhajan Lal government had incurred the wrath of the Sikh community after its members passing through Haryana were humiliated during the 1982 Asian Games. It is natural for Sikh organisations to disbelieve the state government records of deaths at that time.

 

There is a clear case for an independent inquiry, preferably by a judge of unimpeachable integrity, to ferret out the truth and fix responsibility so that the accused are brought to justice. The rule of law must prevail. It will not be an easy task since much time has elapsed but still eyewitnesses and survivors of the ghastly attacks are alive and willing to testify. Their faith in the justice system must be restored. Meanwhile, the public should be wary of petty leaders trying to squeeze political mileage out of the unfortunate incident. All these years they had kept quiet. The media too should guard against carrying provocative and irresponsible statements. The situation needs careful handling by all since the issue is sensitive.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

SETTING RAPISTS FREE

SUPREME COURT ORDER KICKS UP A STORM

 

The Supreme Court's acceptance of a compromise reached between three convicts and their rape victim and the subsequent reduction of their sentence from 10 years of rigorous imprisonment to three and half years' jail which they have already served have triggered an avoidable controversy. In an important order, a Bench consisting of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra has ruled that though Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code dealing with rape is a non-compoundable (i.e. which cannot be compromised) offence, there are "adequate and special reasons" in the criminal law for providing relief to the convicts in question. As the incident occurred in 1997 and the parties have entered into a compromise, the Bench upheld the conviction of the three persons by both the trial court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court, but reduced the period of sentence already undergone by them in view of the proviso to Section 376 (2) (g).

 

The Bench, in its wisdom, may have taken a judicious decision to set the victims free. However, there are reasonable apprehensions that the ruling may send a wrong signal to the nation and blunt the campaign to tackle the increasing menace of rape firmly. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, while more than 53 rape cases are recorded everyday, a total of 21,397 rape cases were reported countrywide in 2009. The Bench may have raised the fine for the three convicts from Rs 1,000 to Rs 50,000 each, but this does not meet the ends of justice.

 

Rape is a heinous crime. It disturbs the woman emotionally and its memory haunts her forever. The concept of "marital rape" may have gained currency, but is still not recognised in India under the law except when the wife is below 12 years. The other new trend is of raping the woman and then proposing marriage, if the accused feels that he would be convicted. Though the Supreme Court has endorsed this in some cases, including the practice of giving monetary compensation to the woman by the accused, it does not necessarily serve the purpose of the law and jurisprudence. What about the rapist's criminal liability for the offence committed by him? Without undergoing exemplary punishment which also acts as a deterrent, rapists should not be allowed to get away by striking a compromise or paying compensation to the victims.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

THE PHENOMENON OF JAT ASSERTION

CASTE CLEAVAGE GROWING IN HARYANA

BY D.R. CHAUDHRY

 

The Jat assertion bordering on aggressiveness was seen in a virulent form at Mirchpur. The 11-day blockade of rail tracks, national and state highways by Jats in a sizeable part of Haryana was described by The Tribune in its editorial dated January 29 as a " long spell of lawlessness…..where a section of the people held the state to ransom". It was a realm of nightmare where the state literally withered away in a part of Haryana. Even the critically ill and marriage parties were not allowed to cross the barricades. All sections of society were put to a crippling inconvenience, the poor and daily wage earners suffered the most. The Punjab and Haryana High Court described the situation as unacceptable and the Supreme Court directed the Haryana government to deal with the agitators effectively or be prepared for drastic steps by the court " the kind of which not seen so far".

 

The phenomenon of the Jat aggressiveness has to be seen in its historical context. The Jats have been largely free from the rigours of the Brahminical ideology. The antipathy and disgust shown towards Dalits in some other states (in Maharashtra, for instance, a high-caste Hindu getting polluted if the shadow of a Dalit fell upon him or if he stepped on the foot prints left by a Dalit) was never seen in case of Haryana Jats, freeing them from the stranglehold of purity and pollution syndrome.

 

The priest in Jat villages has been more an object of ridicule rather than veneration. Thus, the reformist content of the Arya Samaj pouring scorn on the elaborate rituals of the Brahminical clergy fostering numerous superstitions appealed to the Jats and they lapped it avidly. The Brahminical clergy came under a heavy onslaught by the Arya Samaj preachers and singers. Widow marriage, desired by the Arya Samaj, has been practised by Jats since ages through the custom of "karewa" and "naata". One cannot find a single Jat widow in the widow homes at Varindavan and Kashi, where high-caste widows lead a dehumanised existence.

 

The present conflict between the Jats and the Dalits in Haryana as seen at Dulina, Harsola, Gohana and some other places, now reaching a climax at Mirchpur village in Hisar district, looks paradoxical, keeping in view the liberal ethos of the Jats. A trifling incident of altercation between a Jat and a Dalit in Mirchpur led to a horrendous act of a mob torching Dalit hamlets on April 21, 2010, where a 70-year-old Dalit and his polio-stricken daughter were charred to death. The rest is history.

 

There is a flip side to the Jat psyche. The Jats are no longer a clan as they used to be in the hoary past but the clannish mindset still persists. Ego, prestige, pride and a deep sense of brotherhood impelling one to help one's kinsmen are important traits that cement clannish bonding as is reflected in the structure and functioning of khap panchayats of Jats. After the onset of modernisation and liberalisation a band of Jats has emerged that has acquired affluence through real estate, brick-kilns, service or business ventures and they strive to acquire a niche in the socio-political landscape of the state. They are in the forefront on various issues like amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, reservations in government jobs, staging dharnas, organising blockades etc. The age-old institution of khap comes quite handy to them for mass mobilisation. Instead of a rational debate on the merits of an issue, they appeal to the primordial instincts of the community to charge it in order to build pressure on the power apparatus. This was best illustrated in the prolonged rail and road blockade on the Mirchpur episode organised by a number of khaps in Hisar and Jind districts.

 

Since the Jats constitute the largest and electorally influential community in Haryana, the status quoist political elites of Haryana tend to be on their right side. If the administration had acted speedily after the carnage in Mirchpur and hauled up the kingpins who organised it, the matter would not have take the ugly turn. The state apparatus woke up from its slumber after Rahul Gandhi's visit to Mirchpur. In a panic hyper action more than 100 persons were arrested indiscriminately involving a sizeable number who were allegedly not a party to the episode. This understandably infuriated Jats who took to the war path to browbeat the authorities.

 

Now the caste cleavage between the Jats and the Dalits in the state is too wide to be bridged easily. Some are keen to give it a Jat-versus-non-Jat twist. One leader has floated a "Vanchit Varg Sangharsh Samiti," suggesting that all the people in the state except the Jats are "vanchit" (deprived"). Another affluent non-Jat has appointed himself as the president of a Non-Jat organisation. In fact, deprivation is not the sole preserve of any single community. The economic crisis is so deep that a large part of every community falls in this category.

 

The caste conflict is symptomatic of the sweeping changes taking place in the economic and agrarian relations in the state. The Green Revolution has reached a plateau and there is a crisis in agriculture. With the fragmentation of land-holdings and a high cost of inputs, farming has become a losing concern, putting agriculture labour too in distress. There is an upward mobility in a section of the Dalits through reservations in jobs and other state affirmative actions. With the breakdown of the Jajmani system, Dalits are no longer tagged to the farming communities and have started asserting themselves. This sometimes tends to create a conflict.

 

The caste-ridden society compels a section of it to lead an inhuman life which finds no sanction in any ethical, spiritual or humanistic belief system. Divisive tendencies like caste and others pave the way for opportunist elements to capture power by relying on populist rhetoric and money power, which poses a serious threat to the democratic values and inclusive development. It is incumbent on the part of the administration to see that no section of society is allowed to take law in its own hands so that those who have remained under social oppression for ages have their rightful place in society and get due share in the fruits of development.

 

The real issues being faced by society are skewed development, growing unemployment, rampant corruption, rising prices, crisis in agriculture, pathetic plight of those in the unorganised sector (according to the findings of the Arjun Sengupta Commision on Unorganised Enterprises, 77 per cent of Indians live on less than 20 rupees a day) and such other problems.

 

This poses a grave threat to the Indian democracy. The recent events in Egypt should be an eye-opener. The per capita income is higher and the incidence of poverty lower in Egypt than in India. Yet people rose and put an end to the prolonged dictatorship there. Democracy in India acts as a safety valve. It too is under strain now from various quarters. It must be saved and strengthened in the larger interest of the toiling masses of India. This is a challenge to the liberal, democratic intelligentsia to give a constructive direction to the socio-political milieu of our society.

 

The writer, a retired academic from Delhi University, specialises on socio-cultural affairs.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

LOVE AT THE LEVEL CROSSING

BY SURJIT SINGH

 

It was one of those still, warm, sultry evenings in the summer of '65. As an Assistant Superintendent of Police I was then undergoing 'Tear Smoke Course' at the Police Training College, Phillaur.

 

That particular evening I happened to be travelling with a coursemate to Ludhiana in his car. The trip had ostensibly been arranged by him to facilitate the Assistant Principal and his wife's attendance at a wedding reception. We had to stop at the Phillaur level crossing because of an incoming train. The passengers of a rickety old Punjab Roadways bus, which seemed to have broken down, were already waiting impatiently at the crossing ahead of us. Dusk had descended and was inching towards an uneasy darkness when a tall girl handsomely endowed in looks and stature approached my companion and asked him for a lift. Anxiety was writ large on her face, but before he could muster courage to react, I quickly quipped in, "no problem at all" and the girl gratefully hopped into our car.

 

We first went to drop the assistant principal and his wife at the reception venue before proceeding to drop the girl at her residence. By now she seemed reassured that we were officers and gentlemen and felt comfortable. She insisted that we come in to meet her parents. I greeted her father, a retired officer of the Royal Indian Engineers. He thanked me for escorting his daughter safely, even as an instant chord was struck between us! Several days later I mentioned the incident casually to a friend, also an IPS officer then, and to my pleasant surprise he knew the girl's family well.

 

My date with the family was fixed in August 1965. I paid for private journey in the official jeep and drove into their Chandigarh residence on the appointed day. I still vividly recall the trolley in the drawing room, laden with fruits and snacks (possibly on a returnable basis). The apple of my eye significantly picked up an apple, proceeded to slice it and dropped the first slice much to her embarrassment. The bells rang, the knot was tied and the rest is history.

 

Over the years that we have been together, we have braved our highs and lows and despite our diverse views, upbringing, perceptions and interests, right down to food preferences, have arrived at the fusion of a deep-rooted relationship of mutual trust, respect, abiding love and concern. My wife reminds me at times that she was barely 20 when we were married, possibly implying that she has put up with me for 45 years, but I know deep down that the real import of these occasional utterances is a subtle reminder of something profound in our togetherness. What else could one pray for!

 

Any Bollywood takers for this real-life story? The railways, courtesy our worthy minister's largesse, would be more than willing to dole out a handsome subsidy for a script that foregrounds the level crossing coincidence provided, of course, it is transported from Punjab to West Bengal!

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

FACELESS FETISH OR A SOCIAL REVOLUTION?

WITH THE TUNISIANS HAVING ENJOYED THE FRAGRANCE OF JASMINE AND THE EGYPTIANS THROWING (OVER) MORE THAN SHOES, ONE IS BOUND TO TAKE NOTE OF WHAT STARTED IT ALL. THE SPARK WAS IGNITED ON THE SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITES. SO IS THE VIRTUAL SOCIAL THE NEW REAL?

MOHIT SHARMA

 

I am not good at maintaining relationships. I feel particularly distressed by the prospect of picking up the phone and calling an old friend whom I have not spoken to in a long time. We just do not share common interests and the equation we had earlier, when we lived in a similar setting, it just does not exist anymore. I am sure that while you all might not be as socially awkward as I am, you would agree that there does seem to be an inertial barrier when it comes to rekindling and maintaining such relationships. And then, if you turn out to be a social bumblebee like yours truly in today's world, with all its focus on networking, then God help you.

 

So when I logged on to Facebook and started trying out their new and cool helpful features, you can imagine how beautifully my fatalism shattered. One simple status message update ensures an end to all jibes from near and dear ones. A comment on a pretty photograph leads to an interesting conversation. One is able to follow, one's favourite columnists, artists, newspapers, magazines, photographers and thinkers from all over the world. Friends with varied interests keep posting interesting links and snippets which give you access to information you would just not have come across in routine life. Social interest groups put you in touch with like-minded people from around the world.

 

On a deeper plane, the idea of online social networking helps us connect with people, no matter how far they are from us physically, at hitherto unimaginable levels. Facebook, MySpace and Linkedin are the new matchmakers, classifieds, headhunters, all rolled into one - from scrabble buddies to dates to vacation homes and even more, you find everything and everyone out here.

 

This is the new grapevine. This is where most public conversation happens. Today when people ask you to spread the word, it is your twitter status that they are asking for. News spreads faster than an Aussie bushfire out here.

 

Apart from the regular fanfare, there is something else at play here as well which we should not lose sight of. When you put 500 million people from around the world, across regions, religions and races together on a common platform, more than the differences it is the similarities which will get highlighted. Denying your populations the basic rights and freedoms they need to fulfill themselves is unlikely to work in our times, given that these people now have a window to the outside world and an intimate knowledge of how things work elsewhere.

 

Tunisians and Egyptians, who had suffered for long at the hands of their iron-fist rulers, connected with each other via Facebook, decided that they had had enough, and simply marched and protested their way to freedom with their governors looking on helplessly. Bahrain and Yemen are in the throes of similar protests. Arabs in Saudi Arabia and Jordan are giving their leaders the jitters. One almost wishes that our youth would 'hang' scamsters in public with such public trials, given the complacent mould our government and opposition have slipped into vis-à-vis corruption.

 

But, as with every idea, there is a flip side to online social networking as well. Quite a few critics of the phenomenon believe that it has taken away a sense of meaning from most relationships.

 

Today, you have people making up online personas reflecting what they want to project themselves as, rather than who they are which can lend hollowness to most relationships. Then again, in our zeal to be the foremost trend-spotters, we often end up making hasty predictions such as one leading writer Roger Cohen of the New York Times who says that Facebook is causing the revolution in Tunisia. Malcolm Gladwell goes on to even state that the so-called revolutions of today are no revolutions as compared to the ones the world has seen - such as the Black Civil Rights' Movement in the 1960's.

 

The writer is a final-year civil engineering student of IIT, Bombay

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

REVOLUTION GONE VIRTUAL

NOSHEEN KAPOOR

 

If there was a graph representing man's social quotient, then in the present times, it would have gone through the roof. This is no 'smile-at-strangers' or 'say-hello-to-passers-bye' socialising that we're referring to, but hardcore, social 'networks' developing each passing minute. All thanks to the virtual sphere of social networking that has made us more social than the good old 'social animal' Aristotle had talked of.

 

For most of us, Orkut, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (another popular social networking website in US) and the like are more familiar than our immediate neighbours. We all know how Twitter jeopardised Shashi Tharoor's political career, and how Facebook has declared itself the authority in the lives of so many tweens, teens and even adults. From the simple 'what's on your mind' to 'Farmville', Facebook got more people hooked on to it than even the life-saving yoga practices of Ramdev. Seems like people would prefer dying with a bigger friends list than a healthier heart! So this social/virtual world is definitely big!

 

Now what does this widespread insanity (not confined to gender or age) mean? The sociologists have a mixed view on the way social networking sites are tending to blur the distinction between the private and the public self. Psychologists seem to be applying personality theories to the individuals who use them. Ketaky Sharma, HR Manager, with a Masters in Psychology, says: "It really has helped many introverts interact and carry the advantages over to real life. However, emotionally vulnerable users should be extra-cautious. So I say, keep a wise head on your shoulders, and you will never come across the shadiness of online social networking".

 

Nidhi Kohli, working as a Social Media Marketing Executive with CueBlocks, an E-Commerce Solution Company, points out, "Social networking is the virtual network-based social gatherings, perhaps the second best use of Internet our race has known, the first being the e-mail." Cyber activism is all about the way in which social networking sites are fast becoming forums where both the authorities and dissenters play games. For instance, An activist, Fouad Mourtada was arrested for creating a fake Facebook account of Moroccan King's brother on the Facebook.

 

A woman in an American restaurant was fired for putting on Facebook, the rudeness of a customer who had refused her a tip. She was fired by her manager who was also in her friend list. Ajinkya Bhosale, (a professional from Infosys Technologies, Pune) says, "It was a great medium for friends separated by distances to bond. But now it is obviously bringing about a social change as we've seen in Egypt. However, virtual activism can only trigger and connect the revolutionaries. The real work of bringing a change can't be accomplished online, for that action is required and the streets have to be measured." Prashanta Gowda, a business man from Bangalore, has a totally different take, "I am totally against these. Though I did have a profile on them, yet it didn't mean any value addition to my life."

 

No doubt, the gap is narrowing between the virtual and the real worlds for sure, but sometimes the virtual world works in our destiny's favor and we end up making a real life-changing choice. If someone found her soul mate on Orkut, someone else struck friendship with another, sitting thousands of miles away. Though distances between people are fast shrinking, there are problems such as cyber stalking, raised by paedophiles and other miscreants who scour these pages for possible victims. Aastha Bhai Chibber (who is working with an IT company) voices her concerns over privacy issues, "These may connect people but have brought down the privacy of people to zero. Each social networking website has its own pros and cons and the boundary separating their use and misuses is blurring." Acknowledging this, Avantika says, "A profile on the social networking sites does make you vulnerable and also increases the chances of misuse of data."

 

Whether we love it or hate it, such social networking sites have certainly transformed our process of socialisation, far beyond the usual befriending and chatting. Businesses are already getting major windfall gains and soon the latest buzz of social buying will catch up (heard about Group On, Snap Deal; Group Ons Indian equivalent and the likes?) and the social graph is going to get more colorful and ever more interesting.

 

Gautam Sharma, a Mumbai-based free lance writer and film maker, sums it quite well, "It's the electronic version of drugs. Love it or hate it, you can't keep away from it. Once you are on it you can't live without it."

 

The writer is manager copywriting, CueBlocks technologies, Chandigarh

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEW

EVERY CITY ITS SEASON

PABLO BARTHOLOMEW'S IMAGES OF BOMBAY ARE IN DEEP CONTRAST WITH TODAY'S MUMBAI WHICH IS FULL OF UGLY HOARDINGS

 

There are times in the lives of cities when the city seems suddenly to spawn great music, art, literature and architecture. At the turn of the 19th century, Vienna was such a place.


Decadence creeps stealthily into cities, and it is often driven by demagogues and bigots, and Vienna was no exception for there was even in the early 1900's, the menace of anti-Semitism: from 1905, Vienna was the home of Adolf Hitler, the man who, three decades later, turned what was once the heart of an empire into a provincial backwater.


Two modern writers of historical fiction capture the soul of fin-de-siècle Vienna. Frank Tallis, a clinical psychologist and a lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry and at King's College, London, is the author of the Lierbmann Papers series of historical fiction detective novels featuring Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt and his close friend and associate, Dr Max Liebermann. Liebermann is a young psychoanalyst, and a friend of Sigmund Freud, who appears in almost every one of the novels in the series. There is more to Tallis's books than straightforward detective mystery. We see the many faces of Vienna at the height of its cultural pre-eminence and, too, its seamier, sleazier side of prostitutes and destitutes. There are wonderful descriptions of Vienna's café culture (complete with loving descriptions of various coffees and pastries), but there is also the darker edge of an increasingly virulent anti-Semitism. Liebermann is, after all, Jewish and acutely aware of these undercurrents. In the latest novel in the series, Death and the Maiden (a reference to Schubert's 1817 masterwork; Liebermann is an accomplished pianist and Rheinhardt a fine amateur baritone), the two protagonists meet Gustav Mahler, then the Director of the Vienna Court Opera. Classical music is soaked into these lives. It is for them, as Tallis says, "not so much a pleasure as a way of life."

 

A Requiem in Vienna is one of two detective novels by J Sydney Jones. Here too we meet Mahler, but we also meet one of the most colourful personalities of that age, Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel. The subject of a deliciously wicked song by the Harvard mathematician, Tom Lehrer, Alma Schindler was no stranger to scandal. She took as her husbands or lovers some of the greatest figures of the time: Gustav Mahler; the architect Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus and The Architects Collaborative in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the writer Franz Werfel, among others.

 

The most intense evocation of the city, and the mapping of its decline, is in Stefan Zweig's The World of Yesterday, published posthumously after his suicide in 1942 near Rio. Zweig, famous for his novellas, including the near-perfect The Royal Game, was a born in 1881 into a wealthy and cultured Jewish family in Vienna. He first published at the age of 19. By the 1920's and 1930's he was world-famous. His circle included the who's who of the time: Freud, Mahler, Toscanini, Rodin, Wells, Maxim Gorki, Joyce, Ravel, Strauss and Rilke. Romain Rolland was a close friend. His might have been a charmed life – he travelled a very great deal, including to India, and he had money – but WWI and its aftermath, and the rise of Nazism corrupted the Vienna he loved. He was himself persecuted, his books banned (and not easily available till fairly recently). Ultimately, before emigrating to England and then to Brazil, Zweig fled Vienna for a remote house near Salzburg. Shortly after, a man he did not then know took up residence nearby. His name was Adolf Hitler.

The Bombay of the 1970s and 1980s in Pablo Bartholomew's black and white photographs, now on show at the Sakshi Art Gallery, is almost unrecognisable. There are signboards in some of the images, but no hoardings obscure the buildings. We see city artefacts – steps, lamps – but most of all there are the city's people, both famous and unknown. This is a Bombay (not Mumbai) lost to time. Bartholomew's images evoke a city of an even earlier age: a Bombay of the 1950's and 1960's when young artists of the day, now all legends, formed the Progressive Artists Group; when film makers, writers, actors and theatre people were still driven by the idea of India. The deep contrasts of Bartholomew's images show what we have lost: a once-bright confidence eroded by the despondency of mere hope.

 

GAUTAM PATEL THE PRACTICING LAWYER MAKES ARGUMENTS HERE HE CAN'T ALWAYS MAKE IN COURT

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

COLUMN

JASMINE AND OIL

INDIA WILL HAVE TO PAY SOME PRICE FOR ARAB FREEDOM

With crude oil prices hitting a 30-month high, as Brent crude moved close to $120 a barrel, it was only natural that the Indian rupee and the markets took a beating on Thursday. Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain are not oil-exporting nations, but Libya is. While Libya is only the world's 12th largest exporter, it has reportedly cut at least 400,000 barrels of production per day (bpd) out of the country's 1.6 million bpd. It is important to note that Libya is not a major source of oil imports for India, with a share of less than 5 per cent in Indian crude oil imports. India's primary sources, Saudi Arabia (around 20 per cent), Iran (around 15 per cent), Kuwait, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates (around 10 per cent each) account for almost two-thirds of India's crude oil imports. Supply from the region as a whole is unlikely to be disrupted unless the present unrest in the Arab world, dubbed the "Jasmine Revolution", reaches the region's core, namely Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia pumps around 10 per cent of the world's oil supplies and is the only country with adequate reserves to meet a supply shortage created by any further disruption to Libyan supplies. Consequently, as the unrest spreads, analysts expect oil prices to continue to firm up.

The negative impact of these trends on domestic inflation, the government's subsidy bill and the economics of Indian oil companies should be obvious. However, the medium-term impact of the current uncertainty should not be exaggerated and would depend to a large extent on how speculative activity is kept under check. It may be recalled that the sharp crude oil price spike in 2005 was largely on account of speculation. This time, the overall environment is even more conducive to one-way bets. If major suppliers and major consumers of oil keep an eye on speculation, it may be possible to moderate the spurt in oil prices on account of the uncertainty in West Asia. Perhaps France should take the initiative, as chair of G20, and call for a G20 discussion and action on oil prices. The last thing the world economy needs now is a slowdown in growth on account of the uncertainty caused by the situation in the Arab world and the Persian Gulf. As a member of the G20, Saudi Arabia can be urged to take steps that help stabilise both the region and the markets and ensure that adequate supplies are forthcoming.

 

 At home, the government must make proper use of the extant environment by urging Parliament to accept the inevitability of raising energy prices, especially diesel, kerosene and LPG. Having politically welcomed the "Jasmine Revolution" and expressed its solidarity with the people on the Arab street, India's opposition parties, especially the Left, should be mature enough to accept the logic of such social disruption in the Arab world. One cannot have one's cake and eat it too. If you support revolutions and democratisation, then you have to accept the cost of such disruption and be prepared to pay it. What this means for India is higher petroleum and petroleum product prices.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

AI'S FLIGHT PLIGHT

SUBSIDISE SPECIFIC ROUTES RATHER THAN AN ENTIRE AIRLINE

The government may be well within its legal rights to censure Air India's Austrian COO Gustav Balduf for breaking his confidentiality agreement and complaining of political interference to a national newspaper earlier this week. But listening a little more closely to Balduf's message may do the airline a world of good, especially now that Air India's four independent directors are also questioning the management. It doesn't take a finance specialist to fathom that Air India is a failed enterprise that is being kept alive only by political will. Anywhere else in the world, a commercial entity that has run up a debt of Rs 40,000 crore on a topline of Rs 8,000 crore would be closed forthwith because no buyer would touch it. But with Air India, the more things change the more they remain the same. Consider the United Progressive Alliance's track record. Since it came to power in 2004, it has pumped in Rs 2,000 crore of taxpayers' money into the airline. Yet, the airline continued to bleed with accumulated losses at Rs 15,000 crore. At a time when the aviation market was tanking, the then civil aviation minister Praful Patel decided to splurge Rs 46,000 crore to add 111 aircraft to its fleet and generously pave the way for private competition to soar. On the politically prickly question of actually downsizing the airline's 29,000-strong staff – the single biggest cause of the airline's problems – there was silence. Bizarrely, more than half the airline's debt – Rs 21,000 crore – comprises working capital loans that the management has borrowed to pay its bloated, inefficient and intransigent staff. The airline's 14 unions have struck work twice since 2004, mainly on the issue of downsizing, demonstrating the same acute sense of irresponsibility that has brought the trade union movement into disrepute in India.

The new minister, Vayalar Ravi, has not displayed any striking originality of thought since he took charge. He has suggested that the Indian taxpayer donate the ailing airline another Rs 10,000 crore to maintain it in its state of steady sickness. This is actually an underestimation; Air India's management reckons it needs Rs 17,500 crore. Also, Ravi's trade union background has meant a warm welcome from the trade unions that have steadfastly declined salary cutbacks, let alone retrenchment. They know he speaks the same language — which is perhaps why Air India's pilots have sent the airline yet another strike notice in the confidence that the former Kerala Students Union organiser will accede to their demands, no matter how unreasonable they are. Mr Baldauf's complaint about political interference is odd, since he should have known when he took the job that such interference comes with the territory! Air India has long ceased to be a commercial entity: it is of the government, exists for the government and is run by the government. The service it renders as a "national carrier", flying uneconomic but important routes, can be performed by any airline if such routes are openly subsidised by the government. The exchequer would save money if it were to subsidise specific routes rather than an entire airline. The time to privatise is here and now.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

 

AKASH PRAKASH: CONFRONTING THE FISCAL REALITY

The forthcoming Budget is a real opportunity for the UPA government to regain momentum and show the country that it is firmly in charge. One of the concerns of global investors is the sense of drift and helplessness in Delhi as well as the total stalling of reforms. Investors are convinced that if policy makers continue to fail to assert themselves, it is only a matter of time before both corporate and consumer confidence will be impacted, with telling consequences on growth.

As for what investors want to see, the first priority has to be fiscal consolidation. Without the government regaining control of the fiscal, most investors do not see how inflation can be brought under control. If the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is to continue battling inflation single-handedly, it is bound to eventually tip over the economy with sustained interest rate hikes. Fiscal policy has to play its part. Interest rates have to moderate to enable the supply-side constraints to ease through higher private sector investment. Investors are worried that India is entering a sustained period of high rates and sticky inflation. Without fiscal correction, rates will not moderate.

The March 2011 deficit numbers will be met, thanks to a high nominal GDP base and the spectrum windfall. Can we get to the outlined 4.8 per cent fiscal deficit target for 2012? Arguably, even more important than the 4.8 per cent number is the net borrowing target for the central government. This absolute number should come in below Rs 3.6 lakh crore to ensure there is enough space for private sector funding requirements, and interest rates and liquidity are not stretched, nor are we beholden to foreign capital flows.

Most investors are not convinced of the government's ability to hit the 4.8 per cent target for 2012, given the absence of one-time windfalls like the 3G spectrum auctions in 2012. Beyond a disinvestment target of Rs 50,000 crore, the government will have to come up with some other windfall to hit the 4.8 per cent fiscal deficit target. Two obvious candidates are a one-time overseas black money amnesty scheme, and the beginnings of a process to more systematically monetise government assets, starting with the auction of coal blocks, idle land and FM licences. Another source of windfall gain can be 2G telecom licence fees and penalties. One will look for announcements on all these fronts.

From 2013, ideally both the direct taxes code (DTC) and the goods and services tax (GST) will be in operation, and hence the central government will have less need for one-off gains, while the auctioning of government assets like coal should become a continuing process. The finance minister needs to bring the spending trajectory down to 10-12 per cent growth, while not starving capital expenditure.

Let's hope the finance minister does not tinker much with duty rates, avoiding the temptation to hike selectively and focuses instead on removing all area- and classification-based exemptions (in preparation for DTC), and getting rid of the Central Sales Tax and harmonising duty rates (in preparation for GST).

A status report on the preparedness of IT systems, forms, procedures and classifications for the phasing in of GST by April 1, 2012 will give the market great comfort on the seriousness of the government to get this reform completed. Politics aside, investors need to know where we are on getting this critical reform done. A time-bound commitment to pass DTC is also important.

Investors will also want to see far greater commitment and action for moving towards a cash-based subsidy transfer system. States like Bihar have already moved on this front and markets want to see a visible commitment to improving the delivery and targeting of public services/subsidies. Investors want the finance minister to outline in far greater detail how he will use the pilots initiated by the Nilekani taskforce on cash transfers to move ahead on this critical reform. How will the government use the unique identity roll-out to better target subsidies? Can better delivery of subsidies ensure we can cap our financial commitments at current levels? Everyone is convinced that the public distribution system is beyond repair. Unless we can control subsidies, there is no way the mix of government expenditure can ever improve.

In agriculture, investors will expect movement on the whole distribution chain. States have to be incentivised to scrap the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act, scrap mandi tax and take horticulture and vegetables out of these outdated regulations. Movement on a nutrient-based subsidy scheme for urea, which will help cap fertiliser subsidies as well as improve the fertiliser mix in the soil, is long overdue. All the concerns around agriculture, food prices and the broken supply chain can also be used as cover to bring in foreign direct investment into multi-brand retail.

Investors will want to see measures to help boost infrastructure. Measures to activate the corporate bond market are critical, as are steps to improve the viability of state electricity boards and allow genuine open access (a critical constraint in private power project viability). Pension and insurance reform to create larger pools of long-term debt capital will also be eagerly awaited. Some announcement of a timeline in pushing through a land acquisition Bill using some of the models now in place in Haryana and Punjab ( a combination of lump-sum and annuity payments) would also show how serious the government is about addressing project delays.

Investors have no expectation of more structural reforms like labour law relaxation or fuel subsidy reform; these are perceived as being too hard in today's environment. Another area of low expectation is around state funding of elections, on which, I am sure, a lot of noise will be made, but vested interests are far too entrenched. Any movement on the above issues will be a huge positive.

Let us hope we are not treated to another business as usual, tinkering-around-the-edges type of Budget. This document has to capture the imagination of the people.

The author is fund manager and chief executive officer of Amansa Capital

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

NOW, MADE FOR INDIA

THE INDIAN MARKET HAS TRULY ARRIVED ON THE RADAR SCREEN OF GLOBAL CORPORATIONS

BHUPESH BHANDARI

Daimler, the world's largest truck maker by sales, a few days ago announced a new brand for India called BharatBenz. It will be one of Daimler's five brands worldwide. The German truck maker will invest Rs 4,400 crore in a new facility near Chennai, which will help it take on local rivals like Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland as well as global ones like Navistar (with Mahindra & Mahindra), Volvo (with Eicher) and Man (with Force Motors).

The market for trucks, a good indicator of economic activity, has grown six to seven per cent per annum in the last decade. This has made India the third-largest truck market in the world. In this fast-growing but crowded market Daimler perhaps needs a brand that connects well with the value-conscious Indian transporter and tells him that its trucks are designed just for him. BharatBenz makes sense.

 

Sometime towards the end of March, Philips, the leader in the market for bulbs, tubes and CFLs, will hold an offsite in Goa. It plans to unveil some new products to its employees and associates which could extend its reach in the mass category. The company doesn't want to call these initiatives bottom-of-the-pyramid but says the prices would be irresistible for the rural markets. The products are under wraps, though it is known that the company has developed a solar lantern.

This is not the first time that the Dutch multinational corporation has attempted to move down the value chain. In 2009, it had worked on a wood stove that could be sold in villages. But pilots run in some parts of the country showed that the price points needed to be brought down further. Philips' engineers have taken the stove back to the drawing table to knock off some costs. The bottom line is that Philips is ready to lend its name to low-tech products.

What this shows is that the Indian market has truly arrived on the radar screen of global corporations like Daimler and Philips. So much so, they don't mind a desi twist to their brand. A brand is a huge asset on any company's balance sheet. Forward-looking companies constantly get their brands valued. Almost all protect it with a lot of zeal. It's the job of every brand manager that the brand is seen in the right company and context. That multinational corporations are willing to adapt to Indian conditions shows clearly the country's importance in the new economic order.

One could argue that this is not the first time that global brands have Indianised. Honda let Hero get added to its name, just like Suzuki took on TVS and Maruti. But those collaborations were formed in a different era. Honda and Suzuki had no option but to go with local partners; hence the hybrid brands. Things have changed since then. Honda has come on its own and will soon shed the Hero tag altogether. Suzuki has shaken off TVS. Its cars, earlier badged Maruti Suzuki, now sell under the Suzuki logo.

It would also be worth recalling PepsiCo was let in to the country as Lehar Pepsi. But the prefix has been all but dropped — packs still carry the full name, but in small print. (PepsiCo sells namkeen under the Lehar brand, though.) Bausch & Lomb too had agreed to add to Ray-Ban in India because the production of foreign brands was not allowed. But the need for that did not arise because the rules soon got liberalised. (The eyewear brand has since been sold to Luxottica of Italy.)

Notable exceptions have been companies like Hindustan Unilever. Though most multinational corporations in the fast-moving consumer goods space like to have one portfolio for the whole world, Hindustan Unilever has adapted well to Indian conditions. For example, it had introduced Nihar in the hair-oil market, though hair oil is a product used only in the Indian subcontinent, and no multinational corporation wants hair oil in its portfolio. Nihar got sold to Marico. Hindustan Unilever tried again to crack open the market, this time with the Sunsilk brand.

Things have moved at a fast pace in recent times. Multinational corporations have seen the pot of gold here, and are, therefore, eager to get off their high horse. American Express, for instance, is planning a huge expansion into the mass market. At the moment, it is positioned at the premium end — to hold an American Express card, you need to have annual household income of at least Rs 8,00,000. But now it is ready to move down the value chain and tap the opportunity in financial inclusion. It wants to come out with prepaid cards for lower-income groups. The debit card could be an all-new brand created just for India.

Plans are afoot to come out with electronic payment terminals for small retailers. American Express also wants to get into remittances between commercial hubs and villages in the hinterland. This would take American Express off high-street addresses to the poor parts of the country which export labour to other states. But American Express is aware of the upside. Similar problems of inefficient non-electric payments exist in several other parts of the world. If a workable solution can be put together in India, it could be taken to the rest of the world as well.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

HOW ARE YOU, DNA-WISE?

PERSONAL GENOME MAPPING IS BECOMING A POPULAR IDEA FOR HEALTH AND LIFESTYLE REASONS

DEVANGSHU DATTA

In "India", Patrick French describes a friend correctly identifying three random strangers at Lucknow Airport by caste and place of origin, simply by looking at their faces and clothes. French then segued into speculating if caste distinctions show up at genetic level. This is a plausible hypothesis — many castes and communities have been proudly endogamous (not married outside the community) for centuries.

However, according to the SS Bhatnagar-Award-winning scientist, Mitali Mukerji of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), who French interviewed, "There's no logic to talking about which Indian community has the better genes. Indians have opinions but the caste system has no genetic basis."

 

 Dr Mukerji is part of the Indian Genome Variation Consortium, which is developing a genetic map of India. So far, the work indicates Indian genes are widely and variably mixed. Some communities separated by thousands of kilometres share the same genes, and many, if not most, endogamous communities are genetically indistinguishable from their neighbours, also supposedly endogamous.

The IGIB's tentative conclusions have obvious political implications and could be disputed, despite being scientifically robust. There's anecdotal evidence that sperm donation banks and In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) clinics field "delicate" questions about the caste-communal origins of sperm donors and surrogate mothers.

In the recent past, a lot of technology has been incorporated into the rituals of arranging traditional Indian marriages. It's become normal to seek spouses online on matrimonial sites, to do web-based horoscopes and google the profiles of suitable prospects.

Biotechnology could soon start to play a key role as well. By mapping the personal genome of an individual, it's possible to flag ancestry and relatives, as well as to test for DNA markers associated to various diseases, drug sensitivities and conditions. Of course, while it may be useless in terms of proving "caste purity", personal genome mapping is an excellent idea for health and lifestyle reasons. Genetic susceptibility to diabetes, for instance, can be warded off by a good lifestyle.

Acton Biotech, a small genetic research lab headquartered in Pune has just launched a personal genome-mapping product, which claims to be the first in India. Sandeep Saxena, the founder-CEO of Acton, expects a large proportion of the clientele will be high-net-worth individuals contemplating marriage.

There are many competent Indian genetic research labs. Apart from IGIB, they mostly do outsourcing, or customised scans for cancer. The new Acton product is a single standardised scan. It is being marketed as a fast-moving consumer product, which may raise a few eyebrows among the soap-selling fraternity.

Acton's product seems to be modelled along similar lines to the pioneering 23andMe personal DNA research products. For approximately Rs 20,000, a client can send a blood sample to be analysed by Acton. 23andMe works off swabs of saliva and its range of offerings costs somewhere between $100 and $500, so the Pune-based lab's pricing and positioning are competitive. It could get cheaper as it gains traction.

The genome report (which will be put online with secure logons) will contain information about genes, DNA-markers pertaining to diseases and conditions, and sensitivity to drugs. There will be updates if something new is discovered, and a statistical comparison of the individual's genome report with global databases will be made to see if there's something unusual.

Clients can sign up for counselling with genetic councillors — that is, doctors trained to analyse the reports and explain risks and implications. This may help them avert conditions to which their DNA markets indicate vulnerability. It may also alert them to carrier status for conditions like haemophilia. It could, therefore, enable clients to avoid having kids with potentially fatal conditions. Finally, it would flag potentially dangerous allergic reactions to drugs.

The scan will test for DNA markers for a long list including diabetes, asthma, hypertension, arthritis, obesity, thalassemia, baldness, cancers, polycystic ovary syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, mental retardation, mood disorder, infertility, polycystic kidney disease, ciliopathies, haemophilia, cystic fibrosis, canavan disease, muscular dystrophy, Gaucher Disease, Tay-Sachs Disease, G6PD deficiency, hypercholesterolemia, phenylketonuria, torsion dystonia, haemochromatosis, aneurysm, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, vitiligo, endometriosis, keloid, lupus, schizophrenia, tardive dyskinesia and uterine fibroids.

It will also test for sensitivity to drugs such as Gefitinib, Tamoxifen, Abacavir, Clopidogrel, Hepatitis C therapy, Warfarin and Carbamazepine and toxicity from Fluorouracil, Mercaptopurine, Methotrexate and Irinotecan.

Saxena, who is a biotech graduate from Mumbai University with 12 years of research experience with TIFR, hopes this product will help his three-year-old company graduate to the big league. He reckons Acton will do a turnover of Rs 50,00,000 in 2010-11, (up from Rs 15,00,000 in 2009-10) and he's targeting Rs 5 crore in 2011-12.

If he's right about the timing and the product catches on, there could be half-a-dozen players in the Indian market soon. At some stage, if the statisticians can slice and dice a consolidated database of genome maps, we may discover some truly interesting things about our ancient civilisation and its habits and mores.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

 

WALKING THE FISCAL TIGHTROPE

BALLOONING FISCAL DEFICIT CAN DERAIL INDIA'S GROWTH MOMENTUM

LAURA PAPI & JAMES P WALSH

With India growing faster than almost every other large economy, the government is right to address its long-run challenges. The push for investment in infrastructure is bearing fruit and the expansion of social programmes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and the Right to Education Act (RTE) is spreading the benefits of growth across the population.

But just as improved infrastructure doesn't eliminate all traffic jams, rapid growth can't eliminate all problems. One area in which we see a role for active policies is fiscal consolidation. The government has endorsed the 13th Finance Commission's report to reduce fiscal deficit and debt over the medium term, and has elaborated its strategy in the 2010 report "Government Debt: Status and Road Ahead", the first report of its kind. For the first time, the Indian government has explicitly recognised a debt target to strengthen fiscal discipline. So, how can fiscal consolidation help India meet its long-term challenges?

 

First, consolidation will help India manage the next global financial crisis as well as it managed the last one. To cushion the blow of the crisis, central government borrowing in India rose from 2.75 to 6.5 per cent of GDP. Consolidation under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act and rapid growth in savings allowed this to be financed relatively easily. Now that the crisis is over, the time has come to prepare for the next rainy day. Important risks remain in the global economy, from surging oil and food prices to a protracted slowdown in developed countries. In the event of another global crisis, the government would again have to rely on borrowings to support the economy, and the last crisis shows that a low baseline can be of great importance. The crisis also proved that the government can support growth when times are bad. Now it should help tame inflation when times are good.

Second, the prioritisation and increased efficiency that fiscal consolidation would necessitate can help ensure that public resources benefit the greatest number of Indians at the lowest cost, and reach those who need them the most. Reconciling increases in social and infrastructure spending with a falling deficit will require finding savings elsewhere. To create space for spending on national priorities, the government has identified areas of rationalisation and reform, such as subsidies, interest payments and pensions for savings. Among these, rationalising and targeting subsidies pose the biggest challenge. It will be equally important to ensure that services and programmes are administered as effectively as possible.

Finally, rising incomes and growing companies have expanded the demand for private credit. Reducing the annual financing needs of the government will free up savings, allowing private sector investment to grow.

The importance of consolidation raises the question of how well the government has implemented its own strategy. The 2010-11 Union Budget was an important first step: funding for the NREGA, capital investment, health and education rose strongly, while growth in other areas was more restrained.

Since then, the rebound in India's economy has exceeded expectations. Strong tax revenues have helped the government reach its deficit target for the year, but equally important have been the proceeds from wireless spectrum auctions. As these are one-off receipts, it is the International Monetary Fund's (IMF's) view that they should be treated differently.

Fiscal consolidation is a question of sustainability: with spending difficult to cut, a consolidation must ensure that future revenues can support expenditure commitments. But by definition, windfalls such as proceeds from spectrum auction or from divestment of shares in public enterprises are not sustainable. Since this year's supplementary demands for grants were largely financed by windfall proceeds, they widen the gap between expected future revenues and spending commitments. While borrowing will fall relative to GDP in 2010-11, our concern is that this year's supplementary spending could prove difficult to reverse. In that case, future deficit targets could become harder to reach. There is also a risk that, with high commodity prices and growing demand for food and fuel, spending on subsidies may continue to grow.

The IMF and the Indian government are in agreement about the importance of fiscal consolidation. The benefits will be significant and felt across Indian society. But the process is not without challenges. There will not be a broadband wireless auction every year, and the need for expanding capital and social spending will call for difficult trade-offs. The 2011-12 Union Budget offers an opportunity to look closely at those trade-offs. Fuel and fertiliser subsidies should be rationalised even as the most vulnerable are protected through targeted schemes. Growth in non-priority spending should be restrained, while the implementation of the infrastructure and social agenda would continue to gather pace. Taken together, these measures would send a strong signal that fiscal consolidation is here to stay.

Laura Papi is Division Chief and James Walsh is Senior Economist in the Asia and Pacific Department of the IMF

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SHORT-TERM DEBT

THAT IS THE PROBLEM AREA; A CURRENT ACCOUNT DEFICIT OF 3% OF GDP IS OKAY


Some analysts are crying wolf over the current account deficit (CAD). This touched 4.1% of GDP in Q2 of FY11, but now looks like falling to 2.5% of GDP in H2. The Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council talks of stabilising the CAD at 2-2.5% of GDP. But we think even 3% is entirely bearable for an economy growing at over 8%, with exports growing at over 30%, remittances bringing in 4% of GDP, and domestic savings hovering around 35%. These factors add up to a dynamic, sustainable macroeconomic situation, notwithstanding long-term worries about the fiscal deficit. FDI is more stable than portfolio investment, so we need a better investment climate to revive FDI, which has fallen this year. History shows that running a large current account deficit is dangerous if domestic savings are low and exports are sluggish (Greece, Portugal), or if countries borrow abroad for reckless lending at home (Ireland and Iceland in 2008, Thailand, Indonesia and Korea in 1997). In a crisis, short-term loans cannot be rolled over and hence suck out reserves. Lesson: India should focus on the composition of borrowings more than the current account deficit. Forget fears that hot money will rush in and out of the stock market. If FIIs attempt a mass exit from bourses, they will cause a price crash that imposes a huge exit penalty. Bonds too will fall in a panic, and anyway bond inflows are limited by RBI rules. Long-term loans are by definition not a short-term problem. History shows that the most lethal problem is short-term borrowing. Its share in India's external debt rose from 18.8% to 22.5% between March and September 2010. This is where the RBI needs to watch and exercise caution.


A lot of corporate debt is used to finance foreign takeovers. This constitutes a liability for the country, whereas the assets lie abroad out of the RBI's control. The RBI needs to keep an eye on this too. Yet as of now the situation is well under control. A current account deficit of up to 3% of GDP will prove that India has more absorptive capacity than before, and be a sign of health rather than cause for panic. It is the build-up of short-term debt that the RBI and policymakers need to worry about.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

AFTER THE VERDICT

THE BJP'S RESPONSE TO THE GODHRA VERDICT HIGHLIGHTS THE POLITICS OF COMMUNALISM

 

As globalising India vies with China to become the world's fastest growing large economy and the salience of India's democracy gets underlined by the dramatic developments in the Arab countries, a special court's ruling in a nine-year-old case offers a reality check. The court found 31 people guilty of conspiracy and murder and let off 63 people in the case of the burning of a train compartment at Godhra, Gujarat, which killed 59 Hindu activists returning from Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, where they had gone to volunteer for constructing a Ram temple at the site where a centuries old mosque had been demolished in 1992. The BJP, the principal Opposition party, hailed the court verdict as vindication of its proposition that the Godhra killings were the result of a conscious conspiracy. The unstated subtext is that this somehow justified what followed, a pogrom against Muslims across Gujarat, particularly vicious in the state's largest city, Ahmedabad. The state's administration led by chief minister Narendra Modi is widely perceived as having been complicit in this organised carnage. The special court's verdict has surprising loose ends: the chief conspirators being prosecuted have been found to have been not present at the site of the alleged conspiracy, but the confession which named these individuals as chief conspirators have been relied upon, in the main, to assert a conspiracy. These loose ends will be up for further legal scrutiny when the verdict is appealed in higher courts. But the gloating by the BJP and the implicit justification of communal violence can be contested only in the court of the people. Politics that celebrates India as a secular, composite democracy that gives equal space for all its diverse constituents to live with dignity and prosper must prevail over politics that seeks to redefine Indian nationhood as Hindutva and consign all non-Hindus to second class status.


The Godhra verdict provides an occasion to see this ideological battle as a central feature of the Indian polity that cannot be obfuscated by n-generation scams. A dynamic economy cannot have schism for a foundation.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HOT HYBRIDS

INDIA HAS REASON TO GET HEATED UP AT THE ADVENT OF ANOTHER SCORCHING BRITISH CHILLI


It is not surprising that the English market town of Grantham is now showcasing another denizen who has the propensity to leave speechless all those who are brave enough to seek an interaction — after former British PM Dame Margaret Thatcher. Her ability to singe and scathe with her words has abated and the sting has mellowed with time, but the next peppery Granthamite is unlikely to follow that same trajectory considering it is a chilli. India has reason to feel heated up at this unexpected development, since the accidental advent of the Infinity chilli has doused the fiery progress of the Bhut Jolokia to the scorching heights of Scoville grandeur. More so since it is a result of a greenhouse and not a force of nature like the diminutive and deceptive north-east Indian hottie that had been a flaming hit ever since its superiority over chillies like the Scotch Bonnet and the Habanero were established in 2007. Indeed, the idea that a chance encounter and pollination in salubrious surroundings could lead to a sizzling world record beater could spook all those who think that such qualities only come with careful breeding and monitoring. Particularly since the Bhut Jolokia had been upstaged only a few months ago by another Brit-Indian-Trinidadian hybrid stinger, the Naga Viper.


It is quite providential that Britain is propagating red hot local stars of its own to sear the increasingly demanding tastebuds of its people now that chicken t i k k a m a s alais established as its national dish and the success of a curry is measured not by its flavour but its heat content. Given that the Bhut Jolokia chilli, by dint of its long history in the region of its birth, has a strong fanbase in its homeland, the new chilli champ may have the potential to become Britain's hottest new export item for India as well.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Sound politics can, and hopefully will, dispel the pall of uncertainty that clouds the growth horizon


Success begets success. But not always, it would seem. Economic growth over the past three years has been more robust than anyone may have expected in the autumn of 2008 and the gloom of the winter that followed. In the current year, the slowing trajectory of the headline inflation rate was hijacked by runaway vegetable prices, but the latter is returning to the bounds of reason as vegetable prices drop, and likewise the headline rate will move closer to what had been previously expected. This is even as global food price inflation gains pace. The FAO world food price index rose 28% year-on-year in January 2011, with the cereal price index higher by 44%.


Our exports are picking up in both merchandise and ITrelated services and the domestic consumer market is seemingly as strong as one could hope for. The signs are that the current account deficit, which had shot up in the September 2010 ending quarter, is moderating, even as remains on the higher side. The process of fiscal consolidation is broadly on track, even if oil subsidies are higher than reason may demand and with the developing political situation in the Middle East, crude oil is now poised to cross $110 per barrel and that makes the problem more burdensome. The advance estimates of GDP for 2010/11 released on February 7 suggested that the fixed investment rate had dipped below 30% and was 1.2 percentage point lower than that in the previous year. But that was at current prices. The same ratio at constant prices was 31.6% and only 0.4 percentage point below last year's. Then again, the magnitude of investment estimates has in previous years generally moved north, as more data becomes available. The index of industrial production (IIP) reported very low growth in November and December 2010. Although, if one were to exclude capital goods, where output changes have been quite volatile, and non-durable consumer goods, which have shown hard-to-understand low growth rates for some time, the balance — basic, intermediate and durable consumer goods — stood up much better at 7.6% in December 2010.


However, the concern is more about prospective, rather than past trends. Has the Indian private sector lost some of its confidence and is investment in new capital assets begun to slow, or will it begin to slow in the months and quarters to come? To my mind, the source of concern is not that much about the basic economic context, but much more about the atmosphere within which investment decisions are taken. Investment in capital assets expands the balance sheet of companies and imports risk. In times of uncertainty, there is an understandable reluctance to increase that risk. If uncertainty persists or increases, investments slow down. In the past several months, developments in the political space have caused a certain amount of uncertainty in business circles. Given that corporate conflict has been embedded in some of these developments and some corporates may be perceived as being the "crony-ier capitalists", this has led to a greater sense of disquiet among investors, than conventional corporate-delinked political battles might have had.


While not venturing into the turf of the political commentator, the critical element today is clearly how the government is perceived in carrying its mandate forward. To the extent that this transpires (and I believe it will), it will serve to dispel the mists of uncertainty in which at least some in business appear to be caught up in. The domestic economy is in fine fettle and if nagging fears that may be affecting sections of business are dispelled, the Indian economy can do well, not just in the year to come — but in the medium to longer term.
    Sometimes hyperbole — or as termed in a different context, hubris — exacts its own price. The rapid recovery of India and China had generated in both economies something of a sense of euphoria. "Here was where the action was going to be", it seemed to say and the developed West was, well, out for the count. This heady sense was pampered to by glib talk of the 'Beijing consensus' and 'Delhi consensus'. Flattery is a weakness that is hard to resist. A lot of air is going out of that balloon as a combination of global conditions and home-grown problems lead to high food inflation in India, China and other Asian economies, as western economies recover (even if more weakly than previously expected) and capital moves out of emerging economies back into the US and Europe. Surely, it explains a part of the dent in business confidence. In November 2010, this columnist had written a piece in this paper called The Asian Century is not an Entitlement
and how making it happen will take plenty of effort and imagination. It was a reaction to what was clearly an illfounded sense of premature satisfaction about an outcome that will need many, many years of application and imagination. In that sense, the global developments of the past couple of months have brought more light to shine on the hard reality of the situation.


The potential of India becoming a $6 trillion economy by 2020 and a $10 trillion one by 2025, and in the process removing poverty (as we know it), poor health and educational attainments forever, certainly exists. But that potential can only become a reality if the necessary active steps are taken, such that bit by bit, the skeleton and sinews of that potential are realised — and reflected in greatly improved physical and social infrastructure, more efficient systems (including governance) thereby resulting a more competitive and robust economy.

 

SAUMITRA CHAUDHURI MEMBER, PLANNING COMMISSION

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NEURAL NET

FOUR FALLACIES OF THE CRISIS

JAGDISH BHAGWATI


The current twin crises in finance and the real economy, what Americans call Wall Street and Main Street, and the interminable discussions about financial reform and the prospects for economic recovery, have spawned several fallacies that need to be addressed and dismissed.


Fallacy 1: The crisis would produce a "free fall".


A free fall means just that. But, surely, the world economy, or even the US or the European Union — to which this dire prediction was applied (by Joseph Stiglitz, for example, who wrote a book entitled Freefall) — has not been plummeting like Newton's apple. Animated discussions as to whether either or both economies face an L-shaped or a Vshaped recession have given way to the reality of considerable volatility, for both income and financial indicators, around a mild upward trend. Fallacy 2: Through monetary expansion, the US is manipulating the dollar's exchange rate in the same way that it accuses China of manipulating the renminbi's exchange rate.
The two cases are dissimilar. If one grants the premise that there is an insufficiency of aggregate global demand, the alleged Chinese undervaluation of the renminbi can, indeed, be seen as a beggar-thy-neighbour policy, which diverts inadequate world demand to Chinese goods at the expense of other countries. On the other hand, the dollar's weakening is a sideeffect of US monetary expansion, undertaken after countries like China and Germany refused to spend more to increase world demand, and after no room remained for further fiscal stimulus.


Fallacy 3: Current global imbalances will continue to afflict us.


Economists inevitably generalise from the current situation, so that today's Chinese and German current-account surpluses and America's deficit, for example, are seen as being here to stay.
But history is littered with surplus countries that became deficit countries. One of my teachers when I was a student at Oxford, Donald MacDougall, a man who had once been Prime Minister Winston Churchill's adviser, wrote a book entitled The Long-Run Dollar Problem, which suggested that the dollar was what the IMF called a "scarce currency." By the time the book appeared, however, the problem had vanished.
Initially, the Chinese surplus arose inadvertently, not by design. So did the US deficit, which resulted from the failure to finance the second Iraq war with new taxation. Today, the Chinese themselves realise that their surpluses fetch minuscule returns when invested in US Treasuries. So they are keen to spend their earnings from foreign trade on domestic infrastructure instead, thereby removing serious bottlenecks to further growth, as in India.


As a result, Chinese imports will increase — and thus its surplus will fall — for two reasons. First, wages will be spent partly on imported goods. Second, infrastructure investment requires heavy equipment that is typically supplied by Caterpillar, GE, Siemens, and other, mostly western, suppliers. Moreover, immense pressure in the US to undertake fiscal consolidation, reflected in President Barack Obama's latest budget proposal, should reduce US import demand, further reducing the bilateral imbalance. Fallacy 4: Forget about Keynesian demand management. Some critics of Obama's Keynesian stimulus spending, among them the economist Jeffrey Sachs, claim that what the US needs is "longterm" productivity-enhancing spending. But this is a non sequitur. As a Keynesian, I believe that the state paying people to dig holes and then fill them up would increase aggregate demand and produce more income. But Keynes was no fool. He understood that the government could eventually get huge returns if the money was spent on productivity-enhancing investments rather than on "directly wasteful" expenditure-increasing activities.


The question, then, is simple: which investments offer the greatest economic payoffs? But it is also fraught: when your bridges are collapsing, your school buildings are in disrepair, teachers are underpaid and have no incentive to be efficient, and much else needs money, it is not easy to decide where scarce money should be spent. But one "structural" consideration is not well understood. Given the need to cut the deficit in the future and the need to increase it now in order to revive the economy, the problem facing Obama is how to shift smoothly from top gear into reverse. Clearly, the lesson is that governments need to attach less weight to spending that cannot one day be cut.


(The author is professor of economics and law at Columbia University)


© Project Syndicate, 2011

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

OCCASIONAL PAPER

NORTH-EAST DEMANDS FRESH THINKING

MANOJ PANT

 

In general, there seems to be some agreement that growth must have a "human face". A long internet debate on this was the subject of this column last month. Economic theory would tell us that fast-growing states would then pull in labour and capital from other states till the returns are equalised everywhere. Since the value of the state GDP is nothing but the value of its factors of production, per capita GDP would also equalise between states. All this follows quite easily from well-known propositions in international trade theory applied to interregional trade.


That states would grow at unequal rates is obvious. For one, states have unequal endowment of resources and, two, labour capabilities also differ betweens regions. In addition, as the share of GDP going to agriculture declines over time, states which are largely agricultural would find their per capita incomes falling unless the occupational structure changes. Since this is not easy in the short run, these states would find themselves falling behind others. This problem gets accentuated when we note that capital tends to be fairly mobile so that unequal growth shows up as increasing inequality of incomes.


So, why doesn't economic theory solve the problem? For one, as shown by a number of empirical studies, labour mobility in India is not very high. Second, in democratic societies, the time required for structural adjustment to differential growth rates may be politically impossible to accept. This issue is even more important in India where a large part of the population of poorer states is employed in agriculture. Given that legislators have to face the electorate in the states, it is clear why the market cannot be left to solve problem of inter-state inequalities: the political imperative for immediate correction is enormous. Some degree of fund transfer from richer to poorer states is thus unavoidable in a federal set-up.


In India, it is the Finance Commission that is periodically entrusted with the task of defining the formula for transfer of funds between states applying the principles of both efficiency and equity. In this article, I will look, in particular, at the award of the 13th Finance Commission (FC) in relation to the small states of the north-east, given their special relation to the Indian economy.


It is reasonable to induce states to reduce their budget deficits so that the country's deficit does not get out of control. In this context, the FC, in Article 7.6, has reiterated the 12th FC recommendation that expenditure on salaries must not exceed 35% of total revenue expenditure. However, the FC also stipulates that the existing expenditure over this amount must be reduced by 10% every year. Article 9.81 then stipulates that the special category states must move to a surplus on the revenue account while Annex. 9.1 indicates the proposed reduction in the debtto-state GDP over time.


Consider the implications of all this for one north-east state, Nagaland (though this would apply to other states, too). Currently, about 70% of its revenue expenditure is devoted to payment of salaries. Reduction in this to 35% would imply that employees would have to be retrenched unless the private sector makes up the difference. Therein lies the problem.


Despite many incentives given by the Centre for almost a decade, the private sector is still to show any interest in the north-eastern states, which must rely almost entirely on central transfers for budgetary support. States like Nagaland have just returned to normalcy and it is likely that any move to cut employment without alternative options would fuel the separatist movement. Any move to generate employment must then be led by public sector firms. Here, some out-of-thebox thinking is necessary in a state where the private sector is largely composed of small ancillary units. One possibility is to look at the natural resource sectors that usually generate small direct but large ancillarybased employment.


It is heartening to see that the possibility of oil exploration has been begun once again after talks between the ONGC and the state government broke down in the mid-1990s. Reports indicate that reserves could be as much as 600 million tonnes. Some extraction was actually done by ONGC in 2007. The problem stems from a disagreement on royalty.


Can the Centre work out a royalty formula that differs from that for other oil-producing states? Would states like Assam also not demand their pound of flesh? The legal exception necessary is actually provided in Article 371A of the Constitution that stipulates that central Acts of Parliament do not apply in Nagaland in relation to "ownership of ... resources". These are out-of-the-box solutions. But, as Kashmir has shown, sometimes they are necessary in the national interest. But the question is, who will bell the cat?


(The author is faculty at JNU)

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A WAKE-UP CALL TO OIL PSUS

The landmark Reliance Industries-BP deal, for an initial $7.2 billion, billed as the largest single foreign direct investment in the country, could not have been at a more opportune moment. Apart from its benefits for the two players directly involved, it has a wider implications for the country as a whole. For one, it shows global oil giants need India, particularly in the current geopolitical turmoil roiling the entire belt from Libya to Afghanistan; that the Cairn-Vedanta holdup has in no way dimmed this country as an oil-gas exploration destination; that the new exploration licensing policy is no longer a benchmark that reflects India's potential to attract big names; and, most significant, that ONGC and Oil India should gear up and devise a strategy to increase production from their oilfields and not be content with enjoying high crude prices. India, which has to import 70-80 per cent of its oil needs, cannot depend forever on West Asian oil. One report claims that our demand for oil will grow by 115 per cent in the next 20 years. This cannot be met by fossil fuels alone. ONGC, Oil India and Gail will have to work seriously to develop alternative sources of fuel and renewable energy. This is still negligible in India, though the scope for solar, geo-thermal and wind energy is immense. It would be such a waste if we fail to make effective use of the natural resources we already possess to generate power. And while we cannot go back to the Indira Gandhi mantra of "self-reliance" in its entirety, mainly as today's globalised world bears little similarity to the India of the 1970s-'80s, the public sector oil giants would do well to treat the Reliance-BP deal as a wake-up call. Perhaps the new oil minister could get them to pool both resources and expertise to devise future exploration and exploitation strategies. Reliance and BP together is a formidable combine, and the Indian consumer will only benefit if it is kept on its toes by aggressive competition. BP has got access to a big chunk (30 per cent) of a significant hydrocarbon area on India's east coast known as the KG Basin, of which it will certainly take utmost advantage. It has the best of technology at its command, and this will presumably be available to RIL, which had reached a plateau as far as deep sea drilling is concerned. The West Asian and Arab region, in which Western oil giants have immense investments, is now in a troubled state; India — by default — appears calm, stable and comparatively peaceful as an investment destination. The BP deal could well herald additional FDI across sectors. The commerce minister, Mr Anand Sharma, recently advised retail giants like Wal-Mart, which are keen to enter India, to first put up infrastructure like warehousing and cold storages before being allowed entry into retail proper. This sounds fair, and with the West's options somewhat narrowing, the prospect of more FDI looks bright. At the same time, the government needs to keep up its resolve to rigorously monitor all major investments to ensure the country's interests are protected, and not be influenced by campaigns by large multinationals. It is in fact to its credit that the government has so far managed to resist the subtle propaganda that it is blocking proposals that would benefit the people of this country, and stood firm in insisting that all deals must be transparent and follow the due processes of law.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HAISHA, HUISHA, THEY'LL ALL FALL DOWN

BY NIHAL SINGH

The one lesson that emerges from the tsunami that is sweeping across the Arab space is that in today's inter-connected world no nation can remain an island any longer.

Much of the Arab world was in a pressure cooker for decades and as the sparks of the revolt in Tunisia against an autocratic ruler were lit, amplified in graphic detail by the Al Jazeera Arabic channel, it singed the traditional, though deflated, leader of the Arab world, Egypt, and then there was no stopping the flames.

As revolts have spread to Jordan, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, Bahrain, Libya and even Iran, circumstances vary as do the scale of the regimes' repression. But the common themes have been a struggle against autocracy, rising food prices, unemployment, nepotism and corruption, and the blatant unequal distribution of wealth, with the ruling elite feathering its nest. And there were repeated reminders that these countries have predominantly young populations.

There is no need to belabour the point that the Cold War, the major powers' interests and the oil and gas riches of the region, together with the need to protect Israel's war booty of 1967 under the US umbrella, made autocracy not merely sustainable but a flourishing mode of governance. What ultimately titled the scales were the impatience of the youth and food inflation. Once the brave Tunisians demonstrated that a long-time dictator could be miraculously dethroned by people power in a matter of days, Egyptians said if Tunisians could do it, so could they.

Each nation has its own peculiarities and problems. The Saudi advice in the beginning was to use the big stick. When the Tunisian leader fell, Hosni Mubarak heeded the Saudi advice after demonstrators took over the central Tahrir Square in Cairo by unleashing armed supporters of the regime and thugs, but the Army demurred and, after offering concessions, Mr Mubarak followed the Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In Yemen, the picture is complicated by the rivalries between the North and the South and tribal equations while the state receives US' help to fight Al Qaeda even as Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in an effort to avert public anger, promised not to stand for re-election or have his son succeed him. Bahrain poses another kind of problem: a Sunni elite ruling a Shia majority and after trying the Saudi prescription of using force to disperse the demonstrators from the central Pearl Square — protesters copying the Egyptian example — better sense prevailed on Bahrain's King Hamad al-Khalifa, who opted for a dialogue whose efficacy remains to be determined. Shias are demanding fair play.

In Morocco, the demand is for political reforms and greater powers for the people, rather than the abolition of the monarchy of the young king, Mohammed VI. Algeria has led a troubled existence, with the electoral process stymied by the Army many years ago after the first round of elections for fear of Islamists coming to power. President of Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika is holding the fort in the traditional Arab mould of ruler. Jordan's King Abdullah II immediately brought in a new Cabinet, but in a country with a Palestinian majority and the only Arab nation other than Egypt with a peace treaty with Israel, there are mounting political uncertainties.

The focus at present is very much on Libya, with the longest serving ruler, Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi, with a record of 42 years, known as much for his eccentricities as for anything else. He has built a state with a stronger personal militia than the Army and rules with his seven sons of whom Seif al-Islam el-Gaddafi gave a preview on television of the fire and brimstone to come, with the leader himself promising retribution for demonstrators in a marathon television speech. Judging by the fire power armed men and mercenaries have used so far, the scale of the bloodshed has been horrendous and Col. Gaddafi seems determined to follow the Saudi advice even as the eastern region is in the hands of the Opposition. It seems a question of when, rather than whether, the leader goes, although the intense tribal antagonisms between the East and the West will remain a factor.

Changes in these countries swept by the wave of revolts are bound to be uneven. Iran, the regional heavyweight and non-Arab state, will follow a different trajectory; the protests in 2009 after the controversial presidential election were put down with a heavy hand and the new post-Tunisian protests were stymied. The rash of protests in the Arab world will not die down. Al Jazeera has been a source of inspiration as the channel, the new bible in much of the Arab world, has brought to millions in their homes the taste of how revolts are staged and how two stalwarts of the Arab world have been laid low. Equally, the ongoing revolution has, in a measure, brought distress to the US and Israel. While US President Barack Obama has been rather critical of Libyan developments, he has been cautious in relation to Bahrain, the home of the Fifth Fleet, and has treaded tepidly on Jordan. For Israel, the certainties of the last 30 years are over, with Egypt serving as the Arab policeman for keeping the Gaza Strip bottled up in exchange for some $1.5 billion in US economic and military assistance every year. The rest of the world will pay for the turmoil in the Arab world by higher petrol prices at the pump — for a worthy cause.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LEGALLY SPEAKING

BY SWAPAN DASGUPTA

There was something eerily predictable about the reactions to February 22 special court verdict on the gruesome Godhra killings of February 26, 2002 — the incident that triggered the equally horrible communal riots in Gujarat.

For a few days before Justice P.R. Patil delivered his 815-page judgment that led to the conviction of 31 of the 134 Muslims charged with either conspiracy or participation in the arson attack on coach S6 of the Sabarmati Express, the less restrained section of the media had been speculating on the possible implications of a "guilty" verdict. Would it inflame communal passions? Was justice at all possible in "Narendra Modi's Gujarat"? The implications were obvious: The cause of communal harmony and justice would be best served if the entire case was thrown out.

If the questions were predictably tendentious — the special court had been set up in April 2009 on a Supreme Court directive and had no relation with the state government's administration of justice — the post-verdict reactions followed the "activist" template. Father Cedric Prakash, an activist clergyman who runs an NGO, was quick to denounce Justice Patel's judgment as a "miscarriage of justice"; Prashant Bhushan, who was briefly amicus curie in the Gulbarga Housing Society case, called the verdict a "travesty of justice"; lawyer Mukul Sinha who had contested the 2007 Assembly election and lost his deposit, described the conviction of 31 people as based on "concocted evidence" and "falsehood"; and Teesta Setalvad, herself under scrutiny by the Special Investigation team for allegedly presenting dodgy affidavits, debunked any "conspiracy" to attack the train.

True, Bharatiya Janata Party's Jaynarayan Vyas, the Gujarat government spokesperson, did proffer a pugnacious reply to the sceptics. He gloated that "the verdict comes as a slap on the face of all those so-called NGOs who were busy maligning Gujarat". But his seemed an odd, contrarian voice amid the multiplicity of well-heeled "activists" feigning outrage. Any citizen unaware of the backgrounds of the sceptics or the convoluted course of the inquiry and legal proceedings would be forgiven for harbouring the suspicion that the special court in Ahmedabad had been driven by an underlying political agenda.

It is understandable that there will be litigants and activists dissatisfied by a court verdict on the ground of either evidence or interpretation of the law. They have an inalienable right to approach a higher court for relief and, presumably, the Godhra case will go to the high court. What is disturbing, however, is not the exercise of the right of appeal but the readiness with which any judgment with political overtones is rubbished in the public domain. Indian democracy offers litigants, activists and commentators a generous space to dissect judgments and court proceedings. Indeed, more often than not, lawyers and others tend to treat TV studios and newspapers columns as a substitute for arguments in the appellate courts.

On the face of it, this may appear to be a worthless and even self-defeating exercise since judges are expected to be swayed by arguments in the courtroom and not by spirited exchanges in TV studios. The judiciary, however, is not detached from society and judges don't live in ivory towers. Like any other citizen, they too are prone to being influenced by their immediate environment. The purpose behind activists using the media to argue points of law and evidence (without having to bother about the opposing counsel) is simple: create a climate of opinion favourable to the cause they are espousing and portray other perspectives (including court judgments) as a travesty.

In the past six months, the no-holds-barred attacks on court orders have become an epidemic. In September last year, there were shrill denunciations of the Allahabad high court judgment on the Ayodhya dispute, including suggestions of communal bias. Ironically, the loudest protests came from those who were in the forefront of demanding a judicial resolution of a very complex religio-political dispute that has defied resolution for centuries.

This was followed three months ago by the breast-beating after the conviction of Dr Binayak Sen on a sedition charge by a sessions court in Chhattisgarh. The spectacle was repeated some weeks ago when the Chhattisgarh high court turned down Dr Sen's bail application.

Dr Sen's case is an eye-opener for all those concerned about the larger civic culture surrounding judicial proceedings. In an article written after Dr Sen's conviction, an outraged Amartya Sen wrote that "if the high court has its thinking straight and unbiased it will overturn the decision". Anything else, he argued, would imply that "as happened in Gujarat — justice is difficult to get in the state which is under the control of a political regime that is keen on justifying its policies, some of which are very deeply problematic, rather than bringing justice to a people living in Chhattisgarh…" This was followed by an appeal signed by scores of Nobel Prize winners, with little familiarity of either India or the specific circumstances of the case, pressing for Dr Sen's release.

Actually, it is Amartya Sen's pronouncement that is deeply problematic. If the integrity of the judiciary is made hostage to politically correct, rather than judicially tenable, judgments, India will lose its status as a democracy where the rule of law prevails.

In establishing pre-meditation, the special court in Ahmedabad relied on forensic evidence; the Allahabad high court relied on archaeological evidence to suggest that a grand temple predated the Babri mosque in Ayodhya; and the Chhattisgarh government relied on witness testimony and seizure records to suggest Dr Sen's Maoist links. The conclusions of the judges were governed by evidence — a reason why 63 of the accused were acquitted in the Godhra case —and their refutation has to be based on technicalities, not on the strength of rhetoric.

A battle is either fought in the political arena or in the courts. The two can't happen simultaneously.

* Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

THE TICK-TOCK-TICK OF JUSTICE

BY SHIV VISVANATHAN

On February 22, 2011, the judgment on the Godhra train tragedy was delivered. While the media desperately searched for bytes, a different drama was being played out. It was a drama collaged out of silences; the relief of the body, of hands thrust out in prayer, snippets of sentences sounding like telegrams to a long-lost home. Sixty-three people were released as innocent after a span of nine long years. The only question one repeatedly asked is what does waiting mean and what does waiting do to the ideal of justice?

The rule of law is one of the great ideals of any society. It has its rituals from the act of witness to a demanding logic of evidence. It demands an understanding of the rhetoric and procedures of the law. As a character in a recent movie said, the beauty of law is that it occasionally produces the miracle called justice.

In fact, for all its paraphernalia the law rarely seems to deliver justice. The waiting becomes endless. I admit, as citizens we are a foraging and scavenging economy. We are used to waiting. We wait in lines, we wait at bus stops. Waiting is a basic ritual of our society. Even our boredom is an act of waiting, waiting for something to happen. Waiting is a sign of longing and scarcity. But of all the ridiculous kinds of waiting, waiting for justice is what I find unforgivable.

No decent society can tolerate this form of waiting. It is the most silent of tortures. Waiting has its own metaphysics. Waiting has its own ethnographies of time. As a woman once hinted, waiting for justice is more excruciating than waiting for a baby: "You can feel the baby grow, you can sense its messages, you can feel your body change metabolically". The baby as a narrative has a rhythm and the beauty of the final gift transcends the pain and scars on the body.

Waiting for justice has no social rhythms. All you do is get marked out and even the markers are ambiguous. You can be an under trial prisoner at the age of seven and lose your childhood for a crime you may not have committed. In fact, a person waiting for justice becomes a non-citizen or, what George Orwell called, a non-person.

One is not talking merely of people waiting in jails. I am also referring to victims of atrocities. Our newspapers are replete with stories of women raped during atrocities or violated during riots. Once the aura of attention dies, a silence descends. It is a silence that goes beyond all metaphor; it is a silence that marks your descent into hell. What makes it bitter-sweet is the expectation, the hope. I remember talking to Teesta Setalvad, the activist. She was referring to the aftermath of the Gujarat riots. Women who filed cases of rape against men found them sitting contemptuously in court. The trauma of it is almost impossible to describe.

Think of Bhopal. Almost 27 years down people still wait for compensation as an act of justice. It is the women of Bhopal waiting for justice who once said something beautiful. They said they didn't want to confuse compensation with justice. They suggested why don't the workers in Carbide plant in America spend a week with us, just visiting our homes, talking to us. Justice can be impartial but it needs a face. Justice has to be a conversation of possibilities.

Justice needs a mirror. It should be one not constructed by philosophers, but be a mirror of responses of people waiting. The monumentality of law becomes mere pomposity when it does not understand waiting.

One of the children of the released persons in Godhra said, "Who will return those eight years?" The question is, who will return all the stolen time not just to the person waiting but to all those who wait with him. Waiting savages the mind, it corrodes the soul. Waiting to me is, in fact, one of the most heroic forms of courage. When I watch the women of the Bhopal gas disaster, when I listen to the survivors of Gujarat in 2002, whenever I listen to the long silences after every atrocity on dalits, I feel humbled. There is courage about the survivor, a power to the stamina of waiting which humbles justice.

One senses it when one looks at justice. The judge unfolds like the main actor, people discussing the judgment treat it like a football match, more concerned with the scores. Lawyers play with other possibilities. The only people sidelined are those who wait. Waiting is that final injustice that is sidelined to the back stage.

As a writer, I am forced to write about news. The audiences demand that it smells of history and scandal. I feel that the biggest news is not history or the big politics but the everyday happenings of survival and the non-news of waiting. There are novels waiting to be written, fables which would diminish the monumentality of law. I want to salute the courage, drama and irony of the eventless event that we call waiting.

* Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

IMAGINE YOUR OWN GOD

BY FRANCIS GONSALVES

 "It's only in your imagination!" or "Don't let your imagination run wild!" are statements that we often hear. It indicates that imagination is something we mistrust. It is true that imagination can distort truth when someone fabricates fanciful tales to peddle lies. However, do you realise that imagination is an inherent power that enables you to transcend the here and now when required? Imagination can help you to look back to relive a treasured past, or to look forward to build a better future. It also helps in relating and responding to God.

Today, though science and technology have brought many benefits, they have also created in us a diminished sense of wonder and a depleted sense of the sacred. Consequently, we get imprisoned in technocratic spheres wherein love, devotion, goodness, beauty, self-sacrifice and relationships have little value. Here, imagination helps us to reorient our life and reinvent our world.

Primary imagination is our capacity to perceive and organise stimuli from the outside world. We have the power to order and orient our lives. Secondary imagination refers to the ability to go beyond primary organisation to reassemble perceptions and synthesise fragments of truth. This enables us to create new meanings, which help us to relate to the Divine.

"In one salutation to thee, my God, let all my senses spread out and touch this world at thy feet", wrote Tagore in Gitanjali (n. 103). Look! Listen! Smell! Taste! Touch! Our world is pregnant with signs of the sacred and stirrings of the Divine. While primary imagination makes us recognise these signs and stirrings, secondary imagination creates new meanings with symbols, rituals, myths, poetry, art, music and stories. This transports us into the Beyond. Imagination becomes our gateway to God.

As creators of images and consumers of imagination's artifacts, we must carefully consider what culture offers, for there is the possibility of imagination running amuck and deceiving us to mistake the transient for the eternal. If this can be done, all of us — believers, non-believers and those in between — can share our stories and construct new worlds for the welfare of all, driven by that dream of many of us today that "another world is possible".

— Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He is involved in interfaith dialogue and peoples' initiatives for fostering justice, harmony and peace. He can be
contacted at fragons@gmail.com [1]

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

ENERGY SECTOR WOES

BY R.S. SHARMA

Energy consump-tion is an index of economic growth, and if we look at the way the Indian economy is growing, it is clear that our energy consumption will rise exponentially. As of now, the per capita primary energy consumption in India is just about 430 kg of oil equivalent per year — less than one-fourth of the global average. Amongst the various forms of energy, hydrocarbon (oil and gas) is the most convenient source.

While we have over 16 per cent of the world's population, India is currently known to have just about 0.55 per cent of hydrocarbon reserves. Hence, there is a huge mismatch between our imminent needs and our current discovered reserve base. With oil production virtually stagnant for the past two decades, our import dependence has been constantly on the rise. India was self-sufficient to the extent of 70 per cent of our petroleum products consumption in the mid-Eighties. Today, this self-dependence has been reduced to about 23 per cent of the total consumption. Among the four Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies, India is the sole exception in terms of negative balance of trade.

As per the import/export data released by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) for the first nine months of the current fiscal, India's imports aggregated to over $246 billion while the aggregate exports during the same period were of the order of $164 billion, with a negative balance of trade of about $82 billion. Of the total amount spent on imports, oil alone accounted for over $72 billion. This is an alarming situation.

Given the scenario, it is expedient that the government provides strong fiscal incentives for high-risk capital invest-ment in the exploration of oil and gas in India. In the exploration business, while the inputs are deter-ministic, the outputs are probabilistic. It is thus highly desirable that the government comes out with an explicit policy decision providing strong incentives to E&P (exploration and produc-tion) players for making exploration investment in India. A message of long-term fiscal incentives is a pre-requisite for addressing the energy security issue. Unless highly attractive fiscal incentives are announced encouraging investments in exploration activities, I am afraid this government will not be making a genuine effort to address the energy security issue. To cite an example, service tax is levied on all revenue-generating activities. But investment for exploration is a risky capital investment and such expenditure per se is not a revenue generating activity. Also, the tax incentive available in the past under Section 80 IB(9) has been diluted by excluding natural gas from the definition of "mineral oils" and taking away entire benefits through the process of direct tax code.

Instead of providing relief and incentives for exploration, we find that the service tax net is getting widened year after year for exploration activities. Policymakers need to take a long-term view, give these concerns due weightage and incentivise exploration of oil and gas in the Indian hydrocarbon basins.

In the Indian context of a welfare state, providing protection to the consumer from the impact of high petroleum prices is a political compulsion.

All the three committees constituted in the past regarding pricing of petroleum products — headed by Dr C. Rangarajan, Mr B.K. Chaturvedi and Dr Kirit Parikh — have recommended that the fuel prices should have full or partial linkage to the market prices.

Forcing oil Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) to absorb under-recoveries is unfair to the minority shareholders. Similarly, the ad hoc mechanism of sharing these under recoveries with upstream oil PSUs is creating a huge negative sentiment among minority shareholders. In fact, after the Satyam episode where corporate funds were diverted to unrelated activities, Goldman Sachs had in February 2009 unfurled a report that the promoter shareholder in Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) had siphoned off over $20 billion in the form of subsidiary discounts to oil-marketing PSUs.

Had there been a pre-defined mechanism for pricing of petroleum products and pre-defined mechanism to share under recoveries of oil-marketing companies, such an accusation would not have arisen. It is thus highly desirable that an equitable decision in this regard is taken sooner rather than later.

In summary, Pranab Mukherjee's Budget 2011 needs to encourage greater investment in exploration and it also needs to set up a transparent subsidy mechanism which is fair to the oil companies as well as consumers.

n R.S. Sharma is director, finance, and acting chairman of Indian Oil Corporation

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

REPRIEVE IN DEOBAND

MAJLIS EFFECTS A BALANCING ACT


THE Majlis-e-Shura of Darul Uloom of Deoband has effected a studious balancing act. True, it  hasn't accepted the resignation of the libertarian Vice-Chancellor, Maulana Vastanvi; equally has he been reduced to an almost titular head with the appointment of Mufti Benarasi as the "acting VC". The boat has not been rocked for now. Yet the controversial chapter scripted by Vastanvi ~ with his complimentary references to Narendra Modi's development agenda and most importantly his appeal to Muslims not to be stuck in the time-warp of the 2002 pogrom ~ is far from closed.  This is clear from the omnipotent Majlis' decision to take a call after it receives the report of the three-member committee, appointed at Wednesday's meeting. Vastanvi's position remains shaky though a crisis at the helm of the flagship Islamic seminary would appear to have been staved off. The Majlis has conveyed its message with the setting up of a parallel authority with "full powers". Pending the committee's report ~ for which no time-frame has been set ~ the Majlis has apparently stitched a patchwork quilt not least because of the ideological divisions in Deoband. In the aftermath of Vastanvi's statement a month ago, there has appeared a sharp distinction within the seminary between Modi the communalist and Modi the Chief Minister. Just as the man himself has spelt out the difference between the two roles. Small wonder that a section of the senior faculty has welcomed the Majlis' decision as a "wise and positive" move, one that will "silence both pro and anti-Vastanvi camps and help restore normality in the seminary".
Whatever the eventual decision, historiography is a different matter altogether. So horrendous an event as the pogrom cannot be relegated to the footnotes. It shall forever remain a blot on the pages of 21st century India, so indelible as to almost overshadow development. Under a remarkably liberal head, the Darul Uloom can justifiably record Modi as a benevolent communalist. In death, Ehsan Jaffrey and Sheikh Sohrabuddin, for instance, are testament to the grot of the Modi dispensation just as the development module showcases the glitz. The minorities might benefit from the second facet; but they shall neither forgive nor forget the first. Considering the enormity of the twin tragedies ~ the fire in Sabarmati Express as much as the riots ~ it will not be easy to erase the imprint on the psyche. It would be no disrespect to any community to argue that there would have been no pogrom without the fire.

 

JINXED CANNON

ARMY'S PROTRACTED DEFICIENCY

DURING the Kargil operation, television highlighted a quaint military custom ~ the regimental pandit anointing the Bofors howitzers before they opened fire for the day. The Gunners would be wishing that similar divine interventions were invoked for the file(s) pertaining to the acquisition of systems to end a chronic shortfall in medium-range guns ~ a shortfall that has persisted since the Bofors deal soured after only 400 of an initial order of 1300 were delivered in the late 1980s. Maybe the findings of the Court of Inquiry just appointed into the leak of trial reports of the Ultra Light Howitzers will not throw up material that will warrant putting "on hold" their acquisition from the United States ~ since they are being bought in a government-to-government deal via the foreign military sales route the scope for kickbacks is limited ~ yet the acceptance of the need for such a probe is truly worrisome. For it follows an unknown entity forwarding to senior army personnel what are now confirmed as copies of some sections of the report of the trials to which those weapons were subjected. Which establishes that huge business interests are at work ~ much underhand activity too ~ in securing defence deals, as well as the reality that there is no dearth of persons in the military or defence ministry willing to "play ball". The feeling is widespread that the whistle was blown on the leak by a rival gun producer. The motivation would resonate with the apprehension expressed recently by the air chief that a "corruption storm" could be raised by any of the firms that would not be selected to supply 126 combat aircraft to the IAF in a multi-billion dollar deal that is approaching finalisation.


The acquisition of medium artillery ~ the US howitzers are only one small part of the requirement ~ seems jinxed. A South African gun, and then one offered by a Singapore firm fell through because of corruption suspicions. The system on offer from Bofors in its newest avatar is said to meet most of the Army's requirements but is not being considered for the moment since a single-vendor situation obtains. All efforts at a clean procurement process appear to have run aground, and the soldier on the frontline remains deprived of adequate artillery support ~ the real victim of a conspiracy of crooks.

 

DISORGANISED EXERCISE

FOR THE UNORGANISED SECTOR

THE bonanza has been announced barely a few weeks before the Assembly election dates are notified. Having docketed the files for as long as ten years, the West Bengal government has announced a substantial hike in wages of the unorganised sector, including agricultural workers. As a public policy initiative, Tuesday's decision would have raised no cavil were it not for the dominant impression that it is no more than an electoral gambit. The government appears anxious to placate an indeterminate  group; this is the primary loophole of the exercise. Even after a decade, an approximate estimate of the number of beneficiaries has not been worked out. The target group is a vast section of the electorate, both rural and urban, and it is an expensive proposition that has been bequeathed to the next dispensation, whatever the political hue. There is no convincing explanation as to why the wages weren't hiked five years ago, as scheduled. The announcement comes a month before the vote-on-account, a mandatory formality before the elections.  And unmistakable is the sense of urgent desperation in the labour minister, Anadi Sahu's statement: "The state government will leave no stone unturned to issue the notification before the poll schedule is announced." The electoral underpinning is much too obvious for emphasis.


To justify the awfully belated increase in terms of calorie requirement of a labourer and his family is to lend a contrived gloss with a bearing on nutrition and public health. The requirement seems to have gone up from 2200 calories (ten years ago) to 2700 calories now. The point that nutritional requirements need to be taken care of is well taken. Yet the contrived afterthought scarcely conceals the inordinate delay and the calculated timing of the move. Misgivings that the revised rates will hit the agricultural sector are substantial not least because of the continuing dependence on middlemen to trade the produce. The peasant toiling on the field remains at the bottom of the rung, dominated by landowners and mahajans. It may yet be a tall order to expect them to shell out more.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

CORRUPTION THWARTS PROGRESS

THE SPREADING CANKER AND THE LACK OF POLITICAL WILL

SUSHILA RAMASWAMY


BY contemporary standards, all pre-democratic governments were corrupt. The conventional wisdom was that the ruling class consisted of kings, the nobility and aristocrats. They were backed by religious leaders, dignitaries, scholars and lawyers. The government's function was extremely limited with an obsessive concern over the  right of self-preservation. The overwhelming majority accepted the situation as inevitable.
To curb corruption, it is imperative to reform the imperial and oppressive nature of government and make it transparent, accountable and responsive. Rather than lording it over the citizens it should serve the people.
But this task is stupendous. Though we have practised democracy for more than 60 years, the country suffers from endemic corruption. Transparency International rates India as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. This trend set in soon after independence with the jeep scandal, whose enquiry report has not been published till today. Jawaharlal Nehru had once promised that all the blackmarketers would be hanged from the nearest lamp-post. Indira Gandhi dismissed corruption as a universal phenomenon and her son and successor, Rajiv, publicly admitted that only 15 per cent of the sum spent on development projects reaches the proper target group. Today, it may be less than 15 per cent.


The consequences of corruption in India are as devastating as anywhere else. It encourages a particular kind of subservient behaviour that accepts patron-client relationship and looks to independent initiative, risk or innovation with suspicion. The first casualty of systemic corruption is denial of just reward and just meritocracy, the twin principles by virtue of which a well-ordered society maintains upward mobility and efficiency.


The net result of corruption in India is that even after 60 years of democratic government, human development indices, research and innovation, graduation of universities in health care and employment generation, we do not compare with any well established democracy. The Arjun Sengupta report has pointed out that 80 per cent of Indians live at less than Rs 20 a day.


Corruption in every society is shameful; those who indulge in it do so in utmost  secrecy. They take care to destroy all records. Investigation becomes extremely difficult, even dangerous. This was revealed recently in Maharashtra where an honest senior officer was burnt alive for probing the kerosene mafia network. Prosecution of the corrupt can be still more difficult; one has to be involved to know the details of operations and the patronage that it entails.


Apart from these difficulties, different societies have different criteria to determine  what constitutes corruption. For instance in Haryana, bribing a government official to seek favour such as a licence or a job has societal approval, but not adulteration of food.


The essential basis of corruption can be traced to certain broad categories ~ scarcity, ethical standards, power and position and unnecessary state regulations. To the last category belong the licence quota raj in India; it generated unnecessary corruption and lack of competitiveness in our industrial sector.


As regards the ineffectiveness of tackling corruption in India and other South Asian countries, Gunnar Myrdal had noted in 1968  that corruption was 'rampant' and 'growing' in these countries "particularly among higher officials and politicians, including legislators and ministers". The observation is particularly relevant to India. Myrdal cited a 1963 report which grimly pointed out that 'administrative corruption in its various forms is all around us all the time and is growing'. This view was corroborated by John B. Monterio who commented that 'corruption has spread far beyond the limits of general administration to the police and even the judiciary'. He added: "Rampant corruption in all walks of life has been adequately proved by the various commissions of inquiry set up from time to time".


After four decades SS Gill, a former senior government official, categorically stated that corruption has spread all over the administration and that 'corruption unlike a headache, is not confined only to the top, it infects the whole system'. John Quah observes that large scale corruption can lead to catastrophic consequences such as military defeat; civil revolt; economic collapse; endemic violence; and communal strife. Quah's conclusion is emphatic ~ 'corruption thwarts progress'.


In such a situation, elimination of corruption is the prerequisite for improving the quality of life of an average citizen. The international donors and agencies have also realised that corruption cannot be ignored any more as it makes the entire system dysfunctional. There is also an increasing awareness that the rich and the upwardly mobile educated middle class need not be more honest than the ordinary citizen and to eliminate corruption the politicians, senior civil servants and a section of businessmen ought to be made more accountable. It is a difficult task and the possibility of a remedy hinges on the integrity of the legal system and enforcement.
Corruption is a serious impediment to development and the institutionalisation of just meritocracy. Except for North America and Western Europe, corruption affects the rest of the world. Corruption in Asia in general and in India in particular is no different. But though corruption is extremely difficult to eliminate, a corrupt-free polity can be achieved if there is political will to do so, with public support, administrative determination, legal enforcement and civic consciousness.


Of all these factors, the political will is the most important; the others follow the behaviour pattern set by the elite with its determination to eliminate corruption. In demonstrating this political will, Singapore has been largely successful. Its achievement proves that corruption can be tackled anywhere within a reasonable period of time.


In India, corruption has spread like cancer. The risk is negligible because of ineffective policing and the tempting opportunities available to senior civil servants. In 1962, the Santhanam committee was appointed to recommend an anti-corruption strategy. It recommended the formation of the Central Vigilance Commission and action against public servants whose assets are disproportionate to their income.


In 1963, the CBI was established with an anti-corruption division. However, as the CBI is under the total control of the government it lacks the autonomy to tackle corruption sternly enough. The CVC was formed in 1964 to perform four specific functions: (1) to investigate an improper transaction by a public servant; (2) to probe the improper use of power for corrupt purposes by civil servants including those belonging to the coveted all-India services, (3) to supervise anti-corruption work of ministers, departments and public enterprises; and (4) to request the CBI to investigate a case.


Prof. Quah has pointed out that India's failure to tackle corruption is rooted in several factors, the most important of which is the lack of political will or commitment by its political leaders. The other reasons are: (1) inadequate resources to fight corruption; (2) lack of comprehensive anti-corruption laws; (3) absence of an independent anti-corruption agency; and (4) inability to punish the guilty irrespective of their status, connections, and position in society. Quah concludes: "India's anti-corruption strategy will remain hopeless as long as its political leaders do not demonstrate the political will required to improve its ineffective anti-corruption measures, which appear to have been designed to fail".


Corruption can be tackled if the political leadership is serious; otherwise the war on corruption will remain rhetorical.
The writer is Associate Professor in Political Science, Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

CAPITAL QUANDARY

WITH BLACK MONEY OVERWHELMING THE ECONOMY, THE GOVERNMENT MUST REALISE THAT MAKING DEALS TRANSPARENT BY ENACTING SUITABLE LEGISLATION IS THE ONLY WAY TO COUNTER RAMPANT CORRUPTION IN THE COUNTRY, WRITES BISWADEB CHATTERJEE


Apart from inflation, what worries the finance minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, ahead of presenting the Union Budget is black money that is overwhelming the economy at the moment and the manner in which it is routed to tax havens abroad. In fact, inflation and generation of black money feed are inter-related. The finance minister and the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission have already confessed to their inability to control inflation. Since black money owes its provenance to income unreported to evade taxation, it is said a parallel economy is powered by it. But, in reality, black income can be easily bleached as poor governmental controls allow such laundering.


Opinions differ on the exact quantum of black income in the country as it began piling up even before Independence, largely as a fallout of controls and rationing introduced to tackle crisis of essential goods during World War II. Independent India could not remain free from it thanks to the first industrial policy resolution of 1948, which provided for compulsory licensing for setting up industries. While the phenomenon could be curbed in 1956 with the second such policy resolution, the growth of black money became abundant in the 1960s. Consecutive wars ~ with China in 1962 and with Pakistan in 1965 ~  accompanied by crop failure owing to drought in vast areas of the country, caused food items to be hoarded, creating an artificial crisis in the market. This spawned the culture of black marketing ~ enormously boosting the fortunes of hoarders. At that time, in order to curb inflation, the government raised direct tax rates to as much as 73 per cent. But this only encouraged the rich to conceal their real income so as to avoid paying taxes. With untaxed income piling up, black money grew unabated. Though the Wanchoo Committee tried to remedy this by lowering the tax rates, the damage had been done. To deal with the menace, the government gradually introduced soft measures such as withdrawal of high currency notes (in 1978), launching voluntary disclosure schemes from time to time, introducing the special bearer bond scheme in 1981, among others. But none of the measures could unearth black money to any appreciable extent or check its growth.


Several attempts were made to quantify black money in India. In 1953-54, the noted British public finance exponent, Nicholas Kaldor, tried to make the first estimate. He put it at Rs 600 crore (i.e. 6 per cent of national income then). Subsequent estimates pegged black money at less than 10 per cent of the gross national product (GNP) up to 1975-76, at 18-21 per cent in 1983-84 and a staggering 51 per cent in 1987-88. But what was alarming was that the rate of growth of black money had exceeded that of the GNP. Before economic reforms were introduced in 1991, it was high tax rates and rigid governmental controls that motivated businessmen and industrialists to evade taxes. But in the post-reforms decades, slackening governmental restrictions paved the way for uninhibited generation of black income.


When economic reforms were launched in 1991, the government expected to curb the growth of black money with liberal industrial policies and abolition of the trade licence and permit raj. But, in reality, competition among corporates to acquire public resources opened the floodgate of corruption. Both government officials and political leaders continued to earn illegally as bribes were heaped on them. Soon, successive governments were battling one scam after another involving Central and state ministers and officials. If the 2G spectrum allocation is being seen as the biggest scam to have been perpetrated on Independent India, involving a loss of Rs 1,76,000 crore to the exchequer, the scams involving land acquisition across India are no less staggering. No wonder, black money knows no bounds in the country.

It is assumed that most of the black money generated in India has been stashed in Swiss banks. In fact, there are 327 banks in Switzerland where money from international sources can be deposited without the need for physical presence of the depositor and after having it appropriately laundered through an intermediary/intermediaries. Banks in Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Bahamas, Central Island and, more recently, Singapore, are equally accommodating as far as Indian black money is concerned. According to reports, Indian contribution to black money stashed in Swiss banks is more than the rest of the world combined. The Prime Minister claims that none of this is unknown to the government. Even the finance minister says that he is in possession of a list of such tax evaders and money launderers but declares that it is only for the eyes of the income-tax department.


Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a USA-based organisation promoting fiscal transparency, has revealed after long investigation that illegal money generated in India during 1948-2008 amounts to Rs 23,00,000 crore ~ practically half of our GDP. Data from Swiss banks pegs it at $1,456 billion ~ 13 times the country's foreign debt. The amount is sufficient to cover a Rs 1 lakh grant each to 45 crore Indians. India tops the global list of countries suffering illicit capital flight, followed by Russia. China ranks fifth with its black money estimated at $96 billion. The GFI has also identified kickbacks from different government deals as what mainly make up the untraceable Indian deposits in Swiss banks, with defence contracts comprising more than half of such deals.
Earlier, such deposits used to be the preserve of businessmen or middlemen like Mr Ottavio Quattrocchi. But, nowadays, government officials and political leaders think nothing of making a few Swiss deposits of their own. It's true that the virtual abolition of controls in industry, trade and foreign exchange transactions has somewhat eaten into the culture of bribing as prevalent in the pre-reforms days. But, at the same time, private interest in real estate, mining and land deals has made corruption take a quantum leap with payoffs knowing no limit. Political leaders have thrown their might behind the expansion of infrastructure, large-scale development of real estate and exploitation of mineral resources because they stand to gain immensely from it. Political parties get dragged into land acquisition bids for gaining corporate patronage during elections. At the moment, at least one chief minister and quite a few Central and state ministers are facing probe for their alleged involvement in land scams. During 2004-2008, 1,723 Group A gazetted officers across the country had been found to have been involved in acts of corruption. For non-gazetted officers, the figure stood at 13,472. In fact, the number of persons put on trial by invoking the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act has risen by 20 per cent in the past three years.


There is no ground to deny that economic reforms have spawned crony capitalism in the country. As per the corruption perception index of the Transparency International, 2010, India is at the 87th position against China's 78th in a ranking of 178 countries. More worrying is the fact that India's rank has slipped by 17 places in the past four years thanks to its ballooning black economy. As public outrage grows, the government must realise that making deals transparent by enacting suitable legislation is the only way to counter rampant corruption in the country.


The writer is Associate Professor of economics, Durgapur Government College

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

BHARAT DOGRA


Although it has been emphasised time and again that villagers should be consulted on decisions concerning rural development, this frequently does not happen when it comes to women. Women are generally not consulted at all, or else their viewpoint is not accorded the importance it deserves. Thus, there is little understanding of the priorities and problems concerning half of the country's population. This leads to a situation where despite more and more lip service paid to women-related issues, most rural policies don't help women because those hadn't been formulated keeping their real situation in mind.


Some organisations are trying to change that, though. They are insisting that the voice of women be heard in all aspects of rural development and social change. They also demand that we must look at all issues of development and change from the perspective of women and their welfare for government policies to do maximum good. Take, for example, the mushrooming of liquor outlets in villages. For the government, this is a great source of revenue. Many male residents of villages are also happy because legal access to liquor becomes easier. But the women are not happy. They say, whenever an outlet is opened in a village, domestic violence increases and money badly needed for essential family expenses is spent on liquor consumption. If the government had taken the opinion of rural women before formulating a policy encouraging sale of liquor in villages, the social cost would have been avoided.


One organisation which is trying to make the voice of rural women heard is Disha, based in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh. Active in Uttar Pradesh for the past three decades, Disha is now trying to make a change in a number of Uttarakhand villages as well. It mainly works with women from Dalit and Muslim families belonging to the economically-weaker sections represented by landless farm workers, artisans and small peasants.
We know that landless farm hands are among the economically weakest in our country, but what is little known is that the lot of women among them is far worse. Though they work as hard as their male counterparts, they are paid far less than them. The government's labour department seems to have no objection to such obvious lack of equal opportunity in the unorganised sector. The principle of "equal pay for equal work" is simply ignored largely as far as women farm hands are concerned.


But Disha is fighting this. Soon after Disha was founded, its volunteers spread the word around Saharanpur district that existing laws made it mandatory for employers to pay women workers the statutory minimum wage fixed for them ~ the same as male workers ~ and that the employers were bound by law to respect the principle of "equal pay for equal work". Before Disha came into the picture, women farm hands at Saharanpur were not even getting half the wage received by their male colleagues.


Emboldened by the awareness of their legal rights, the women farm hands of Sultanpur Chilkana village announced that they will not harvest the crop unless paid equal wages. They encouraged other women field hands from neighbouring villagers to do the same and urged them not to fill in for them by accepting a less than equal wage. Disha fully supported these women. As the movement spread, big landowners panicked. They tried to turn villagers against Disha. The villagers surrounded the office of the non-governmental organisation with the obvious intention of hurting its founder secretary Mr Keshavanand Tiwari. But local women stood by him and the crowd eventually dispersed without doing any harm.


Finally, landowners agreed to bring the wages of the women hands more or less at par with men. When the wage of male field hands went up sometime later, there was no corresponding hike for women but the landless farm workers were happy since any raise, however marginal, was a gain, after all. The rise in the wage of women field hands, other than being a significant economic gain, was a tremendous morale booster as well. Not only they had scored against the local establishment but also realised and reaped the benefits of solidarity.
Encouraged, they formed a front for women, workers and small farmers shortly afterwards. The front eventually started a movement to resist the opening of liquor outlets in villages.


For Disha and its women activists, the movement to shut down the liquor outlet in Pather village was a tale of tremendous struggle. This movement did not remain confined to a single village but came to symbolise the strong feelings of women of many villages against alcoholism. The liquor contractor and local administration did their best to resist the women.


When threats from the contractor's henchmen did not scare them into submission, police beat up the peaceful activists so mercilessly that many of them had to be admitted to hospitals. But the women triumphed eventually. And, the administration agreed to shut down the outlet. The front's success was replicated in other villages.
The village women were a happy lot ~ with consumption of liquor going down, there was a clear reduction in domestic violence with an increased prospect for savings.


Organisations such as Disha have strengthened grassroots women's movement in India. If they are backed by appropriate and consistent government measures, rural Indian women can have a lot more reason to smile.  

The writer is a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

OCCASIONAL NOTES


It is a well-known belief in this country that Ganges water which may be stored will keep sweet for many months. Apparently, however, in England doubts have arisen as to the healthiness of water which has been retained for a long period in large reservoirs, and at a recent meeting of the Metropolitan Water Board Dr Houston, the director of water examination, made a reassuring statement. He said that in order to reassure the public as to the use of stored water he had drunk half a pint of such water, having first infected it with 218 million typhoid bacilli taken from a typhoid patient. He had suffered no ill-effects. He had previously assured himself in the laboratory that the bacilli died in stored water. Possibly these facts explain why tanks used for washing clothes and also for drunking are less deadly than might have been expected.


It is time that measures were taken to accelerate the disposal of business in the Calcutta Small Cause Court. This tribunal was intended for the speedy trial of petty suits, and in such cases a quick despatch is essential, else the costs will soon exceed the amount at issue. At present, however, delay is the rule, and poor litigants suffer. A correspondent sends an account of a case which is probably typical. He writes: "My cook has been summoned for thirty rupees, including the principal of an alleged debt, interest, and costs. The case has been postponed four times, and is now put off till the end of March. He has spent four days sitting in the compound of the Small Cause Court, has spent ten rupees in pleaders' fees, and is no nearer deliverance than he was three months ago. Is this the British justice which protects the poor?" Four postponements and a delay of 4 months over Rs 30! A case such as this should be disposed of in half an hour at the outside.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

ODD TIMING

Bright eyed and bushy tailed is not exactly how Manmohan Singh's government can be described at the moment. Rather, it is looking a little wan, without the energy to put a positive twist on the fact that the prime minister is finally going to allow a joint parliamentary committee to delve into the cavernous depths of the 2G spectrum affair. True, the United Progressive Alliance government is declaring itself open to scrutiny, talking about cleanness, of punishing law-breakers, of working together with the Opposition and so on. But the efforts to look on the bright side seem pitifully strained, and revive rather than banish questions regarding the government's ambivalence and moral will.

The problem is inescapable. If the Opposition obviously enjoyed digging in its heels over the JPC for the 2G spectrum scandal, it cannot be denied that Mr Singh's government was already looking a little tattered from embarrassments on the scale of the Commonwealth Games scandal and the Adarsh housing episode. Worse, the 2G spectrum matter dated back to the UPA's first stint; at best, Mr Singh was evading the issue, at worst being quite the worst possible. But Parliament is not for politicians to enjoy hold-up games; the Opposition's determined obstruction of business for the entire winter session demonstrated shocking dereliction of duty. An entire session, with bills to be passed, policies to debate and a whole nation to be governed, was simply thrown away, as were vast amounts of public money. Perhaps the elected leaders think that a rising growth rate means money — and time — to play with. Certainly it is not what the people think. And that is what makes the UPA's behaviour puzzling. If the JPC is the fire ordeal to determine the UPA's purity, why wait so long? It is an irresponsible government that pointlessly fritters away a session in Parliament. If the UPA thought that agreeing too soon would suggest weakness, that attribute is even more noticeable now, because a government would hardly waste so much parliamentary time unless it was forced to. Besides, agreeing now suggests nervousness too: the Opposition may stick to its guns in the budget session also if the prime minister does not agree to a JPC. But whatever be the needs of holding a coalition together, they cannot excuse shilly-shallying on corruption and on the business and procedure of governing.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

SEPARATE WAYS

If it is maximum visibility that the pro-Telangana agitators had in mind, they may be said to have gained it by holding Parliament to ransom on Wednesday. Having achieved that initial target, the agitators in the capital may still be convinced about the necessity of ceding ground to the other important issue of the national budget. But it is unlikely that a similar reasoning will hold water in Andhra Pradesh itself, where Telangana has become the sole factor determining the fortunes and relevance of certain political parties. Not surprisingly, the budget session in the state assembly is caught in a limbo, and the stalemate, given the turmoil outside the House, is bound to continue for a while. The Telangana agitation, it can be said, is following its expected trajectory in the state after the minor interlude forced upon it while the Srikrishna committee was doing its job. This need not have been so. The reason why the Telangana issue remains as vexed as ever is perhaps because the Srikrishna committee, despite the energies and emotions invested in it, has failed to provide a clear direction as to where things could lead. The committee's investigation has knocked off the central plank of the demand for Telangana — economic deprivation — by noting that Rayalaseema is equally, if not more, backward. But the committee has, strangely, desisted from debunking the demand itself and gone on to add to the confusion by providing more than one possible solution.

It would be foolhardy to insist that dissenters would have tamely toed the committee's line on Telangana had it come to a single, forceful conclusion. As the committee report noted, much of the Telangana issue has to do with the way disaffection — be it economic, social or cultural — has been used by politicians to further their own interests. This ugly truth is unlikely to go away in a hurry as political parties in Andhra Pradesh try to make the most of the unrest. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti, the Telugu Desam Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, as also sections of the ruling Congress, know the distinct political advantages that will accrue to them by pushing the cause of a separate Telangana. This, unfortunately, is not responsible politics. Forcing a fragmentation by political might will neither eradicate economic inequality nor do justice to the people on whose behalf the battle is being waged.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

IT CAN HAPPEN EVEN HERE

CORRUPT LEADERS, NO JOBS AND HIGH PRICES ARE A DANGEROUS MIX CUTTING CORNERS: ASHOK MITRA

The Supreme Court has found a politician from Kerala, a member of the Congress, guilty on charges of corruption while minister for electricity in the state (picture), and has sentenced him to one year's rigorous imprisonment. The judgment of the nation's highest judiciary is final and cannot be appealed against. The individual is therefore a convicted felon. Within 24 hours of the announcement of the Supreme Court decision, this felon was accorded a public reception by local Congressmen in Thiruvananthapuram as if he were a conquering hero.

If we were groping for a symbol or metaphor that will depict the state of the nation, this will snugly answer the prayer. The Indian National Congress is the country's oldest and largest political entity; it leads the government at the Centre. And yet its members feel no compunction in felicitating someone, judged by the Supreme Court to be corrupt, as a noble son of the soil. There can hardly be a greater instance of utter contempt of the law of the land. The demeanour of the Congressmen who organized the reception can only be interpreted as unabashed approval of corrupt practice. Since the so-called Congress high command has not till now pulled up its acolytes in Kerala for perpetrating this outrage, it too deserves to be described as at least a mute supporter of criminality.

The episode is an echo of the serial tales of sleaze pouring out of New Delhi at a steady flow. No- holds-barred defalcation of public funds is seemingly the order of the day. The office of the comptroller and auditor general is doing its duty by revealing the modality and quantum of the embezzlements that have been taking place. On the basis of the reports of the CAG, the Supreme Court is hauling the government over the coals. Those occupying the seats of power, instead of behaving contritely, have the cheek to malign the CAG and express unhappiness at the 'super-activism' of the judiciary. Crime, that is to say, is being accorded, even if obliquely, the imprimatur of official approval — precisely what, at the party level, Kerala's Congressmen too have done.

Can all this, though, constitute a stable equilibrium? Can stealing and thieving in high places be philosophically accepted as a way of life and left at that? Or, in the manner of the prime minister, sought to be explained away as an unavoidable by-product of 'alliance politics'? It is, of course, possible to envisage the format of a polity where ethics and morality are turned upside down, falsehood is truth, evil is hailed as nobility and crime is anointed as saintliness. It can even be a multi-party democracy, with adult suffrage and periodic elections as its features: one set of politicians will rule the roost for some while, make their pile and withdraw, another set of politicians will at that point take over and repeat the performance of the first set; they too will use the processes of government to make pots and pots of money and then recede into the background, to be followed by either the return of the original set of politicians to power or the emergence of yet a third group which will, conforming to the precedent firmly established, plunder the national exchequer.

Can such a set of circumstances, however, continue for ever and ever? The answer will normally be in the negative. Instead of what happens under a dictatorship, in the case of a multi-party democracy, an excess of graft on the part of the ruling coterie will, it will be argued, provide the parties in the opposition the scope to organize protest and gather enough strength to eject the corrupt rulers in the next elections; people will exercise their sovereign right to vote out the rascals. But suppose the new group of rulers turns equally venal and repeats the acts of malfeasance of their predecessors? Change of regime does not bring down corruption, it merely amounts to supplanting one bunch of thieves by another; the citizenry gradually grows inured to gross acts of impropriety committed by those whom it elects to office and corruption is regarded as endemic to governance.

Pessimism of this genre is all of a sudden receiving a come-uppance. The events in Tunisia and Egypt — and their aftershock being felt all over North Africa and West Asia — indicate that even authoritarian regimes can be vulnerable if corruption is carried to wild excess. Besides, corruption is not the only malady affecting the country. It is often accompanied by a high level of unemployment and spiralling food prices. The administration is either unwilling or unable to control these evils. Should the deadly combination of unbridled corruption, restless young people without the opportunity of jobs and householders weighed down by continuously rising prices of essential commodities, including cereals, persist for long, even authoritarian rule, the Middle East is proving, would be of no avail; people, at the end of their tethers, will rise in collective revolt and make mincemeat of the dictators.

Is our multi-party democracy proof to the North Africa-type of upheavals? Is there any objective basis for the quality of smugness exemplified by the politicians who have glorified someone convicted of corruption? Should not some rethinking begin to take place in a few quarters? For here too, corruption is being kept company by the two other nagging phenomena, horrendous unemployment and galloping food inflation. Ruling politicians and their hangers-on talk ceaselessly about the supposedly high growth rate the country has achieved; if they are to be believed, with gross domestic product vaulting towards 10 per cent per annum, India is already a paradise. If, on the other hand, in pursuit of one of the directive principles of state policy enshrined in the Constitution, the criterion of economic development was shifted to the degree of success in providing the means of livelihood to each able-bodied citizen and, accordingly growth measured in terms of the annual rate of increase in employment, the picture would be completely altered: aggregate employment in the country has been barely one per cent in the recent period; in a number of individual years, it has in fact been negative.

The behaviour of food prices is no better. Good year or bad year, harvest time or otherwise, prices of food articles continue to rise. The authorities are seemingly in no mood to check this rise; ministers routinely express the hope that prices will level out six months hence or thereabouts; they do nothing worthwhile towards ensuring that end; class interests presumably intervene; the alibi is sought in the upward trend of global food prices.

Who knows whether a time bomb is not ticking somewhere. The conjuncture of open corruption, high unemployment and uncontrolled inflation is capable of creating a situation where even the safety-valve of periodic elections could be rendered infructuous; people might not have the patience to wait for the next elections or they may lose faith in all parties, including those currently in the opposition. The searing flames from Tunisia and Egypt could reach our shores too.

True, globalization has crushed the organized trade union movement in the country; its lure has also sucked in a section of the middle class. The immiserized rural poor are both riven by caste animosities and dispersed in hundreds and thousands of villages, apart from being victims of illiteracy and a low level of consciousness. It is nonetheless an uncertain horizon, and on account of a probability to which attention was drawn nearly 90 years ago by Allyn Young, the Harvard economist. Pick a country bumpkin from a wilderness, let him roam aimlessly in the thoroughfares of a metropolis like London or New York, he will watch the city lights, the procession of fleeting cars, rows of huge mansions and skyscrapers, the billboards and huge departmental stores, the assortment of smartly attired men and women rushing about. At the end of just one week, he will no longer remain a dumb country bumpkin, he has absorbed the sights and sounds of metropolitan existence, he is a changed human being, his awareness and intelligence have shot up even though not a penny has been spent to improve his bearings.

This is the imponderable factor. Television, the internet and cell phones have enabled India's rich to become enormously richer. These, at the same time are directly as well as indirectly, raising the level of consciousness of the country's impoverished, exploited, hitherto mute millions. Such awakening is a dangerous incendiary. The trade union movement may be dead. The peasantry may be inordinately backward and faction ridden. Thievery at high places coinciding with massive worklessness and inflation could nevertheless, without the courtesy of a warning, give birth to a nationwide fury convulsing the system.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

THE RULES THAT BIND

BONAFIDE: MALVIKA SINGH

It boggles the mind that independent India continues to be ruled by many acts and laws of the 1800s, crafted carefully by the British when they were the ruling imperial power. These strict, sometimes repressive, acts and rules were drafted in order to govern a colony infested with 'natives' who were to be kept as second-class citizens in their own motherland. When Gandhi — along with Nehru and other Indian leaders — led the freedom movement, he opposed the imperial regime and its laws. Liberty came with enormous personal sacrifices and a dreadful portioning of an extraordinary, plural and ancient civilization. We never wrote our own independent laws. Nor did we take cognizance of the need to rewrite the draconian acts for a new, democratic, secular nation state. Our Constitution has saved us from turning into a banana republic, and even today Indians remain victims of archaic colonial regulations.

There is no excuse for such utter complacency, except that our democratically elected leaders find it easier to rule by using laws and acts, including police acts, that suppress freedom as defined by modern states and their governments. The mindset of the rulers remains oppressive, dictatorial and all-knowing, as they continue to administer a democratic country with the help of colonial laws. The deeply insulting and sad truth is that no government has bothered to address the issue since 1947. Therefore, the celebration of Gandhiji comes across as fundamentally fake since India continues to be governed by everything that he opposed. Why do we always mock the honest and the transparent? Why doesn't this government work overtime to correct the many faults? How can there be an effective rate of growth within an archaic, repressive and colonial structure of rules?

Endless delay

We desperately need radical police reforms. Why the endless delay in looking into the many recommendations and their implementation? Why this disrespect for the people of India? Why this never-ending test of patience? Why this insidious assault on all that is right? None of this correction has to do with the dharma of coalition politics. So what is the reason for this supreme neglect of the system? These fundamental changes will bring the votes and entrench the ruling parties for another term. The resumption of a real process of cleansing, in which each ministry establishes a new code of operation, should be the priority of the cabinet. Ministers must be given a mandate to deliver and made accountable to a time-bound framework. Why the fear of killing the fatal virus — the status quo?

Excuses abound, and they have become like the dull and predictable 'sloganeering' that we have to put up with. What makes the lack of commitment difficult to digest is the fact that this dispensation has excellent people at the helm, and one cannot comprehend why they are not excited by the challenge of breaking out of the corroded, dead mould. There are enough lawyers in the government who could devote some time to ensuring the changes necessary in our statute books.

Why are we beset by intellectual lethargy? Why is the administration not whipped into delivering goods and services? Is our leadership just plain tired, old and incapable of generating the energy required to grow India and take on China? This is only one example. There is a chain of other realities that needs urgent intellectual and practical input.

Why are we silent on the killing of innocent citizens protesting the cruel governance of a dictator in Libya? The British prime minister has visited Egypt already. Why did India, an old friend, not beat him to the 'game'?

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

EDITORIAL

HEAVY BURDEN

''THE GOVT SHOULD MODERATE ITS TAX PROPOSALS.''


The Karnataka budget for 2011-12 presented by chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, who also holds finance portfolio, in the state legislature on Thursday, is disappointing in more ways than one. While claiming to have presented an "exclusive budget for the agriculture sector" which is "the first and the only one of its kind in the country," the chief minister has gone on to impose an additional tax burden of Rs 1,020 crore which will hit the common man, already reeling under skyrocketing prices, really hard. Though the farmers have been offered some sops like loans up to Rs 3 lakh at 1 per cent from cooperative societies and Rs 1,000 crore for improvement of the lives of 10 lakh agricultural families, the actual increase in allocation to the sector is very marginal. Even then, initiatives like framing of agri-business development policy, provision of Rs 7,800 crore for the irrigation sector and encouragement to organic farming need to be commended.


It is heartening to note that the state's economy is gaining momentum and is expected to grow at 8.2 per cent in real terms in Gross State Domestic Product during 2010-11 as compared to 5.2 per cent during the previous fiscal and the chief minister expects the state to achieve close to 9 per cent growth. It has been made possible by increased production of foodgrains and higher contribution from manufacturing and services sectors. There has been some buoyancy in tax collection too, but it could certainly improve with better monitoring and enforcement. Assuring the House that the fiscal position of the government is 'sound', Yeddyurappa has promised to improve tax administration and maximise development expenditure.


But, contrary to such promise, his government has proposed a number of items of wasteful expenditure, including Rs 5,000 crore for a 'business park' at Devanahalli, Rs 100 crore for a so-called 'theme park' at Hampi and Rs 25 crore for a Bhuvaneshwari statue in Bangalore. Disregarding the fact that Karnataka is already among the highest taxed states in the country, the chief minister has proposed hefty increases in commercial tax, including betting tax, stamps and registration, excise duty and motor vehicle tax. Though the government claims that additional resource mobilisation is around Rs 1,020 crore, it is likely to be substantially more, considering that on excise alone, for instance, the government mopped up Rs 700 crore more than the projected revenue for 2010-11. As the continually rising inflation has already hit the common man badly, the government would do well to moderate its taxation proposals and show that it intends to stand by him and not exploit his helplessness.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

GREAT POTENTIAL

''BP CAN OFFER TECHNOLOGY THAT RELIANCE LACKS.''


The $ 7.2 billion deal between British Petroleum (BP) and India's oil major Reliance Industries is important not only for the two companies but also for India's energy security and economy. Reliance has not been known for equity partnerships but it has now offered a 30 per cent stake in 23 oil and gas fields, including its biggest field, K-G D6, to BP. If exploration results go well another $1.8 billion might be brought in by BP. Both companies are planning to make a 50:50 joint venture to import gas and create a marketing  network and this could take BP's investment to $20 billion (over Rs 90,000 crore). Though India has allowed oil exploration by overseas companies, none has till now offered or committed so much investment in the country till now.


Reliance has been hampered in its exploration efforts by the lack of latest technological knowhow and expertise. The extraction and output from its fields, especially K-G D6, has been declining because of this. BP's technology can boost extraction by working the fields to their maximum potential, leading even to a doubling of output. The cash infusion can also help Reliance to increase its capex and investment in energy business. More offshore hydrocarbon blocks can be explored with greater success with the help of the technologies BP can offer.

The deal has come at a time when there is a shadow over foreign direct investment in the country. At present it is smaller than the $11.2 billion Vodafone-Hutch deal but when the full potential is realised it might turn out to be the largest FDI deal. FDI has been falling in the recent past with an inflow of only $19 billion this year as against $37 billion last year. If foreign investors have of late found the milieu in India uncertain and discouraging the multi-billion dollar BP deal might mark a change in perceptions. It is also significant that the investment offer is in the petroleum sector where foreign companies have found government policies restrictive. They had withdrawn from India since the nationalisation of oil business. With BP coming round to recognise the potential of business in India, there is bound to be greater interest among other companies.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

THE MALKANGIRI DRAMA

N N SACHITANAND


If there is one thing Maoists are not comfortable with, it is that the state-sponsored development should reach the areas under their control.


It is with a sense of déjà vu that one views the happenings in Malkangiri, Orissa. The state government has abjectly surrendered to Maoist demands in order to get back the kidnapped district collector R V Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi. The engineer had been released on Wednesday and after some drama, the mediators secured the collector's release on Thursday night.


Among the 12 Maoist prisoners released in the exchange are two high profile rebels —  CPI state committee member, Sriramalu Srinivasalu, alias Sudarshan, and Ganti Prasadam, who is facing charges in about 100 cases in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.

 

Sriramalu spearheaded the regrouping of Maoists in Andhra and was arrested in July, 2007.


We have seen all this before. In October 2009, the West Bengal government had to meekly free 22 Maoist prisoners in exchange for abducted state police officer Attindranath Dutta. The Maoists had made their intentions clear about such demands when, earlier in the same month, they beheaded Jharkhand police inspector Francis Induwar. The Jharkhand government had been reluctant to free three arrested ultras in exchange for the kidnapped officer.


As usual, the Orissa episode will again ignite a stormy debate on TV channels and in print about such issues as 'soft State,' 'no bargaining with terrorists,' 'bring in the army,' 'follow Israel's example' and so on. In fact, with every headline-grabbing kidnap drama, this brouhaha emerges in knee-jerk fashion and remains in ferment till the authorities cave in, the exchanges are made and the storm dies down.

 

But then, frankly, can the government of the day afford to take a rigid stand? After the exchange of Maoist prisoners for the kidnapped police officer, West Bengal's then home secretary Ardhendu Sen was queried by a TV channel about the need for some kind of a hostage policy. His said: "Yes, I get the point that you are making. I really doubt if a piece-set guideline or a policy can be set in these matters. One has to take each incident on its merit, case-by-case. I don't think a black and white policy will happen."


Unfortunately, he is correct. There will always be exceptions to a rigid, no-bargaining policy. Like the Indian Airlines flight hijacking episode back in 1999. With the plane ensconced in hostile territory and the relatives of over 200 passengers exerting tumultuous emotional blackmail over myriad TV channels, the only option for the government was to give in to the hijacker's demands, even though the prisoners to be exchanged were the most heinous terrorists.


Bypassing the rule

Let us also not overlook the fact that political expediency can tempt any government to bypass the 'no bargaining' rule. One has to only recall the alacrity with which five top terrorists were released by the Centre in December 1989 in exchange for Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of then Union home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who was kidnapped by the JKLF. One wonders if such quick decisiveness would have been showed if the abducted one had been an ordinary citizen.

However, the Malkangiri episode had one curious facet which may not have been noticed by many. This is the fact that villagers in the area where the kidnapped collector and junior engineer were lifted, voluntarily got together to try and rescue them. The reason: the collector, R V Krishna, had involved himself passionately in implementing development works in the area and had won the hearts of the local inhabitants. In fact, reports say that the Maoist team was so hassled by the determined villagers that it had to split into two teams, with one captive in each and keep hopping from place to place.


Now, if this is true, then it is fantastic. For, if there is one thing Maoists are not comfortable with, it is that state-sponsored development should reach the areas in their control. Do not take at face value the paeans of praise showered on them by bards, troubadours, human rights activists, intellectuals with facile pens, Leftists and other assorted fellow travellers.


Maoists need disaffection for spreading their hold. That's why they make it a point to bomb and destroy village schools, rural health centres, railway stations, bus stands, panchayat meeting halls and other facilities which could enhance the quality of rural life. That's why they terrorise teachers, small traders, petty bureaucrats, lower level engineers, lower rank policemen and the like.


Fortunately for the Maoists, the general run of politicians and bureaucrats are on the make or on the take and have little time for reaching development to the people. But, occasionally there come persons like Krishna, who are of a different breed and actually take the trouble to bring development to the people.


Such persons are dangerous to the Maoist cause. They have to be checkmated. His kidnapping was a means to do that and also teach a lesson to other sincere bureaucrats who would like to follow suit. It would be a pity, though, if this tactic succeeds in scaring away other sincere officers like Krishna.

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

ISRAEL SHAKEN BY WEST ASIA DOMINOES

STEVEN ERLANGER, NYT


New govts are likely to support Palestinian cause as Egypt has already reopened the crossing with Hamas-run Gaza.
The old certainties of West Asia have been upended, and Israel finds many of its most reliable partners buffeted or blown away by popular agitation from below. Egypt was long one of Israel's most important allies, and ties were quietly close to Tunisia. With demonstrations for change also in Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco, Israel finds itself floundering.


"Many of our assumptions are broken," said Mark Heller, Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv. "We are groping here, but with the limited tools we have to understand these phenomena, it is not very promising."


Israelis worry that Arab democracy movements will ultimately be dominated by extremists, as happened in Iran after the 1979 revolution that ousted the shah. They worry about the chaotic transition between revolt and democratic stability, if it ever comes. They see Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, even if it remains a minority of Egyptian opinion, as pressing for more solidarity with the Palestinians and Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the brotherhood. And they fear that Israel's regional partners in checking Iran are under threat or falling.


New Arab realities

Arab analysts counter that new Arab realities and democracies should be welcomed by Israel, because the new Arab generation shares many of the same values as Israel and the West. They argue there is no support among Egypt's leaders for the abrogation of the 1979 peace treaty, though it is unpopular with the public, and that the Egyptian army will not disrupt foreign policy.


"There has been an evolution in the Arab world, among political elites and in civil society. Israel is a fact," said Mohamed Darif, King Hassan II University, Morocco.


But new governments are more likely to increase their support for the Palestinian cause, with Egypt already reopening the crossing with Hamas-run Gaza. That new attitude could pressure Israel to do more to find a settlement, some analysts argue. Most others believe that Israel will instead resist, arguing they cannot make concessions because they are now encircled by more hostile neighbours.


"The widespread indignity felt by Egyptians who see themselves as the jailers of Gaza on behalf of Israel and Washington will give way to a realistic policy by which Egyptians use their ties with Israel to push the latter to adopt a more law-abiding stance towards the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese," said Rami G Khouri, American University of Beirut. "Egypt will keep peace with Israel, but raise the temperature on issues of profound national concern to Arabs."


The Israeli-Palestinian issue was not important to the democratic revolts, said Marwan Muasher, former foreign minister of Jordan and its first ambassador to Israel. But he said it might well be in the future.


"Not solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue today will complicate relations between the emerging Arab governments and their peoples on one side and the West on the other," said Muasher. "In this atmosphere of freedom, it will be very difficult for new Arab governments to ignore the occupation."


Olivier Roy, European University Institute in Italy, also expects a new Egyptian government to have "a more open policy toward the Palestinians, helping Gazans more through aid and transport." But he argued that "it won't go very far," adding that many Israelis on the right prefer a Gaza dependent on Egypt, rather than on Iran.


While Israelis worry about the Muslim Brotherhood, Roy argued that the revolt surprised and sidelined the group. "The Brotherhood will be very happy to represent some sort of opposition," he said. "They don't want to be in the front line."


"'So I don't foresee a grand geostrategic change," Roy said. "But the Saudis and Israelis are convinced there will be one."


Other analysts see a major opportunity for Israel. "It's a whole new software now being unfolded," said Gilles Kepel, Institute of Political Studies, Paris. "I believe there's a big opening, and the ball is in the Israeli court."

"The Islamists in the region are splitting between the radicals and the 'participationists,' whose role model is the governing party in Turkey," Kepel said. "They will have to deal with democracy and see their ideological commitments erode."


But Israelis are anxious, especially about Jordan, where the king appears shaky, and about both the Muslim Brotherhood and left-wing secular voices in Egypt. The Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, praised Egyptian democracy but noted that "the reformist leader Ayman Nour declared that 'the era of Camp David is over'."

Israelis have also noted the emergence in Tahrir Square last week of Youssef el-Qaradawi, an Islamic theologian who had been exiled by Mubarak, and the willingness of the Egyptian army to let some Iranian warships through the Suez Canal.


It's not just the Israelis who are worried, noted Heller in Tel Aviv, pointing to the protest of Tunisian women over the weekend, concerned that their existing freedoms may be at risk in a new democracy from Islamists.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

THE POWER OF MUSIC

NAVARATNA LAXMAN

 

A soft and soulful tune wafted across his silent ward from nowhere.


The belief that music can alter moods has been with us from the dawn of history. Research on therapeutic use of music to restore emotional, physical and spiritual health is being carried out at certain universities worldwide.

It is believed that the sound of music can help people improve every facet of their lives by providing a profound state of serene awareness capable of activating body's inherent potential to heal itself from even life-threatening conditions.

Here is the real life experience of my good friend Seshadri, based in the US, who is an ardent lover of classical music with a penchant for the sublime renditions of the iconic singer M S Subbulakshmi. Due to a serious heart condition in June 1994 he was admitted for necessary investigations at Lenox Hill hospital, New York. With his health deteriorating by the day, he was terribly upset and grew increasingly apprehensive about the lingering uncertainty of his condition as doctors continued with a plethora of tests.


Spending several lonely sleepless nights in the ward, his depressed mind naturally conjectured unimaginable horrors that possibly awaited him. It was on one such night that he perceived a soft and soulful tune wafting across his silent ward from nowhere, filling the premises with breath-taking and melodious profusion of temple bells, which his disturbed mind instantly identified as that of MS's soul-stirring composition 'Bhaja Govindam' rendered in the angelic, emotional and mellifluous voice of MS herself!


Flooded by an immense feeling of devotion he felt that the maze of apprehensions which had incessantly gripped his mind and tormented him to no end had suddenly disappeared, as would darkness by the bright rays of the sun! His tired body, lulled by the soothing waves of the celestial tune, sank into blissful sleep that had eluded him for weeks!


When he awoke next morning he was astonished to find himself in a peaceful and relaxed mood. The visiting doctors and relatives too noticed this amazing change in him but he preferred to keep his previous night's experience to himself lest others misconstrue his divine communion with a mystic phenomenon which had brought about such a delightful change in his being as a sick man's hallucination.


This miracle continued next and many more nights with unfailing regularity. He was unable to make out the origin of that celestial tune and its audibility only to his senses but he was nevertheless convinced that it was indeed the kind-hearted MS who was singing for him to save his life!


Soon his condition improved so drastically that he was discharged from the hospital with no further treatment, much to the enigma of the specialists who had no hesitation in nick naming him 'miracle man'! To this day Sheshadri considers MS, who virtually gave him 're-birth', his second mother!

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

PATH OF PEACE IS ISRAEL'S ONLY CHOICE IN NEW MIDEAST

IN VIEW OF WHAT IS OCCURRING IN OUR REGION AND THE INTERNATIONAL ARENA, OBAMA WILL NOT ALLOW ISRAEL THE FREEDOM TO USE FORCE FREELY, NEITHER AGAINST IRAN, NOR, HEAVEN FORBID, AGAINST AN INTERNAL INTIFADA OF A MILLION AND A HALF ISRAELI ARABS.

BY YOEL MARCUS

President Shimon Peres, an incorrigible optimist, promised us a new Middle East. He even predicted that the day would come when Gaza would turn into the Singapore of the Middle East. He was also the first to encourage an alliance of security interests between secular Turkey and Israel.

Like many of us, he too believed that so long as Mubarak stayed in power, the peace agreement would last. He was also confident that Mubarak's corrupt son would perpetuate his father's policies. After all, billions of dollars of American aid should not be taken lightly.

We also knew that the Muslim Brotherhood represents a threat to peace, but Mubarak allayed our fears, or at least he persuaded Benjamin Ben-Eliezer that the Brotherhood constitutes a minority that is under control.

Nobody imagined that the unemployed and the hungry in Egypt had any real power; nobody thought about the multitudes of students who finished their studies and could not find work. Nor was anyone worrying about infringement of individual liberty; more than anything, the character of the governmental framework, as a corrupt apparatus that feeds off the public coffers, was overlooked.

Nobody in the Presidential Palace uttered the famous sentence "let them eat cake;" but in Egypt, as in France, the people wanted more than cake.

Recently, former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy remarked that revolutions don't give advance notice of their arrival. Also, those that consolidate slowly, such as Turkey's severance of the secular-Ataturk tradition, do not give such notice. The chain of upheavals that started in Tunisia spread like a brushfire from state to state.

While the enlightened world, that is European states, are slowly being conquered by Muslim immigrants and Obama's America views us as the source of all defects and impediments in the region, these onlookers were hit by a blow they didn't expect: the spread of revolution from state to state in our region, like virulent bacteria. Whoever put up with Gadhafi out of deference to his ample oil supply and his promise to desist from more terror activity should not be surprised to wake up, to paraphrase an old adage, with a genocidal murderer in his bed. What is now happening in the "New Middle East" is a clash between regimes based on the rules of the last century and contemporary democratic principles.

The U.S. can recite endlessly abstract formulas about the imperative of democratization. Those are fine words, but do they apply, for instance, to Saudi Arabia? The entire leadership stratum in Riyadh has aged; a life-and-death struggle between sons and grandsons who have claims for the throne is on the horizon in that country.

British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted during his visit to Kuwait that the democratic world fails when it offers support to dictators. He and other Western leaders were persuaded by Islamic rulers that democratic systems are not suited to Arab traditions and Islamic laws.

Israel relied on President Mubarak to preserve peaceful relations. True, this was not a warm, loving relationship, but it hinged on scrupulous compliance with all details of the peace agreement. Whether anyone in Israel spoke with Mubarak about what was to happen after his demise is not clear. Israel relied on Mubarak the way it relies on Jordan's Hashemite ruler, King Abdullah. But I'm not sure that the king of Jordan doesn't take a sleeping pill before he goes to bed. As suggested by the example of 1970's Black September, when Israel prevented Syria's encroachment in Jordan, the son of King Hussein can rely on Israel's help in a situation of mass Palestinian revolt in his country.

Obama's first use of American veto power, opposing the denunciation of Israel in the UN, will perhaps be his last such use. The swell of international hostility that was expressed in this vote will discourage Israel from using force.

In view of what is occurring in our region and the international arena, Obama will not allow Israel the freedom to use force freely, neither against Iran, nor, heaven forbid, against an internal intifada of a million and a half Israeli Arabs.

The government of Israel, which did not have a clue as to what was about to happen in our region, must come down from the bleachers as a passive spectator and deal with the main issue: How can we quickly re-create reality so that we are not the only state in the world that lacks permanent borders, and so that we do not control another people.

As outgoing Chief of Staff Ashkenazi recommended to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, a first step would be to remove Syria from the circle of hostility. A diplomatic effort in that direction might not work, but we must give it a try.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THERE IS NO POLITICAL HOME

THE PROBLEM IS THAT THE ISRAELI LEFT REFUSES, IN ALMOST ALL OF ITS PUBLIC UTTERANCES, TO DEAL SERIOUSLY WITH THE QUESTION OF WHETHER THE PALESTINIANS' SOLE AND FINAL AIM IS TO PUT AN END TO THE OCCUPATION.

BY ALEXANDER YAKOBSON

A letter to a friend who suggested that I join a new left-wing movement: I am sure the platform will be just fine with the peace conditions that I support: two states for two peoples, the Green Line with swaps, Jerusalem partitioned according to national lines. That's not where the problem lies.

The problem is that the Israeli left refuses, in almost all of its public utterances, to deal seriously with the question of whether the Palestinians' sole and final aim is to put an end to the occupation. The discourse of the right assumes the occupation is not a problem; the discourse of the left, and not just the extreme left, creates the impression that the occupation is self-evidently the only problem at hand.

Of course this is not written in any platform, and if we were holding a legal discussion on the matter, it would be easy to prove that from time to time one heres something different than this from some spokesman of the left. But this is not a legal discussion; it is political discourse. Joining a political movement means joining a discourse, not a platform. The real question is, what tone dominates the discourse.

This is not a matter of optimism versus pessimism. One can have different assessments as to the chances of reaching an agreement (full or partial ).

The point is that, in most instances, the question simply does not arise in the first place. The rule is that a member of the left speaks as if it's a given that the occupation is the only issue.

Those who believe this, good for them. For me, lending a hand to such a discourse would mean lending my hand to a lie.

The fact that one often hears quite different things during personal conversations with people on the left, just aggravates me even more. But I have given up hope of changing this discourse. Those are the rules in that club; that is how people want to talk. It proves that they are enlightened and advanced. I don't intend to go to a party just to be a wet blanket. That party is not for me.

Read Meron Rapoport's February 17 op-ed on these pages, "Egypt's revolution can free Israelis too." It is in no way an extremist or anti-Zionist piece. Read it and tell me if, in this text, there is any hint whatsoever that maybe, just maybe, the problem between us and the Palestinians is not merely that of an occupying power and an occupied people in the West Bank. Maybe if one million Palestinians take to the street and topple the occupation, which is what the author is hoping for, this will not necessarily signify the end of the conflict but perhaps the start to an "intifada of return" - just as Libya's Muammar Ghadafi advised the Palestinians a few days ago.

The reader could easily think the article was addressed to the citizens of Prague facing the Soviet tanks in 1968. As if Israel's predicament in the Middle East was similar to the situation of the Soviet Union in Czechoslovakia.

And I'm really not prepared to take comfort in the likelihood that, in a personal conversation with the author, it might transpire that he in fact views these matters less simplistically.

I am just not there. And there is no chance of bringing the Israeli public "there," either. Such discourse is an asset for the right. People are tempted to say: Those on the right - with all their nonsense - at least they know, basically, where we are living. And after all, even the leaders of the right speak today about partitioning the land and the two-state solution - why not give them a chance? Such discourse is a gift for the right, a gift it really does not deserve.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

LEFT CAN UNITE TO LEAD ISRAEL ONCE AGAIN

THOSE WHO WISH FOR A NEW START WOULD DO WELL TO LOOK TOWARD THE WEST RATHER THAN BACKWARDS. THE ISRAELI LABOR MOVEMENT WAS AN AD HOC INVENTION FOR THE PURPOSE OF CREATING INDEPENDENCE, BUT NO MORE THAN THAT.

BY ZEEV STERNHELL

For the first time in a long while, a real buzz is being felt among the left in Israel. Groups are getting organized with the intention of showing a presence in the street. The Labor Party, too, is waking up from a long period of paralysis imposed on it by Ehud Barak. However it will not be able to be a relevant force again in the politics of the left unless it separates itself, once and for all, from all those who cooperated with Barak in setting up the Netanyahu-Lieberman government.

True, not everyone who believed that the old-new leader would succeed in dragging Netanyahu to a peace agreement with the Palestinians deserves to be denounced at the pillory, but those who continued sitting in that government until they were thrown out, must go. In that way it will be possible to begin gathering the forces for establishing a credible social democratic party.

The major obstacle is the lack of willingness on the part of people with a coherent ideology to reach a compromise among themselves. There are a number of bodies currently active in the Zionist left that are divided by differences of nuance, and sometimes also of real content, but not by critical differences.

From the Sheikh Jarrah group to the "National Left" (this term when translated into one of the European languages sounds really bad ) and including Meretz and those people from Labor who are sick and tired of the opportunism of their leaders, there is a sufficiently broad common denominator that can create a tool for changing the reality.

Indeed, they all share the opinion that an end must be put to the occupation and a Palestinian state must be established. They all have in common the understanding that a continuation of Israeli rule over the Palestinians will create an apartheid state here or destroy Israel as a country in which the Jewish majority enjoys sovereignty and self-rule.

They are all repulsed by the burgeoning racism that is spreading through this society at the initiative of the right wing. And what is no less important, they are all convinced that economic neoliberalism is a recipe for social disaster and eventually also for economic collapse. They also all believe that society and the state exist for the benefit of the individual, and that the human being is the objective of social and political activity. Likewise, they all know that democracy is based on human rights.

Such a principled outlook produces clear political conclusions, which form the basis on which it is possible to unite the forces.

It should be emphasized that a political party is not a pressure group for achieving one goal, no matter how lofty it may be. A party must reflect a comprehensive view of the social and political reality, and needs basic guidelines in all spheres of public life.

This remark is aimed specifically at Knesset member Shelly Yachimovich; she is a determined and courageous woman but turning her back on the existential need to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians will not be to her benefit. If she wishes to lead the left, she must not ignore the disaster that the occupation produces and hope that by virtue of closing her eyes in this manner, the lower income groups will rush to her side.

Those who wish for inspiration for a new start would do well to look toward the West rather than backwards. The Israeli labor movement was an ad hoc invention for the purpose of achieving independence, but no more than that.

Even in the distant past it would seem from time to time that the Histadrut labor federation was closer to being a corporation than a workers' organization fighting to change the face of society.

In principle, it would be appropriate to build the new party on different ideological streams. The differences of opinion would find expression at the local level and in various elected central bodies, and every year a convention would discuss the proposals for policy, and this is where the platform and directives for action would be formulated. All the opinions would be aired and the decisions would be binding on all.

The party that would be established would not be a ruling party immediately, but its influence would be much greater than what there is today, and as a beginning, that is not something negligible.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

MIDEAST UNREST MAY BE RARE OPPORTUNITY FOR HUMAN JUSTICE

WE MUST NOT IGNORE THE DANGERS BUT AT THE SAME TIME NOT DISMISS THE CHANCE FOR A BETTER FUTURE FOR THE BACKWARD PARTS OF THE ARAB WORLD.

A mighty wind is blowing through the Arab and Muslim world and we are in the eye of the tempest, not knowing what the whirlwind will bring.

Murderous violence in Libya, ongoing demonstrations in Yemen, Iran and Bahrain. The first buds of protest have sprouted in Syria, Jordan, Morocco and Algeria. In Egypt and Tunisia, the tyrants were driven out, but the new regimes are still far from taking form.

All these revolutions, those in full swing and those on the way, are not the same, but it can already be seen that things are going to change. Better or worse, democratic or fundamentalist, a new Arab order is about to be set up.

The Arab and Muslim world is undergoing an agitation the likes of which has not been known before and nobody can predict its consequences and repercussions.

The world is observing, for now, these stormy winds from afar. It is driven by a mishmash of narrow economic and political interests and lofty ideals. It rushed to support the Egyptian protesters, yet is displaying helplessness and complacency in view of the reported massacre in Libya.

Nobody is mentioning Saudi Arabia, one of the dictatorships in which so far no protest has been reported.

This is a critical hour for the Arab world, as well as the world at large. These amazing occurrences must be watched closely.

If the massacre in Libya continues, the world must intervene to prevent genocide. If the Egyptian opposition succeeds in establishing a democratic regime, the world must enlist to help it.

There are few points in history when so many fates are about to be sealed in a relatively short time - fates of nations and states, fates of millions of people yearning to be free and to prosper.

The current situation is fraught with many dangers but also enfolds great hopes. We must not ignore the dangers but at the same time not dismiss the chance for a better future for the backward parts of the Arab world.

It is a world abundant with natural resources, but which never translated its wealth into welfare for its people. It is a world that hasn't known a single real democracy.

Now it has its big opportunity. We must do everything so that this opportunity is not missed.

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

EDITORIAL

THE FOOD CRISIS

Food prices are soaring to record levels, threatening many developing countries with mass hunger and political instability. Finance ministers of the Group of 20 leading economies discussed the problem at a meeting in Paris last week, but for all of their expressed concern, most are already breaking their promises to help.

After the last sharp price spike in 2008, the G-20 promised to invest $22 billion over three years to help vulnerable countries boost food production. To date, the World Bank fund that is supposed to administer this money has received less than $400 million.

Food prices are now higher than their 2008 peak, driven by rising demand in developing countries and volatile weather, including drought in Russia and Ukraine and a dry spell in North China that threatens the crop of the world's largest wheat producer. The World Bank says the spike has pushed 44 million people into extreme poverty just since June.

In 2008, 30 countries had food riots. That has not happened, at least not yet. Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, has benefited from improved agricultural productivity. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warns that Mozambique, Uganda, Mali, Niger and Somalia are extremely vulnerable to instability because of rising prices, along with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in Asia, and Haiti, Guatemala, Bolivia and Honduras in Latin America.

Misguided government policies could make matters worse. Some countries are stockpiling food. When India did that last year, food ended up rotting in storages. Others are imposing agricultural export bans, which discourages investment in production. The world's wealthier nations must press them to rethink these polices and back that up with real help.

The Obama administration has proposed worthy initiatives, but even when Democrats controlled Congress it had a hard time getting the money. The administration pledged $3.5 billion to the G-20 effort. So far, it has delivered only $66.6 million to the World Bank fund.

It is now asking for $408 million for the fund — part of a $1.64 billion request for its Feed the Future initiative, which aims to bolster poor countries' food production capabilities. Congressional Republicans are determined to hack as much as they can out of foreign aid. The continuing resolution passed by the House cuts $800 million out of the food aid budget — bringing it down to about $1 billion, roughly where it was in 2001.

The White House needs to push back hard. This isn't a question of charity. It is an issue of life or death for millions of people. And the hard truth is that if the United States doesn't keep its word, no one else will.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

GOV. CUOMO'S FRIEND

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York has promised "zero tolerance" of ethical lapses. His close ties with Jeffrey Sachs, a longtime friend and health care adviser, are raising questions about that commitment.

As Nicholas Confessore wrote in The Times this week, Mr. Sachs runs a health care consulting business. Since Mr. Cuomo was elected, some of Mr. Sachs's clients have found Albany to be particularly welcoming.

One client hospital, Mount Sinai Queens, had been seeking a Medicaid rate change for five years until Mr. Sachs made calls on its behalf last fall. In December, the health department granted the change, which will mean millions of dollars in additional reimbursements.

After The Times's article was published, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo insisted that since "nobody in the administration knows" Mr. Sachs's clients, "the innuendo of the story is totally irrelevant." That doesn't sound like "zero tolerance" to us.

The State Commission on Public Integrity needs to figure out whether the change was an effort by someone in government to curry favor with the governor-elect. Mr. Cuomo should support that investigation.

What makes this even more confusing and worrying is that Mr. Sachs is not even registered as a lobbyist. That would require him to list clients and how much they pay. Mr. Sachs's supporters have argued that his contacts with the state on behalf of clients do not technically count as lobbying since he is not trying to change laws or rules, just trying to get them applied in more lucrative ways for his clients. We find that distinction spurious.

Mr. Sachs has now promised that he will not contact any state official on behalf of his clients. As part of zero tolerance, Mr. Cuomo should press his friend to register as a lobbyist in New York State.

Mr. Sachs is also a member of the governor's Medicaid redesign committee that has been working on ways to reform the system and cut $2.85 billion out of next year's Medicaid budget. Other members are labeled as representatives for unions, hospitals, patients or health insurance companies. It is not clear, however, which stakeholders Mr. Sachs is representing: his clients, the governor or the John F. Kennedy Jr. Institute for Worker Education at the City University of New York, which is how he was identified in the official announcement.

As a member of this important body, Mr. Sachs has an obligation to fully identify his clients and his financial interests in this process. Governor Cuomo has a larger obligation. As he pushes for ethics reform, he should call for a tougher lobbying law — one without loopholes. He must also ensure that his good friend does not get — or appear to get — special treatment.

 ***************************************


THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

STOLEN HISTORY

Last month, the National Archives banned an amateur historian who did what should have been unthinkable: He doctored the date on a valuable Lincoln document. Now the archives has found that it has a more widespread problem, with underhanded "scholars" and sneak thieves making off with American treasures to sell on the black market to history buffs.

"We have people alone with images and artifacts all the time," Paul Brachfeld, the inspector general of the archives told The Washington Post. "The thieves all say how easy it was," he said, describing recent efforts to better secure archives and track down missing items.

Among the items known to be missing are Lincoln telegrams from the Civil War, patents for Eli Whitney's cotton gin and the Wright brothers' flying machine, target maps for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the "only known copy" of the Potsdam Declaration signed by President Harry Truman at the end of World War II, and more.

It may be impossible to measure the full extent of theft and damage. There are billions of items stored in the archives' 44 centers — including presidential libraries and deep warehouses — in "a constant state of risk," according to the inspector general's report last year.

Current defenses include video lookouts and requirements that researchers lock up personal items and use the archives' paper, pencils and duplicating machines. Monitors watch visitors from overlook desks, and only certain staff members can roam storage stacks. But as a practical matter, officials say, the pockets of the many authorized visitors cannot be fully searched as they exit.

The National Archives has a dual mandate: to secure the country's ongoing historical trove but also to maximize access for citizens to view and study democracy's treasures firsthand. Thoughtful Americans must hope the heightened defenses of the archives pay off. The last thing the nation needs is for its treasures to be sealed off in a mausoleum.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

RUN MITCH, RUN

BY DAVID BROOKS

On Feb. 11, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana met with a group of college students. According to The Yale Daily News, he told them that there is an "excellent chance" he will not run for president. Then he mounted the podium at the Conservative Political Action Conference and delivered one of the best Republican speeches in recent decades.

This is the G.O.P. quandary. The man who would be the party's strongest candidate for the presidency is seriously thinking about not running. The country could use a serious, competent manager, which Governor Daniels has been, and still he's thinking about not running. The historic moment calls for someone who can restrain debt while still helping government efficiently perform its duties. Daniels has spent his whole career preparing for this kind of moment, and still he's thinking about not running.

The country also needs a substantive debate about the role of government. That's exactly what an Obama-Daniels contest would provide. Yet because Daniels is a normal person who doesn't have an insatiable desire for higher office, he's thinking about not running.

Daniels's Conservative Political Action Conference speech had a serious and weighty tone. He spoke for those who believe the country's runaway debt is the central moral challenge of our time. Yet within government's proper sphere of action, he said Republicans have to be the "initiators of new ideas." He spoke of the program he started that provides health insurance for low-income residents, and the education program that will give scholarships to students in failing schools so they can choose another.

"Our first thought," he said, "is always for those on life's first rung, and how we might increase their chances of climbing."

He also spoke of expanding the party's reach. In a passage that rankled some in the audience and beyond, he argued that "purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers." Republicans, he continued, "will need people who never tune in to Rush or Glenn or Laura or Sean." He spoke as a practical Midwesterner, appealing to hard-core conservatives and the not so hard-core.

Daniels's speeches are backed up by his record. Since 2004, the 49 other states in the nation increased their debt levels by an average of 40 percent. Indiana has paid down its debt by 40 percent. Indiana received its first Triple-A bond rating in 2008, and now it is one of only nine states to have the highest rating from all three rating agencies.

At the same time, the business climate has improved significantly. Infrastructure spending is at record levels. The state has added jobs at twice the national average. For the first time in four decades, more people are moving in than moving out.

Daniels is famously a font of metrics, statistics and management stories. During his term, wait times at the Indiana motor vehicles bureau dropped from 40 minutes to under 10 minutes while customer satisfaction levels skyrocketed. Parents in Indiana will now receive report cards that give them a measure of how well their schools are doing.

Daniels appointed a bipartisan commission to reform the criminal justice system to save money and make sure incarceration rates actually promote public safety. Another bipartisan commission came up with 27 ideas to modernize local government.

In manner, Daniels is not classically presidential. Some say he is short (though others do not regard 5 feet 7 inches as freakishly diminutive). He does not dominate every room he enters. But he is not without political skills, in an offbeat sort of way. If you have some time, Google "Mitch TV" and you can watch a few episodes of the reality show his campaign produced during his gubernatorial races.

You will see him sidling up to Hoosiers in breakfast places and parking lots, unassumingly, more or less as an equal, talking mostly about whatever caloric monstrosity happens to be on offer (it's Indiana). He's personable and charming, but occasionally a tough message will slip out.

The best profile of Daniels was written by Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard. In one scene, Daniels is talking to a man who is separated from his family and trying to send them financial support. "Well that's good," Daniels says, "but what they really need is you."

The man drops his head and swings it back and forth: "I know this, governor. I know this."

Daniels has occasionally leveled that toughness on his fellow conservatives. He told Ferguson that Republicans should declare a truce on social issues until the debt crisis is taken care of. A few activists are still upset.

But Daniels is keeping his paramount focus on debt and responsibility. He couldn't match Obama in grace and elegance, but he could on substance. They could have a great and clarifying debate: What exactly are the paramount problems facing the country? What is government's role in solving them?

I hope Daniels gives us a chance to be part of that.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

SHOCK DOCTRINE, U.S.A.

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

Here's a thought: maybe Madison, Wis., isn't Cairo after all. Maybe it's Baghdad — specifically, Baghdad in 2003, when the Bush administration put Iraq under the rule of officials chosen for loyalty and political reliability rather than experience and competence.

As many readers may recall, the results were spectacular — in a bad way. Instead of focusing on the urgent problems of a shattered economy and society, which would soon descend into a murderous civil war, those Bush appointees were obsessed with imposing a conservative ideological vision. Indeed, with looters still prowling the streets of Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, the American viceroy, told a Washington Post reporter that one of his top priorities was to "corporatize and privatize state-owned enterprises" — Mr. Bremer's words, not the reporter's — and to "wean people from the idea the state supports everything."

The story of the privatization-obsessed Coalition Provisional Authority was the centerpiece of Naomi Klein's best-selling book "The Shock Doctrine," which argued that it was part of a broader pattern. From Chile in the 1970s onward, she suggested, right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.

Which brings us to Wisconsin 2011, where the shock doctrine is on full display.

In recent weeks, Madison has been the scene of large demonstrations against the governor's budget bill, which would deny collective-bargaining rights to public-sector workers. Gov. Scott Walker claims that he needs to pass his bill to deal with the state's fiscal problems. But his attack on unions has nothing to do with the budget. In fact, those unions have already indicated their willingness to make substantial financial concessions — an offer the governor has rejected.

What's happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside.

For example, the bill includes language that would allow officials appointed by the governor to make sweeping cuts in health coverage for low-income families without having to go through the normal legislative process.

And then there's this: "Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state-owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b)."

What's that about? The state of Wisconsin owns a number of plants supplying heating, cooling, and electricity to state-run facilities (like the University of Wisconsin). The language in the budget bill would, in effect, let the governor privatize any or all of these facilities at whim. Not only that, he could sell them, without taking bids, to anyone he chooses. And note that any such sale would, by definition, be "considered to be in the public interest."

If this sounds to you like a perfect setup for cronyism and profiteering — remember those missing billions in Iraq? — you're not alone. Indeed, there are enough suspicious minds out there that Koch Industries, owned by the billionaire brothers who are playing such a large role in Mr. Walker's anti-union push, felt compelled to issue a denial that it's interested in purchasing any of those power plants. Are you reassured?

The good news from Wisconsin is that the upsurge of public outrage — aided by the maneuvering of Democrats in the State Senate, who absented themselves to deny Republicans a quorum — has slowed the bum's rush. If Mr. Walker's plan was to push his bill through before anyone had a chance to realize his true goals, that plan has been foiled. And events in Wisconsin may have given pause to other Republican governors, who seem to be backing off similar moves.

But don't expect either Mr. Walker or the rest of his party to change those goals. Union-busting and privatization remain G.O.P. priorities, and the party will continue its efforts to smuggle those priorities through in the name of balanced budgets.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

A SAUDI PRINCE'S PLEA FOR REFORM

BY ALWALEED BIN TALAL BIN ABDULAZIZ AL-SAUD

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

THE toppling of the heads of state of Egypt and Tunisia on the heels of huge demonstrations there, and the subsequent manifestations of public unrest in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Yemen, have generated a wide range of opinion on the root causes of those events. Some analysts see the protests as a natural outcome of the policies of autocratic regimes that had become oblivious to the need for fundamental political reform, while others view them as the inevitable product of dire economic and social problems that for decades have been afflicting much of the Arab world, most particularly its young.

In either case, unless many Arab governments adopt radically different policies, their countries will very likely experience more political and civil unrest. The facts are undeniable:

The majority of the Arab population is under 25, and the unemployment rate for young adults is in most countries 20 percent or more. Unemployment is even higher among women, who are economically and socially marginalized. The middle classes are being pushed down by inflation, which makes a stable standard of living seem an unattainable hope. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening. The basic needs for housing, health care and education are not being met for millions.

Moreover, Arab countries have been burdened by political systems that have become outmoded and brittle. Their leaderships are tied to patterns of governance that have become irrelevant and ineffective. Decision-making is invariably confined to small circles, with the outcomes largely intended to serve special and self-serving interests. Political participation is often denied, truncated and manipulated to ensure elections that perpetuate one-party rule.

Disheartening as this Arab condition may be, reforming it is neither impossible nor too late. Other societies that were afflicted with similar maladies have managed to restore themselves to health. But we can succeed only if we open our systems to greater political participation, accountability, increased transparency and the empowerment of women as well as youth. The pressing issues of poverty, illiteracy, education and unemployment have to be fully addressed. Initiatives just announced in my country, Saudi Arabia, by King Abdullah are a step in the right direction, but they are only the beginning of a longer journey to broader participation, especially by the younger generation.

The lesson to be learned from the Tunisian, Egyptian and other upheavals — which, it is important to note, were not animated by anti-American fervor or by extremist Islamic zeal — is that Arab governments can no longer afford to take their populations for granted, or to assume that they will remain static and subdued. Nor can the soothing instruments of yesteryear, which were meant to appease, serve any longer as substitutes for meaningful reform. The winds of change are blowing across our region with force, and it would be folly to suppose that they will soon dissipate.

For any reform to be effective, however, it has to be the result of meaningful interaction and dialogue among the different components of a society, most particularly between the rulers and the ruled. It also has to encompass the younger generation, which in this technologically advanced age has become increasingly intertwined with its counterparts in other parts of the world.

Exclusion can no longer work. This admonishment was most forcefully and unabashedly expressed by no less a personage of an earlier generation than my father, Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz, in a recent television interview.

Social and political change is invariably turbulent, painful and unpredictable. But the Arab world has an abundance of resources, natural and otherwise, that transcend oil. Most important, it has a substantial reservoir of talent that can be enlisted in the creation of a vibrant social and economic order that would enable Arab countries to join the ranks of those nations that have within a few decades propelled themselves out of underdevelopment, stagnation and poverty. But that can be achieved only if the will to reform is unwavering, enduring and sincere.

Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, a grandson of the founding king of modern Saudi Arabia, is the chairman of the Kingdom Holding Company and the Alwaleed bin Talal Foundations.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

STOPPING QADDAFI

Unless some way is found to stop him, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya will slaughter hundreds or even thousands of his own people in his desperation to hang on to power.

Libyans have shown extraordinary courage, and some members of the military may also be turning against the regime. We don't know if they will be able to bring the dictator down by themselves. We are sure they need more support than they have been getting from the United States and other Western democracies.

It took President Obama four days to condemn the violence. Even then, he spoke only vaguely about holding Libyan officials accountable for their crimes. Colonel Qaddafi was never mentioned by name.

We understand Mr. Obama's concern for the hundreds of Americans waiting to be evacuated from Tripoli. The Libyan government denied landing rights, and rough seas have prevented a ferry from leaving.

Administration officials insist they are working hard to find ways to stop the killing. On Thursday, Mr. Obama spoke with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy to plot a joint strategy.

There is not a lot of time. Colonel Qaddafi and his henchmen have to be told in credible and very specific terms the price they will pay for any more killing. They need to start paying right now.

It would be best if the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions, but that takes too long. Washington and Europe can immediately freeze Libyan assets in American and European banks and work to block Libya's access to the international financial system. Europe and the United States can deny travel visas to top Libyan officials and government supporters.

Europe, which sells weapons to Libya, can impose an arms embargo. Washington has other quieter ways to pressure the government, including jamming military communications. It should do so. Libya, which has just emerged from years of isolation, needs to be constantly reminded that it can be fully isolated again. The Security Council has deplored Colonel Qaddafi's actions, and the Arab League suspended Libya's participation. When it meets on Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Council should expel Libya.

Libya is a major supplier of oil to France and Italy, and for years both countries have enabled Colonel Qaddafi. Mr. Sarkozy now wants the European Union to impose an arms embargo on Libya, as well as an assets freeze and travel ban for the Libyan leader and his collaborators. Germany seems inclined to go along. Britain and Italy should stop temporizing.

If the killing goes on, other steps may be quickly needed, including offering temporary sanctuary for refugees and imposing the kind of no-fly zone that the United States, Britain and France used to protect Kurds in Iraq from the savagery of Saddam Hussein. After Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda, the United States and its allies vowed that they would work harder to stop mass atrocities. One thing is not in doubt: The longer the world temporizes, the more people die.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

DRILLING FOR AN OIL CRISIS

BY MICHAEL C. LYNCH

Amherst, Mass.

AS WikiLeaks's trove of diplomatic dispatches continues to trickle out, one recent release has caused quite a stir: a cable from an American diplomat who said he was told by a Saudi oil executive that both official estimates of Saudi oil reserves and their ability to meet global demand in the long run have been vastly exaggerated. In turn, many proponents of "peak oil" theory, the idea that the global rate of oil production has entered a terminal decline, have insisted that the cable confirms their view on resource scarcity.

Actually, it does nothing of the sort. The Saudi executive, Sadad al-Husseini, a former head of exploration for the Saudi oil monopoly Aramco, has been making such claims for years. Finding them repeated in a confidential cable is news only to those unfamiliar with the field.

More important, his claims don't stand up to scrutiny. For one thing, according to the cable, Dr. Husseini said that estimates of Saudi "reserves" were exaggerated by some 300 billion barrels. But this is impossible, as the Saudi government's estimate of proven reserves is actually less than that amount — roughly 267 billion barrels.

More likely, Dr. Husseini was referring to claims by some Saudi oil executives that, over the long term, they expect to find 900 billion barrels in the ground, and that 51 percent of it will be recoverable. So the dispute has nothing to do with current reserves, but with projections that are speculative by definition. Aramco's numbers may be an educated guess, but experts in the field know they are just a guess.

And, in fact, they are hardly an unreasonable estimate. While peak-oil advocates have in the past ridiculed optimistic industry expectations, the evidence continues to confound them. Over recent decades, the consensus estimates of the amount of recoverable oil on the planet have roughly doubled. And recovery rates — the percentage of those reserves that we are technologically able to collect — have grown from 10 percent a century ago, to 25 percent a half-century ago, to an estimated 35 percent now. In some areas, like the North Sea, the figure is above 60 percent.

There are several other reasons to remain calm about Saudi reserves. Officials there have discovered approximately 70 major oil fields that they have left untapped over concerns that increased Saudi production would cause global oil prices to collapse.

And while Aramco is hardly likely to find anything on the scale of the Ghawar oil field, the world's largest, they haven't been looking very hard. The Saudis drilled about 500 wells last year; some 11,000 are drilled every year in the United States alone.

So why is this a big deal? Because advocates of peak-oil theory love to latch on to such press reports to push their political and environmental agenda. A similar event occurred in the 1970s, when Americans who had worked in the Saudi fields contributed to a Congressional report that claimed Aramco's production practices were damaging the reservoirs.

The problem turned out to be vastly overblown, but not before it had become part of the era's conventional wisdom about general resource scarcity. Little wonder that by 1977 we had President Jimmy Carter claiming that, in terms of oil, "just to stay even we need ... a new Saudi Arabia every three years." Mr. Carter's solution to the imaginary crisis was Synthetic Fuels Corporation, an alternative-energy boondoggle that cost taxpayers millions and never produced a gallon of gas.

Now, history may be repeating itself. Much to the satisfaction of the peak-oil crowd, the Obama administration is throwing federal subsidies — some $8 billion in its 2012 budget — at all sorts of unproven, unrealistic and inefficient energy technologies like wind farms and electric cars.

None of this is to say that importing Saudi oil — or any oil — is desirable in and of itself. Oil remains a political commodity, and price fluctuations can create economic havoc, so the more good choices we have for meeting our energy needs, the better. But we should not let a false panic over disappearing oil reserves lead to rushed government investments in "technologies of the future" that, all too often, end up only wasting taxpayer money.

Michael C. Lynch, the former director for Asian energy and security at the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is an energy consultant.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

 

WATER - BUT NOT EVERYWHERE!

 

Since Chattanoogans are accustomed to a virtually unlimited supply of pure, good-tasting water for our homes and industries, provided from the Tennessee River by Tennessee American Water, we tend to take our local water service for granted -- until there is an interruption.

 

And an unusual water service interruption occurred Wednesday and Thursday for many businesses downtown.

 

Workers who were drilling to install ducts for fiber-optic lines about 9 feet deep apparently -- and certainly inadvertently -- shook loose some connections in a water main that was 4 to 6 feet deep.

 

Water flowed -- but not where it was intended -- causing water to dwindle or stop completely in many buildings.

 

We were reminded of the classic poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) that many of us memorized in school. It was about an "Ancient Mariner," who was stranded on a ship surrounded by a salty sea: "Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink."

 

Well, though the Ancient Mariner was in big trouble, we fortunately won't die of thirst, because vigorous workers immediately went to work to do what was required to restore the plentiful water we all take for granted.

We thank them sincerely, and we are again reminded of the low cost and convenience of our good local water service.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

INTERFERENCE IN A STATE MATTER

It is troubling that President Barack Obama is using the power of his office to inject himself into the heated budget debate going on at the state government level in Wisconsin.

Like other states suffering in the economic crisis, Wisconsin is trying to get its budget under control. Its Republican-majority legislature and GOP governor want to do that in part by reining in back-breaking costs for unionized state workers.

That is clearly a state matter, not one in which the president should be interfering.

Yet the president labeled the attempt to get a handle on unsustainable union worker costs an "assault" on unions. The activist network that propelled Obama to the White House in 2008 intervened as well, encouraging protesters to converge on Wisconsin's Capitol in Madison in opposition to the state's attempt to cut spending. Democratic Party officials at the national level actually took credit for expanding the size of protests in Wisconsin.

That understandably did not sit well with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who pointed out the absurdity of a big-deficit president counseling states on how they should balance their budgets.

"The president ultimately should stay focused on fixing the federal budget because they've got a huge deficit and, believe me, they got their hands full," Walker said on "Fox News Sunday." He said lots of protesters had come into Wisconsin from other states.

Whatever you may think of whether government workers should be unionized, the president and his national party should not be setting themselves up against the duly elected majority in the Wisconsin Capitol.

And neither Wisconsin nor any other state should take "advice" from Washington on how to balance budgets, considering that the federal government is more than $14 trillion in debt.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN? NO, BUT ...

Our federal government long has taxed too much -- but spent much more! Our national debt is over $14 trillion. But President Barack Obama and many in Congress are planning to add trillions more dollars to the debt!

Some say the only way to stop the financial irresponsibility would be to shut down the federal government. Well, we won't do that. We can't do that. We shouldn't do that.

But government spending that has already been approved by Congress is expected to run out next week!

Congressional Republicans, who are in majority in the House of Representatives, propose to avoid approving additional huge deficit spending. They want to OK federal government funding now for only two weeks beyond when the money is slated to run out, and they want $4 billion in immediate cuts. That's good, but it's only a drop in the bucket as we face additional debt (with increased interest costs) of more than a trillion dollars this year alone.

The irresponsibly spending Democrats challenge, "What would you cut?"

Well, spending cuts are always painful. But Republicans should stand up for American taxpayers and demand an end to all spending on (1) things that clearly are unconstitutional, (2) things that are unwise and (3) things that may be desirable but are unnecessary "now."

That would at least be a start. Not starting -- and continuing to run trillion-dollar-plus deficits -- is no alternative.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

OBAMA - OR WHO - IN 2012?

 

Do you wonder why the American people elected Barack Obama president in 2008?

 

Now that you have seen him in action as one of our most unlikely presidents ever (we have elected some doozies, haven't we?) do you want to re-elect him in 2012?

 

If not, "who"?

 

Some -- when they consider costly ObamaCare, the failed "stimulus" and the out-of-control national debt -- might say, "Anyone else!" But is that good enough? We need to draft a better choice!

 

Shouldn't we be insistent upon choosing a candidate of admirable character, sound principles, real wisdom, sensible conservatism and devotion to our Constitution -- and one who could have a realistic chance to be elected?

 

Can't we do better than Obama? Will we do better?

 

The November 2012 election is not far away as political time ticks.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

A SHOCKING 'HONOR KILLING'

FOR MOST OF US, THERE IS NOTHING SO PRECIOUS AS OUR CHILDREN.

 

We love them! We treasure them! We nurture them, sometimes even sacrificially. We may spoil them. We seek

to guide them to "do well." We honor them if they do. But we still embrace them even if they don't.

 

Whatever happens, even if our offspring disappoint us as parents, they are still "our" beloved children.

 

So it is impossible for us to understand the shocking, tragic death of a daughter caused by her father in Phoenix.

 

A 50-year-old Iraqi immigrant, Faleh Hassan Almaleki, has been convicted of killing his daughter, Noor Almaleki, who was 20 -- because he believed she had brought "dishonor" to the family!

 

The father wanted his daughter to submit to an arranged marriage, according to his tradition.

 

She refused. She went to college and had a boyfriend!

 

So the father resorted to what prosecutors said was, in the eyes of the father, an "honor killing."

 

The father was convicted of second-degree murder for fatally running over his daughter with his Jeep Cherokee! He was also convicted of aggravated assault for causing injuries to the mother of the boyfriend.

 

What an "old country" tragedy in our "new world."

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - A PORTRAIT OF LEADERSHIP

The emergency evacuation of thousands of Turks from Libya is far from over. While at least 5,000 have been successfully repatriated by air and by sea, continuing until the remaining 20,000 citizens are home may soon be imperative.

This is a daunting challenge amid trying if not horrific conditions. There remain many things that could go wrong. But it is still not too early in our view to offer a few words of praise for the professionalism and resolve of the government's response. When the first airlift effort just days ago was stymied by lack of cooperation from Libya, the alternative of a maritime exodus was quickly and effectively organized and yesterday we witnessed the arrival in Marmaris of 3,000 Turkish citizens and a handful of foreigners.

It is worth noting that as the ferry Orhangazi was approaching Turkish waters yesterday, U.S. officials were still struggling to organize a shuttle for their citizens from Tripoli to Malta, a fraction of the distance for a much smaller number of people.

It is also worth noting that as whistling and cheering Turks were being welcomed into Marmaris, where temporary transit facilities and a field hospital were already in place, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron was simultaneously apologizing for delay in the evacuation of Britons from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, after a chartered plane was held up by a technical fault.

"Of course I am incredibly sorry," Cameron said in an interview with BBC television. "The conditions at the airport have been extremely poor. This is not an easy situation."

Cameron is right, of course. It is a very difficult situation. We do not gloat. Turkey has the good fortune of resources at hand that perhaps are not similarly available to other countries on short notice. As we wrote yesterday, evacuations are typically messy affairs. They cannot be scripted in advance and every situation is unique.

But that said, we do believe we are seeing Turkish officialdom at its best. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has performed tirelessly as have his diplomats. As we have reported, 120 diplomats have been working at a newly established command and call center in Ankara. At one point, Davutoğlu himself even rolled up his sleeves to answer phone calls from stranded fellow citizens seeking help. This is a picture of leadership of which all Turkey should be proud.

This is not a moment to rest on one's laurels, of course. The complexity of this challenge is sure to grow. We are certain that Turkey has already made its expertise and resources available to other governments who are scrambling with less success. If we can offer a helping hand in these dire times to the Americans, the Europeans, the Chinese or others with large numbers of citizens in Libya, we have no doubt that we will do so – and do so effectively.

The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WHO CAN DARE ASK A QUESTION TO PM ERDOĞAN?

BARÇIN YİNANÇ

The Ski Club of International Journalists, or SCIJ, meets once a year to organize the so-called "world championship of skiing journalists." The races in fact are just a pretext for nearly 200 journalists from more than 30 countries to have a chance to exchange views during the course of a week.

This year the 58th meeting of SCIJ took place in Banff, Canada. On two separate panels, we were able to listen to the views of Canadian experts on the current state of affairs in the media as well as its future.

One of the panels was particularly striking to me, as Canadian journalists started talking about the "control of information." Janique LeBlanc, a Canadian journalist who was moderating the panel, told us how astonished she was when she came back from a long stay in Switzerland to learn about certain rules at press conferences held by the prime minister. "We were asked in advance if we would ask questions, and if yes, our name and even the topic of the question," she said.

That anecdote was followed by that of Jean François Lisee, who said at one stage Canadian press officials tried to introduce a new rule by limiting each journalist to one question thereby avoiding follow ups, which is crucial, as a tool to insist for a proper answer if the response given was an evasive answer to the first question.

While listening to our colleagues from Canada, which we tend to consider as an advanced democracy, I came eye to eye with my Turkish colleague sitting next to me. "So we are not the only ones terrorized for asking questions," we said to each other.

Later however, Lisee talked about how Canadian journalists' solidarity prevented that practice from being implemented. When the follow-up question of the first journalist was not taken up, the next journalist who was picked to ask a question refused to do so until the follow up question was answered.

I was envious and very appreciative of the Canadian journalists. I don't want to be misunderstood. We have in Turkey journalists who are courageous enough to stand up for their rights and show similar solidarity. But the problem lays in the fact that those journalists cannot be sure to what degree their stance will be backed by the media outlets for which they are working.

When you ask a question that does not please the prime minister or some of the Cabinet members, the first reaction is not a way to avoid answering the unpleasant question but rather to ask, "Where do you work?" Because it is not uncommon, say my colleagues in Ankara, for government officials to call the editors of a reporter whose questions has been of the "unpleasant" nature, and ask for that person to be fired. A very prominent reporter who was covering the Prime Ministry and who came up with lots of exclusive news prior to the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, rule, has moved to Istanbul as an editor. "The prime minister really likes me," she told me once when she was still working in Ankara, "Because I never ask any questions," she said.

Now, I don't want to be unfair. You can ask questions to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but only "nice ones," the kind he might like to answer.

Actually, I am not going to claim that things were extremely rosy as far as press freedom in the 1990s and 2000s, when I worked as a diplomatic reporter in Ankara. There have been times, when the media outlet I worked for was supportive of the party in power and that some stories that could be annoying for the government would not be published. Yet the relationship between the owner of the media outlet and the government, whether it was good or bad, did not affect our way of asking questions, even the nasty ones. The self-censorship, if there were any, would rather be done in Istanbul at the editorial level. We in Ankara, we would feel more free to ask our questions.

Talk to any journalist who has been doing this profession for the last 20-25 years and he or she will say that it has never been so difficult to ask questions to the prime minister.

According to my colleagues in Ankara, the new system works like that: If the prime minister's activity of the day is open to the press, media members will tell Erdoğan's press adviser that they want to ask a question on a certain topic. If he gives his consent, then they can ask it. There are obviously, press conferences, especially with foreign visitors, where in principle, the occasion to ask more questions without telling the topic in advance is available. But reporters cannot make use of this principle. At a recent press conference with the Malaysian prime minister, for example, reporters were warned in advance not to ask any question about the developments in Libya. Guess what? No one dared to ask a question on the most burning issue of the day. How could they? The next thing they would have faced would be the canceling of their accreditation. Worse, they could be fired by their boss who would be unable to resist pressure from the Prime Ministry.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

ALL EYES ON THE 'EGYPTIAN MODEL'

SEMİH İDİZ

If Egypt epitomizes a relatively orderly change of regime in the Middle East, its immediate neighbor to the west, Libya, has already become the symbol of the kind of chaos and anarchy that can be unleashed in the absence of visionary politicians and opinion framers.

Given this situation, what is happening in Libya should help focus minds among the powers that be in today's Egypt. The last thing that that key Middle Eastern country needs at the moment is political infighting and quibbling. The thing the region requires the most, on the other hand, is a speedy move toward an administration which is not only representative and based on human rights, but is also one that actually works in the long run.

This of course cannot be achieved without the necessary sacrifices in terms of whatever specific political ideology, orientation, or calculation the various groups that make up the Egyptian body politic may be laboring under today. Put another way, the day is not the day for private agendas and calculations about how to use the confusion of the post-uprising period to return that country to one kind of dictatorship or another.

Needless to say this applies mostly to the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood.

These, after all, are the two key forces that will obviously have to establish a "modus vivendi" for the future if the country is to be stable and move on the path of political, economic and social development.

Looking at Libya today, and remembering what the demonstrators in Tahrir Square were calling for, it is clear that any attempt at hijacking the Egyptian revolution for specific political ends will only lead to the kind of nationwide chaos and anarchy which the people of that country avoided to a great extent during the events leading up to the toppling of Hosni Mubarak.

We personally believe that the Egyptian people, who have a strong sense of their national identity and culture which goes back thousands of years, have the best chance of being a positive example to people in other regional countries that are in turmoil today. Put another way, Egypt, with its internal diversity, is the regional country that has the best chance of realizing a transition to democracy based on human rights and the rule of law.

We talked about the "Turkish Model" in the past in this column and we can see from the Arab media that this topic continues to be debated, both in the positive and negative sense, among experts in the Middle East.

This model, which is essentially a Western one, provides a general template to be filled in if what is meant by it is a parliamentary democracy based on fair elections. We can assume at this stage that this is what Egyptians are trying to achieve today as they look to the future. It is unlikely that they will settle for anything less after what they have managed to achieve with their collective power.

The vitally important thing, however, is how those who are trying to determine the future of the regime in Egypt will fill in this democratic template, because it is obvious that other countries such as Tunisia will also try and emulate this.

In the meantime any attempt by the Egyptian military to use one excuse or another to overstay its welcome and remain in power at the expense of civilian politicians, will be a very irresponsible act. The people of Egypt who risked all to topple Mubarak will clearly not put up with this, which will in turn send the country hurtling back toward another major crisis.

If, however, the civilian element cannot get organized along democratic lines because of political squabbling and quibbling by groups with vested interests of one kind or another, then the military will of course have little choice but to stay in power, and this will be generally welcomed by the world due to the stability it will provide, even if it is not something that is desirable in principle.

The real test for the Egyptian generals will come when the civilian element moves ahead democratically even if some developments may not be to the liking of the highly politicized upper echelons of the military. It still remains to be seen how the Egyptian army will behave in that kind of a situation.

The other potential risk of instability in Egypt could come from the Muslim Brotherhood. This group, which is said to have a significant following in the country, has said thus far that it is for a democratic environment and is prepared to respect all which that entails.

Many inside and outside of Egypt still fear that the Brotherhood has a hidden Islamic agenda and is merely waiting in the wings by keeping a low profile in anticipation of a strong showing in the elections when they are held.

If this turns out to be true, then it is clear that this will be as destabilizing for the country and the region as an attempt by the military to grab power by using one justification or another. Put another way, it is still not clear with total certainty if the Muslim Brotherhood's position on democracy is genuine, of is merely approaching it as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once described it; namely as "a train that is only taking them to their destination."

That remark cost Erdoğan much at the time. But circumstances have changed and the same Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has now become champions of democratic rights in Turkey and the Middle East. One hopes that the Muslim Brotherhood will follow suit, and not see democracy in Egypt as "a train taking them to their destination" as Erdoğan once did.

Should there be a secret agenda and among members of the Brotherhood with a view to taking over the country in time and imposing Islamic rule based on the Shariah, this will obviously send the country hurtling toward the same kind of crisis that the military will cause if it tries to grab power. All indications are that Egyptians will reject an oppressive Islamic dictatorship, just as they are opposed to a civilian or military dictatorship.

The jury is still out on Egypt, even if it is the most likely country to move toward a genuine democracy in the region. It is certain, however, that what happens in that country will reverberate throughout the Middle East. One can say therefore that what is more relevant today than the "Turkish Model" is the "Egyptian Model," which can be a positive or a negative one depending on the course of developments in that country.

So far it has been a good model. Whether it stays so remains to be seen.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

OLD DETENTION CLASS VS NEW DETENTION CLASS

METİN MÜNİR

In the Ergenekon case, and in other similar cases, detentions create a public stir. But why?

It's been almost three years since the first wave of arrests of generals and journalists. Still, people are not getting used to this. Recently, another journalist, Soner Yalçın, and his two colleagues have been taken into custody, again causing a shower of public comments and reactions.

The explanation of the stir is generally this: Turkey is changing its skin. The "military tutelage" is being abolished. The old detention class consisted of religionists, communists and leftists. But the new detention class consists of "pro-coup" people and their supporters. This is an accurate explanation, but only partially.

Behind the public stir there is kind of distrust of the government, which has or is supposed to have a role in the detentions, the police, the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, and the judiciary. Let me explain this in the following way: Let's say a British journalist as renowned as Yalçın were taken in by the British police in London and was arrested by the court.

The interpretation of such an arrest could've been quite different from what we do here, because:

(1) Police in the United Kingdom do not arrest anyone on the government's order or for political reasons. (2) Police in the United Kingdom do not send a journalist to court unless there is strong evidence in hand. (3) The court in the United Kingdom does not rule for arrest in the absence of strong reasoning.

Full confidence in judges

In the subject matter, the British have full confidence in judges, if not police. I think it is not wrong if I say that the most reliable institution in the United Kingdom is the judiciary.

The British say, "If a court takes this person in detention, there must have been a really good reason," but don't think, "Who knows what they are up to!"

Turkish people, however, say the latter. For Turkish people do not trust the government, police, the MİT, or the judiciary. It is known by experience that in order for someone to be taken under custody in Turkey, that person does not need to be guilty or strong evidence is not necessarily looked for.

Turkish people know that sending the innocent or dissidents away to the system's meat grinder for political reasons, and many others, constitute an old Turkish administration tradition.

Is Turkey not the country in the saying, "In this country, everyone is a potential suspect"?

The classes locked in have gone through a change, but the ramshackle judiciary remains as is.

In some countries justice is an ideal, but it is only a dream in others.

With the Ergenekon case, Turkey announces every day to the world which category we are in.

For this reason, Turkish people have always the question, "What if," in the back of their mind.

Did Yalçın commit a crime? Or is he being squashed for being an opponent? If the reason for keeping people behind the bars although they will not attempt to escape the country is not revenge for the religious fundamentalists who had been through similar detentions, then what is it?

What? What? What? I wonder. I wonder. I wonder…

* Metin Münir is a columnist of daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

'BEST' AND 'WORST' SCENARIOS FOR NAGORNO-KARABAKH

ZAUR SHIRIYEV

On Feb. 8, 2011, a report on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was published by the International Crisis Group, or ICG, that announced the risk of renewed war over the conflict as follows: "War in Nagorno-Karabakh can start any moment."

In recent times, frequent breaches of the ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone have demonstrated the fragility and instability of the situation at the ceasefire line. Even if there has been no return to full-scale hostilities, this fact increases the probability of new war.

Certainly many years of negotiations brokered by the OSCE Minsk Group, consisting of co-chairs from Russia, the U.S. and France, have failed to produce any legitimate agreements. Several attempts were made, but few produced results; for example the 2001 Key West summit hosted by the U.S. Administration, and the 2006 Rambouillet talks. Only on Nov. 20, 2008 was the Moscow declaration reached, by Russian attempts; it was the second agreement after the ceasefire agreement in 1994. Consequently, many politicians believe that Russia is the "key" actor/factor for the solution of this conflict. Thus, the status quo of the conflict does not suggest any negotiated or formal solution and is very often manipulated as an easy and efficient tool in the hands of regional (Turkey, Iran) and global (Russia, the United States and the EU) powers for their respective regional and geo-strategic interests. However, while war over the conflict zone is a risk, the "best" and "worst" case scenarios for conflict resolution ought to be examined.

According to an optimistic or best-case scenario, diplomatic efforts around a Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution could lead to the signing by the end of this year of a Declaration of Basic Principles of Conflict Resolution, followed by a political settlement agreement in the future (in 2012). For the successful implementation of this scenario it is important that a consensus be reached between the key players in global politics, the United States, the EU and Russia, who can act as principal mediators in the Karabakh resolution process (the EU as represented by France), with Turkey's involvement in the process as a regional power. Under this scenario, the Armenian community of Karabakh would be granted a high degree of autonomy with de facto absolute economic self-sufficiency and political self-government; the only exception would be that it could not conduct its own foreign policy. In addition to such investments, Nagorno-Karabakh would receive substantial subsidies from Azerbaijan's national budget.

According to a pessimistic or worst-case scenario, military provocations around the conflict area could lead to war. Recently intensified skirmishes around Nagorno-Karabakh risk spiraling out of control, in the heart of a key energy transit region. It is clear that aspects of a resumed war may represent drawbacks for Azerbaijan, however. New military operations could disrupt investment in the Azerbaijani economy and slow down successful economic development. On the other hand, a new war may create serious problems for the pipeline politics of Azerbaijan as well as Europe.

Four elements affecting the settlement process that directly affect the risk of war:

First, the global and regional interests of the major powers and their present interrelationships;

Second, the dominant trends in international relations as manifested in the agendas and decisions of international organizations;

Third, the conflicting sides' current political and economic situation;

Finally, the conflicting sides' diplomatic approaches, convictions and capacity to shape the peace process.

Thus, these elements will be decisive in realizing both the "worst possible" war scenario as well as the "best possible" one. In fact, it is hard to maintain an equilibrium of interests in Azerbaijan without somehow addressing the fact of the Armenian occupation. The Azerbaijani government is facing a challenge of changing conditions, which may soon make continuous outright rejection of a military option politically unsustainable. Azerbaijan's population has consistently ranked the ongoing occupation as their number-one problem; the 17 years of the ceasefire have not reduced the urgency of the conflict for the Azerbaijani public, but, on the contrary, decreased hopes for a peaceful outcome. Thus, up until now, Azerbaijan has supported the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries' consensus on a general framework for peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This consensus is based on a set of basic principles and was reflected in the 2009 L'Aquila and 2010 Muskoka joint statements of presidents Obama, Medvedev and Sarkozy.

In the near future, the artificial impediments to a diplomatic solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict posed by Armenia will only further discredit the diplomatic process, a persistence that thwarts the peace negotiations. It will embolden more radical voices within Azerbaijani society and make an already difficult decision-making environment for both leaders even more challenging. Therefore, an agreement between the two sides has become a very distant possibility.

* Zaur Shiriyev is a foreign policy analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies in Baku, Azerbaijan.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

'BILLAHI KEFAYA: THE MARCH OF THE BARBARIANS…'

BURAK BEKDİL

"As I was preparing dinner, I turned around and my three sons aged 7 to 10 were tightening the robe around a make-shift figure of [Hosni] Mubarak – the 'Kefaya' march song was playing loud in the background. That's when I understood, I had to turn off Al Jazeera Arabic and remember I live in Los Angeles..."

Thus opened the letter from the reader whose name I should keep anonymous. Having read the letter, I thought it would be best to leave the floor to this reader who, in theory, was writing to me, but in fact to my colleague, Ümit Enginsoy, whose letter had been published in this column on Wednesday (Mubarakism without Mubarak or Arab 'paradigm shift'). 

Here she goes (with my apologies for not being able to publish the entire letter due to space limitations):

"After [Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali's departure in Tunisia, the fire of the revolution was burning in our house along with many other expats from the region. Your column along with Mr. Enginsoy's letter felt like Yemeni jambiya stabbed in my soul, and I said, 'What is going on in Turkey?' Do the Turks not understand what is happening to the world?

"The Muslim Brotherhood, the Kefaya Movement, April 6 and others have been operating underground – yet proudly – for decades. From the very early days of the revolution, [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton made it clear that the U.S. has been in contact with not just the government forces but also several civilian associations. This was not just a spur-of-the-moment act; it was well-planned. What was unpredicted was the strong will of the Arabs. 

"That said, there can be no success in revolutions without armies. The people with guns are very important. The difference about Tunisia and Egypt was that the military sided with the protestors. In this case, your friend [Mr. Enginsoy] calls it a coup. I respectfully disagree. There is an urgent need to clarify terms and concepts. A military coup d'etat happens when soldiers [make] their own plan and take control of the government. The current Egyptian government was military to begin with. Indeed that has been the cost of the relative stability of the region since 1979. These were kleptomanic regimes. Just like the Kefaya march song tells: they stole, humiliated, arrested, tortured and demeaned people. These revolutions, one after another, from Tunis [the Maghreb] to Bahrain [the Gulf/Mashriq], indicate the old [practice] of keeping tabs on the flocks is no longer working – neither the lack of a credible/legal political opposition nor economic development is sufficient to keep people suppressed.

"Why now? WikiLeaks, Twitter, Facebook, Google have all become the codewords for the struggle of freedom or the fight against microfascisms. People of the Middle East have known all too well what Mr. Enginsoy seems to forget: stability in exchange for loss of human dignity is not acceptable. Resilient people of the region have shown patience for decades now. They have called it destiny, but enough is enough. Even in countries like Yemen and Libya where co-opting certain tribes will guarantee you success, that no longer works… A wise man had told me in Latakia last summer 'barbarians are coming.' What is sad is that he passed away before he could see the winter but many locals knew the witches' brew was almost ready.

"These countries all share one thing in common: a very good sized, young people – not botoxed young, not the dyed-hair young. Young in the sense of being connected on the Facebook to their peers in other places; with one Tweet, one email, much can change. When the government cut off the Internet and phone services, several friends in Egypt said 'khalas,' and poured to the streets. Once used to tame people, technology – through the medium of TV, movies – now brought people together with a unified voice: that is the right to have a voice.

"The people of Arab lands are now ready to get out of their houses not escorted by civilian police in the middle of the night to an unknown future, but by their own will. Yes, it is an unknown future and Mr. Enginsoy is correct in his worries. But remember, 360 million Arabs were kept in their homes with the fear that if they spoke out, they would be hurt, their loved ones would be hurt, their tribe members would be hurt. There was power in unity; but now the power has been unleashed.

"Mr. Enginsoy sides with the group who argues that Arabs are not capable of democracy. Because they are not white enough? Not educated enough? Not European enough? Maybe just because they are Muslim? And Islam and democracy are not compatible? What about the experiences of European fascism? Did Hitler not forsake democracy in return for cheering crowds and silenced minorities? Could Arab democracy not be a little different than that of the West?

"We are watching the march of the barbarians to reclaim what is halal. Will it be stable? I do not know. As far as I know, the region was never stable. We were just out of sight, out of mind; we were the figurines. We now have a voice. It might not be pretty. But it sure is real and it is ours! The protests have everywhere generated some sort of benefit for the people, as more and more concessions pour from the tongue-tied dictators all around the region. So move out of the way is my suggestion to the ones who do not understand, because no one/no gun can stop an idea which is ripe.

"This will be the democracy a la Arabia, and it will surely be a world more dignified than before. These voices are not new, they were just very quiet before, in these days of disquiet, I believe a better living space will be designed for our kids and grandkids where they will be proud to be brown, Muslim, and barbarian.

"And if you are asking about my sons… Nowadays, they are back to their Star Wars and Bakugan games. Thank God, they are not old enough to question bunga bunga parties or demand female bodyguards a la Gadhafi…"

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TURKISH-AZERBAIJANI RELATIONS: REALITY CHECK

ELDAR MAMEDOV

At the meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, in Astana in December 2010 the presidents of Turkey and Azerbaijan were at pains to downplay the damage that WikiLeaks could cause to the historically close relations between their countries.

The documents released by WikiLeaks contain harsh criticisms of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, by Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev, who reportedly dismissed its foreign policy as being "naive" and a "failure." These revelations merely confirmed an open secret: behind the rhetoric of "one nation, two states," tensions and misunderstandings abound. Yet, if well-handled, the leaks could help to build a healthier and more mature relationship between Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The signing of the Geneva protocols in December 2009 as part of Turkish-Armenian rapprochement was a brusque reality check for Azerbaijanis. This step, taken without meaningful progress in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, was perceived in Baku as a betrayal by its Turkish ally. But contrary to what was believed in Baku, Turks were not selling out their Azerbaijani brothers in order to please the European Union, which they seek to join, or to prevent the United States from officially qualifying the massacres of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as genocide.

Instead, changes in Turkish society over several years, rather than outside pressures, paved the way for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. With democratizing reforms in Turkey, old taboos began to crumble, and for the first time the official line on the events of 1915 began to be challenged. The intellectual debate was joined by vibrant and enriching cultural and artistic exchanges. More people in Turkey started to openly reclaim their Armenian roots. The Armenian question for Turkey became not just a foreign policy issue, but also a question of coming to terms with its own multi-ethnic and multicultural history and identity. Azerbaijanis would be wise to take note of this nuance, and relinquish the expectation that Turkey's policy toward Armenia would forever be conditioned by Azerbaijani interests.

If Azerbaijanis misread the internally-driven nature of the process, Turks failed to assess Azerbaijani concerns realistically. Turkey calculated that increased leverage in the South Caucasus resulting from its deal with Armenia would benefit Azerbaijan. And it was assumed that Baku would follow Ankara's initiative, since Azerbaijan had no closer ally than Turkey anyway. This analysis may have been fundamentally sound, but the AKP government was over-confident in its ability to get Azerbaijanis on board. Self-congratulatory remarks by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during a visit to Baku in the midst of the protocol saga testify to this. In reality, Azerbaijan had never given any reason to believe that it would welcome Turkey's reconciliation with Armenia, as long as there is no progress on Armenian withdrawal from the occupied Azerbaijani territories around Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, the Turkish behavior was seen in Baku as an arrogant attempt to bully Azerbaijan into accepting what was an exclusively Turkish foreign policy interest. The subsequent Azerbaijani threats to halt gas deliveries to Turkey and the signing of important gas deals with Russia was a way of telling Turks that Azerbaijan had more options than unconditionally toeing the Turkish line.

The intensity of the Azerbaijani public reaction to the signing of the protocols revealed something deeper than a diplomatic misunderstanding over Armenia. There is growing resentment in Azerbaijan at the tendency of many Turkish politicians, religious missionaries and businessmen to treat Azerbaijan as an extension of Turkey. While the two countries share a lot in terms of language and culture, Azerbaijanis have their own distinct multi-layered identity, with a strong Iranian, Russian, European and Caucasian heritage that sets it apart from Turkey. What is more, while Azerbaijanis admire Turkey's economic dynamism and military prowess, they also feel their own society is more progressive due to higher literacy rates, more profound secularization and higher levels of female emancipation. They take pride in being the home of the first secular democratic republic, first theater play and first opera in the Muslim world – these facts are indispensable for understanding their self-perception. In this context, any pretence of a patronizing attitude from "big brother" Turkey goes down predictably badly.

The different nature of the political regimes in both countries and their foreign policy orientations further complicates this picture. The Azerbaijani government has grown consistently less tolerant of dissenting views in recent years, to the point that after the recent elections the opposition is no longer represented in the Parliament. At the same time, its approach to the foreign policy has been remarkably sensible and pro-Western. By contrast, Turkey can claim to be a more democratic country than Azerbaijan, but its foreign policy under the AKP has been ill-served by a mix of wishful thinking and a pro-Islamist bias in dealings with Israel, Iran, Sudan and the promotion of Hamas.

This has resulted in Turkey and Azerbaijan estranged from each other on an array of international and domestic policy issues. Azerbaijan, for example, has made a point of continuing close relations with Israel after Turkey fell out with the Jewish state. Azerbaijan is much more critical of Iran's current leadership than Turkey, and its policies on Iran are aligned to those of the West. As far as domestic policies are concerned, many in Turkey see Azerbaijan as an authoritarian petro-state with scant regard for the rule of law. Azerbaijanis, for their part, even those who are highly critical of their government, generally don't see any merit in an AKP-style "moderate Islamism." Azerbaijani liberals, once hopeful of a positive spill-over to Azerbaijan from Turkey's European integration, now watch with dismay how freedom of expression is increasingly under threat in the AKP's Turkey.

Not all is gloom and doom, however. Turks and Azerbaijanis still have warmer feelings toward each other than probably to any other nation in the world. The two countries share powerful common interests in regional security, trade and energy cooperation. There are burgeoning cultural and educational exchanges.

But the recent ups and downs mean that the romantic phase of a "one nation, two states" relationship is over. It is time to develop a more realistic and mature partnership.

*Eldar Mamedov is a political adviser to the Socialists & Democrats Group in the European Parliament, but writes in a personal capacity.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

SEEKING HELP

 

President Zardari, who is on foreign shores again, this time in Japan, has told members of the Japanese-Pakistan Friendship League that his country needs help to combat militancy and that world peace would be at stake if it does not receive this assistance. The president also brought up the same issue with the Japanese monarch, Emperor Akihito, in a separate meeting at his palace and stated that the world – with Pakistan's help – has helped create militancy. He spoke also of youth unemployment and how it has fed militancy, while seeking international help to rebuild Pakistan's poor economy. The president's assertions are not inaccurate ones. Pakistan undeniably suffers terribly from a militant threat and joblessness has played a part in aggravating this. But the kind of pleading refrain we heard in Tokyo has been heard before – in other capitals of the world that the president visits every few weeks. It is beginning to sound rather like the sing-song accounts of hardship that we hear from beggars in all our cities as they hold out their steel bowls. The president's insistence that he is seeking help to rebuild the economy and not aid is only partially convincing. To make matters worse, beyond the promise of American aid, we have heard only a few small coins jangle into the outstretched bowl. Even traditional friends, such as Saudi Arabia, have not been especially generous.


We need then to face up to some harsh facts. In a world confronting hard economic times, not many countries are willing to help others. There may also be, for a variety of reasons, a lack of inclination to help Pakistan. The president's frequent travels have not brought us much help in concrete terms. The reality is that every country needs to find ways to help itself. The evidence it is doing this may encourage others to pitch in and lend a helping hand. We need to ask why, given the scale of the militant threat, more development initiatives have not taken place in conflict-hit areas; why the government has not done more to create jobs and tighten its own belt to find the money to do so. After all, it is our country that faces the greatest threat from militancy and it is therefore we who must do more to counter it. President Zardari and members of the government should ponder this point. Perhaps, they need to spend more time at home and work out solid strategies to counter militancy, rather than demanding that other nations come to our aid and articulating the risks to the world, should they fail to do so.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

TESTING TIMES

 

With the first matches of the Cricket World Cup now being played in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka our national team is once more in the spotlight. We lost to England by 67 runs in a warm-up match, and our performance was poorly-reviewed by international cricket analysts. Considering the beating that Pakistan cricket has taken – and given itself – over the last year, it is vital that we not only win matches but conduct ourselves with the utmost decorum on and off the pitch and present to the world a picture of a team that has learned from its mistakes. In a very literal sense the eyes of the world, from Canada to Australia, Ireland to Zimbabwe, will be upon us. The CWC has a global audience in the many millions, a 'many millions' familiar with tales of spot-betting and match-fixing, and with the suspension of three of our players by the ICC fresh in their minds. A wrong step by our players or their managers in this tournament could see us finally placed beyond the pale in terms of international cricket – and it is thus an opportunity for us to rise above the critical voices and prove that we can play a straight game.


We won our opening match against a hapless Kenya by 205 runs, who found our team on good form. Kenya made 112 runs in 33.1 overs having already lost to New Zealand in their own opening match and their prospects, never good, must be dim. The game was played in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, before a tiny audience. Compare this with the angry scenes in Bangalore as police clashed with fans desperate to get tickets for the India-England match. There will be few empty seats on that day. Kenya are one of the minnows of the tournament, and our team will be tested by a bigger fish when they meet Sri Lanka on Saturday. We have not lost a match to Sri Lanka in our six previous meetings and team captain Shahid Afridi has expressed his confidence in a win this time around as well. We wish him and the rest of the team well, and hope they all avoid the attentions of the fixers and manipulators that have so cursed them in recent times.

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

NO GAS – NO BUS

 

At first sight the reports that the Capital Development Authority (CDA) in Islamabad is to launch a new gas-powered bus service for the residents of the city is nothing but good news. Two transport companies have already been shortlisted and four routes proposed. The project will particularly benefit the working class, students and women. As many as 15,000 passengers may be carried every day. So far so good. That all may not be as it seems rears its head when we are told that the project will not materialise for at least 'three or four' months. Special bus terminals and stops are to be built and buses are to rotate through the system to leave from the terminals every five minutes. Grand if it happens.


But let us look a little closer and consider the reply of a nameless spokesman for the CDA to a question from a journalist. Mr Nameless Spokesman said that currently the project was delayed due to a 'fuel issue' and the non-availability of CNG stations large enough to accommodate the buses (said to be 'huge') that would run the service. We suggest that before the CDA arouses all our expectations with an announcement of a bus service, that they ensure firstly that there is gas to run the buses and then that there are CNG fuel stations big enough to actually accommodate them. And how long to build a bus terminal? Three or four months? (Residents of Islamabad collapse in helpless laughter.)

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

OH FOR A BIT OF ARAB DISORDER

AYAZ AMIR

               

The disorder we have we could do without. Beards on the march, raising the banner of one inane issue after another, obsessed with bluster and riding the wing of passions they themselves can ill-define. Now comes an all too rare moment in the world of Islam and we in Pakistan are no part of it.


Yes, we have a democracy but it is a myth to suppose that there can't be movements against democracies. Western Europe, the democratic half of the continent, was convulsed by student-led strikes and riots in 1968. And the anger generated in that endless summer of discontent was not against the Kremlin or the iron curtain but against their own democratic governments. The youth of that generation was simply tired of the same old faces -- especially in France where de Gaulle was president for the previous ten years.


Gilani, Pakistan's excuse for a prime minister, is right to say that Arab-style insurrection won't happen here. A pity that it won't because what Pakistan needs more than anything, more than foreign investment or the next cheque from the IMF, is shock therapy of the severest kind to (1) sweep away the cobwebs responsible for the permanent closing of the Pakistani mind and (2) shake the political-cum-governing class out of its torpor and complacency.

The old shibboleths just won't do. This country needs a moratorium on religious discussions and disputes. There is too much intolerance and downright hate and ignorance clogging the national atmosphere. Urbanites and what passes for civil society should visit the rest of Pakistan outside the three or four major cities to see the spread of sectarian divisiveness -- Sunni vs. Shia, Deobandi vs. Barelvi, the complexities of the Ahl-e-Hadees school of thought -- to get a measure of the new cleavages rearing their head across the land.


At present, this is our only flourishing industry -- the spread of bigotry and fanaticism.


The clerical armies are entitled to their passions. This is the only wave they can ride. But the rest of Pakistan is under no obligation to be swept by the same grim tide.


This is and will remain until the end of time an Islamic country. Nothing is going to change this. Soldiers of the faith we will always remain. So this shouldn't be a problem. In any event, we consider Allah to be on our side. Over matters spiritual therefore we should not be losing any sleep.


What should be worrying us more is our inability to manage things, to be better technocrats and engineers, better doctors of the ills plaguing our very poorly-managed country.

 

There are firebrands in every society but in a sane society they are not as much of a nuisance as they are here, and their voice is not so loud. When the Pakistani revolution does take place -- although I am sure it never will -- the life of Kemal Ataturk should be compulsory reading for all Pakistanis. There are several good biographies of him. If someone translates them into Urdu, especially the one by Andrew Mango, he will be performing a national service.


Our relationship with China is strategic not emotional. The one country with which Pakistan has an emotional bond is Turkey and yet, superficialities apart, there is little understanding here of the man Ataturk and the profound social changes he wrought. If anyone deserves the title of leading Muslim of the modern era it is Ataturk.

Things taken for granted in reasonably well-run countries, and I am not talking of Switzerland or Germany, seem beyond our ability: the disposal of municipal waste, the need for public transport, investing more in education, and taking simple decisions to keep our environment clean -- like taking care of that gift from hell, the plastic shopping bag.


When we put our minds to something we can achieve quite a lot. We decided to go the path of nuclear fusion and despite American hostility and a low technological base we pulled off that feat. Why can't we bring the same focus to other things? Perhaps because we have got our priorities wrong.


Our nukes should have made us a more confident nation, more sure of ourselves. But to hear our army commanders talk of India is to get an entirely different message.


If a hundred ready-to-use nuclear warheads do not give us security, then we are dealing not with threats but a phobia of the mind. And the cure for this is not more arms but the consulting couch. We don't need to be pushed around by any country but we don't need to be obsessed with any country.


Don't they teach the Russo-Finnish war of 1940 in the Staff College and the National Defence University? Despite being outgunned and outnumbered the Finns, under Marshal Mannerheim, put up a defence that should figure in every military manual. Proportion-wise we have more on our side vis-à-vis India than Finland against the Soviet Union. Sixty three years is a long enough time to work through any obsession. But we haven't managed to get rid of ours.


The other spectre at our table is Afghanistan. We can't put our own house in order but we are desperate to put things right in Afghanistan. A hostile Afghanistan under King Zahir Shah and later Sardar Daud was far better for us than a friendly Afghanistan under the Taliban. With friends like the Taliban we needed no enemies.

As the Americans mull over the prospect of exiting from another theatre of their folly, we should look to our minimal interests but, if we can help it, without wearing Afghanistan on our sleeves, much less allowing it to dominate our dreams.


All these things are inter-twisted and intertwined. The rise of fanaticism and bigotry hasn't taken place in a vacuum. It is tied intimately to our India phobia and the paranoid national security state it has spawned. Jihad in Afghanistan, jihad in Kashmir, the pampering of militia armies, the consequent rise of extremism and sectarianism, are all elements of the lethal cocktail we put together long ago and from whose hangover we have still not emerged.


This cocktail has been our national drink for the last 30 years, ever since that fateful summer when Gen Zia, a figure more suited to the dark ages of Islam, seized power. The reinvention of Pakistan will remain a pipedream unless we put aside old habits and acquire new tastes.


Pakistan should be renowned for its doctors and engineers not its terrorists or bomb-making experts. We should match India in science and technology, invention and knowledge. We have allowed ourselves to be caught in the wrong race.


The pillars of the national security state -- a reincarnation of the kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in which the Khalsa army was everything and everything else nothing -- must come down if Pakistan is to leave its various obsessions behind.


But for this to happen, for the old ways to change, we need a bit of creative disorder. We seem too set in our ways. For these to change we need a tempest from the mountains.


Consider our crossed stars then. When the Arab world is in turmoil -- the best thing to happen to it since the golden era of Islam when it led the rest of the world in the pursuit of knowledge -- Pakistan is stuck in the past with its dead dogmas and dead certitudes. Come to think of it there is no Liberation Square in the whole of Pakistan. Which makes the task of igniting some disorder all that more difficult.


Email: winlust@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

AMERICA'S DOUBLE STANDARDS

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY

 

Interesting things happen to countries that are allied to the United States, and you can never tell what Washington's reaction is going to be when there is a drama that is usually predictable to most observers of international affairs except those in the White House, the Congress and the CIA.


Decades of US support for Egypt's vile dictator, Mubarak, has ended with Washington dropping its erstwhile collaborator and sending a message to every ally of the United States: be very careful when US leaders support you, because when the music stops, so will they. Dictators should remember that when someone gets behind them, it makes it easier for them to be stabbed in the back. And Washington was directly behind Mubarak.

After a lot of White House hand-wringing there was public hand-washing and lots of official propaganda leaks to the media with the line that 'We always knew he was a baddie but went along with him in the best interests of his country and Middle East peace.' Claptrap.


Mubarak was corrupt to his bootstraps; he ruled Egypt in a more oppressive fashion than any pharaoh – and without their style and dignity. But for almost thirty years he was loyal to the US and, of vital importance for his survival and prosperity, totally supportive of America's bizarre Israel policy. The fact that Palestinians, his fellow Arabs, are victims of measured genocide by the apartheid Israeli state, energetically encouraged by Washington, mattered nothing to Mubarak, whose only interests were staying in power and stealing money.

But loyalty is not a two-way street, so far as the US is concerned. "My friend, right or wrong" simply doesn't apply, and when a dodgy dictator becomes embarrassing the White House hands are washed and the unfortunate potentate is poured away with the suds.


The international picture of US credibility is dismal and becoming more wretched day by day. And the message from Washington continues to be: Don't do as I do – do as I say.


Take, for example, the shooting by a US citizen of two Pakistanis in Lahore on January 27. The American stated he thought he was going to be robbed by two motorcycle-borne men who he said were armed. He killed them both. His name may or may not be Raymond Davis, but that's the one we'll use.


There was a statement by no less a person than the President of the United States that Mr Davis is a diplomat, which he demonstrably is not. But the president's lie is irrelevant, because even if he WAS a diplomat – even if he had been the US ambassador – his status wouldn't make killing people legal.


The US reiterates that "We continue to stress that the US diplomat has diplomatic immunity and should be released" – after killing two people. What outrageous insolence. Small wonder that so much of the world regards Washington's arrogance with anger and contempt.


Then there's the killing of a bystander by an American in a car speeding to the aid of Davis. After the smashing to death of this innocent citizen, the car drove off and the driver was spirited out of Pakistan in a New York Heartbeat. Nobody could claim that this is support of justice by the country that preaches democracy and the rule of law so self-righteously around the world. Why was this American killer not subject to law? Might it be because the US considers that Pakistan doesn't matter?

What would have happened if a citizen of Pakistan attached to the Pakistan consulate in New York had shot dead two Americans in Manhattan? He would have been whipped off to the cells before you could say "diplomatic immunity". And if a car driven by another Pakistani, on his way to help the killer, had killed a bystander, do you think that Pakistan would have flown the driver illegally out of America in order to avoid justice?

Pakistan is a democracy, if a shaky one, with an independent and occasionally erratic judiciary. It needs all the domestic and international support that can be given if its institutions are to survive. So it is not only arrogant for Washington to demand noisily that Pakistan should surrender a person charged with murder: it is grossly irresponsible. It also plays straight into the hands of Islamic extremists, who are having a ball about this debacle, which has been so badly handled by Washington's political apparatchiks (as distinct from the competent professional diplomats to whose advice so little attention is paid). World media are taking a good kick at America about the fiasco – which could have been handled so easily – and the propaganda disaster can't be measured.


US abandonment of the dictator Mubarak, after thirty years of total support, is supposed to be justified because his country wasn't a democracy. Yet when a creaking but optimistic democracy like Pakistan exercises its rights as a sovereign country and arrests an American who has undoubtedly killed two people, there are screams of hysterical protest from the bunch of humbugs in Washington.


Little wonder international trust for the US has plummeted. A modicum of moderation and consistency, along with a bit of give and take in Washington's dealings with the rest of the world would be appropriate. But don't imagine that this will ever happen.

The writer's website is www.beecluff.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

READY FOR CHANGE, AT LAST

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

 

When the history of our extraordinary times is written, the pride of place will go to ordinary people of the Middle East. From Tunisia and Egypt to Yemen, from Bahrain and Jordan to Algeria and Morocco, it's the humble, faceless multitudes who have accomplished the unthinkable – demolishing the fearsome, old order armed with nothing but a prayer on their lips and unrelenting faith. Their matter-of-fact defiance has stripped new emperors of their fig leaf of legitimacy. Revenge of the dispossessed couldn't have been sweeter.

How utterly wrong were all those stuffy pundits about Arabs and their antipathy to freethinking and doing their own thing. (Okay, go ahead, call it democracy!) Their eternal spring of hope and faith has turned into a ferocious tide that has already swallowed two gilded thrones. If Muammar Gaddafi thinks he can stop it with his fighter jets, gunships and his squads of female bodyguards, he's living in a fool's paradise. And using fighter jets to bomb your own people? Only a truly diabolic lunatic, which he is, can resort to something like that. How low can yesterday's so-called revolutionaries get to protect their long decaying, crumbling palaces and thrones?

But we have been here before. Remember what another self-styled Arab leader visited on the Kurds, shiites and of course his own fellow sunnis? The ultimate target of all the force and fiercest weapons at a tyrant's disposal are his own people. This is what happened in Shah's Iran and Saddam's Iraq. This has been the hallowed tradition of all the so-called Arab republics. Thousands from the Muslim Brotherhood were persecuted and killed in Egypt, from Nasser down to Mubarak. In neighbouring Algeria tens of thousands of Islamists simply disappeared for flirting with democracy and beating the powers that be at their own game by sweeping the elections.

So Gaddafi's overwhelming and murderous response to peaceful protests is hardly surprising. This is how he – and fellow Arab Republicans – has dealt with dissent or even a harmless political gathering. This is what the tyrants and the empire's satraps have done all these years. And they have gotten away with murder all these years. Always.

This is how they have perpetuated themselves in power for years and decades. And international champions of democracy and freedom have not just humoured them, they have invariably been found sleeping around with them. All in the name of peace and stability of course.


But their game is up – both for the Arab potentates who have been the curse of the Middle East and their opportunistic, shameless patrons. Gaddafi's homicidal crackdown on the people power sweeping Libya only justifies those courageous protests on the streets, reminding the world once again about the living hell most of these Arab republics have been for their own people.


And the greater force this self anointed champion of the Arab-Islamic world uses against defenceless civilians, the more he strengthens their resolve to throw him out. No wonder what started as reluctant and copycat demonstrations after the events in Tunisia and Egypt have mutated into a powerful, glorious jihad against the tyranny and oppression the Libyans and Arabs have long suffered. So every bullet that the regime fires at the swelling sea of protestors is proving to be another nail in its own coffin.


Like his fellow disgraced dictators in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, Gaddafi could go on crowing about fighting till kingdom come. Everyone though, including the colonel, knows he's fighting a losing battle. Like others before him, he could drag his feet like a vicious urchin for as long as he could. But it's a lost, hopeless cause, if there was ever one.


No wonder, as in Egypt, everyone around him is jumping ship. His ambassadors to the United Nations and New Delhi have quit in protest against the government going on the rampage against its own people. Both his interior and justice ministers have joined the protestors.


Yet Gaddafi sticks to his guns even as he increasingly looks like a failed Shakespearean hero – or villain rather. Wildly waving his arms and promising death and destruction to his own people, the crazy old man reminds you of another crazy old man, Shakespeare's immortal King Lear. As inimitable Robert Fisk wrote this week, "The old boy looked bad, sagging face, bloated, simply "magnoon" (mad), a comedy actor who had turned to serious tragedy in his last days, desperate for the last make-up lady, the final knock on the theatre door."


Rest assured that the final knock will come sooner than Gaddafi and the gang might think. He and his kind are on their way out, no matter how dirty they fight. The end is nigh. You don't have to be an armed chair pundit to see it. People power will triumph in Libya, just as it has in Tunisia and Egypt. The juggernaut of change unleashed by the desperate action of a Tunisian fruit vendor across the Middle East will come to a rest only when the last dictator standing has gone.


None of this is really surprising. This had to be the natural and logical outcome of the long years of oppression, injustice and all-pervading corruption people have suffered all these years. This is why the voices from the streets of Tunis and Cairo are resonating across the Middle East, from Tripoli to Tehran and from Manama to Marrakesh. The elites will ignore this loud and clear message from the street at their own peril.


We are clearly living in interesting times, as the Chinese would put it. And Arab masses will remember who stood by them and who remained on the wrong side of history. Having promised a "new way forward" with the Muslims, Barack Obama had a rare opportunity to do just that when the ground began to shift in the Middle East. Unfortunately, one has seen the same moral obfuscation and double standards that have characterised successive US administrations. So much for the Change-We-Can our hero once promised!


While the Middle East has metamorphosed beyond recognition over the past two months, Western response to this tsunami of change has been predictable. Everything is still viewed, calculated and interpreted from the prism of what these changes would mean to the Great State of Israel and its geopolitical interests.

The empire is understandably jittery over the prospect of losing all that control and power it exercised over the region even after formally ceding it in the last century. If you have real free men in power, you can't order them around as the West has done all this while. Those capable of cutting their powerful tormentors to size could also boot out the empire. In a way the West has every reason to fear this change. For the people's revolt is not just against the gods who have failed them. It's also against those who have spawned and propped up this corrupt order that has made the Arabs helpless slaves in their own land. Seems the Middle East is ready for change. At last.

The writer is based in Gulf and has extensively written on the Muslim world affairs. Email: aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

REVOLUTION ITSELF

DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL

 

Travelling in this post-modern age has become unreal because what one does over the internet somehow does not feel real. After all you just press some buttons and in the end you have a booking for a flight. But is it real? Then you arrive at the airport and your name pops up on the another screen and the person on the other side of the desk checks your travel documents, hands over a piece of paper which allows you to board a plane and the cyber experience starts to become real.

 

Now, there is a physical object – a plane – ready to take off, that is, if one can get through the maze of an utterly nonsensical security apparatus. You cannot take water with you, but you can buy a bottle of water and take it to the plane once you have passed the security point. You are not allowed to take gels or liquids – even toothpaste – that is in a container which can hold more than 100 millilitres, as if there is nothing lethal below that volume limit. You have to take out your laptop from the carrying case, because it is deemed more dangerous while it is inside! At one security check point you can walk through with your shoes but at the next place, you have to take off your shoes and the alarm still beeps nevertheless.


This is the gift left behind for all travellers by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld with additional grit added by Lord Blair. This global mania has also allowed airlines to play second fiddle to the state; gone are the days when one felt like a guest in the hands of uniformed airhostesses who treated you with respect and showered you with smiles; now they treat you as a would-be criminal and even though you have paid for the journey, it is not a right anymore but a favour. But let us add all of these changes to the collateral damage and a fall out of 9/11.


Now, distance shrinks, detailed news become flashing headlines on computers and TV screens: riots in Tripoli, massacre in Bahrain, bloodbath in Benghazi, British Prime Minister in Egypt, America to pay for the transition in Egypt, Raymond Davis, the American double murderer, is an employee of the CIA!


Then memories hit back: the day in the distant past when Lahore was filled with a vibe never experienced before or since then. On that day, our own socialist revolutionary, the late ZA Bhutto had brought the good old colonel from Libya to the largest public place in Lahore – the cricket stadium then on the outskirts of the city – which we all loved and which on that fatal day was renamed as Gaddafi Stadium. The scene in Lahore on that day of 1972 was simply overwhelming. The whole city was adrift.


Yet, the man from Libya was used by ZA Bhutto as a pawn for his own plans to recognise Bangladesh. The colonel must have sensed this as their so-called brotherhood never really got off. Numerous great plans announced during his visit all disappeared from the news and no one ever spoke about the Peoples Publishing House, which was going to fill the world with revolutionary literature; the joint fertiliser plants never got off ground and several other ventures announced in the heat of a friendship just dissolved in thin air. ZA Bhutto and Colonel Muammer al-Gaddafi were both budding revolutionaries at the time and perhaps there was no room for two such revolutionaries on stage; hence they simply dissolved the drama and left the audience hanging in suspense.

But thirty-nine years later, the colonel is back on stage, waving his fists, claiming he is not a mere president who will step down just as a president recently did; he is, rather, a revolutionary, in fact the revolution itself, and he will die on Libyan soil. He may or may not. What one has seen so far is the bodies of those young men and women who have had enough of him. Or those who took Egypt's sweet and sour revolution as their ideal and who thought change is now just around the corner. They came out and were crushed with tanks and according to eye witness reports, gunned down by helicopter gunfire. The colonel, with his collection of armed female bodyguards will indeed fight to the last man or woman, as he said. But fight what? His own people whom he has subjugated to unrelenting terror for over forty years now? His own ego, which has made this erstwhile revolutionary of yesteryears a demonic figure?


The heady days of colonels and generals toppling old monarchies and proclaiming their little republics as peoples' republics are indeed over. But they refuse to see the change. They refuse to understand that the march of history has made them fossils and hence they keep working from the same old book. They had all come with socialism, anti-Westernism, and nationalism and they all ended up establishing dictatorships which begot dictatorships or which remain to this day destructive authoritarian regimes with midnight knocks, torture cells, and Gestapo-like state setups; they all have blood of thousands of human beings on their hands.

But they will not disappear from the flashing screens in airport terminals. They have a life of their own. The lies they have concocted, the web of deceit and destructive forces they have unleashed will continue to mushroom in other forms as long as there are buyers for this nonsensical drama on the world stage. As long as there are George Bushs, Dick Cheneys, Donald Rumsfelds and Collin Powels who are willing to use a Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi – the Iraqi defector whose false "evidence" was used by the United States of America to obtain its UN license for killing thousands of Iraqis through an illegal invasion – here will remain strife and bloodshed and chaos in this world.


The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: quantumnotes@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

SIDE-EFFECT

HARRIS KHALIQUE

 

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the young president of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Republic, was addressing the Pakistani nation in a massive public meeting in Lahore. It was 1974. Adults and children alike who were not present at the venue were glued to their television screens or hooked on to their radio sets across the length and breadth of the country. We watched on our television a fatigue clad dynamic man, a symbol of both Arab and third world's resistance to global injustice, speak in Arabic with running translation provided in Urdu. He declared Pakistan a fortress of Islam.


Gaddafi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto enjoyed a close relationship. He supported Pakistan's nuclear programme. Pakistani labour was exported to his country in big numbers adding substantially to our foreign remittance.

A few years after 1974, when Bhutto was hanged and PPP was being persecuted, the militants of Al-Zulfikar found refuge in Libya. I remember his Green Book being popular among youth and students belonging to left leaning political groups who saw him as a hero. He stood for everything that they liked, socialism, progressive Islam, anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism. He challenged western capitalism, aligned himself with the Soviet Union. We found it easier to relate to him because he came from a Muslim country.


To the progressive forces in Pakistan, Gaddafi was different from the rulers of most other Arab countries. Although the Bathists of Iraq and Syria and the rulers of Algeria also came to power on the premise of anti-colonialism, Arab nationalism and a local brand of socialism, they were viewed to have taken a different course by people here. Gaddafi remained popular to a large extent even after he decided to mend fences with Europe and the US after the end of the cold war and particularly after 9/11.


But there is something inherently wrong with totalitarianism, whether it looks supportive of a socialist economic order and liberal values in day to day life or seeks to create a kingdom of God in the name of faith. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is another anti-colonial hero of yesteryear who cannot put up with any opposition to his rule. Fidel Castro remains a hero for us in the third world but transfer of power to his real brother Raul warrants an explanation. 'The Great Leader' Kim Il Sung was succeeded by his son 'The Dear Leader' Kim Jong Il in North Korea. And now Gaddafi's son is leading the bloody crackdown on unarmed civilians on the streets of Libya confirming the establishment of a personal fiefdom in the name of nationalism.


All criticism on dictatorial rules across these countries cannot be brushed aside by terming it as propaganda by western powers. There is no denying that conspiracies are hatched against their political adversaries both by intelligence agencies and slanted press of the western world. But my experience of working in the former East bloc and a longish visit to North Korea some years ago made me realise how genuine these sentiments are against authoritarianism and regimentation.


The Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, much celebrated now by the left in Pakistan, has got the country's constitution amended to allow him the possibility to fight for another term after 2013. Is he the only individual who can restrain the US from using Latin America as its backyard or there is a strong party and public sentiment that he represents?


Humanity has come to a stage where the right to eat and the freedom to speak go hand in hand.


The writer is an Islamabad-based poet and public policy advisor who works with progressive social movements. Email: harris.
khalique@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

RULES OF THE GAME

SHAFQAT MAHMOOD

 

The Raymond Davis case is getting more difficult with the revelation that he was a contract employee for the CIA. This was generally suspected, but its acknowledgement in the US media complicates the politics of any possible settlement.


The US government is sticking to its stand that he is diplomat, which exempts him from prosecution under the Vienna Convention of 1961. It is doing this not just to protect Davis but also to provide cover to all other CIA affiliated agents in this and other countries.


The murky world of security contractors is carefully watching how this incident plays itself out. If the word gets around that the US government cannot or will not stand by its paid undercover agents, the potential for a negative impact on further recruitments could be huge.


It must be remembered that private security contractors became a significant part of US defence and intelligence establishment during the Bush administration. Companies like the infamous Blackwater grew into virtual private armies that were available for a price to carry out any security related function assigned to them.

This could involve direct combat, but most often it was protecting people and supplies and, as we know now, gathering intelligence. There was much hand-wringing in the US media about this privatisation of defence but it had no effect. Private security contractors are now an integral part of the US spying and war machines.


The Davis case itself may just concern one individual, but it has much larger implications on the relationship between private security contractors and the US government. If it goes wrong, it could call into question this entire business of getting private companies to fight state wars.


The rules of combat for national armed forces are covered under the Geneva Conventions and for diplomacy under the Vienna Conventions. Now that the US has privatised parts of its fighting and spying machines, where would the private mercenaries fit in if made prisoner or arrested for other crimes?


The only way out for the American government is to declare them as officials and get them the protections available under the international conventions. This explains why so much pressure is being exerted for Davis. The US government is seeking to establish a principle: that its security contractors also have the same privileges as its direct employees.


It is a bit unusual for President Obama and Secretary Clinton, down to members of the Congress, taking so much trouble for one individual. The compulsion is to establish his status as diplomat and a send a message to all other private contractors that the umbrella of the US government and international conventions will be available to them if they are caught in a jam.


What this means for the Pakistan government is that the pressure to release Davis is not going to die down. The problem is that, with him now being identified as a privately contracted CIA operative, the Zardari government will find it awfully hard to give him diplomatic status. It wants to, and has indicated this to the Americans, but the fear of a domestic backlash is a severe hurdle.


Caught in a difficult situation the PPP government has tried to shift the blame on the PML-N government in Punjab. The problem is that the Punjab government has very little leeway in the matter. A crime was committed by a foreigner and the Punjab police had no other option but to arrest him.


If the federal government had declared diplomatic immunity for this man, the Punjab government would have had to release him. It did not. What was the provincial government supposed to do then? I don't know what line the PML-N has been taking with the Americans, but to me its answer should be simple. It is not for us to declare him a diplomat. Let the federal government do so and we will release him.


Even now when the matter comes up in the court, any determination would be made on the basis of what the Foreign Office says. If it still does not declare him a diplomat, the court will have no option but to order his trial. If it does, the court also has no option but to let him go. The ball is thus squarely in the federal government's court.


It is now obvious that because of the political difficulties involved, the federal government has sought three weeks to resolve the matter. This time is certainly not required to determine Davis's diplomatic status. The purpose seems to be to seek an out-of-court settlement by the US paying compensation money in the shape of diyat.

If this happens, it would be in consonance with Pakistani law and Islamic principles. Some commentators in the Urdu press are taking the line that even if diyat money is paid, the courts still have the right to reject it. While this may be technically correct, it is a counterproductive argument. If there is a legal and Islamic way to resolve the matter, it must be done.


We are an emotional people with a strong undercurrent of anti-Americanism. The Davis case has added fuel to the proverbial fire. But it is a time to take a deep breath and without emotionalism look at our national interest.

Pakistan and the US are interlinked in myriad of ways. It is not just the Kerry-Lugar aid money that we desperately need or the American acquiescence to IMF or other international donors aid packages. Our defence and security needs also dictate a continuing relationship with the United States.


We do not have to be subservient to it, and I do not think we have been. There are many issues on which the US has been pushing us for a long time but, we have not given in. In particular, we have stoutly resisted the American demand for an attack on North Waziristan or its interference with our nuclear programme.


Having said that, there is also no need to get into an adversarial relationship with it. It is true that the Americans should not let the Davis case impact the entire relationship. But this argument cuts both ways. We also should not let it affect our relationship with the United States. Therefore, if there is any legal way to resolve the matter, it must be done.


This incident, however, does give us an opportunity to establish rules of the game for other US "technical and administrative" personnel. Just because they are allowed into the country, does not mean that they have a licence to go anywhere and do anything they want.


A detailed protocol exactly specifying what can and cannot be done by diplomats and officials must be worked out and signed by the two parties. Americans have done what they please in Iraq and Afghanistan and have been spoilt by it. Pakistan is not in this category and it is about time the Americans recognised that.


To repeat a phrase used by Ayub Khan, we want friends, but not masters.

 

Email: shafqatmd@gmail.com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

WILL INDIA'S "CULTURE OF IMMUNITY" END?

GEOPOLITICAL NOTES FROM INDIA

M D NALAPAT

 

While politicians in India often talk about the prevalence of the "black" ( ie illegal) economy in India, especially when they are in opposition and not accessing the vast funds they used to get while in power, the reality is that the root of "black money" in India is politics. While a Mahatma Gandhi was able to persuade tens of millions of Indians to sacrifice their jobs and their fortunes to follow him in his numerous jabs against British rule,since the 1970s, those in politics expect to get compensated for their efforts,and the higher the loot,the more the rush to get on board a particular bandwagon. In urban areas,unless at least Rs 500 is paid to an individual, she or he will refuse to attend a political rally. A few months ago, two politicians in Maharashtra were discussing before an open microphone the high cost of arranging crowds to cheer Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Huge sums were mentioned in this connection,it being a given that a Sonia rally has to have tens of thousands of attendees, so that television cameras could pan the throng and give testimony to the immense popularity of the current owner of the Congress Party. That the crowds shown on television are usually expressionless - if not openly bored and fidgety - seldom gets mentioned in the media, which hungers for the access only favourable coverage assures


Apart from the high cost of politics,what seems to be a pathological insecurity within the political class in "the world's largest democracy" has bred greed on a scale only beaten by fund managers in Zurich, New York and London. One particular Cabinet minister began life in the family of a small farmer,but soon came to the attention of a leader from his state,who launched him on a dazzling career from his early 20s and regarded him as his "manas putra" ( adopted son). Today,Sharad Pawar is easily the most powerful politician in his home state of Maharashtra,and easily one of the ten most influential politicians in India. He is the owner of a huge empire that spawns various fields of economic activity,from viniculture to education. To his credit, and unlike those who pretend to being poor even as they salt away billions of euros abroad, Pawar is open about his love for the good life. That includes the game of cricket,of which he has been a steady patron,even rising to the leadership of the international cricketing fraternity in a worldwide election. And yet he is not the only billionaire in the Manmohan Singh cabinet.There are others,some even richer than him, as indeed is the case throughout the country. The fastest road to great wealth is politics,even though few of these lucky individuals ever come to the attention of the Income-tax department.Indeed,one particular individual, Hassan Ali (who is close to polticians) has been left almost undisturbed even after it has been revealed that he put away Rs 45,000 crores in Swiss banks. The Income-tax department is treating him with the deference shown to sons of Union Finance Ministers, most of whom quickly become billionaires while Papa is in office (again to zero media attention). Clearly,Mr Ali has friends among the powerful,else he would not have got the immunity from arrest that he flaunts


Especially since 1998,when the BJP-led government of Atal Behari Vajpayee came to power, what has been taking place in India has been the growth of private monopolies. A favoured few control coalfields,others power plants or toll booths on highways. The revenue to the state is tiny in comparison to that made by the favoured privateer, although of course,a hidden sum must have gone - or be going - to the politicians who allocated scarce national resources to a few. Land and natural resources have become the private property of those favoured by VVIPs,and it is this small group of "Robber Barons" who are controlling politicians. As in the 1970s,state power is used to restrict competition rather than to create more of it. The result has been deteriorating service and higher costs. Even in sectors such as Telecom, coverage has become so deficient in the case of a few operators that a conversation lasts only a few minutes before it gets broken by poor reception. Corruption has rolled back the benefits of economic liberalisation,and created a system of privilege that favour a few,exactly the way it has been in Egypt. As a result, India has become a difficult place to do business in,unless one goes through the handful of "crony channels" to get clearances. Of course,every year,the permissions and sanctions needed to undertake any sort of activity multiply in sync with the bribes needing to be paid to get things done. For the honest businessperson,India has become a nightmare


Those who have paid out huge amounts to select political leaders expect to get immunity from the numerous laws and regulations that are a feature of India's Nehruvian system. Because of the multiplicity and complexity of the laws, the Indian legal system has become the slowest in the world, with "justice" getting denied for generations. Those with cash and connections know that they can tweak the legal system in such a way as to avoid justice for decades,if not permamently.Hence,there is zero fear of law in influential circles in India.They know that they can get away,even if caught.Even a hardened terrorist laughs at the Indian legan system,because he knows that he is safe in its lethargic ways. A huge body of vested interests has sprung up to keep the Indian legal system excruciatingly slow. Recently,a friend got a summons from a faraway court,to answer a litigant who had filed suit against a company in which this friend had last been a director in 1991. The alleged misdeed had been committed long afterwards,but that did not stop him from also being included as an accused. The harassment of editors by the filing of frivolous defamation cases is well known.


If there is access to money and good legal counsel, the legal system can be used to make an individual's life a series of court appearances. Often,the wait is of no use,"because the case has been deferred". Who will compensate for the time lost? Who will be held accountable for unconscionable delays? No one. Innocents who have the misfortune to get sucked into the Indian legal system know that they will most probably be dead before being cleared,if ever. The guilty with access to cash are aware that there are multiple ways of dragging out a case and tiring witnesses (when not influencing them more directly). According to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India is a country where there is the "Rule of Law". His long years in office seem to have disconnected the PM from the reality of life for the 99.99% of Indians who are not VIPs or VVIPs


The people of India know that there is one law for the powerful and another for them,exactly the way it is in Egypt,where today there is Mubarakdom without Mubarak. The India growth story is being held back by the pervasive stench of official corruption,and the only way out is to demonstrate that those who till now were immune from prosecution get sent to jail,and for long periods of time. The agencies have more than enough evidence against the powerful,despite years of effort by corrupt elements to whitewash the record. Sadly,whispers in Delhi say that even the present head of the so-called anti-corruption agency was appointed on the recommendation of a Congress politician whose telephone call reduces Cabinet ministers to obliging jelly,and who is the patron of the Super Rich. Unless Manmohan Singh takes courage into his hands and shows that there is the same law for those who pick a pocket of Rs 5 and those who use improper influence to grab for themselves national resources worth Rs 50,000 crores, the India that he leaves behind will continue its descent into chaos,to use the evocative title of Ahmed Rashid's book on Pakistan


A handful of Super Corrupt have become the arbiters of India's destiny. The PM is not among them,but every day,he is being warned not to touch them. Till today, no PM has dared to call the bluff of those who seek to avoid the introduction of the Rule of Law into India. If in the weeks ahead,at least a few VIPs - if not VVIPs - go to prison, and that too not for token periods, India would have taken a huge leap forward. India has an honest PM, whose spirit is willing.But is the flesh too weak for him to persevere on a course that he needs to complete for India to escape the pit dug by its greedy leaders.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

ISI & CIA RELATIONS

SULTAN M HALI

 

The relations between ISI and CIA have been fairly professional and close because both had their focus on combating common enemies. Since espionage, counter espionage and security activities are usually enshrouded in cloak and dagger stuff, at times misunderstandings may occur owing to inter service rivalry or encroachment in each other's areas of operation. The Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (more commonly known as Inter-Services Intelligence or simply by its initials ISI is Pakistan's premier intelligence agency. It is the largest of the five intelligence agencies of Pakistan, the others being the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Military Intelligence (MI), Naval Intelligence (NI) and Air Intelligence (AI). ISI was established as an independent intelligence agency in 1948 in order to strengthen the sharing of military intelligence between the three branches of Pakistan's armed forces in the aftermath of the Pakistan-India War of 1947, which had exposed weaknesses in intelligence gathering, sharing and coordination between the Pakistan Army, Air Force and Navy. It proved its mettle during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by successfully organizing the mujahedin resistance, which ultimately resulted in the Soviet retreat.


The United States, on the other hand has carried out intelligence activities since the days of George Washington, but only since World War II have they been coordinated on a government-wide basis. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed New York lawyer and war hero, William J. Donovan, to become first the Coordinator of Information, and then, after the US entered World War II, head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1942. The OSS–the forerunner to the CIA–had a mandate to collect and analyze strategic information. It was abolished after World War II, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government, reporting to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers, was established under the National Security Act of 1947. The CIA also engages in covert activities at the request of the President of the United States. Later CIA's mandate was expanded to include: "sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures… subversion [and] assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation movements, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world".


The primary function of the CIA is to collect information about foreign governments, corporations, and individuals, and to advise public policymakers. The agency conducts covert operations and paramilitary actions, and exerts foreign political influence through its Special Activities Division.


Critics have pointed out that following the arrest of Raymond Davis, a key CIA operative from Lahore, after he had executed two Pakistanis in cold blood and caused the death of another motorcyclist, the relations between ISI and CIA are at their lowest ebb since 9/11. However neither is this observation based on facts nor is it a cause for alarm. It must be understood that Pakistan is doing all that is within it means and capacity to combat the menace of terrorism and its track record speaks for itself. Drone attacks are an autonomous CIA operation and Pakistan or ISI has never provided any targeting information for the conduct of drone strikes.


Pakistan is at present fully engaged in operations against the Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) in South Waziristan Area and does not have the wherewithal or the capacity to undertake simultaneous operations in North Waziristan Area, which will only be tackled once gains in south have been consolidated.


Insinuations of ISI helping in relocating and protecting the Haqqanis are nothing but malicious propaganda. Such stories are apparently leaked to the media with the connivance of CIA and it is regrettable that CIA leadership on many occasions has failed to show respect to the relationship of the two agencies and has acted with arrogance towards ISI which has resulted in weakening the relationship on which it is entirely dependent.

It is unfortunate that CIA leadership fails to understand that ISI works for and will continue to work for Pakistan's national interest irrespective of the desires of CIA. CIA's outdated approach towards the partnership through pressure is only counterproductive and will result in the isolation of CIA in an operational environment where its performance has been found wanting and has raised more questions that answers. Involvement of CIA with Raymond Davis is beyond any shadow of doubt. It has been learnt through western media and Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) that not only was Raymond Davis the acting CIA chief in Pakistan, but was part of the feared American Task Force 373 (TF373) operating in the region. SVR claims that Raymond Davis supplied Al-Qaeda terrorists "nuclear fissile material" and "biological agents", which are to be used against the United States itself in order to ignite an all-out war in order to re-establish the West's hegemony over a Global economy that it warned is just months away from collapse." Post incident conduct of CIA has virtually put the partnership with ISI into question. Irrespective of the commonality of objectives in this war on terror, it is hard to predict if the relationship will ever reach the level at which it was prior to the Davis episode. It is imperative that since the ISI and CIA were trying to eliminate a common enemy, they rejoin their forces for combating the wily adversary. If a worthy alliance between the ISI and CIA is to be reestablished, the CIA will have to halt its covert operations to destabilize Pakistan and malign ISI. Relationships are built on trust and confidence.

If the CIA wants to treat the ISI like it was treating the Soviet security agency KGB during the Cold War era, then it will have a difficult time. Although the ISI operates on a shoe-string budget as compared to the CIA, its motivated and highly professional operatives have proved through various operations that it is a force to reckon with. If the CIA has any doubts in this regard, it should only ask RAW. The onus of not stalling this relationship between the two agencies now squarely lies on CIA.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

INDOCTRINATION

YAHYA AHMAD

 

The question always arises in one's mind, that why our new generation is falling prey to the extremist elements? How come these youngsters are so easily indoctrinated with such extremist and violent ideology? If these youths were of illiterate background, belonged to a broken family or resided in an underdeveloped area, it would not come as a surprise. But these are children belonging to modest families, even sometimes the elite and are from urban areas, with decent educational background. These are the kids, one may refer to as our nation's bright shining future, but unfortunately they do not remain so. They or their families never seem to have any links or associations with a terrorist or extremists elements. Their parents also practice a very moderate ideology of Islam, but still their children think otherwise. Our next generation seems to be getting addicted to this poison, accepting it as a means to their survival. But it is actually quite the opposite, as the fanatics require these young lads for the survival of their ideology.


More than 60 percent of Pakistan's population is under 25, giving a supply of recruits to these terrorists. Our young generation is being affected by whatever is happening in this society. The political and economic unrest, both contribute to their perceptions of our society. Most of them are disheartened by the ills that plague our country and in their frustration they have taken the wrong path. Their families are also to be blamed for their unchecked tilt towards an extremist mindset. The donations we give, the congregations or mosques we attend and the views we express contribute to the perception our child builds. It is unfortunate that people blame the west and their conspiracies for everything, while the media is also no lagging behind. Our society still refers to the Taliban as a lesser evil compared to the west, if not outright heroes. The mosques we attend for prayers, give out poisonous sermons, instead of preaching of peace and tolerance. A youngster quickly picks all these signs and ascertains the wrong results.


In 2010 there are at least 48 incidents of suicide bombings reported. Most of the suicide bombers, who are involved in attacks carried out by these terror networks, are mostly between the ages of 14 to 20 years. These youths are brainwashed to the extent, that they see the world as a place of evil, ready to be cleansed by their sacrifice. The extremists find these young minds easy to mould according to their agendas. Taliban have unleashed this terror, throughout the country. The bombing of a bus station on 8th December, 2010 resulting in the deaths of 17 innocent people, was carried out by a teenage boy of 15 – 16 years of age. The suicide blast at a WHO food distribution point in Khar, killing at least 43, was carried out by a 16 – 18 year old girl. Many will argue that, these kids belong to a rural area, mainly illiterate and mostly with complicated family backgrounds. But they have to realize that induction and brainwashing of youngsters having a good background and education is no more a myth or an exception.


These jihadi organizations and their sympathizers exploit the misery of other muslims, as the basis for their propaganda. They preach these youngsters inaccurate interpretations of Islam. Having little or no knowledge of the religion, they fall prey to these fanatics. It is also surprising to know that these organizations are also able to induct those among their ranks, who have studied or lived most of their lives abroad. The terror networks specifically use the services of people, who can relate their ideology with the current scenario. Their knowledge of current geo-political situation and their fluency in a foreign language gives them an extra edge to indoctrinate others. They not only persuade them by injecting their minds with visions of paradise and 70 virgins, they also present them with fabricated information, destroying a person's basic convictions and replacing them with an alternative set of fixed beliefs. Islam is a religion of peace and forbids any kind of violence. It emphasizes that the human mind should be clear of any physical or psychological abuse. Thus, as Islam has forbidden the use of intoxicants, it similarly forbids any psychic techniques to control the mind and deprive it of freedom.

There are numerous verses in Quran and Hadith where the choice has been left to the individual for the choice of paths. Unfortunately these elements exploit those youngsters, who have distanced and alienated themselves from their families and the society. These youngsters are encouraged to join the ranks, where they are given the impression of being important. This sense of belonging and responsibility develops a sense of attachment within these kids. People usually ignore this phase among teenagers, as being a phase.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

FRIDAY PRAYERS' IMPORTANCE

THE SPIRIT OF ISLAM

 

It is obligatory for every Muslim man to attend Friday sermon and prayers. They assemble at mosques after leaving off their businesses, work and other engagements for a while. After performing the ritual, they again immerse in their day-to-day affairs, seeking the bounty of God. No doubt, the Friday sermon is the most influential means of communication for imparting as well as for acquiring religious teachings and awareness for the members of the Muslim society in a week. Every Muslim is coming to mosque to attend Friday prayers with a heart full of piety and fear of God seeking His reward and forgiveness. He then listens to the preaching of the mosque imam with a mind ready to embrace the guidelines and religious principles.


The Friday pulpit plays a positive vital role in becoming a guide for every Muslim man and woman to lead a righteous life. In most cases, the sermon addresses both men and women, and not men alone. However, the Friday prayers in our country and some other Arab countries are conspicuous by the absence of women worshippers in spite of the fact that women represent nearly half of the population and that they are mainly responsible for bringing up our offspring.


The Friday sermon usually contains several topics that are of concern to women or pertaining directly and indirectly to men's relationship with women. Hence, it is essential that women should also be among the attendees of such sermons. Thereby, they can take advantage of the sermons in a way developing good qualities not only in their personal life but in their worldly and religious life as well. Here the important question is: What prevents women from attending Friday sermon and prayers? Is it because of the traditions that have inherited from some strange societies that considered women inferior to men until the recent period or because of the continuing dominance of man over woman in determining all her engagements, even those pertaining to her worship?


The inadequate transportation facilities, small number of mosques or their distance from the residential areas and the absence of loudspeakers were some of the factors that had served as excuses for women not attending Friday prayers in the past. Are there any such excuses still exist? Now, the situation has been changed tremendously. The societal opening up, spreading of education and fast growth of information technology in our age place women in an excellent position compared with the past. Is it wise to prevent our women from attending Friday prayers and listening to sermon, which is imparting righteous things from the beginning to the end? We don't know whether there are any differences between men and women in acquiring virtues. Perhaps, women are more in need of listening to such sermons and religious admonition than men. In our contemporary age, women have either been totally prevented from this virtue or have no option other than to hear a second person (any one of their male family members) narrate the summary or a few points from the sermon. No doubt, only a small segment of our women could take advantage of Friday sermon in this way.


Truly speaking, there is no difference between men and women in discharging their religious responsibilities and performing worship. Even then, why don't our mosque imams encourage women to attend Friday prayers and listening to the sermon? Is not it their obligation? Is there any religious objection that prevents them from inviting women to attend Friday prayers? Let me quote the Qur'anic verses in this regard. "O, you who believe! When the call is proclaimed for the prayer on the day of Friday, come to the remembrance of Allah and leave off business (and every other thing); that is better for you if you did but know! Then, when the (Jumua) prayer is finished, you may disperse through the land, and seek the bounty of Allah, and remember Allah much, that you may be successful (Surah Jumua 9, 10).

Allah made no differentiation between men and women while calling them for Jumua prayer. On the other hand, the Holy Qur'an encourages attendance of Friday prayers by our mothers, wives and daughters. We witness huge presence of women at almost all our mosques to perform Taraweeh prayers during the holy fasting month of Ramadan. We cannot see anybody preventing them from attending these voluntary prayers. On the contrary, we see people encourage their women to attend these prayers. Taking part in Friday prayers and listening to the sermon with piety and close attentiveness may fetch more reward than attending Taraweeh prayers. Moreover, going to mosque in broad daylight to attend Friday prayers is much safer than going to attend Taraweeh prayers in the night.


Of late, the Friday sermons delivered by most mosque imams have become more positive and are dealing with the current situation and problems facing the Muslim society. The Friday sermons at present are conspicuous by the absence of such repulsive tone and prayers used against non-Muslims as was the case in the past. The mosque imams should focus in their sermons to supplicate Allah to guide the non-Muslims to the righteous path. Also, there should be an opportunity for all sections of our society and those in different age groups to listen to and learn from the sermon. We all are keen in inculcating in our children good qualities such as desire to have goodness for other people and not to have any feeling of hatred toward others. Nowadays, we are facing the malicious propaganda of branding Islam as a religion of terror, even though we know that ours is a religion promoting tolerance and peaceful coexistence.


This status of our religion attracts many non-Muslims to be followers of the religion. Therefore, it is our duty to be examples of the best behavior and showing infinite respect to others in our dealings with them. Such qualities should be imparted to our children, boys and girls, through facilitating them to attend Friday prayers and listening to the sermon.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

CAN FUGITIVES CLAIM DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY?

ALI ASHRAF KHAN

 

The affair around the US citizen who killed two Pakistanis in broad daylight in Lahore has resulted in an estrangement of political and diplomatic relations with the US because our much hailed partner in the war on terror is refusing to let the matter take its judicial course as it is stipulated by international law. On the contrary, the US has tried to frighten and intimidate Pakistan on all political levels up to the President Obama himself to let the man Davis go. The status and business of Davis in Pakistan was not properly registered with our Foreign Office, when twice Pakistan's foreign office sought clarification regarding his scope of work in the Embassy justifying such a status in reply to their letter dated 20-01-2010.


US embassy remained silent and again on 25th January 2011 they sent a list of official to Pakistan foreign office to issue necessary cards granting such a status and Raymond Davis name was not mentioned in that list, on 27-01-2011 he committed cold blooded murder of two Pakistanis on road side in Mozang and now diplomatic immunity is claimed for him vide US Embassy letter dated 28-01-2011 and forces are at work to amend the paper work accordingly. It is a matter of survival for the PPP & government of Pakistan not to lose the well-wishing of its master US because the record of their three years rule is so dismal that the situation within the country even without the Davis affair is close to anti-government revolt. Therefore, Zardari and his men are anxious to resolve the matter amicably and would have released Davis the very first day if he hadn't been arrested in Punjab by a non-PPP government and if the anti-American feelings and opinions in the country were not running so high on the loss of 4 innocent life due to Raymond Davis adventure he committed as if he was hunting in an African jungle but it turned out to be Lahore from where his escape was not so easy as he thought.

The Pakistani people, on the other hand, take this incident as the last straw which breaks the camels back with regard to the US. Nursing strong anti-US feelings not only because of the many betrayals of the US against Pakistan in the past, but also because their anti-Islam stand in the international arena the Pakistani people reject friendship or even cooperation with the US. This feeling has been heightened by the wars against Muslims in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan by President Obama who himself is a deserter from Islam, last but not least, against Pakistani Muslims in the tribal region of Pakistan with routine Drone attacks, which got halted for some time due to arrest of this contractor now found involved in serious criminal activities even in Lahore itself. Pakistan's engagement with the US is highly unpopular and this feeling is soaring these days. So much so that Hilary Clinton in her speech at Asia Society on Monday demanded that the Pakistani government should stop to create anti-Americanism in the country. The lady seems not to understand or prefers to ignore the fact that this is more than this government is able to do; it would mean to cut all ties with the US that might result in a relaxation of that feeling.


But that is not a very probable conduct because the PPP government is depending on the US for their own sustenance in power. The recent visit of Senator Kerry to Pakistan was therefore, also a visit which started a withdrawal of US threats and rhetoric towards a more amicable tone which allows to search for an 'out of the box' solution whatever that might mean. As a matter of fact, the US is much more dependent on the cooperation of the Pakistani government as the Pakistani government is depending on the US for their respective survivals, as all other options of transportation route for logistic support cost 3 to 4 times more, which the already fragile US economy can not sustain. An exit strategy from the war in Afghanistan which has already been lost by the US will not be available without Pakistani support. That is how and why the two are clinging together while neglecting the national interest of Pakistan and the opinion of the Pakistani people who are not even allowed to breath clean air after roping them into Vienna conventions, UNO & WTO, which has crippled our national productivity and we are left at the mercy of changing exchange rate of dollar, which determines the cost of essential items flooded through lowering tariffs in the open market resulting in forced closure of our local industry, which is going high day by day due to increase in utility costs etc. Is this the so-called democracy? Known to us as " Govt off the people, Far from the people and to Buy the people" Mrs. Clinton has very much realized that the majority of the people in Pakistan are anti-American. If doing what the majority wants is called democracy then why does she demand undemocratic behavior? It is this double standard which is at the bottom of the problems that we are facing.


There is another aspect to the problem also. There are clear indications that there is much more to the "Raymond Davis" affair than the official discussions are letting on. In realty this isn't about murder and diplomatic immunity. This is much bigger. Something is very wrong with this picture, and Islamabad is tight lipped because it has concrete evidence that Mr. "Raymond Davis" is working for the CIA in its network of contractors doing odd jobs, which the Russian Intelligence Service (SVR) report has warned that he was in possession of top secret CIA documents, which has created a stir in American taskforce (TF-373) operating in this region having links with Al-Qaeeda terrorists providing nuclear fissile material and biological agents that could ultimately lead to a full fledged war against Pakistan for which he may be doing the necessary ground work also he has been doing business with the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Raymond and his associates were living in a bungalow in Lahore used a private number plate car and lots of equipment including wireless satellite system which was found in his care when he was apprehended by the police on that fateful day. Cameras and photo equipment was found with him and the pictures in his camera are showing sensitive installations.

What was clear from the evidence found in the car was clear: Davis is a spy working for the CIA. The importance of his job may be guessed from the amount of salary he is drawing which is more that what US senators get. This fact has now been ascertained by a report of the UK based Guardian newspaper. Under these circumstances the 'diplomatic status' of Davis is even more questionable. It is in the national and security interest of Pakistan to not let him go. Will this national interest or even the opinion of the Pakistani people succeed at least this time?


When the spineless federal government is trying to shift the blame for politicizing the issue on Punjab government, the gravity of pressure can be seen that champions of freedom and liberty now want us to derail the process of law by not respecting the laws of the land. High Court is hearing the case to deliver justice. Whatever blame game is on people in Pakistan want respect to our own national interest supreme and this type of hooligans should not be spared at any cost. We are the followers of Sultan Tipu who said it is better to live like a lion for one day instead of thousands days of life like a Jackal. So in this case the demand of diplomatic immunity is just uncalled for, when history has examples before us that no body is above the bar of justice provided a proper course of action is taken and in this case Lahore High Court is hearing the case and let us wait for the judgment and not try to jump on suitable conclusions on the Americans desire, we also know that The Diplomatic and Consular Privileges Act of 1972 trumps the Vienna Convention in Pakistani law that gives the government of Pakistan the final say over who does and who does not have diplomatic immunity, an issue which the court will determine appropriately now.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

WORSENING ECONOMY

YAHYA AHMAD

 

Pakistan is a developing country and is considered to be a semi-industrialized nation. It is a nation of 170 million people, out of which almost 20 percent live below the poverty line. The Gross Domestic Product or GDP for Pakistan in 2010 stood at 167 billion dollars, constituting only 0.27 % of the world economy. Terrorism has cost Pakistan 6% of its GDP in 2009 – 2010. Pakistan is also considered to be the world's 27th largest economy, based on its purchasing power. The economy is deteriorating day by day, as core inflation has now reached 12%, according to the economic survey conducted by the government. Unemployment has been plaguing the country throughout its existence and especially after the global recession, the situation has worsened. The worsening economic condition has also forced the government to slow down investments in development projects, which has also resulted in unemployment. Foreign investment has been fleeing from the country, due to the existing security situation. Since the start of the war on terror in 2001, Pakistan has received billions of dollars in aid and is still unable to stabilize its economy.


It is mostly due to the rising tide of militancy and volatile security situation that, the entrepreneurs and businessmen have pulled out their investments. These economic conditions, along with the rising inflation and growing unemployment have presented the radicals, with a tool to exploit the public for their agenda. The rise of extremism has been directly linked to the failing economy, by many observers. It is human nature that, whenever an individual or nation faces difficult times, they project the blame on others, so they can vent their grievances. Throughout history fascist and dictatorial regimes have used this ploy, to unite their nation against a certain country, ethnic or religious group. The religious extremists have been using the same ploy on the ignorant Pakistani people. The lack of education and awareness among the masses has also contributed to its spreading. This is a vicious circle, where the failing economy gives rise to terrorism and the increase in terrorism deteriorates the economy.


The extremists target minorities, mostly belonging to different sects and religions, while blaming the west for imperialism. They convince people that, all the problems they face in their lives are due to these western states conspiring along with their collaborators. The word "collaborators" is mostly associated by these extremists to the minorities or state officials. They have branded the whole economic system as a Zionist conspiracy and persuade the people of it being the reason for their economic woes. A person, who is financially weak, also remains disturbed and these insecure minds are easy to indoctrinate with poison. These terrorists are not to be underestimated in their skills of persuasion, as they have been completely trained in the art of psychological warfare. Besides this, these networks also lure these people with financial and monetary rewards. Due to the strong financial resources of these networks, they are able to pay these individuals even regular salaries. This was evident in Swat and can still be seen in the Taliban controlled areas. The Taliban and other extremist groups pay regular salaries to their foot soldiers and commanders. They also promise to financially support the families of the militants, who are killed during conflict. This promise is also made to the suicide bombers, along with the promise of heaven.


It is clearly evident that, the fanatics exploit the economic situation of these people for their personal benefits. They use the finances they gather through extortion, kidnappings, drug trade and robberies to woo these people. They in fact convince the ignorant individual to make a deal with the devil. It is also a fact that these fanatics make a great contribution, towards the worsening economic situation. The bomb blasts in business districts, the suicide targeting innocent shoppers, threats to business establishments and their constant fear tactics, have added to the unemployment and poverty. The Taliban and their extremist allies have also created an illusion of Robin Hood, in the eyes of the impoverished. They claim to take from the rich and give to the poor. They also claim to fight against the feudal and capitalist system. They lure the people by giving them the vague concept of "Khilafat", of which they are themselves not clear.


The state has a huge responsibility now to stabilize the economy, both in the context of micro and macro-economic stability. It is imperative for policy makers to view the economy, through the perspective of counter terrorism. The terrorists want to portray themselves as revolutionaries, by providing quick economic salvation to the impoverished.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

FREEDOM IN WRONG HANDS

RANDOM THOUGHTS

BURHANUDDIN HASAN

 

Freedom of media is no doubt essential for keeping a watch over the performance of the government, but when it is exercised by incompetent and inexperienced journalists, it becomes a lethal weapon which not on only distorts the image of the government but also misleads the TV viewers and newspaper readers. That is why the authoritarian governments are invariably against the freedom of the media and keep it under their tight control. In Pakistan all military rulers as well some so called democratic governments kept all media outlets under their thumb. One great disadvantage was that media lost its credibility and its prestige and became for all practical purposes a government gazette.


General Parvez Musharraf was the first military ruler of Pakistan who allowed a good measure of freedom to both print and visual media. It worked well for a few years when the Musharraf government was sailing smoothly but when the crunch came and he declared emergency in the country and dismissed Supreme Court judges followed by a storm of lawyers' protests which were covered prominently and in graphic detail, Musharraf lost his cool and started taking punitive action against media barons. That was the end of media freedom.

After Musharraf's exit and installation of PPP government, media reverted to its freedom with a vengeance which is continuing unabated. The government agency PEMRA which was created to regulate private TV channels and issue them licenses after ensuring that they are competent to operate good media outlets of news, current affairs, entertainment, educational and nation building programs. It was originally planned that this body will be manned by mostly professional people who understand the purpose and requirements of the medium to provide healthy and purposeful programs to the viewers. But unfortunately this did not happen and PRMRA became an ordinary agency manned by bureaucrats without any vision for the broadcast media. Naturally, therefore many channels which had no vision or professional expertise for TV and Radio came into being like ordinary companies to earn profits or dump their black money. According to a government estimate there are about 2,500 cable operators who are airing TV transmissions in the country. A code of conduct has been laid down for all TV channels but in most cases this code is being willfully violated by the channels. There are only five councils in the entire country to monitor and report the violations of the code of ethics. Naturally therefore these violations cannot be checked properly.


Apart from obscene content in dresses and vulgar dialogues in TV plays and commercials, the most objectionable is the content of talk shows and the language and tone of the hosts of these shows which in some cases are just shouting matches in which participants insult each other in vulgar language. News bulletins too are full of items which do not deserve to be covered in a decent newscast. For example I remember a prime time news bulletin which opened with four cases of rape. Likewise, a recent news cast which highlighted the detention of a Pakistani classical singer at the New Delhi Airport for the violation of foreign currency rules; this was by no means a "breaking news" nor did it deserve to be treated as a lead story of the prime time bulletin of a major TV channel. But the channel wasted a good 20 minutes on this story repeating every part of it adnausium. In fact the words "breaking News" has become a joke which is used by most channels to shock the viewers and create unnecessary programs and news sensational.


Some top rated channels adopt partisan attitude on major political issues such the case of Raymond David's which may have far reaching consequences in the long run on very delicate Pak-US relations in the area of financial and military assistance which is vital for Pakistan's survival in the face of continuing war on terror. Some talk show hosts who are openly affiliated with radical religious parties are pleading their case on most vital issues which Pakistan is facing today. They have forgotten that these parties are against the lofty principles of Quaid-e-Azam on which he founded Pakistan. No doubt, these parties have their nuisance value and try to sabotage the Quaid's principles but people of Pakistan have always rejected them.


But now that they have earned the support of mass media they have been greatly encouraged to take out their rallies and get maximum coverage on the visual media. Media barons should take serious notice of this and stop the spread of religious fundamentalism in this country which is already fighting a costly war against radical elements while some TV anchors are openly supporting them and spreading their message all over the country to sabotage the government's efforts.


Most TV channels, they are tempted to give more than one third space of their prime time to commercials. The viewers are naturally frustrated with frequent commercial breaks which are not only irritating but also adversely affect the charm and continuity of programs. Likewise, TV channels and largely circulated newspapers give as much as fifty percent of their space to advertisements. In their quest for maximum advertising revenue, they do not hesitate to put on air indecent and offensive ads which are not suitable for family viewing. The dream merchants of advertising are weaving a web of false and deceptive mirage of prosperity in Pakistan where millions of people are living in abject poverty. Another form of advertising is puffery which is an American slang for false and deceptive advertising which could mislead the consumer.


In the United States, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been empowered by the Supreme Court to stop the false and deceptive advertising as "representation, omission or practice that is likely to mislead the consumer and lure him to buy such products which may be harmful to his health". FTC has now been empowered to impose fines or altogether ban deceptive advertising. It has formulated specific regulations to stop false and misleading advertising of products for children's' markets. These actions have resulted in considerable reduction in the incidence of gross distortions and misrepresentations.

Pakistan is probably the only country in South Asia where products which are recognized health hazards are being advertised unchecked through "puffery" and false and misleading claims. There is no agency, official or otherwise to check and control such harmful advertising, nor are there any pressure groups in society to provide protection to the unsuspecting consumers.


The Pakistan Advertising Association incorporated under Companies Ordinance, carries a clause in its Memorandum of Association calling for "protecting the art and trade of advertising and sales promotion from unethical practices and monopolies of foreign and house agencies", but in the present scenario it seems that this clause is not being implemented, but in fact is being willfully ignored by the advertising agencies themselves. There is need for print and electronic media in Pakistan to join hands in launching a vigorous education program to protect the consumers of the country from:


a) Deceptive claims of producers of goods and services and misleading sales promotion by advertisers.


b) To avoid excessive spending under the influence of advertising.


c) To protect children from the harmful effects of advertising through resistance techniques.


The government may consider setting up a watchdog commission to protect consumers from misleading and undesirable advertising.

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

NO PLACE LIKE HOME FOR BOOMERS

AGEING AUSTRALIANS WILL GENERATE NEW OPPORTUNITIES.

Here's something to celebrate. More Australians are living into old age -- that ripe, fulfilling time Cicero described as "the crown of life, our play's last act". And they intend to enjoy it. Treasury's Intergenerational Report last year noted that the proportion of Australians aged 85 or above would more than double from 1.8 to 5.1 per cent by 2050. Understandably, as Stephen Lunn reports today, the vast majority of older Australians wants to avoid the passivity of nursing homes; they would prefer accessing health services in their own homes for as long as possible.

Being more affluent than previous generations, Australians currently in their 50s want to maintain their quality of life long into old age, which will be good for productivity and the national interest. It will stimulate demand as older people travel and enjoy spending the proceeds of their decades of hard work. It will also encourage them to stay in their jobs longer, a trend that will assist the federal budget's bottom line as older Australians continue to pay taxes, take more responsibility for their retirement incomes and relieve pressure on the welfare sector.

Workplaces suffering serious skills shortages have much to gain from the leadership, experience and insights of older workers. Consider the energy and contributions of the Queen who is almost 85, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch who is 102, Gough Whitlam 94, the Pope 83, Margaret Olley 88, the late Emily Kngwarreye who began painting seriously when she was almost 80, Barry Humphries 77, Sir Charles Mackerras, who was conducting up until his death last year at 84, David Malouf 76, professor Peter Doherty 70, Ronald Reagan who became one of the most effective US presidents of all time at 69, George Pell and Denis Hart who are that age now, Quentin Bryce 68, Judi Dench 76 and Clive James and Tina Turner, both 71.

The Galaxy poll finding that Australians will want to remain in their own homes even after they begin to lose their independence should help spawn new opportunities providing services to assist older people to do so. Increasingly, the housing market will need to meet their demands for homes that are part of their local communities, with age-friendly designs and access to shops and services. As healthcare continues to deliver better quality of life, older people will be more proactive in shaping their own destinies rather than passively sitting on the sidelines.

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

PROMOTING FAMILY RESPONSIBILITY

INCOME MANAGEMENT IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF WELFARE REFORM.

Critics of income management such as Malcolm Fraser should think again. Government figures confirm anecdotal evidence that quarantining welfare works, strengthening disadvantaged families and encouraging self-reliance. The experience of more than 1700 welfare recipients in the Northern Territory who have moved off income management in eight months after finding jobs, apprenticeships or improving their parenting skills is a powerful argument for extending the scheme to welfare recipients in all states, regardless of race.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin, a member of Labor's Left, has shown political courage by sticking with the controversial policy. The scheme was introduced as part of the Howard government's NT intervention in 2007 and Ms Macklin extended it from indigenous to non-indigenous welfare recipients in the Territory last year.

Intergenerational unemployment is as deeply entrenched among white Australians in parts of the outer suburbs of Australia's cities as in remote indigenous communities. If Australia's poorest people are to access our nation's prosperity, effective measures and incentives are needed to encourage them to take responsibility for themselves. Learning effective life skills, joining the workforce and cutting out substance abuse and excessive gambling are essential.

Much of the opposition to the scheme comes from the same people who have spent decades denying the problems in a misguided attempt to preserve the dignity of indigenous culture.

The same confused thinking surfaced again this week as radical critics rounded on Nicolas Rothwell's confronting account in The Weekend Australian of dysfunction in Alice Springs that is largely ignored by the media. It is disappointing that struggling publications like New Matilda continue to put discredited ideology ahead of the welfare of indigenous people, and are prepared to turn a blind eye to the NT government's failure to address serious crime, including the abuse of young girls.

Even if the intervention's critics have a point and restrictions in remote communities have pushed some troublemakers to Alice Springs, what are they arguing? That this toxic, dangerous culture should disappear back into the bush? Not this time.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

OUR ANZAC MATES STAND STRONG IN MEETING DISASTER

NATURAL CATASTROPHES CAN BRING COMMUNITIES TOGETHER.

At times like these, the distance across the Tasman Sea shrinks. Together with Queenslanders, country Victorians and residents in the path of Perth's bushfires, New Zealanders have been dealt a cruel lesson in nature's horrifying power with the earthquake that has devastated Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island. The death toll would be even higher if not for the courageous efforts of relief workers, Australians among them, digging survivors from the rubble.

Our thoughts and sympathies are with those who have lost loved ones or are enduring an agonising wait for news of people who are missing. For as long as it takes to find those still alive, the skills of search-and-rescue experts and tracker dogs will be critical. It is already clear that the indomitable ANZAC spirit is not ignited by war alone.

We delight in the most intense sporting rivalry imaginable, especially on the rugby ground. Paradoxically, or axiomatically, few nations share a bond and a heritage as close as Australia's and New Zealand's. Both nations were charted first by Abel Tasman and then, more than a century later, by Captain James Cook and both have developed from British colonies into independent nations with proud traditions of democracy, freedom and a fair go for all. Mateship and egalitarianism are as intrinsic to New Zealanders as Australians. Sometimes, like real kith and kin, we take each other for granted. But we fought side by side, forging the ANZAC tradition at Gallipoli and have done so on countless other battlefields, including Afghanistan. The same spirit will bind us in this crisis.

The pioneering resilience on display in the Lockyer Valley, Brisbane, Tully, country Victoria and Perth's eastern fringes, is on display in Christchurch, where neighbours are helping neighbours and complete strangers. And the wider New Zealand nation is rallying to assist. Australians are giving generously to earthquake appeals and most people on this side of the Tasman expect our governments and authorities to extend every possible assistance to the people of Christchurch, including the deployment of emergency personnel, police, medical staff, equipment and supplies. Australian search-and-rescue experts and sniffer dogs are already hard at work. As Julia Gillard said, if Australia has it and it can help, we will get it on a plane and get it there.

Many Australians who have holidayed in New Zealand hold Christchurch in great affection, as a beautiful, peaceful hub with its glorious river Avon in its midst. We share the sense of loss at the many buildings that have toppled, including the spire of the city's landmark cathedral that stood firm for 110 years.

But while Christchurch will be rebuilt, nothing will replace the lives lost and the sense of grief on both sides of the Tasman is almost overwhelming. Non-sporting nations would not understand why, at a time like this, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key would talk about rugby, expressing the hope that Christchurch will host its scheduled World Cup matches in September. Australians will get it, however. If anything will spur the city on to rebuild its centre, infrastructure, homes and services, and inspire hope and team spirit, it is the prospect of being ready to host high-level rugby internationals and cheer on the All Blacks. After this, missing out would be too cruel a blow.

Living as they do on what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, a stretch of seismic instability responsible for many of the world's tremors and volcanoes, New Zealanders are no strangers to earth tremors, experiencing as many as 15,000 per year. The nation's worst earthquake occurred in 1931 at Hawkes Bay on the North Island, killing more than 250 people.

While smaller than the earthquake that struck 10km underground and 40km west of the city in September, Tuesday's quake, regarded as an unusually big aftershock from the first quake, was far more damaging because its epicentre was closer to Christchurch's downtown area and closer to the earth's surface. Technology is not yet capable of providing sufficient warning of such events to save lives, leaving earthquake-prone areas vulnerable to being hit out of the blue and to aftershocks.

Unlike dysfunctional nations such as Haiti, which suffered an earthquake last year so devastating that more than 300,000 people died, New Zealand has the resources and capacity to rebuild its second-largest city. The emotional aftermath and multi-billion-dollar cost will test this small nation of four million people to the limit. Rest assured, there are 22 million people close by who will be standing with them.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE FATE OF THE STATE

THE most remarkable side of the Herald/Channel Ten debate between the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition was the way the two antagonists switched roles. Kristina Keneally was combative and aggressive, with a good grasp of detail - every inch a challenger; Barry O'Farrell by contrast looked like the incumbent, defending himself against an over-ambitious hopeful from a position of strength with magisterial vagueness. Is the state election result already so cut and dried?

O'Farrell's performance will certainly reassure those who may be thinking of turning to the Liberals on March 26. He didn't dazzle, but he appeared confident and in command of his brief. He did not get flustered, even when he had little to offer. Asked about his approach to ageing and the increasing burden of dementia on NSW's health resources, for example, he blithely pointed to the Coalition's promise to boost research in general (some fraction of which might be devoted to ageing), to its transport promises (since the aged, like everyone else, catch public transport at times) and to its intention to have a minister for healthy lifestyles (to ensure older people, among others, stay healthy as long as possible). It didn't add up to a row of beans, but somehow he made it sound almost persuasive.

More substantially, when he was being negative about worthwhile reforms, such as the federal government's hospital proposals, he made it sound like caution and commonsense, not bloody-mindedness. It was the same with privatisation: by declaring the ownership of functions was less important than achieving good results for consumers, he avoided sounding like an ideologue, and left himself room to manoeuvre.

Keneally, too, was well prepared. She rightly made much of the lack of detail in O'Farrell's pronouncements so far, and tried to turn it into a reason voters should fear the Coalition. But though she is a good speaker and an effective debater, bloodcurdling rhetoric is not really the Premier's strong point. And attacks on what might happen under the Coalition invite by implication a comparison with what has actually happened under Labor. She had already covered that point though. "No government is elected on its record," she declared near the start. Electors always look to the future. She was right. But for some time it has appeared that for voters, the future government of NSW doesn't contain Labor or Kristina Keneally. There was nothing in yesterday's debate that should change that view.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

DAIRY INDUSTRY FEELS THE SQUEEZE

If consumers are winning, does it matter who is losing? That will depend on who the losers are. Consumers have for several weeks been able to save money on milk since Coles put its generic-brand milk on sale for $1 a litre. The move has induced its rival Woolworths to reduce its own prices to minimise the damage. So much the better, consumers will say. The supermarket chains can afford to lose a bit on one or two of their thousands of lines, compete with each other and cut prices for the public.

But there are others involved here: the processor companies which supply the supermarket chains, and behind them, the farmers who own the farms and milk the cows. There are also small retail businesses which compete with supermarkets - and for whom milk is an important product line.

The dairy industry was booming until 2008 when, as the global financial crisis struck, international demand for dairy commodities also fell. Australian processors cut the price they paid to farmers for their milk. Though the market has come back somewhat since then, the relentlessly high Australian dollar has reduced overseas demand. Following the collapse of prices, the Senate's standing committee on economics held an inquiry into competition and prices in the dairy industry.

The two big chains denied to the inquiry that they ever use milk as a loss leader to attract customers. Yesterday, though, we reported that according to the Agriculture Minister, Tony Burke, Coles had told MPs it was indeed ''absorbing'' the price cuts. How long this lasts is another question. If the supermarkets demand - as they have the market power to do - that the processors sell them generic-brand milk at reduced prices, someone else must lose. Processors may raise the price of their branded milk to compensate for the lower income, to their obvious disadvantage. (The products, by the way, are identical.)

There may be little sympathy among the public for the supermarket chains and the processors, but there will be a good deal for dairy farmers and possibly also for small retailers. It is tempting to say: let the free market rule, come what may. But the free market cannot rule when a powerful duopoly dominates grocery retailing.

The Senate committee's report, Milking it for all it's worth was published last May. The government has yet to respond to its recommendations, including its call for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to monitor milk prices paid to farmers, processors and retailers, and for the government to review the operation of the predatory pricing provisions of the Trade Practices Act. They would be two good steps.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

MYKI WAS NEVER THE MAIN PROBLEM

AS EVERY PUBLIC TRANSPORT PASSENGER KNOWS, INTRODUCTION OF THE $1.35 BILLION MKYI TICKETING SYSTEM HAS BEEN GLITCH-RIDDEN AND FAR MORE COSTLY THAN IT WAS EXPECTED.

AS EVERY public transport passenger knows, introduction of the $1.35 billion mkyi ticketing system has been glitch-ridden and far more costly than it was expected to be when the Bracks government commissioned it.

As the comparatively small number of passengers who use the smartcard know, however, the glitches are mostly gone.

And, though take-up of the card continues to be slow, those who do make the switch usually concede that it is more convenient than the Metcard disposable tickets it is intended to replace. Meanwhile, commuters still have to put up with too many cancelled or delayed services, a far greater annoyance to most people than the no-longer-so-trouble-plagued myki has ever been. That is the context in which the Baillieu government must decide whether to persevere with the card, and in what form.

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Premier Ted Baillieu avowedly has never used myki, preferring to stick with the familiar Metcard. But myki has undoubtedly been a political gift to him. Its $350 million blowout in costs and the seemingly interminable time taken to render the card operable on trams as well as trains and buses were embarrassments for which the Brumby government never found a credible answer.

Mr Baillieu should not be tempted to believe, however, that myki alone, without the unreliability of rail services, would have delivered the votes that propelled him to office in November. The card only became a potent symbol of the Brumby government's failures because so much else was wrong with the system.

Whatever myki's fate, the Baillieu government should not base its decision on an imagined need to sever a link with the Bracks-Brumby era. That era has already passed.

The fact is that myki is now in place. The extra costs incurred in introducing it cannot be recovered, but the process of dismantling it would have its own costs, as would its replacement by another system.

In deciding, the government should weigh those yet unknown costs against the more predictable ones of retaining myki and concentrating on the elimination of any remaining technical difficulties, so that Metcard can be quickly phased out. After all, part of the reason for the slow take-up is surely the doubt and confusion that having two systems sows among consumers.

Above all, the government needs to show that its priority is restoring the reliability of public transport services.

''They made the trains run on time'' may be a cliched measure of the efficiency of governments, but there is a good reason why that is so.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

CITY VIOLENCE DEMANDS CREATIVE THINKING

MORE POLICE IS NOT THE ONLY PATH TO A SAFER MELBOURNE.

SOMETIMES it seems there are two Melbournes. The first is a city characterised by a vibrant, European-style cafe culture most evident in the charming bars and eateries that enliven the laneways of the CBD. That Melbourne is the stuff of promotional campaigns designed to encourage potential visitors to come and experience some of the city's enviable liveability.

The second Melbourne is a place of fear, where drunken thugs introduce a mood of menace and imperil the safety of the citizenry. That is a caricature relied on too often by politicians, as we saw during last year's state election campaign when Labor and

the Coalition engaged in a law-and-order bidding war that played on people's fears rather than encourage clear-headed discussion about how best to tackle a real problem.

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The truth is that Melbourne, like all complex cities, is a mix of the desirable and the dreadful, and the challenge for politicians, civic leaders, police and indeed all of us is to find a way to limit the bad without unduly impinging on the good.

The dichotomy is evident in the latest Victoria Police crime statistics, released this week. They show that crime rates continue to trend downwards; in the 12 months to January there were 19,395 fewer offences across Victoria than the year before, a statistically significant drop of 6.9 per cent. That is welcome news, and a reminder that Victoria is a safe state, relative to most similar places around the world.

But the crime statistics also point to a big and growing problem. The number of violent assaults in Melbourne is continuing to rise. In the CBD, the number of street assaults and domestic violence incidents increased by 3.7 per cent over the year. This amounts to a failure of public policy and civic culture. Behind these statistics lies a culture of binge drinking among young men, in particular, that demands a more creative response than Victoria's political leadership has offered so far.

The former Labor government invested heavily in police. It increased the size of the force by 800 in its first term, 600 in its second, and more than 500 during its final four years in office. The Coalition has promised a much bigger boost: 1600 extra police and 100 more transit officers during its first term. It has become conventional political wisdom that Ted Baillieu's pledge on police numbers and his tough-on-crime rhetoric contributed to his election victory last November by feeding an appetite for more visible front-line policing. But the crime statistics should give pause: the fact that the number of assaults in the CBD has continued to rise despite the presence of more police in recent years suggests that still-more law enforcement is not the complete answer, as police commissioner Simon Overland consistently acknowledges.

Policing, by its nature, tends to be reactive. Mr Baillieu will serve Victorians well if he does more to confront the cause of so much inner-city violence: the excessive opportunities now provided to young people to drink to excess in crowded clubs designed for no other purpose. Deputy Commissioner Sir Ken Jones, an internationalist recruited to Victoria Police from Britain, says he knows of nowhere else in the world where there is such a concentration of youth nightclubs. ''They are called vertical drinking spaces - they remove all the seats to cram as many people into a venue as possible,'' he told The Age soon after arriving in Melbourne. ''If we continue to pack youngsters into these venues in the same streets to guzzle cheap booze we will have to accept it is going to take up our police time.''

The phenomenon of the big beer barns in and near the CBD is an unintended consequence of the liberalisation of Victoria's liquor laws in the 1980s. In seeking a safer Melbourne, Mr Baillieu should look again at the city's liquor licensing regime.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

WISCONSIN: LABORATORY OF REACTION

A REPUBLICAN GOVERNOR IS PROPOSING AN EXPERIMENT IN THIS NORTH AMERICAN OUTPOST WHICH WILL BE WATCHED THROUGHOUT THE WORLD

For a century, Wisconsin has been a laboratory of reform. In the progressive era, the population of this northern American outpost was largely German, and they imported not merely bratwurst and beer, but also Bismarckian policies such as workmen's compensation. Such collectivism was then almost entirely unknown in the US, but in time it would find expression in Roosevelt's New Deal. A few generations on, in the 1980s, Wisconsin once again led the way, this time in the great retreat from the great society. Its tough new welfare rules inspired nationwide restrictions in the 1990s.

Now the Republican governor, Scott Walker, is proposing another Wisconsin experiment which will be watched throughout the world. In the name of cutting the deficit, he wants not merely to retrench the current terms of state employees, but also to restrict their right to collective bargaining over these in future. Reports yesterday that George Osborne may scrap rules protecting outsourced public servants are a reminder that the state's payroll is becoming a target right around a cash-strapped world. And yet by his disingenuous insistence that union-busting is necessary to make savings, Mr Walker risks turning Wisconsin into a laboratory of reaction, and landing it in an unfamiliar place: the wrong side of history.

A deal done yesterday looked last night as if it would allow the passage of the budget bill through the state assembly. Things could get more complex in the state senate, where all 14 Democrats have fled the state in order to deny a quorum, prompting the dispatch of state troopers to their homes in the hope of tracking them down. The saga has been extraordinary to witness, but the really interesting question is whether Mr Walker will come to rue the combative stance he has taken, if and when the procedural shenanigans are finally overcome.

With the decline of organised labour around the rich world over the last generation, the governor may believe he is swimming with the tide. But the politics of the next generation could be very different. Whereas voters worried about unions' role in pushing up prices in the 1970s, labour can scarcely be painted as the villain of the 21st century piece. Wednesday's hoax phone call to Mr Walker, which purported to be from a wealthy donor, fits better with contemporary ideas about the real bogeyman. While new technologies have cashed-in as American profits, the typical worker's wage has flatlined for the best part of two generations. Wisconsin's Catholic archbishop has weighed in to defend the unions, and the polling suggests that a public enraged at being fleeced by the bankers is inclined to support the workers fighting back against Mr Walker's gratuitous proposal.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

SAUDI ARABIA: THE NEED TO CHANGE

THE PRINCIPLE OF DYNASTIC RULE, WHETHER INFORMAL OR FORMAL, HAS BEEN SHAKEN AS NEVER BEFORE

It is a measure of how nervous the Saudi ruling class must be as revolution laps at its front door in Bahrain and at its back door in Yemen, that King Abdullah has come home from medical treatment abroad bearing such lavish gifts. Public service employees are to get a 15% salary increase, and there is to be new financial aid for students and the unemployed, as well as grants toward mortgages. And all this is within the context of an already existing commitment to spend £250bn on education, healthcare, and infrastructure projects in the next few years.

The Saudi government's coffers are full because of high oil prices – prices which are unlikely to come down any time soon – and they can well sustain such a programme, yet the precedents for such action are ambiguous. Generous largesse has given many regimes around the world an extra lease of life in the past. Yet it has also sometimes signalled weakness, or worse. After all, it is only a few weeks since the government of Hosni Mubarak increased public service wages in a similar gesture, only to find it made no difference at all.

From its beginnings the Saudi state has been about money. In the days before oil, the British provided the gold which held together this very disparate polity, based on an uneasy partnership between a puritanical religious order and an expansionist tribal confederation and eventually including within its borders numerous reluctant subjects, like the Shia of the east coast and the people of the Hejaz. Force, a hard religion, and money have held it together. It has doubtless acquired over the years a certain identity and legitimacy, but the founding formula is wearing thin, as unemployment has grown while education and the sheer pressure of the outside world have increasingly presented an alternative to its people.

In the last few weeks the states which buffered it from that outside reality have disappeared, changed radically, or found themselves threatened. The principle of dynastic rule, whether informal as in Egypt, Tunisia or the Yemen, or formal, as in Jordan or Bahrain, has been shaken as never before. It was no surprise that the Saudis were foremost in urging that Mubarak be supported rather than discarded by the United States in Egypt. More recently the Arab revolution has come right up to its borders. Events in Bahrain will have a jolting effect whichever way they go. If the al-Khalifa ruling family in Bahrain were to go down, that would be a terrible moment for Saudi Arabia. If it were to be saved from such a fate by Saudi intervention, that might be almost worse.

Yet the most likely outcome, a settlement which gives Bahrain's Shia community real power, cannot but embolden Saudi Arabia's own Shia, clustered heavily in the oil rich eastern region. Change in Yemen could be a different sort of nightmare for the Saudis, whose meddling in that state has never ended well.

True, the Saudi government is not in the sort of terminal trouble which proved to be the case in Egypt. Its pockets are far deeper, it is supported by a conservative religious establishment which has considerable power and influence, and its security apparatus is formidable. It has its minorities, whether they are religious, in the shape of the Shias of the eastern coast, or social, in the shape of an increasingly restive middle class, under relatively firm control. Young Shia, for instance, are now benefiting from training and scholarship programmes.

Yet there comes a point when a government has to give its people something more substantive than gifts, however generous. The patronage style of desert chieftains fits ill with a modern state which possesses the world's largest crude oil production capacity. As Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz, a reformist member of the royal family, told the BBC last week, ordinary Saudis want a share of power, not just to be the beneficiaries of it.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … MANUSCRIPTS FOR THE NATION

TO BE ABLE TO TRACE THE WAY PLOT AND CHARACTER HAVE EVOLVED IN NOVELS IS AN INVALUABLE LEGACY

John le Carré's gift of his papers to the Bodleian library in Oxford is a welcome relief from the familiar headlines reporting the sale abroad of yet another great collection. Preserving original manuscripts can seem like a luxury in an era of austerity. But to be able to trace the way plot and character have evolved in novels which, as Timothy Garton Ash suggested, have become a part of the history of the times in which they are set, is an invaluable legacy. The well-endowed libraries of North America like Atlanta's Emory University which has – among many treasures – Salman Rushdie's papers, operate under none of the constraints that limit acquisitions here. The costly sequence of conserving, cataloguing and digitising means collections can only be taken on if they are fashionable enough to attract funding. That can sometimes make it impossible to accept less-obviously important bequests. Oxford's Bodleian, the new home of Le Carré's papers, has a frozen back-list that they cannot afford to catalogue, and the principle source of government support for acquisitions, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, had its funding halved last year. Even so, both the Bodleian and the British Library have extraordinary collections of historic documents available on line by which you may turn the pages of the draft score of the Messiah or study the detail of the Tyndale Bible as if you were holding a magnifying glass over the page. Like castles and cathedrals, manuscripts should be recognised for what they are – part of history.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

SOFTER TOUCH WITH PANDAS

In October 1972, China sent two giant pandas — the male Kang Kang and the female Lan Lan — to Tokyo's Ueno Zoo to mark the normalization of the diplomatic ties between China and Japan. The bears, with their distinctive black and white markings, were a big hit with the Japanese public. On the first day of their public debut, some 3,000 people queued in front of the zoo, forming a line more than 1 kilometer long.

For about 35 years, Ueno Zoo had cared for the endangered animals until the death in April 2008 of Ling Ling, which China gave to Japan in 1992. Following a nearly three-year absence, two giant pandas from China — the male Bili and the female Xiannu — arrived at Uneo Zoo on Feb. 21 to the cheers of wellwishers who had gathered to welcome the pair to their new home.

The two animals came from the Ya'an giant panda conservation center in Sichuan Province. They left the center on Feb. 20, and arrived at Tokyo's Haneda airport the next day via Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, and Shanghai. Beijing regards them as "messengers of friendship" between China and Japan. Ueno Zoo plans to debut them to the public in late March. It will give Japanese names to the pandas by picking suggestions sent by the public. Utmost care should be taken so that the pandas grow accustomed to their new environment and appear before the public in good shape.

They arrived in Tokyo at a time when Japan-China ties are at a low ebb in the wake of a Chinese trawler's ramming of two Japan Coast Guard cutters in Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in September. In an October 2010 survey by the Cabinet Office, a record 77.8 percent of those polled said they had no feeling of closeness with China. Only 20 percent, a record low, said they had a feeling of closeness with it. Some people think that the annual rental fee of $950,000, or about ¥79 million, for the two pandas is too high. It is hoped that the two pandas will help bring Japanese and Chinese closer together and help prevent the rise of any inimical feelings among the two peoples toward each other.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

RESCUE IN CHRISTCHURCH

A day after a magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand at 12:51 p.m. Tuesday, the country's police authorities said at least 75 people were confirmed dead and some 300 others were missing.

The safety of 27 Japanese, most of them staying in the city for English- language training, has not yet been determined. The students are trapped in a building that collapsed during the quake.

It is said that rescue within the first 72 hours of an earthquake is critical for the survival of people trapped inside collapsed buildings. If there is air and water, and if they are not critically injured, however, they can survive longer. It is hoped that rescue operations in the city will go smoothly. Japan's rescue team, which includes 17 rescuers as well as doctors, nurses, police and coast guard officers, has arrived and started its work in Christchurch.

New Zealand is located near where the Pacific plate and the Indo-Australia plate meet. Thus the country is prone to quakes. In September 2010, Christchurch was hit by a magnitude-7 quake. Although buildings were damaged, there were no deaths.

On Jan. 12, 2010, a magnitude-7 temblor hit Haiti in the Caribbean Sea, killing more than 220,000 people. Chile was also hit by a magnitude-8.8 temblor last Feb. 27, with the death toll topping 500.

Although the quake that hit Christchurch this time was smaller than that of the September 2010 quake, the damage was greater. This is because the quake's epicenter was only 5 km from the city and its focus was relatively shallow at about 4 km below the surface, compared with the focus of last year's quake, which was about 10 km below the surface. New buildings in New Zealand are built to withstand quakes, but many older structures appear to have been destroyed in the recent disaster.

The Christchurch quake serves as a reminder to Japanese of the disastrous potential of an earthquake that occurs near a populated area and at a shallow depth from the surface.

Japan should not delay in taking the necessary steps to improve its quake response and preparedness, including making buildings quake-resistant, and devising effective rescue and relief plans.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

OPED

DECIPHERING RUSSIAN AIMS

BY KAZUO OGOURA

The Russian prime minister's surprise visit to the Northern Territories and subsequent Russian hard position on the territorial issue have triggered a series of reactions in Japan, which in turn have hardened the Russian position and thereby spoiled Japan-Russia relations.

Some observers might regard this series of actions and reactions between Japan and Russia as acts in a political Kabuki play aimed mainly at catering to domestic public sentiments. In Russia, such sentiments have had a nationalistic edge, while Japan has tended to focus on self-criticism of its "maladroit" diplomacy.

There are indeed some elements of a Kabuki play in the latest developments of this Japan-Russia controversy. Both countries are, for different political reasons, under the spell of frustrated public opinion due to international economic uncertainties, widening social gaps and domestic difficulties. Therefore, it is quite natural for authorities of both countries to try to demonstrate their toughness rather than their flexibility in dealing with foreign affairs — to partially canalize domestic frustration to the outer world.

Under these circumstances, it is all the more important that the two countries resist the path of political abuses and reactions that are likely to cause long-term damage to Japan-Russia relations. Indeed, one cannot ignore the long-term implication of the political tension between the two countries and of underlying factors that may not only cast a shadow on Japan-Russia ties but may also oblige the international community to reconsider its fundamental stance toward Russia.

Reported Russian military steps or such intentions with regard to the Northern Territories as well as the latest political moves that have practically ignored Japanese reactions seem to imply that the Russians want to seal the long-term diplomatic issue by means of tough semi-military or politico-economic measures and to pile up "established facts" that Japan will have to swallow.

This implies that, regardless of any Japanese countermeasures, such a Russian attitude is in itself bound to leave in the minds of the Japanese festering wounds in relation to Russia. It would be, so to speak, the equivalent of once more reopening and enlarging the historical scar left by the Soviet Union, namely the bad image created by Stalinism and authoritarian policies from which the Japanese public has not yet fully recovered. In other words, the Russian attitude with regard to the Northern Territories is a touchstone of Russian sincerity of departure from authoritarianism and commitment to democracy and rules of law.

One must remember that it was only through the democratization of the Russian political system and the departure from authoritarian rule that the territorial issue ceased to be an "issue of the past" and was officially put on the agenda of topics to be discussed and resolved between the two countries via peaceful measures based on law and justice.

The latest Russian actions over the Northern Territories, combined with the treatment of journalism and the somewhat opaque legal procedures, seem to reveal that there is much left to be desired in the Russian process of realizing a society based on democracy, social justice and human rights.

One might recall that during the period of Japan-Russia conflicts at the beginning of the 20th century, several Japanese groups tried, in their respective fashion, to join forces with those Russians and peoples in Finland, Poland and other neighbors of Russia to protest against authoritarian czarism and to obtain international recognition of Japan's efforts for political and economic modernization. In many peoples' eyes, at the turn of the last century, Japan represented a new force for modernity and freedom, while Russia was viewed as an old, authoritarian political entity.

Viewed in historical context, the policy that Japan should adopt vis-a-vis a hardline Russia should not be such as to accuse Russia violently of unfriendly acts toward Japan; it should instead associate itself with enlightened democratic forces in Russia. The policy also should appeal to the international community for the need to pull Russia onto the right track of democratization and rule by law, reminding people of the real implications of the trend in Russian politics that reflects on Russian dealings with Japan on the territorial issue.

In this context, we should recall that the Russian government's membership in the Group of Eight developed nations and Russian participation in the Asia-Pacific forum of dialogue is based on the assumption that Russia has taken off its authoritarian coat and become a truly democratic nation observing the principle of law and justice and the spirit of free enterprise. If this assumption is betrayed, we may have to reconsider the wisdom of letting Russian authorities fully participate in such dialogues.

There is, however, a more pressing matter that the international community in East Asia and the Pacific must take into account concerning recent developments in Russian internal and external politics: Russia is in danger of becoming an element of concern or a potential source of instability in East Asia.

Nationalism-oriented and authoritarianism-tilted Russian politics is likely to discourage movement in China toward democracy and may even encourage continuation of the dictatorial regime in North Korea. In any event, the latest political developments in Russia make people wonder once again whether Russia can be a real politico-economic partner to Japan, Europe, the United States and other like-minded countries in Asia and the Pacific.

The Russian stance and actions with regard to the Northern Territories is not, in essence, a bilateral issue between Japan and Russia; it is a litmus test of the Russian image and position as recognized by the international community.

Kazuo Ogoura, a political science professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, is president of the Japan Foundation. He has served as Japanese ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Vietnam (1994-95), South Korea (1997-99) and France (1999-2002).

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

BIRD FLU STRIKES BACK

Avian flu, which has killed 141 people in Indonesia since 2005, has returned. Several regions have recently reported outbreaks. Though no one has yet died after the virus' reappearance, bird flu must not be taken lightly. Our experience in the past, especially during the global bird flu outbreak in 2006, shows that the H5N1 virus can spread quickly due to negligence, if not unpreparedness.

Indications of the outbreaks were easily detected as they followed the national and global alert textbook. Hundreds of chicken suddenly died  in Deli Serdang regency in North Sumatra, Surakarta, Central Java and Garut regency, West Java. Five people also displayed flu symptoms soon after hundreds of poultry in their neighborhoods died.

This time the local governments have responded quickly, taking all necessary preliminary measures, including intensifying supervision, distributing brochures on how to deal with the virus and preparing medicine in case the virus infects humans.

A mass culling of infected fowl and the restriction of poultry distribution were ordered in Deli Serdang. Disinfectant was sprayed in areas where chickens were suspected to have died from the virus.

Local authorities have learned from their previous mistakes, when a combination of a lack of awareness and misinformation turned the virus into a ruthless harbinger of death.

The fact that the virus has reappeared and struck back almost unnoticed should serve as a reminder that we have not done enough to stop the disease from recurring.

The World Health Organization has underlined that the fight against avian influenza should involve agricultural officials and farmers as the virus infects animals in the first place.

The world body said that a good response to H5N1 would require active surveillance of animals to rapidly detect cases, solid diagnosis, fair compensation for farmers who have to cull birds and public information and education programs.

In many cases, bird flu struck after poultry farmers failed to change their business-as-usual mindset, despite repeated epidemics. The farmers remained unaware of hygiene and maintained their traditional backyard chicken pens until their livestock grew sick and died.

Not everyone takes prevention seriously, despite the fact that the country tops the list of vulnerable nations. The Pacitan administration in East Java is a striking example. Bird flu is endemic in the regency, which is the hometown of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but the local husbandry agency has not allocated money to prevent virus outbreaks. It comes as no surprise that the virus reappeared in Pacitan late last month and has now spread to all 12 districts across the regency.

Indonesia has pledged to eliminate the H5N1 virus by 2014, but the goal may not be achieved without major changes in the way we deal with it.

While it may be true that the Health Ministry has mapped out at-risk regions and issued guidelines on how to prevent and mitigate the impacts of an outbreak, winning the war on bird flu will mostly depend on public support.

There is no other choice but to call on the public to remain vigilant and to promote a hygienic lifestyle, the most proven effective weapons so far to keep the H5N1 virus, and all sources of diseases, at bay.

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THE JAKARTA POST

UNDERSTANDING RIGHT TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

HARISON CITRAWAN

Attacks on Ahmadis in Cikeusik, Banten, and on three churches in Temanggung in Central Java a few weeks ago have once again sparked public debate. Subsequently, the debate leads the nation to a crossroad on whether or not Ahmadiyah should be banned.

In my view, this can actually serve as momentum for us to enhance a progressive discourse on human rights now that the government is working on the bill on religious harmony. Thus, this article attempts to construe the idea of religious freedom from a human rights point of view, particularly concerning the two problematic issues of limitations of such freedom and the concept of proselytism.

Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights mentions that: (1) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching; (2) No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.

I would like to emphasize the state's protection of individual's freedom of religion. Nevertheless, on some occasions many Indonesians mix up the terms of religious tolerance and religious freedom.

 It appears that when we tolerate one's religion along with his/her religious activities, it demonstrates the degree of freedom of religion; and vice versa, the degree of tolerance depends on how free people are to hold and practice their religions. But, in my view both terms differ fundamentally from one another.

Religious freedom is a legal right. The Human Rights Committee in its General Comment on Article 18 elaborates such freedom as "the freedom to manifest religion or belief [that] may be exercised 'either individually or in community with others and in public or private'."

The concept of worship extends to ritual and ceremonial acts giving direct expression to belief, as well as various practices integral to such acts, including the building of places of worship, the use of ritual formulae and objects, the display of symbols, and the observance of holidays and days of rest.

In addition, the practice and teaching of religion or belief includes acts integral to the conduct by religious groups of their basic affairs, such as the freedom to choose their religious leaders, priests and teachers, the freedom to establish seminaries or religious schools and the freedom to prepare and distribute religious texts or publications.

This interpretation should be quite clear to implement and certainly Indonesia could adopt this authoritative interpretation made by the Committee as the Covenant has been enacted into national law in 2005.

Nevertheless, on the other side, religious tolerance signifies the acceptance of differing views of people in religious matters. Such concept of toleration emerges mostly in a religious authority state, and further it presupposes preferential treatment of a predominant religious group.

Thus, it is also worth noting that the law preserves individual freedom, not individual tolerance, to a different view or faith. In many religious violence cases around the country, it seems that the state merely preserves the predominant religious group's toleration; hence all religions are not equal.

With the law enforcement officers reluctant to prosecute perpetrators of the violence, predominant religious group toleration would likely prevail over individual freedom.

Second is the issue of proselytism. I would base the argument from a liberal democracy perspective which provides freedom to all individuals to a marketplace of ideas. Freedom of thought, opinion and religion are to be put on one bucket list of ideas and the human rights law indeed protects individuals to exercise such freedom.

It is interesting to highlight a debate in the case of Kokkinakis v. Greece (1993) in the European Court of Human Rights. In this case, the claimant defended proselytism by stating that "religion was part of the 'constantly renewable flow of human thought'" and it was impossible to conceive of its being excluded from public debate.

From the court's assessment I conclude that there should be a distinction between bearing witness and improper proselytism. The former relates to true evangelism and is likely to be inherent to some major religions, and the latter refers to the form of activities offering material or social advantages with a view to gaining new members for a congregation or exerting improper pressure on people in distress or in need; it may even entail the use of violence or brainwashing.

In addition, Judge Pettiti in his concurring opinion went even further by mentioning that freedom of religion and conscience certainly entails accepting proselytism; a believer must be able to communicate his faith and beliefs in the religious sphere as in the philosophical sphere. He also mentioned that the only limits to the exercise of this right are "those dictated by respect for the rights of others where there is an attempt to coerce the person into consenting or to use manipulative techniques".

The use of violence in proselytism is clearly not covered under freedom of religion, but proselytism per se cannot be regarded as a direct infringement of one's right. Moreover, the mere discussion of religion, or to try to convince one's neighbor about his belief by "proper" means are not contrary to the current human rights law regime.

An important aspect of these legal reasonings conveyed above is that the state has to assess the existence of possible interference in an individual's right to freedom of religion upon two considerations: first, the maintenance of public safety, order or morals or importantly the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, and second, such interference should be proportionate to the
legitimate aim necessary in a democratic society.

These two assessments consequently require the current government to define or to set criteria of religious freedom and adjust the bill on religious harmony to make it in line with the international human rights law.

It appears that in many aspects, the current bill is unlikely in accordance with the freedom protected in international human rights rules conveyed above, particularly concerning the issue of the limits of religious practice and proselytism.

Finally, as we still lack positive development of human rights — both in terms of system and practice — in construing the right to religious freedom the government and lawmakers may also have to take several human rights practices in well-established democracies into account.


In many religious violence cases around the country, it seems that the state merely preserves the predominant religious group's toleration.

The writer is an alumnus of Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the Netherlands

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

IN CULTURE WAR, WEB 2.0 OFFERS NEW HOPE FOR INDONESIA

ARY HERMAWAN

It seems that Indonesia is constantly at a crossroads. As the wind of a Web 2.0-powered revolution is sweeping the Arab-speaking world, Indonesia — home to the world's largest Muslim population, who mostly do not speak Arabic — is now witnessing what seems to be an open war between the freethinkers and the religionists.

While it's easy for the paranoid among us to cry foul over the rising number of cases of violence committed in the name of religion — or let's just say Islam — as well as the creeping Islamization in virtually every corner of Indonesia's public sphere, it is foolish to overlook the resistance waged by freethinkers against any forms of religious bigotry and how their struggle will determine the face of Indonesia in the next few decades.

With most clerics in Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah calling for the disbandment of Ahmadiyah for straying from the true path of Islam, we know the ongoing war is no longer between moderates and the fundamentalists. They are now both in the same wagon, launching their salvo against those who believe in rational thinking, democracy and universal humanism.

The person who first publicly acknowledged this new phase of ideological battle is Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, who is apparently on the verge of losing his Cabinet seat for his failings in dealing with the Ahmadiyah issue and at the same time struggling to salvage the shrinking popularity of his United Development Party (PPP).

Speaking to religious leaders in Riau province on Wednesday, Suryadharma said a war was being waged between "free thought" and "order".

"They are looking for absolute freedom," he said, referring to certain groups who had protested against his plan to outlaw the Ahmadiyah faith in Indonesia.

Nevertheless, a cultural war would not be unprecedented in this country. The first battle of this kind dates back to the year 1935 when Indonesia's counterpart to British-American polemicist Thomas Paine, Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana (or STA), published his provocative essay, Menuju Masyarakat dan Kebudayaan Baru (Toward a New Society and New Culture). Since then, Indonesians have been divided between those who insist on preserving tradition and those who are eager to embrace modernity and continuously seek innovation.

The late Nurcholish "Cak Nur" Madjid, a respected liberal Muslim thinker, won his crusade against the Islamists in the early 70s when he theologically justified Indonesia's secularism and kept religion (Islam) away from the state. But he was then living under Soeharto's rule; his victory was unthinkable without the tacit endorsement of the iron-fist leader.

Today, more than a decade after Soeharto's downfall and under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's powerless leadership, the liberals and conservatives are again up in arms over who among them will decide the future of Indonesia. And the battle now centers around the plight of an unwanted minority, the Ahmadiyah.

The first confrontation between the two sides over the Islamic sect occurred in 2008 when members of the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI) attacked activists from the National Alliance for the Freedom of Faith and Religion, also known as AKKBB, while they were holding a peaceful demonstration at Jakarta's National Monument.

The second altercation was in 2010 when a group of human rights activists and liberal Muslims challenged the 1965 Blasphemy Law at the Constitutional Court. The law has repeatedly justified the state apparatus' persecution of religious minorities, including and mainly the Ahmadis.

Suryadarma and the most conservative ulemas from NU and Muhammadiyah, backed by FPI's fanfare of "Allahu Akbar" from the balcony, were at the frontline in the battle against the defenders of freedom in court. And they won.

"The law has repeatedly justified the state apparatus' persecution of religious minorities."

After a lengthy debate involving scholars, clerics and government officials over "the limit of freedom" and "the need for order", the court, presided over by Mahfud MD, rejected the judicial review request, leaving Indonesians constantly under the threat of being prosecuted for blasphemy.

The loss was indeed a big blow to the liberals. It was even depressing for many who had placed their hopes in Mahfud, a progressive Muslim who was close to liberal cleric and former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, who joined the petition to challenge the outdated law.

But the war is not over yet. As more Indonesians are connected to the Internet, the battleground has now turned to the World Wide Web.

I agree with The New Yorker's sociologist Malcolm Gladwell, who says Twitter may not be responsible for all the revolutions today, but that there is no way we could dismiss the role of the Internet in shaping public opinion and spreading ideas, the memes that pervade our minds.

The freethinkers are thriving on the Internet. Some are atheists, others include agnostics, apatheists and liberal Muslims and Christians, who will fight against religious despotism that curbs their freedom, with their blog posts, tweets and so-called online petitions.

Their numbers, you may say, are perhaps infinitesimal compared to the approximately 230 million
Indonesians. However, Internet users in Indonesia are mostly young and their number continues to grow (2 million in 2000, 30 million in 2010).

We probably won't have Indonesia's equivalent to forthright arch-atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris anytime soon, but their local followers and sympathizers are flourishing online.

As long as the conservative Information and Communication Minister Tifatul Sembiring is committed to upholding freedom in the Web, the liberals and the conservative Islamists — who speak louder in mainstream media — will have a free, equally spacious stage to exert their own influences.

The moderates are failing us with their fatwas and derisive statements against Ahmadiyah. The politicians are torn between keeping their popularity intact and fulfilling their obligation to uphold the Constitution.

It is high time for a major campaign for free thought in Indonesia, to ensure that religious conservatism will not rob us of our freedom. And we may do it online. In this culture war, I'm standing behind Mbah STA and Mbah Tom Paine. I hope someday you'll join us.


The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

POST-MUBARAK EGYPT AND POST-SOEHARTO INDONESIA

GEORGE JUNUS ADITJONDRO

Now that Mubarak has been expelled from his throne, who will rule Egypt in the coming decades? The radical Muslim movement, Ikhwanul Muslimin (the Muslim Brotherhood), popularly known as al-Ikhwan? Or the military, which has been instrumental in dethroning the increasingly unpopular dictator?

Unlike the former Tunisian dictator, Ben Ali, his  Egyptian counterpart only moved his family to their holiday resort in Sharm al-Sheikh, a Red Sea tourist resort on the Sinai Peninsula. This shows that, just as in the case of Indonesia's Soeharto, the 82-year-old former Air Force Marshal seems confident enough that no legal action will be taken to repatriate his overseas wealth, or confiscate his wealth in Egypt.

The wealth of Mubarak's family is worth between US$40-70 billion, which is safely stowed in European banks and in luxurious properties in Egypt, the UK, France and the US. This includes the 8.5 million-pound house at 28 William Street in Knightsbridge, London (Kompas, Feb. 14, 2011; Seputar Indonesia,

Feb. 21, 2011). Soeharto amassed $15 billion (Time, May 24, 1999: 16).

The former Egyptian First Family's departure from the palace yet still staying in Egypt seems to be a compromise between Mubarak and the armed forces, although it was Vice President Umar Sulaiman who announced the former president's resignation. Thus, one can say that the general chief of the Armed Forces, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, had carried out a bloodless coup (Media Indonesia, Feb. 14, 2011; Tempo, Feb. 20, 2011: 96).

Tantawi and Sulaiman are the two most probable heads of Egypt's interim government, since they head the two most powerful factions in the Egyptian armed forces. Tantawi leads the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or al-Geysh, while Sulaiman oversees Egypt's Intelligence Services, or al-Mukhabarat, which is loosely associated with the Army.

Al Mukhabarat  is is charge of international security and countering the external Islamist militant threat. Sulaiman does not have a strong base of support at home, but is strongly supported by Washington and Tel Aviv, and is groomed by the US and Israel to become the next president. In contrast, Tantawi  has a domestic base of legitimacy and respect. So this plays out as a very critical struggle between Mukhabarat and Geysh, that is, between Sulaiman and Tantawi. Since the police and security forces have done most of the repressing and torturing, the Geysh has kept its hands clean.

Tantawi is very well trusted by the US, since he fought alongside US troops in the 1991 Desert Storm (Washington Post, Feb. 14, 2011). Nevertheless, as Egyptian political economist Samir Amin wrote in the Monthly Review , Feb. 3, 2011, the US scenario for the post-Mubarak era is a combined regime of "political Islam" and the military intelligence, favoring Sulaiman as the next Eyptian President.

The fulfillment of this scenario will depend on the result of the forthcoming elections. In case of the parliamentary elections, Al-Ikhwan is likely to emerge as the key player. Washington has already baptised Al-Ikhwan, which currently favors the free-market system and took a position against the Egyptian workers' strikes in 2008, as "moderate", rather than "fundamentalist", according to Farooq Suleria's analysis of the key players in Egypt's political arena.

Samir Amin's forecast of post-Mubarak Egypt has already occurred in post-Soeharto Indonesia. An alliance between political Islam and active and retired generals have dictated Indonesia's political arena. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), one of the largest Islamic political parties, was inspired by Hasan Al-Bana (1906-1949), who founded Ikhwanul Muslimin. Al Bana's books are also widely read by Indonesian Islamic activists. PKS's ideology, however, has been tainted by pragmatic elements in the party, who nominated former Indonesian dictator Soeharto a national hero.

Meanwhile, Indonesia's ruling parties have many retired generals in its top leadership, who are still very well respected by the military rank and file.

This alliance between political Islam and the intelligence network is strongly countered in the parliament by Megawati Soekarnoputri's opposition party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). Similarly, 18 days of anti-Mubarak demonstrations at Tahrir Square brought together thousands of Muslims and Christians, nationalists, liberals and socialists, young and old, men and women, who will prevent Al-Ikhwan from writing the shariah law into the new Egyptian constitution.

Unfortunately, reflecting on the frequent religiously-motivated riots in Indonesia in recent years, this is what differentiates post-Mubarak Egypt from post-Soeharto Indonesia. The recent attacks on Ahmadiyah followers in Pandeglang, Banten, and on three churches in Temanggung, Central Java, are just examples of creeping religious intolerance.

Since the Indonesian police seem to be powerless to quell and prevent these riots, although their intelligence agents had forehand information about the planned attacks, the riots promoters may have been associated with forces more powerful than the police. Or, as some analysts have concluded, the riots may have been part of the diplomatic pressure by Indonesian security forces to wrest more "security aid" from Western countries and Western corporations, to show those Western entities that Indonesia still harbors religiously-influenced "terrorists".

Hopefully the Egyptian minority groups, like Coptic Christians, will not suffer from this type of "homegrown terrorism".

The writer teaches at the Religious and Cultural Studies post-graduate program at the Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta.

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

 

THE BLOODY RETREAT FROM VADUKODDAI TO NANDIKADAL - PART II

In this exclusive, DAILY MIRROR presents the second part of the introduction to H. L. D. Mahindapala's book titled:

The ideological industry in academia and NGOs in the post-Vadukoddai period – the biggest growth industry among public intellectuals -- was to legitimize this myth. It reached its peak under the fascist force of Prabhakaranism. But with the elimination of the Tamil Tigers from the political equation this theory has sunk to the bottom of Nandikadal Lagoon.

The Sri Lankan crisis has been the graveyard in which the fashionable and futile theories, analysis and solutions, imported mainly from the West, lie buried forever and a day, as relics of mercenary intellectuals who sided with those who hired them, or advanced their careers in academia of NGOs, and not as monuments to the will of the people or to restore peace or the fundamental needs of the long-suffering people. In fact, they nurtured their theories like the way the beggars nurture their wounds: if the wounds heal their income and perks go down. 

 The Sri Lankan crisis is a notable example of political violence arising from ideological distortions. Extremist violence that reigned supreme in the northern and southern regions in the post-colonial period had its origins in ideologies constructed to breed and instigate violence against the state and/or ethnic communities. In the south a diluted and distorted version of Marxist extremism exploded with unprecedented violence. In the north violence erupted with ideologies of mono-ethnic extremism.

Both ideologies were grabbed by the disaffected and disillusioned youth who were trapped inside a system that failed to provide upward social mobility. Both were peripheral movements that challenged the democratically elected centre as the demon that must be slain for their liberation. Both aimed at skipping the evolutionary processes of history with a view to leap straight from an inherited status quo they rejected into the future through violence endorsed by their political fathers as the way out.

Both relied exclusively and excessively on violence. Both groups sank in the rivers of blood they generated. Both ideologies misled the youth with promises they could never achieve. Both were misled by ideologues who exploited the frustrations of the time to justify violence as the only means to a stereological end. Both were born out of ideological distortions, perversions and fictions.

Of the two, Tamil violence of the north inflicted the most amount of suffering on their own people. The violence that came out from the mythologies embedded in the Vadukoddai Resolution which legitimized the Vadukoddai War that ran into a futile end. 

So was this Vadukoddai War necessary? Did it solve any of the major issues that were raised, with ideological and theoretical justifications? Did the Vadukoddai ideology achieve its ultimate goal of Eelam? Why did the academic and public intellectual gang up collectively to justify the fascist violence that flowed from the Vadukoddai Resolution into the hands of Prabhakaran when they knew that ideological, theoretical, historical, political data on which it was constructed were racist, fictitious and untenable? Though in the heat of the raging war there was a general taboo to question or criticize the theories and the ideologies that rationalized the Vadukoddai violence in hindsight it is obvious that the Vadukoddai thesis – particularly the finger-pointing at the Sinhala-Buddhists of the south as the sole cause -- has come apart, both as an ideology and as an agenda for reconciliation and peace.     This makes it imperative that the interactive, intertwining northern forces should be factored in to arrive at any balanced assessment of the north-south conflict. But in the conventional thinking that ruled some of the best minds the northern factor was hidden, or marginalized almost as an irrelevancy that had no bearing on the north-south crisis. The main thrust of the diverse studies, researches, analysis was to blame the south exclusively, exonerating the north as the victims of Sinhala-Buddhist discrimination, oppression and denial of minority rights. This mono-causal theory gained currency in fashionable intellectual circles as the heat of the Vadukoddai violence reached its peak in the eighties onwards. The obvious fact that a crisis of this magnitude could not occur without complex forces inter-acting and intertwining was not taken into consideration in the political calculations of the one-eyed theoreticians. The debate was hijacked by a pro-Tamil lobby that manufactured theories for the origins, justifications for violence and excuses for the perpetuation of the Vadukoddai War. This book is an attempt to explore the northern factors to fill in the blanks and dispel the myths and the politicized history that have clouded the hidden realities behind the Vadukoddai War. 

In conclusion, I wish I could echo the words of Bhikku Mahanama, the father of Sri Lankan history, (though not so comprehensively or intricately as Herodotus) who wrote at the end of each chapter in Mahavamsa that it was "compiled for the serene joy and emotion of the pious". Much as I would like to say so, there is not a shred of evidence to prove that the Vadukoddai Resolution that resulted in the Vadukoddai War was aimed at producing serene joy or piety. Of course, the northern and southern terrorists took to violence hoping to usher in their promised lands with a kind of ideological piety which they believed would bring them serene joy. Both failed, making both violent movements unnecessary and avoidable political adventures.

 In the final calculation, the price for pursuing politics of violence to the bitter end – even when the northern separatists knew that the end was near -- was paid by the fathers, the children and the grand children of the Vadukoddai Resolution. The irony of it all is that the children of the Vadukoddai Resolution turned the guns of Vadukoddai violence first on the fathers of the Vadukoddai Resolution. Then in last days of the Vadukoddai War the children of the Vadukoddai Resolution went for the under-aged grandchildren. The first born of the Vadukoddai Resolution, who swore to fight until they achieved Eelam, went down ignominiously waiting for international rescuers to save them. They waited in vain because the rescuers never came. In fact they were marooned and isolated in the cold waters of the Nanthikadal Lagoon. Nothing is left of them now – not even a shred of their vaunted Eelam which was almost within their grasp under provisions of the Ceasefire Agreement. 

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

 

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: FACTS, LEGISLATION AND REALITY

More than 60 per cent of women across Sri Lanka are victims of domestic violence while 44 per cent of pregnant women are also subject to harassment, according to a 2006 survey by the Ministry of Child Development and Women's Empowerment.

While The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act 2005 gave legislative recognition to the problem and put into place some welcome reforms, it lacked a comprehensive response to the problem. It is argued that health service providers and law enforcement authorities need to be trained in order to benefit from the legislature in place.

Former Minister of Child Development and Women's affairs Sumedha Jayasena had said that since even some sections of the judiciary are not aware of the Domestic Violence Act, the Ministry had made arrangements to educate them and the law enforcement officers on new laws available to ensure the safety of women.

The Protection Order (PO) is a vital element of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act introduced in 2005. A person who fears domestic violence can take refuge under a PO which can be issued for a period of 12 months by a magistrate barring the 'aggressor' from committing acts of domestic violence and entering the victim's residence among other prohibitions.

A former Uva Provincial Councilor- Soma Edirisinghe

The society undermines the role of a woman in society, which leads to a lot of complications. Most of the decision-making bodies are headed by men when compared to the fact that 52% of the country's population is women. The woman faces a hurdle at home and at work alike. She is marginalized and only economic independence and empowerment can rescue her from the situation of domestic violence is what I feel.

Representative of the Women's Resource Centere

Most women in the rural areas undergo severe instances of domestic violence and most of them live in denial. They have come to think of it as a necessary evil and a part of married life. A reason why women are apprehensive about making a complaint and going to Police is since they have to go back to their homes their fear in they will be subject to worse harsmment in other cases their families doesn't support the idea of taking it outside the house. People are archaic in their values while most often the women live in denial or are guilt trapped.

In the Badulla district more than two women visit are office complaining of domestic violence almost always they are not willing to go to the law enforcement authorities in fear. Police will write down the complaint but they don't follow up on it due to the lack of resources, their thinking and their ignorance in upholding the new act. Therefore the victims have lost faith on the legal institutions to uphold their rights.

We believe there needs to be debates and public forums for the legislation to be made use of. People need to be educated to resort to the legislation to ensure of their rights until that takes place there will not be a lasting solution to this problem. There definitely needs to be a change in mind in terms of both men and women.

Former Representative of the Canadian International Development Agency at the Gender Based Violence Forum- Agnes Mendis

Sri Lanka has a domestic violence act which many people do not know about. In the department of law also many people don't know how to set about it since it is a fairly new legislation. People are not ready to openly discuss about it with the Police officer or Lawyer. On the same hand, Police officers don't know how to handle such complaints with sensitivity and advice.

It becomes a tough mechanism to implement. We are shy to talk about it and in most cases they feel like it will pass away instead of treating it as a serious issue and addressing it immediately.

Deputy Minister of Child Development and Women's Affairs M.L.A.M. Hizbullah

The Ministry is trying to uphold the act and is working for more legislature in protecting women and men facing domestic violence. Politicians are role models of the society and they should uphold and resort to the laws and people will watch them and follow them as role models. We are trying to carry out punishments which have been granted by the act. We are encouraging the victims to seek the help of the ministry and the shelter of the legislation to safeguard themselves.

Viluthu – Centre for Human Resource Development

The main challenge lies with the fact that women don't seek out. This is a reason that society doesn't consider this a serious problem. We have yet to overcome this problem even though we have the necessary legislations that will greatly help us with this issue. There are a lot of questions surrounding whether we use it effectively. It should be made to understand that if people are found guilty they are punishable. Domestic violence is a very sensitive issue and people are not willing talk about it openly. Therefore solutions and legal remedies find it hard to penetrate into society.

The societies at large feel that it's a western value or belief to act on domestic violence and therefore they should repulse it. The society has a misguided notion on domestic violence and they think that the moment you try to prevent domestic violence by seeking legal help it will lead to divorce or break up of marriage. Women should be told that they have a choice for their sake and their children's sake. It takes for a woman to say enough or no to domestic violence.

The main reason is that women are less economically empowered. They rely on the husband financially and for security. Therefore, in most cases we have noticed that if a woman is not going to oppose domestic violence it is only because she depends on him for survival. But if she owned property and was employed there is a greater possibility that she will stand up for herself. It should also be said that the media needs to play a wide role in educating and spreading awareness amongst these women. Most of the cases surrounding domestic violence get highlighted in media if it's a celebrity and they sensationalize the story. What they must do is to educate the public that help is available.

Representative of the Women Development Centere- Chandra Welagedara

In Sri Lanka more than 60% of the people experience domestic violence and it is not necessarily in terms of a husband and wife. It can be violence amongst older or younger siblings, parents and children or amongst parents. There is a greater possibility of being a victim of domestic violence just because you are a woman in instances that have no valid reason. On Most occasions women are not forthcoming of their situation they are secretive and ashamed to share it with their support system of close family and friends.

Another issue interrelated to domestic violence is that society should be forthcoming in the role of the woman and they should respect her for what she is. I felt that there was a big gap in that when I witnessed many families whose homes were destroyed by land slides were living together in one shelter the authorities hadn't paid attention to the privacy of men and women. They are strangers and they need a limited amount of privacy and that wasn't fulfilled. The enforcing authorities need to be sensitive to little things like this which will in return contribute greatly to solve domestic violence.

Sarvodaya Foundation Galle district social programmme coordinator Anula Deegala

The segment of people that are most victimized are not aware of this  legislation which if upheld correctly will be the answer to their prayer. But sadly it is limited to a legislation and not widely practiced. Women are not free to walk on the road or ride on a bus without being passed an unwanted remark. The public at large are not sensitive to another's feelings. They take situations and a person for granted and domestic violence is a development of the behaviour that I was talking of before. The rural public needs to be educated in seeking help and defying domestic violence.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

INDIANS TRIP OVER PRICE LINE

Residents in the Indian capital poured out of their homes and cut across political party lines to register their common protest against the soaring prices for essential commodities. Perhaps the price of something as basic as garlic crossing the AED 40 per kilo mark was the last sting and the bristling indignation over onion wars had already made the 14 million citizens more than (mildly acerbic.

Even as the thousands marched to Parliament House, there was a constrained rage but one that certainly is a cause for address. With scams already having angered the public and the southern state of Andhra Pradesh in the throes of an internal strife about the formation of Telengana state, Indias leadership would not be faulted for wondering if it was sitting on a very dry powder keg. A potential billion people on a slow burn can be a very daunting prospect.

When you cannot feed your children there is rage and frustration. When the rich get richer and are not held accountable, that frustration tends to spill over into expression. This is a legitimate protest and India has sixty years of experience in handling it.

The fear lies in the misuse of the situation to promote a different kind of anger. One that is based on communalism and fed by violence and the free rein given the unruly elements in society.

It is a very small step and must be guarded against. Unemployment has hit a new high and that tends to feed the outrage of thousands of educated y